Jordan is awash with colour - the pink of Petra, the white of Amman, the Red Sea and the ochre of the Wadi Rum desert. This small Middle Eastern country is full of surprises thanks to its historical and natural treasures. Highlights of your road trip through Jordan include the ancient ruins of Gadara, the mosaics of Madaba, the biblical sites of Bethany and Mount Nebo bordering the Dead Sea, the Wadi Mujib canyon, Kerak Citadel, the village of Dana as well as the city of Aqaba, renowned for its scuba diving. Here is the itinerary for our Jordan Tour leaving from Amman.
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1- The Roman theatre of Amman
The Jordanian capital, now an immense and dynamic metropolis, is one of the oldest in the world. You can view it from the top of the citadel (Jabal al-Qala'a) perched on a hill in the heart of the city. Here you can discover Roman remains dating from the 2nd century (the ramparts and the Temple of Hercules), a 5th-century Byzantine church and an Umayyad palace dating from 720.
Temple of Hercules, Amman
The Roman ruins of the city below give way to the largest Roman amphitheatre in Jordan. . With a capacity of 6,000 people, it still opens its doors for large-scale shows. Amman is also famous for the large blue dome of the magnificent King Abdullah Mosque. By booking a tour, you can make the most of your visit to the city of Amman and taste some Jordanian wines!
From trendy restaurants to street food, Rainbow Street is the place to be! Try some of the falafels: they won't disappoint!
Amphitheatre in Amman
2- Gadara, the garden of Jordan
After discovering the capital, hire a car in Amman (a 4x4 if possible), and drive north to see more of Jordan's impressive heritage.
Jordan abounds with ancient remains such as those found in Gadara. They are located at the foot of the Ottoman city of Umm-Qais in the far north of the country and 75 miles north of the capital Amman. This ancient city offers a wealth of well-preserved 1st-century Greco-Roman ruins, such as theatres, thermal baths, a colonnaded street, a triumphal arch, a 6th-century Byzantine church and a 17th-century Ottoman village. It also affords an exquisite view of the Jordan Valley, Lake Tiberias and the Golan Heights. This highly fertile region is teeming with olive trees, lemon trees and vegetable gardens and is therefore known as "the garden of Jordan". Mentioned in Exodus, Gadara was a stopover town on the King's Highway for Jewish people leaving Egypt.
3- The biblical sites of Bethany and Mount Nebo
Beach at Bethany
It is from the summit of Mount Nebo, at 817 meters high, that Moses is supposed to have contemplated the Promised Land before he died. This breathtaking panorama offers a view of the Dead Sea and the mountains of Judea in Israel, the oasis of Jericho and the heights of Jerusalem. The remains of a Byzantine church contain beautiful mosaics from the 6th century. A site steeped in history and not to be missed. Not far from there, Al Maghtas (Bethany Beyond the Jordan), on the banks of the River Jordan, is where Jesus is thought to have been baptised. A large baptismal font dating from the 6th century, and the ruins of the 5th-century Church of St. John the Baptist can still be seen at this very popular site, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to its proximity to Israel, this visit is only possible through a guided tour. Here, you can see superb landscapes bordering the Dead Sea, where you can swim and float due to the water's extremely high salinity! It's worth mentioning that the mud contains properties known to be good for the skin. Also take the time to discover the Dead Sea and river at Bethany beyond the Jordan.
4- Madaba: ancient GPS
Close to Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Madaba is also worth visiting on your Jordanian road trip. This city is famous for its Byzantine mosaics, the most famous of which is the map of Palestine dating back to 560 which helped guide pilgrims in the 6th century. This masterpiece can be seen in the church of Saint George. You can also find many other mosaics in the two archaeological parks located in the city centre.
5-Wadi Mujib, the Jordanian Grand Canyon
35 miles further south, adventure and nature lovers will love Jordan's deepest canyon: Wadi Mujib, located to the east of the Dead Sea shores. The surrounding nature reserve extends up to a height of 900m before descending to the Dead Sea at 410m below sea level. Take a walk and discover the remarkable biodiversity found on the steep slopes. The narrow, spectacular river canyon with its red sandstone rocks rises to a plateau and offers superb views of the mountains and the Dead Sea. The sportier among you can even indulge in canyoning between the huge rocks, but preferably with a guide.
Wadi Mujib. Photo: Virgilio Aviani
6- Kerak and its medieval castle
An hour further south - and not much further if you decide to go via the old King's Highway through the desert, you will be fascinated by Kerak, an imposing citadel with impressive underground passages. Its famous fortified "Kerak in Moab" Castle, once owned by Raynald of Châtillon, dates back to the 12th century and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Faced with this imposing building and its 200m long ramparts, it's understandable how, for millennia, the fate of kings and nations were decided here. The ideal time to discover Kerak Castle is during its Sound and Light show, which illuminates the building and traces its history through a documentary.
