Jordan is a country that has so many amazing sites that you could probably spend an entire month there and still wish you had more time to spend. Here is a basic 7 day itinerary for you to see the major sites and get a taste for the country while still allowing you to plan for a return trip.
- Day 1 – Arrive in Jordan
- Day 2 – Drive to Wadi Rum with stops along the way
- Day 3 – Wadi Rum desert and drive to Wadi Musa
- Day 4 – Petra
- Day 5 – Jerash and Ajloun Castle
- Day 6 – Desert castles and Amman amphitheater and citadel
- Day 7 – Fly out
Arrive in Amman and pick up a rental car. I usually try to rely solely on public transportation when I travel but Jordan is a deceptively large country. Although distances may seem short on a map, the actual driving time is usually longer. Having a car is really going to free you up to make stops along the way. The only difficult part is getting used to driving in Amman but it’s just like driving in any crowded city.
The drive into the city from the airport is about 30 minutes and depending on the time, it’ll give you a good idea of what the traffic will be like. Make your way to your hotel and put your feet up since the rest of the week is going to be about waking up early and driving to different sites. The first night is just going to be a quick pit stop before heading south so you could even stay somewhere less congested like in Madaba if you don’t want to deal with Amman.
Wake up early and drive south towards Wadi Rum. Along the way, stop at Umm-ar-Rasas and check out the ruins as well as the massive fresco. Your Jordan Pass will give you free entry and the entire site takes about an hour or two (depending on your interest level) to walk. This is also off the beaten path a bit so you probably won’t see many people there. When I went, I was the only person there.
After, make your way further south and stop at Kerak. This is a large crusader castle set atop a hill. Google Maps will have you going around in circles when you’re close but basically you’ll want to drive to the top of the hill, find some place to park, and then make your way in. You’ll see all the tourists there as well so it’s pretty easy to spot. Touring the castle takes about two hours and the entrance fee is covered by your Jordan Pass.
Then drive south again and get to Wadi Rum. Getting to the road that leads into the Wadi Rum desert will come as a nice change of scenery since there is really nothing to see the entire drive down. When I finally made it to Wadi Rum, the sun was beginning to set and the desert was just coming alive with color. Check in with the tourist office (make sure you arrive before it closes at 4pm) and make your way into the desert. From the visitor’s center to the parking lot of the desert is about a 40 minute drive but you’ll probably have the urge to pull over and take a few photos. Once inside the Wadi Rum area, you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want, since it’s “open” 24 hours.
Spend a night in the Wadi Rum desert. I stayed in the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp but there are plenty of “campsites” to choose from. To get to your campsite, you’ll need to park your car at the parking lot (can’t miss it, it’s the only one there). Google Maps may try to tell you to drive into town and to your campsite but that really isn’t possible since the town isn’t very large and you’ll soon be driving in the desert where you’ll need a jeep to get through. Park your car in the parking lot and you’ll be approached by drivers who will drive you to your camp. The jeeps are either marked or you can ask the other tourists there. Since the drivers don’t want to drive just one person, they’ll probably wait for a few others to arrive before setting off.
The campsite certainly isn’t the type I remember from my Boy Scouts days and this is more along the lines of glamping. The rooms have their own private bathroom and the beds are surprisingly comfortable. Dinner is served in the main dining hall and the food was delicious. One thing to note though. If you’re planning on watching TV or need to get work down that requires an internet connection, that isn’t happening. I didn’t even have cell reception here so it’ll probably be an early night. But with all the driving you did that day, you’ll certainly be tired.
Wake up early and take a trip through the desert. This isn’t included in the price of your stay but is totally worth it. Now I know the urge is going to be there to sleep in and really enjoy the last few hours of your hotel (especially since it isn’t necessarily cheap to stay out there) but getting an early start is going to let you beat all the other tourists who are going to be going to the same sites. The desert tour is basically a giant loop where all the drivers take people to the same spot but I was the only one to get up early so I had the tour to myself. The first few stops were also early so I was the only one there.
Know that people also come to Wadi Rum for the day and do the same tour but in reverse order. So by the time you get to your final stop, it’ll probably be crowded since that’s also the first stop for many doing a day trip. After the desert tour, hop in your car and head north to Wadi Musa, the town where Petra is located.
The drive from Wadi Rum to the Wadi Musa is about 2 hours and is pretty much a straight shot. The signs are pretty well marked but Google Maps will get you there as well. Just note that Google Maps has no problem sending you down roads that are deserted (which is not what I like especially if something happens to my car) so be aware.
Once in Wadi Musa, you’ll want to check in to your hotel (I stayed at the Petra Marriott) or hostel and then head out to either check out Petra (depending on the time and the number of days you purchased on your Jordan Pass) or go see Little Petra. Little Petra is just like the name suggests and just outside of town. It’s an easy walk around and what’s nice is there are a number of stairs you can still climb to get into different positions along the cliff walls. The site itself is free and although you might run into locals who will ask for your ticket or an entrance fee, a stern, no nonsense “NO” will get them to back off.
One thing to note here is you’ll be offered tea just about everywhere you go. The people will also say that it’s an insult to refuse tea when it’s offered, saying it’s “Jordanian hospitality”. Although I agree Jordanians are INCREDIBLY friendly, some do pull this card to get you to basically owe them. Many will certainly offer you mint tea as a sign of hospitality but I wouldn’t accept it from anyone who is trying to sell you something. They will certainly pressure you into buying something when the time comes. If that happens, just thank them and walk away. They might try to guilt you but whatever.
