Ultimate Road Trip Guide: Jordan
Why you should road trip through Jordan with your family
Jordan is a relatively small country in the Middle East with a population of circa 8 million people. The large majority of them are living in the North, like in the capital Amman. The main tourist attractions are Petra, Wadi Rum, coastal city Aqaba and Amman. You can visit all the must sees in ten days. Jordan is safe and quite easy to travel around in. When we went to Jordan lots of people ask if that wouldn’t be dangerous with kids. But Jordan is a stable country surrounded by countries I wouldn’t visit at the moment, like Syria. The Jordanians are very welcoming to kids and Jordan as a whole is a great first introduction for them of the Middle East. Jordan offers something for everyone. Scenery changes are around every corner. Picture your kids running through the desert on one day and exploring Roman ruins on the next. And picture yourself diving in the Red Sea on one day and living out your child fantasy of being Indiana Jones for a day in Petra on the next.
In other words: it is impossible to be bored in this country. Ancient archeological sites in Amman’s citadel and Jerash are a must see. As is Petra, one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Sleeping in the desert for a night is an adventure you will never forget. And snorkeling and diving in Aqaba is a great end of your travels through this diverse country
There’s really only one negative thing to say and that is that animals like camels, horses and donkeys are merely a mode of transportation. They generally don’t recieve much care and you will see emaciated animals all over and they look sad. If you only take away one tip from this post, let it be that you shouldn’t take a ride on one of the animals offered at the sights. If you’d like to know more about what not to do while traveling regarding animals, please read my blog post about animal cruelty.
Best time to visit
The best times to visit are from April to June or September to November. Not a lot of rainfall, you avoid the scorching heat that summer has to offer and when you visit in April, May or June it will also be beautifully green. In winter it can be really cold in Jordan. In the north snowfall isn’t uncommon.
Road trip from Amman to Aqaba
All of the sights can be reached by taking day trips from either Amman or Aqaba. But instead of basing yourself in one of those cities it’s better to move from one location to another, especially with kids. Otherwise you’ll be spending most of your mornings in the car and will be exploring in the afternoons when the heat is at its peak. If you explore in the morning and drive to your next destination during the hottest hours with the AC on, it will be much more enjoyable for everyone.
With its good infrastructure a self-drive from Amman to Aqaba with your kids is very do-able. Road conditions are mostly good in and around cities and along the King’s Highway, but some of the other roads can be poor, so be prepared to drive slow at some parts of your trip. Take that into account when planning your next day of driving and add an hour or so a day to your day itinerary.
There are enough fuel stops along the way, but not all stops include a restaurant of a toilet. Bring snacks along and definitely bring your own toilet paper.
You will need Google Maps a lot, so when you arrive at the airport buy yourself a local SIMcard first. You’ll need it. You can get 50gb for about €35.
When your kid(s) still need a car seat, than definitely byo. I’ve heard lots of stories about questionable quality of the car seats offered by rental companies.
Ten day travel itinerary
Jordan is one of the most stable Middle-Eastern countries at the moment. This is the moment to visit it, because tourism is slow due to tensions in adjacent countries. You will be relatively alone at most sights and you will be safe while checking them out. So let’s get to the most fun part of this post and dig into the perfect road trip itinerary from Amman to Aqaba that will bring you to the best that Jordan has to offer.
Ultimate Road Trip Guide: Jordan
Starting in Amman or Aqaba?
Amman is the capital of Jordan and if you came here by plane, you’ve most likely arrived at the Queen Alia International airport of Amman. The only other option being Aqaba. The start of your road trip can be either one. But my tip is to start in Amman. That way you’ll save the best for (almost) last: Petra.
In Amman you will experience traditional and cultural aspects of the Middle East but with a modern twist. You should definitely visit the Amman Citadel, the souqs in downtown Amman and the Al Hussein Public Park. I really enjoyed Amman, maybe also because it was our first time ever in a Middle Eastern city. It could be a slight culture shock for the kids. The smells, the clothing, the language and the bustling traffic: it’s all very different from Europe or North America. So don’t do too much on your first day and they’ll ease into it easily.
In about 750 AD the rulers in the majority of the Middle East were the Umayyads of the Umayyad Caliphate. They built lots of desert castles and 1200 years later some of them can still be found in Syria, but the majority of them can be found in Jordan. Calling them castles isn’t very accurate though, as most of them were agricultural bases or caravansarais. There are two very much worth your time while in Jordan. Just a short drive from Amman following the Desert Highway.
You can find Qasr Al-Kharanah about 60 km from capital Amman. This desert castle was never a castle to begin with. It appears to have been used as a caravansarai. It was build in 710 AD (as that’s the year that you can read in the graffito in one of the upper rooms). The building is a square with a large open area in the middle and small corner towers. It’s a two level building made of limestone. The building suffered damage from earthquakes but was restored in the late 70s.
If you enjoyed Qasr Al-Kharanah, you will definitely enjoy this qasr. It was built around the same time as Al-Kharanah but used for a different purpose. It was a hammam. This building is very well-preserved and you will find lovely murals inside the reception hall and the bath complex. It is no surprise that this complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yep, you can dip into the Dead Sea while in Jordan. It’s not only accessible from Israel. It’s such a weird feeling to float in this salt water lake. A fun activity for the whole family. Be careful if you have wounds somewhere on your body, because it will sting! Otherwise just let go of control and lie down. The floating is really fun. It was a really clear day when I visited it and I could see Jericho and Jerusalem on the other side of the lake.
