Top 10 Things to Experience the Best of Jordan, the Home of Ancient Petra

From monumental ancient wonders to other-worldly landscapes, and from hearty and never-ending meals to meeting some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, my week in Jordan is a definite highlight of my year-long round the world solo adventure so far.

Alexandra Hayward (@findingalexx) standing in the Wadi Rum with an Arab scarf

Hey friends, I’m Alexx from Finding Alexx, and I’m visiting a new country every week for a year with my route is based entirely on the cheapest flight available each Tuesday (yes, I’m crazy!). When I saw that the cheapest flight out of Budapest for my eighth week of the trip (aside from places I’d visited in the first seven weeks) was Amman, Jordan’s capital city, I was incredibly excited to finally get the chance to see this Middle Eastern gem in person rather than on Instagram. And what’s better, flights were only £40 one way!

After a week of exploring the country on a group tour, I had fallen in love with the people, the places and the food. Here are 10 epic experiences you can’t miss on your Jordan adventure.

1. Explore Amman

On arrival in Amman, I was expecting a similar vibe to what I’ve experienced previously Istanbul or Marrakech – beautiful but hectic, organized chaos, and overwhelmed senses. I was so wrong. As far as Middle Eastern capital cities go, Amman is fairly calm. Downtown you’ll find ancient ruins scattered in between bustling hubs of local markets and street food stalls. Out west expect to see newer buildings, fancy eateries, and modern shopping centres, and then in the east, there are more traditional neighbourhoods.

View of downtown Amman

As a female traveller travelling with a female friend, I felt totally safe, but it’s best to dress conservatively and be respectful of the culture regardless of what part of Amman you’re visiting.

2. Float in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is a natural phenomenon that you have to see and swim in, for yourself. It’s the lowest point of dry land on the planet, at 432m (1419ft) below sea level.

Despite its name, the Dead Sea is actually a lake bordered by Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. It’s also one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, with 33.7% salinity (vs. normal ocean salinity of about 3.5%), meaning your body floats! It’s a crazy feeling to experience and it’s hard to describe, but an absolute must-do in Jordan.

Alexandra Hayward covered in mud and posing with a walk at the Amman dead sea beach

(Editor’s note: It is advised by many to cover yourself in mud for an incredible after experience)

3. Spend a night on Mars

Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert has been the backdrop for a number of movies thanks to its Martian-Esque landscapes, including, unsurprisingly, the Martian, Star Wars and many more.

With reddish sand and jagged rocks, Wadi Rum is especially magical for sunrise and sunset. Book an overnight stay at one of the many desert camps, ranging from budget to luxury to bubble tents, and watch the colours of the sky and sand change right before your eyes.

Camels riding in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan

4. Explore the desert by 4WD

Adrenaline junkies will love this one… Take to the sand dunes and race around on the back of a 4WD. Most desert camps provide this activity as an optional extra and I can vouch for it being crazy fun. Be sure to wear a scarf to protect yourself from the dust, take sunglasses that won’t fall off, and hold on to your hats!

Alexandra Hayward (@findingalexx) posing by the safari at Wadi Rum, Jordan

5. Take a camel ride

If you prefer your transport a little more chilled, opt for a camel ride across the sand dunes. These gentle giants may look sleepy but they can actually run at 65km/h, and would beat most racehorses on the sand!

It’s true that camels have evolved to withstand desert heat, uneven sand dunes and heavy loads, but it’s still important to respect these beauties when they’re being used for tourism purposes. Passengers should be a maximum of 90kg (or 200lbs), there should be only one person on each camel, and if you see any mistreatment please report it to the company you booked through.

A Jordanian standing with his camels in Wadi Rum, Jordan

6. Marvel at Petra’s Treasury

The number one reason why Jordan is on so many bucket lists, the Treasury (or Al-Khazneh) at Petra is even more magnificent in person than you expect it to be. It’s found just after you exit the Siq, a winding road bordered by rock faces that takes about 20 minutes to walk from the visitor’s centre.

Al-Khazneh is a first-century temple, thought to be a king’s mausoleum, and it was rediscovered with the rest of the city in 1812. Since then, it’s been ticked off bucket lists of millions of travellers. It does get busy from the mid-morning with day trips from Amman, so I’d recommend staying overnight and heading to the Treasury first thing for the best views and photos without loads of tourists.

Alexandra Hayward (@findingalexx) standing in front of the Khazneh in the ancient town of Petra in Jordan
Petra view in the morning

7. Climb to see Petra’s Monastery

Although Al-Khazneh is the postcard-perfect spot in the ancient city, there’s plenty more to explore if you have the time, and Petra is best explored with a two-day pass.

My favourite part of the city was the gigantic Monastery, a 3rd century BCE Nabataean tomb which looks like a bigger version of the Treasury. It’s 50m wide, 45m high and is carved out of the sandstone cliffs Petra is famous for.

The Monastery is not as easily accessed as the Treasury, located at the top of a 40-minute (depending on your fitness level) 800 step trail, but it’s absolutely worth the hard slog. There are small stalls for a bite of sustenance on the way up, and a café once you reach the tomb.

8. See the Roman ruins of Jerash

Jerash, a short drive from Amman, is an impressively well-preserved ancient city with arches, colonnaded streets, theatres and churches dating back to the second century. The main road of the city is still paved with the original stones, complete with chariot tracks from hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Mind. Blown.

It’s worth noting that the Jerash Ruins are very much out in the open, with minimal shade or protection from the heat, so if you’re travelling in the hotter months make sure you take a hat, sunglasses and plenty of water.

Alexandra Hayward (@findingalexx) walking through the ancient town of Jerash in Jordan

9. Dive the Red Sea

Unfortunately, my limited time didn’t allow me to explore Jordan’s underwater flora and fauna, but this is something I’ll absolutely do when I return to the country.

The Red Sea is home to kaleidoscopic coral reefs, inquisitive marine life and sunken wrecks from past military battles and unfortunate boating accidents. The seaside city of Aqaba is Jordan’s gateway to the Red Sea, and there are plenty of dive schools to go with if it’s your first time.

10. Taste test the local cuisine in Amman

I saved the best for last… You can’t visit Amman without diving taste-bud-first into the local culinary scene! From the spices of Za’atar and the sugar hit of knafeh to mezze platters that would take hours to finish, Jordanian cuisine is a key part of experiencing the culture.

While Jordan, on the whole, is often more expensive than many other Middle Eastern destinations, there are still cheap eats easily found around the country. Hashem is a local street food favourite, where you can get falafel, pita, fillings, fries, and a drink for only a couple of JD.

For a sit-down meal with a friend or a group, my top pick in Amman is Tawaheen Al Hawa, a gorgeous restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere and a seemingly endless menu. Start with a mezze platter and then choose a couple of plates to share and be sure to leave room for free sweet treats and fruit at the end.

And to top it all off? Head over to Habibah, one of the city’s most famous dessert shops and home to some delicious knafeh. Knafeh is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert that you might have seen in Turkey, Egypt and other countries, and Jordan’s just as obsessed with it! It’s made of angel hair pastry, soaked in sweet syrup and layered with cream cheese, nuts or other ingredients.

And there you have it, a definitive list of the best things to do in Jordan! I hope this list has helped you plan your own Jordan adventure, and if you think I missed something important then let me know in the comments below.

And if you want to follow the rest of my adventures from my year-long solo trip to 52 countries in 52 weeks, you can follow along on Instagram @findingalexx.


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