Earth : Asia : Middle East : Jordan
Jordan (الأردنّ al-Urdunn) is a country in the Middle East that is almost land-locked save for a small 28km outlet on the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba and a frontage on the Dead Sea). It's bordered by Israel and the West Bank (Palestinian Territories) to the west, by Syria to the north, by Iraq to the east and by Saudi Arabia to the south.
For most of its history since independence from British administration in 1946, Jordan was ruled by King Hussein (1953-99). A pragmatic ruler, he successfully navigated competing pressures from the major powers of the US, USSR and UK, various Arab states, Israel, and a large internal Palestinian population, through several wars and coup attempts. In 1989 he resumed parliamentary elections and gradually permitted political liberalization; in 1994 a formal peace treaty was signed with Israel. King Abdullah II - the eldest son of King Hussein and Princess Muna - assumed the throne following his father's death in February 1999. Since then, he has consolidated his power and established his domestic priorities, including an aggressive economic reform program. Jordan acceded to the World Trade Organization in January 2000, and signed free trade agreements with the United States in 2000, and with the European Free Trade Association in 2001. There is no hostility between Muslims and Christians, and Jordan is one of the most modern and liberal nations in the region. However, Internet filtering is becoming the norm over time.
Jordan can be divided into four regions:
For the latest information, and to check specific requirements for your nationality, see Entry in to Jordan on the official Jordan Tourism Board web site.
Some Arab nationalities, Turkish and Hong Kong passport holders do not require a visa to enter Jordan - others will need a visa. There are two types of visa: the normal visa, and the free Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) visa. Both visas allow full travel throughout Jordan.
You can get a single entry visa valid for 1 month on arrival at any port of entry, except the King Hussein ("Allenby") Bridge on the Jordan/West Bank border. Since Apr 2014 the cost of a single entry visa for all nationalities is JOD40 (around USD60); for multiple entries for all nationalities it is JOD60 (c. USD85) and can be obtained at the nearest embassy/consulate.
The free ASEZ visa is available to people who arrive at Aqaba, either through the port, the airport or at the crossing from Israel or Saudi Arabia. There is no obligation associated with this visa, provided that you leave the country from the same border and within 1 month of arrival, and that you do not need to renew the visa.
Groups of five persons or more arriving through a designated Jordanian tour operator with a government certified tour guide are exempt from all visa charges, provided the group arrives and departs together as well as stay a minimum of 2 nights in Jordan.
Jordan's national airline is Royal Jordanian Airlines. In addition, Jordan is served by a number of foreign carriers including British Airways, Air France, airBaltic, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Egypt Air, Emirates, Alitalia and Delta Airlines. Low-cost airline Air Arabia  flies between Jordan and destinations all over the Middle East. UK based airline easyJet  has announced plans to fly three times a week from London Gatwick to Amman from March 2011, cutting the cost of getting to the Middle East from the UK substantially.
Queen Alia International Airport is the country's main airport. It is 35km south of Amman (on the main route to Aqaba). You should allow 45 minutes to reach the airport from the downtown Amman, approximately 30 minutes from West Amman. Transport into Amman is provided by the Royal Jordanian bus service to the city terminal near the 7th circle, or by taxi (around 20 JD, meant to be fixed).
In addition to Queen Alia, Jordan has two other international airports:
The last functioning part of the famous Hejaz Railway, twice-weekly trains used to arrive from Damascus (Syria) at Amman's Mahatta junction just north-east of the downtown area, close to Marka Airport. However, services have been suspended since mid-2006 due to damage to the tracks, and it's unclear when they will resume. Even when they were running, trains took a very leisurely 9 hours (considerably slower than driving), and provided a very low standard of comfort. There are no other passenger trains in Jordan.
You can cross into Jordan by car from Israel, but the border formalities are time-consuming and expensive as Jordanian insurance is required and you will even have to change your license plates. The only available crossings are at Aqaba (if coming from Eilat) and at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge for those coming from Northern Israel. Note that the Allenby/King Hussein crossing does not allow private vehicles of any kind.
When crossing by road, the exit fee from Israel is NIS105 (Feb 2014). Eilat Border Info (Arava Crossing)
The King Hussein Bridge border crossing is very busy as it is the most popular crossing for people making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Expect long queues and waits.