I also saw loads of people using the mud from the lake and grease themselves with it. I didn’t try it myself, but loads of peeps are convinced that it helps calm down their psoriasis and reduces their back pain. You can even buy it in the stores around the Dead Sea for a pretty penny. I even saw it on Amazon once.
Jerash is a place that makes you wonder why not more people know about it. It’s one of the most well-preserved Roman cities in the world. It really resembles Turkey’s Ephesus only in better state. Mainly because they restored parts in the 70s of last century. We spend a whole morning there and I loved it. As soon as you enter you’ll be entertained by men who re-enact a Roman chariot race in full attire. A great start to get the kids interested and keep them interested for the remainder of you visit.
On a hot day wear a hat and sunglasses and bring lots of water, because there are little places with shade on site.
According to the bible this is the place where Moses first laid eyes on the promised land, just before he died. If you are a believer this is a place you want to visit. Pope John Paul II before you has done the same. But for me this place is a must-see because of the view. It’s a panorama of the Holy Land and the valley of the River Jordan. When I was there we had a clear view and saw Jericho and Jerusalem from afar. And while you’re there visit the Moses Memorial Church where you’ll find beautiful mosaic floors.
Dubbed as Jordan’s Grand Canyon, King’s Highway is a road that you wish could go on forever. Now, although it’s high on my bucket list, I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon yet, but I can understand the resemblance after seeing lots of pics of this American highlight. It really is a sight for sore eyes so make sure you won’t fall asleep during your car ride on this highway.
In al-Karak you will find a crusaders castle called Kerak. The castle isn’t in the best of states, which is why UNESCO decided that it wouldn’t become a World Heritage Site, because other crusader castles are better preserved. Still it is a great place to visit and fantasize about all the things that happened there.
Sadly, this place was attacked by terrorists in December of 2016. A group of terrorists started shooting in different places in the city of al-Karak and in the end they sought shelter in Kerak Castle. It was the first attack in many, many years and it didn’t happen again after this one. So please don’t let this fact keep you from visiting this amazing and welcoming country.
The highlight of Jordan if you ask most kids who’ve visited the country. And rightly so. Make sure you don’t leave Wadi Rum out of your itinerary. You can book an excursion online or at the starting point of your self-drive.
Driving through the desert of Wadi Rum in a 4WD is one of the most liberating things ever. Such a beautiful and peaceful place to be. Not only the drive was amazing, but pausing in the middle of the desert in front of a limestone mountain as our backdrop, while our Bedouin guide made us a cup of tea right then and there was so nice and really a once in a lifetime experience. I also took a camel ride, but I was scared to death because the camel kept trying to bite my ankles, so I was really happy when that ride was over.
After these fantastic day activities we arrived at a Bedouin camp. Ok, ok, not a real one, I’m very much aware of the fact that we were at a tourist trap. But I deliberately booked it, because I really wanted to spend the night in the desert. It started out with a great traditional dinner. The flavours where amazing, even the rice was a real treat, the way it was prepared with all the herbs in it. We also had Zarb, a Bedouin bbq, which means they cook the food underground in an earth oven. After this gorgeous dinner we danced under the stars and smoked from a water pipe. Our 4WD drove us deeper into the desert in the dark and that was magical. I entered my tent and put on some extra layers and fell into a very zen deep sleep. Waking up the next morning at 6am fully rested and relaxed I came out of my tent and it was absolutely one of the most beautiful places we ever woke up in.
After your visit to the desert of Wadi Rum it is time to visit Petra. A nice, but extremely touristy village is your starting point, with loads of hotels to choose from. This is your starting point for a multi-day excursion to Petra. We choose an entry ticket for two days and made the most of it. With all the hints of treasure hunters you can give your kids while wandering around, they will feel like Indiana Jones and will have no problem with this activity.
The Nabataeans found themselves a place concealed from the world and turned it into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The changing of colors of the rock formations into different shades of rose-red (hence the nickname) takes your breath away and that starts when you enter the city through the 1.2 km long Siq with it’s high walls and very narrow pass. With every turn in the pass you wonder if that is going to be the moment that you get your first peak at the Treasury. The moment you sneak that first peak you are in love. It’s so absolutely beautiful! Make sure you go there as early as you can. You really don’t want to be one of the many ants swarming the place. It will take away part of the magic.
After seeing the Treasury your journey through the rest of this great city is just starting. Make the most of your day roaming around the lower levels and add the High Place of Sacrifice to your day. From there you’ll get rewarded with a breathtaking view over the city.
Petra By Night
Get a ticket for the evening opening of the Treasury. It’s aptly named Petra by Night and tickets are available for Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. When you walk through the Siq there are candles lit along the way and it’s magical and serve as a passage way right up to the Treasury and you can admire it in the dark with all those beautiful lights on around you. They’ll play live traditional music while you sit in the sand and enjoy the view. A beautiful
On the second day pass the Treasury and walk to the other side of Petra and walk up to the amazing Monastery and after that walk through the street of facades one last time and check out the theatre before you leave this ancient city.
This city is very much focused on sea activities. Aqaba is the place to be for a dive or a snorkle and it’s very beautiful underwater. The sea food is also to die for here, so make sure to have a little taste of that.
After relaxing in this city at sea your ultimate road trip through Jordan is done.
I hope this Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Jordan with kids inspires you enough to buy plane tickets and hop on a plane to this beautiful country. And if you do, please let me know what you think afterwards.