After visiting Little Petra, you’ll probably want to go back to the hotel and rest a bit. If you’re there at the right time, you’ll be able to go to Petra at Night. This special tour runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday so you’ll want to try to be there on one of those nights if you want to go. This was the only attraction that WASN’T covered by my Jordan Pass. It’s $17 Jordanian Dollars and you’ll need to show you have a ticket to Petra as well (this doesn’t count against you as a day visit on your Jordan Pass).
Petra by night is a performance at the foot of the Treasury and the path to the Treasury is lit by candles. Now you can debate whether or not this is worth it. It gave me a clear idea of how much of a walk it was from the entrance to the Treasury (it’s not a short stroll) so I knew what to expect the next day. However, whether the entire experience was worth it is debatable. If you do go, you’ll want to take a flashlight with you (check out my post on items to have in your backpack here).
Get up early AGAIN and go to Petra right at 6am when the gates open. There will be no one there and even the guards who typically xray bags won’t be there. This is really the perfect time to go and I can’t stress this enough. If you wait until 8 or 9am, you’ll basically be getting there when all the tour busses do and that defeats the purpose of renting a car.
Go inside and take all the photos you want. You’ll only see a handful of people there so just enjoy it. You’ll want to visit and take photos of the places you want first while it’s still quiet. Since you have the full day to explore, you don’t need to rush but you ABSOLUTELY want to hike up to the Monastery if you’re able. This hike is not fun and it feels endless but once you’re there, you will NOT regret it. If I could only visit one site in Petra, the Monastery would be it.
One day just isn’t enough to see everything in Petra so you could certainly spend a couple days there. However, after spending a good 8 hours there, I felt I had seen enough and I was certainly exhausted from all the walking and climbing. From Petra, you’ll want to decide if you want to drive back to Amman and visit the sites north of Amman or visit the resorts along the Dead Sea.
If you go the Dead Sea route, you might want to spend another day at Petra and pace yourself through the entire site vs. trying to cram it all into one day. Once reaching the Dead Sea, you’ll want to relax after being on the go so much and day 6 and 7 will probably be spent floating in the Dead Sea and covering yourself with the mud before heading home.
If you go back to Amman to visit more sites to the north, the time you get to your hotel won’t matter since you’ll finally get a chance to sleep in the next day.
Start your day normally but not too late since you’ll want to drive to Jerash. The drive to Jerash is about an hour and is a fairly simple drive. Once there, you’ll think you’re in Rome as the Greco-Roman ruins are unmistakable. The site doesn’t look very large until you start walking the grounds and you realize exactly how far it is from one end to the other. Even if you didn’t stop to look around, the walk around the ruins would easily take a couple hours if not more. Jerash is included in the price of your Jordan Pass so you won’t have to pay anything when you arrive.
From Jerash, drive to the small town of Ajloun and visit Ajloun castle. The drive itself will take about an hour even though the distance isn’t very far. The problem is you’ll end up driving through the mountains where visibility can change in a heartbeat. Also, you’ll be driving on this winding one way road through part of it as well so if the visibility is poor, it’ll take a bit of time.
Ajloun castle is located on a hilltop and if you’re lucky enough to be there on a clear day, I’m sure you can see for miles. Unfortunately it was cloudy and raining when I was there but the castle itself is still really cool to walk around and see. The entire site took about an hour but if it’s a clear day, you probably won’t find many better vistas for lunch.
After the castle, drive back to Amman and find a place to eat. The city has amazing food but driving through it and trying to find parking at the same time isn’t too much fun so just park the car back at the hotel and either walk around or take a taxi. Driving around Amman can be frustrating at best.
Depending on your energy level, you can either drive out to see some of the desert castles. I drove out to see Quseir ‘Amra which has to be the smallest UNESCO World Heritage Site I’ve ever visited. Driving there took a little over an hour and you certainly have to be committed to getting there if you want to go. There is literally nothing around it for miles and you’ll actually be able to see the site pretty easily from the highway even as you’re over 10 miles away. It’ll quite literally be the only thing that isn’t sand and in the desert, it just sticks out.
Once you’re there, the site is about 2 rooms. Now there are some amazing frescoes inside which certainly make you wonder how it hasn’t been destroyed over time. After driving for over an hour, it is underwhelming though. I will say at least it’s an easy site to reach since it’s right off the major highway.
As you drive back to Amman, stop at Qasr al-Kharaneh since it’s just about 10 miles from Quseir ‘Amra. Again, you’ll clearly see it from the road even if you’re miles away since there is nothing surrounding it. This old building is pretty cool to walk around. It won’t take more than 30 minutes to walk around but if you’ve made the hour long drive to get to Quseir ‘Amra, you might as well stop. Both sites are covered by your Jordan Pass as well.
Once you get back into town, check out the amphitheatre in Amman along with the citadel across the street. The amphitheatre won’t take more than 10 mins of your time and you can just hop in your car and go up the hill to the citadel. The citadel offers a great 360 view of the city and is a perfect place to end your trip.
You’re on your way to your next destination/adventure!
Hopefully this 7 day itinerary will give you some idea of how to go about visiting Jordan. Yes it is a lot so certainly tweak the plan to meet your needs and wants. The thing is there are so many sites to see that you can’t possible do them all in one week. I tried to figure out a way to fit in a day at the Dead Sea but just didn’t have the time.
If you have an unspecified amount of time to spend, you could probably do all this without the use of a rental car. However I have no clue how the bus system worked. In the city, bus stops seemed to be located in pretty obvious places. But along the main road, it seemed like I just saw random groups of people just standing there and many looked like they were trying to hitchhike to their destination. If you’re apprehensive about driving, I really wouldn’t worry too much about it. As soon as you get out of the city, it’s just like driving on any other highway.