Sheikh Hussein Bridge Crossing: If you have not pre-arranged a visa for Jordan this bridge is one option. The border crossing is mainly used by tour bus companies to cross the border and trucks bring in goods. The wait time can be a bit longer if a tour group arrives ahead of you.
Getting to the border: Buses from Jerusalem (central bus station) run hourly from Beit She’an (about 7km from the border), take around 2 hours to reach the border and cost NIS42. Ask for bus 961 or 966. The buses are large, comfortable buses with free Wi-Fi and lots of room for luggage. Toward the end of the route the bus passes through a checkpoint so have passports handy. Expect to see Israeli armed personnel on the buses travelling to their posts. A taxi from Beit She’an to the border costs NIS5-10 and taxis usually wait outside the bus stop.
Leaving the Israel: Israel charges an exit tax at their northern border of NIS107 (USD34 Apr 2014) per person. This has to be paid before you can exit (duty free at exit allows surplus Israeli new shekels to be spent). After paying the exit charge walk through duty free and wait for a bus to take travellers across the bridge. The bus costs NIS5 (Apr 2014) per person (walking is not an option).
Leaving Jordan: Jordan charges an exit tax at their northern border of JOD10 (Apr 2014) per person. The shuttle bus to the Israeli side costs 1.6JOD1.6 (USD3, Apr 2014)
Entering Jordan: Upon entering Jordan a visa is required to be purchased (JOD40). There is an exchange office at the border although it does not offer very good rates. After purchasing the visa wait in line for immigration. After exiting the immigration building take a left and walk to through security. After security there is a taxi stand with fixed prices to various destinations (JOD33 to Amman).
Long distance taxis used to operate the route from Damascus to Amman. However, due to the current status in Syria you are unlikely to be able to travel from Damascus to Amman via taxi, as anyone out in the open is at risk of being shot by either government-controlled powers or the rebels.
It is theoretically possible to enter Jordan from Iraq depending on your nationality. Flights from and into Iraq involve a high speed high altitude cork-screwing dive down to the capital Baghdad, to reduce the likelihood of missile or rocket damage. Given the ever present threat from insurgents and the ongoing military operations in Iraq, it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt this journey from Baghdad or anywhere else in Iraq.
From Saudi Arabia
Entry from Saudi Arabia is by bus. Jordan-bound buses can be taken from almost any point in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. Most of these are used by Arabs. The border crossing, called Al-Haditha on the Saudi side, and Al-Omari on the Jordanian side, has been recently rebuilt. Waiting time at customs and passport control is not too long by Middle Eastern standards, but allow for up to 5 hours on the Saudi side. As the crossing is in the middle of the desert, be absolutely sure that all paper work is in order before attempting the journey, otherwise you might be lost in a maze of Arab bureaucracy. The trip from the border to Amman is 3 hours and up to 20 hours to the either Dammam, Riyadh or Jeddah on the Saudi side. The trip can be uncomfortable but is cheap.
Jordan can be entered at the port of Aqaba via the Egyptian port of Nuweiba. There are two services, ferry and speedboat. Expect to pay around USD30 for the ferry or around USD60 for the speedboat (both one way) if you are a non-Egyptian national (Egyptians are not required to pay the prices inflated by the authorities). The slow ferry might take up to 8 hours, and can be a nightmare in bad weather. The speedboat consistently makes the crossing in about an hour, though boarding and disembarking delays can add many hours, especially since there are no fixed hours for departures. You cannot buy the ticket in advance and the ticket office does not know the time of departure. You can lose an entire afternoon or even a day waiting for the boat to leave. UPDATE: prices have increased. The speedboat is now USD70 and the ferry is USD60 (+USD10 or EGP50 departure tax from Egypt).
The JETT bus company has services connecting Amman to Aqaba, the King Hussein Bridge (to cross into Israel), and Hammamat Ma'in. Private buses (mainly operated by the Hijazi company) run from Amman to Irbid and Aqaba. Minibus services connect smaller towns on a much more irregular service basis - usually they leave once they're full.