A word of advice: bring a torch if you want to venture into the many tunnels and underground passages, as most of these are unlit.
Kerak Castle. Photo: Virgilio Aviani
7- The Dana Nature Reserve
Dana, a charming and serene little village of stone houses, is a great example of eco-tourism and can be found on the edge of a 191 square mile nature reserve. Rising to a height of 1700m, the Wadi Dana Gorge is home to four ecosystems rich in hundreds of plant and animal species, managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). The visitor centre in the village of Dana offers hikes for all levels across the seven trails that criss-cross the reserve. Local Bedouin guides also accompany you on longer excursions (treks, canyoning, mountain biking). There are many wonders to discover on this fabulous site including Rummana Mountain, the mystery of the ancient archaeological ruins of Feynan and the grandiose red and white sandstone cliffs of Wadi Dana.
8-Petra and its treasures
Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is therefore an essential stop on your Jordanian road trip. The site is Jordan's most precious treasure and as a result, the most popular with travellers. This vast city, carved in stone by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago, was a strategic crossroads between the silk and spice trade routes, linking China, India and southern Arabia to Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and boasts several hundred monuments, most of which were carved into the cliffs between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. Some of the wonders on offer: the Khazneh mausoleum ("the Treasury"), tombs cut into the rock along "the Street of Facades", the theatre, the royal tombs and the el Deir temple ("the Monastery").
9- Wadi Rum: follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia
The wild and protected desert of Wadi Rum is nestled in southern Jordan. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains remarkable archaeological remains, such as those of a 1st-century Nabatean temple near the village of Rum, as well as spectacular sandstone mountains, such as the Jebel Um Ishrin, with its many domes, and natural arches such as the Burdah rock bridge. The rocky caves and deep chasms hide prehistoric inscriptions and sculptures, in particular within the Khazali Canyon. Lawrence's Spring refers to the British soldier Lawrence of Arabia, who reputedly bathed there. You can take full advantage of the beautiful scenery on a quad bike or book a day trip for a guided tour of Wadi Rum with pick-up from your hotel in Jordan.
10- Aqaba: diving site
Aqaba is the ideal location for exploring the Red Sea. This seaside resort is located on the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba, next to the Red Sea. Inhabited since 4000 BC, it houses the Aqaba fort, dating from the Islamic era and the nearby archaeological museum. Windsurfers and other water sports enthusiasts will particularly appreciate this seaside resort. The site is also suitable for scuba diving thanks to its remarkable deep waters such as the Yamanieh coral reef in the marine park located to the south of the city.
The Jordan Pass: this sightseeing package has been specifically tailor-made for visitors to the Kingdom of Jordan. It allows you to enjoy your stay to the fullest, visiting the best sites while saving time, money and stress.
Some Jordanian culinary specialities: Shawarma (traditional kebab), Kefta (meatballs), Gallayeh (a hot dish made with tomatoes, onions, garlic and chicken), Maqluba (a dish made with rice and fried vegetables), Mansaf (a dish made with lamb cooked in a fermented dried yoghurt sauce and served with rice or bulgur).
The Jordan Trail: opened in 2017, this long hiking trail, covering more than 370 miles, follows the ancient caravan route of the King's Highway, between Umm Qais (Gadara) in northern Jordan and Aqaba in the south, on the coast of the Red Sea . This trail is a 40-day hike, through 52 towns and villages that are part of an eco-tourism project. By car, you can take the 250 mile picturesque Highway 35 and follow in the footsteps of the kings, from north to south.
When to visit? Although the climate is milder in spring or autumn, this is also peak season. Winter is therefore a good alternative, as the temperature is both cool up in the hills (Amman, Petra) and mild by the Dead Sea and in the Wadi Rum desert. Hotel rates in Jordan are also more competitive and the attractions are much quieter at this time of year. In summer, temperatures can exceed 45°C on the shores of the Dead Sea and 40° C in the Wadi Rum desert.
Bonus: Before leaving for your road trip, check with your hotel in Amman about hiring a car with a driver. This is the best way to ensure you don't miss anything during your discovery tour of Jordan.
If you come from an Arab country or are a dual national, your ID will allow you to benefit from reduced rates at certain sites, such as Petra. There are rates for "foreigners" and other, more preferential rates, for visitors from Arab countries.