There are not many countries where a week feels like enough. And I’m not going to lie and tell you that Jordan is any different. However, I will say that you can definitely see the highlights of Jordan and fall in love with the country and its people in just seven days.
Jordan is a tiny country. You can cross it in either direction in just five to six hours. So you can cover a lot of ground and have an incredibly diverse range of experiences in a short period of time.
This week-long suggested itinerary is based on the amazing Explore Jordan tour I took with Intrepid Travel last year. Jordan can be experienced in different ways, either independently or with a group and a guide. But the knowledge and cultural experiences that were afforded us as a small group with our extraordinary local guide, Ahmed, were something we just couldn’t have created on our own. To this day, I still consider Ahmed one of the most brilliant historians and guides I’ve ever met.
Without further ado, here is my recommended one-week itinerary for a mind-blowing time in Jordan:
Day 1: Amman
Explore the sights of Amman – a bustling, modern city with ancient ruins aplenty. One of the most liberal and westernized cities in the Arab world, Amman even has an edgy, hip vibe. Built on mountainous terrain in the north of Jordan, awesome views of the white limestone city can be seen from any high vantage point. As the capital and largest city in Jordan, Amman is a gem worthy of your time. Stay in the old city center and take a walk to the Citadel to see the ancient Roman ruins.
Hop in a taxi or walk to the well-preserved Roman amphitheater for a truly impressive view. Then walk restaurant-filled Rainbow Street and make conversation with some shop owners. Lunch undoubtedly must be taken at Hashem, a favorite of locals and tourists, and practically an institution in Amman.
Day 2: Wadi Rum
Drive south about three and a half hours until you reach the desert of Wadi Rum, the most southern part of Jordan.
Maybe you’ve seen pictures. They. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Justice. Words can’t describe the experience either. It’s more than the exciting 4WD adventures through the sand, the massive mountains of rock jutting into the sky, the camel caravans crossing the desert, and the vast starry night sky that replaces the epic golden sunsets.
The magic can be found in the modest camp tents that provide the most otherworldly morning views you’ve ever seen.
It’s the feeling of cold sand in the morning that you know will soon be scorching in the afternoon heat. And the little fox footprints in the sand when you wake up. Or the dancing to Arabic music and laughing. It’s the feasts under the communal tent and tea on the outdoor rugs. Wadi Rum is nothing short of astonishing and it works its way into your soul.
Day 3: Wadi Rum
I believe it’s worth spending two nights in Wadi Rum and having this day to experience the desert. During the right time of year, a desert trek is feasible and rather pleasant. The entire desert has unique land formations and sites worth seeing; enjoying a homemade Bedouin lunch on a carpet in the shade of a behemoth rock mountain is totally worth it.
This second day gives you plenty of time to see another rad sunset as well as get to know the Bedouins hosting you at camp. My Intrepid group and I had some good laughs with them and enjoyed awesome local meals like the traditional Bedouin dish, zarb, which consists of meat and vegetables cooked underground in earth ovens.
Day 4: Petra
It’s sad to say goodbye to Wadi Rum, but riding out in style on a camel helps. As does the fact that you’re going less than two hours north to Petra, which, let’s be honest, is one of the main reasons you’re even visiting Jordan. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by the mystery and creativity of an ancient culture who created an intricate and beautiful hidden city carved out of rock for themselves?
Some people only spend one day in Petra. I think this is a travesty. A disservice to yourself. Or perhaps to the Nabataeans. Today is the day to get your fill of Petra history. A few hours with your guide to tour the entire city is the only way to truly understand and appreciate this world wonder. You came all the way here. Learn some stuff.
And in case you weren’t aware, the Treasury is not a huge room. You cannot go in and walk around and see piles of gold, jewels, and treasures. The famous carving is mostly a facade with a small empty room inside. But I promise it’s not disappointing.
Depending on what day of the week you are here, I deeply suggest visiting Petra By Night, an after-hours event in the ancient rock city after dark requiring a separate ticket. Candlelight illuminates the narrow 1.2 km long siq (the narrow gorge entrance that leads to Petra).
Traditional music echoes through the walls and the ground in front of the treasury is a sea of candles. Sit quietly in front of the treasury and listen as a narrator tells stories, traditional music is played, and tea is served. The experience is unique and almost spiritual.
Plus, it makes for the coolest photography opportunity ever.
If you care to experience Petra without the crowds (and beat the heat), put on your walking shoes and get to the gates when they open bright and early. There are two hikes that I insist you don’t miss if you’re capable. The hike to the monastery is approximately 850 miserable steps but the views are rewarding. You can stop for a tea break with a welcoming shopkeeper along the way and then arrive at the much less crowded but stunningly beautiful monastery facade.
The other hike I think you can’t miss is the Treasury Overlook. It also is a major thigh burner and tiring, but again, totally worth it. There is a small shop to get refreshments at the top. If you can fit in either of these hikes the day before, that is great too.
When you’re thoroughly exhausted, grab an ice cream at Movenpick on your way back to the hotel.
Day 6: The Dead Sea
Travel another two to three hours north and about 400 meters below sea level to swim – more like bob – in the Dead Sea, which forms part of the border with Israel. It is an experience unlike any other and a complete must when in Jordan. The water feels unexpectedly oily and cuts or scrapes sting horribly, but to put no effort whatsoever into staying afloat is ridiculously cool. When you try to float on your stomach, the buoyancy flips you back over.
Just don’t submerge your head; that much salt in your eyes, nose, or mouth are less than pleasant. The salt forms a really unique white, rocklike shoreline that can be very hard on your feet so be sure to wear waterproof sandals.
Next, travel about an hour northeast to the little city of Madaba, only 19 miles south of Amman. Known as the “City of Mosaics,” Madaba is known for its ancient floor mosaics. Visit the Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. George to see the famous Madaba Mosaic Map. Discovered in 1896, the mosaic map of the region dates back to the 6th century and consists of nearly two million pieces of colored stone. Dance the night away with some locals to Arabic music and share a hookah (or don’t). This was my favorite night of my time in Jordan.
Day 7: Jerash
Drive a little more than an hour north, to the incredible city of Jerash, passing by Amman on the way. One of the largest and most well-preserved examples of Roman architecture, the ruins of Jerash date back to the 1st century AD and give you a feel for what the Roman streets and markets once looked like. With the massive pillars, intricate carvings, paved streets, and preserved infrastructure, the ruins also give you an overwhelming feeling of appreciation for history. Jerash cannot be missed. Excavations of the city continue to this day, constantly revealing more about the history of this area.
If you’re the adventurous type, the canyons of the Wadi Mujib Biosphere Reserve will also be a highlight of your time in Jordan. Not far from the Dead Sea and Madaba, these water-filled canyons will require some level of physical fitness – you’ll be hiking against the rush of the river and climbing up rocks and ladders. Your last day in Jordan could potentially combine a canyoning adventure and the ruins of Jerash if you are extremely ambitious.
In one week, you’ll be forever changed after seeing and learning abut Petra. And you’ll compare every starry night to your nights in the deserts of Wadi Rum.
The “Welcome to Jordan” that so many locals exclaim when they see a westerner will ring in your ears forever. A tiny country with enormous history and culture, Jordan is one of the best possible places to explore in just one week.
Ready to experience this awe-inspiring country? Check out Intrepid Travel’s range of small group tours in Jordan.
(All images c/o Jessica Carpenter at myfeetwillleadme.com.)