The Abdali transport station near Downtown Amman served as a bus/taxi hub to locations throughout Jordan, but many of it's services (especially microbus and service taxi) have been relocated to the new Northern bus station (also called Tarbarboor, or Tareq). Here you can find buses into Israel and a 3.25JD (2014) bus to Queen Alia airport.
By service taxi
Service taxis (servees) cover much the same routes as buses. Service taxis are definitely more expensive than minibuses, but a lot faster and more convenient.
Service taxis only leave when full so there is no set timetable. You may also be approached by private cars operating as service taxis. If you use one of these, it is important to agree the price in advance
Service taxis are generally white or cream in colour. They can sometimes be persuaded to deviate from their standard route if they are not already carrying passengers. It is quite likely that you would be asked to wait for a yellow taxi though.
By regular taxi
Regular taxis are abundant in most cities. They are bright yellow (Similar to New York yellow-cabs) and are generally in good condition. A 10km trip should cost around JOD2.
All yellow taxis should be metered, however most drivers outside Amman do not use them therefore you should agree on a price before departing. If you do get picked up by an unmetered taxi, make sure you agree on the price before driving away. If you do not agree on a price you will most likely pay double the going rate. Using the meter is almost always cheaper than negotiating a price so it is best to insist that the driver uses it before you depart. Keep your luggage with you - it's not uncommon for unmetered taxis to charge a ridiculous rate (JOD30 for a 10 minute ride) and then refuse to open the trunk to give you your bags back until you pay up.
Day rates for taxis can be negotiated. These are usually through specific taxi drivers that have offered the service to friends or colleagues before. If you are staying at a hotel, the reception desk should be able to find you a reliable driver. It is also quite common in quiet times to be approached (politely) by taxi drivers on the street looking for business. There are plenty of good English speakers so it pays to wait until you find one you like.
A full day taxi fare should cost around JOD20-25. An afternoon taxi fare would be around JOD15. For this price the taxi driver will drop you off at local shopping areas and wait for you to return. You can then go to the next shopping location. You can leave your recently purchased items in the vehicle as the driver will remain in the taxi at all times, but it is not recommended to do so.
If you are planning a trip outside of Amman, the day rates will increase to offset the fuel costs. For day trips within 1-3 hours of Amman, a taxi is by far the easiest method of transport. A trip to Petra in a taxi would cost approximately JOD75 for 3 people. This would get you there and back with about 6 hours to look around and see the sights.
When negotiating taxi rates, ask if the agreed-on rate is the total or the cost per person. Often taxi drivers will quote a low rate and then when it comes time to pay will tell you that the rate is "per person."
If travelling a long way try to use buses or coaches rather then taxis. Some taxi drivers are not averse to driving people into the middle of the desert and threatening to leave you there unless you give them all your money. This is very unlikely if you stick to recommended drivers however. Jordan is generally very protective of its tourists and while overcharging is common (if not agreed in advance), threats and cheating are rare.
Jordan's highways are generally in very good shape, but the same cannot be said about its drivers or its vehicles. Many trucks and buses drive with worn or defective tires and brakes and in the southern and more rural parts of the country there is the tendency for some people to drive at night without headlights (in the belief that they can see better and that this is therefore safer!). Avoid driving outside the capital, Amman, after dark.
Renting a car should be inexpensive and not too time-consuming. Fuel prices are all fixed by the state-owned company, so don't bother looking for cheaper fuel stations. Expect to pay around JOD0.655 for diesel and JOD0.955 for gasoline, per litre, although prices may change in time.
The main route is the Desert Highway, which connects Aqaba, Ma'an, Amman and continues all the way to Damascus in neighboring Syria. Radar speed traps are plentiful and well positioned to catch drivers who do not heed the frequently changing speed limits.
One particular stretch, where the road rapidly descends from the highlands of Amman to the valley that leads into Aqaba through a series of steep hairpin curves, is infamous for the number of badly maintained oil trucks that lose their brakes and careen off the road into the ravine, ploughing through all in their path. This stretch of the road has been made into a dual carriageway and is now a little safer - however exercise caution on this stretch of the road.
The other route of interest to travellers is the King's Highway, a meandering track to the west of the Desert Highway that starts south of Amman and links Kerak, Madaba, Wadi Mujib and Petra before joining the Desert Highway south of Ma'an.
Hitching is very easy in Jordan especially along local roadways and the old King's Highway. People are very friendly and will almost always stop to pick someone up for a ride even if they are only going 5 minutes down the road. Outside of the very hospitable local residents their are also quite a number of tourists who rent cars out of Amman and drive to Petra and other tourist sites who are also quite willing to pick up hitchhikers. Along the Desert Highway (the dual carriageway from Amman to Aqaba) it's a bit tougher to thumb a ride as vehicles move faster and are less inclined to stop for hitchhikers but there are a number of minibuses that take this route who stop to pick people up. These buses usually only cost JOD1. Bring water as much of Jordan is a desert and can get quite hot during the day.
Much of Jordan's more dramatic scenery requires 4x4 vehicles with drivers or guides familiar with the territory. Most people visiting Jordan opt for organised tours, although it is possible to use local guides from the various visitors' centres at Jordan's eco-nature reserves. These include Wadi Rum, the Dana Reserve and Iben Hamam. The majority of tourists crossing into Jordan from Israel are on one-day Petra tours or in organised tour groups. They make up a significant percent of the daily visitors in Petra and Jordan's natural attractions.
The national language of Jordan is Arabic. Most Jordanians speak English, especially in urban area such as Amman. French and German are the second and third most popular languages after English. You might encounter some Caucasian and Armenian languages because of the vast number of Caucasian immigrants that arrived during the early 1900s.
The Archaeological Ruins at Petra are Jordan's biggest tourist draw and a must-see for anyone travelling in Jordan.
One should also visit Dead Sea to experience the float without the fear of being drowned.
The currency is the Jordanian dinar (JOD), divided into 1000 fils and 100 piastres (or qirsh). Coins come in denominations 1, 5, and 10 piastres and JOD0.25 and JOD0.5. Banknotes are found in 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 dinar denominations. The currency rate is effectively fixed at JOD0.708 per US dollar (or USD1.41 per dinar) although it may vary depending on the tax, an unnaturally high rate. Most upmarket restaurants and shops at shopping malls also accept US dollars.
Many places have limited change so it is important to keep a quantity of 1 and 5 dinar notes. As bank machines give JOD20 and JOD50 notes for large transactions, this can be difficult.
Cards are accepted in a limited (and seemingly random) way. Most hotels and hostels take cards, Petra entry fees (JOD50 and more) can be paid by cash or credit card (May 2014). There is a separate window for cash and credit card.
A subsistence budget would be around JOD15 per day, but this means you'll be eating falafel every day. JOD25 will allow slightly better accommodation, basic restaurant meals and even the occasional beer.
Prices have risen rapidly (as of 2011) so it is best to check accommodation prices on-line (most Jordan hostels and hotels have web sales)
If you prefer to eat what the locals eat, it should only cost JOD1-2 for which you can buy a falafel sandwich with any canned drink (most common is Coke and Pepsi). If you want to buy a chicken sandwich it will cost around JOD1.
To try real Jordanian food don't stay at fancy hotels all the time; eating there is expensive for an average Jordanian.
Non-Jordanian residents can get their VAT refunded in the airport when they are returning home. The VAT amount must be more than JOD50 and you can't get a VAT refund on food, hotel expenses, gold or mobile phones.
Jordanian cuisine is quite similar to fare served elsewhere in the region. The daily staple being khobez, a large, flat bread sold in bakeries across the country for a few hundred fils. Delicious when freshly baked.
For breakfast, the traditional breakfast is usually fried eggs, labaneh, cheese, zaatar and olive oil along with bread and a cup of tea. Falafel and hummus are eaten on the weekends by some and more often by others. There's no convention for when you should or should not eat any type of food. It's up to you. This is the most popular breakfast. Manousheh and pastries come in as the second most popular breakfast item. All of the hotels offer American breakfast.
The national dish of Jordan is the mansaf, prepared with jameed, a sun-dried yogurt. Grumpygourmet.com describes the mansaf as "an enormous platter layered with crêpe-like traditional "shraak" bread, mounds of glistening rice and chunks of lamb that have been cooked in a unique sauce made from reconstituted jameed and spices, sprinkled with golden pine nuts." In actuality more people use fried almonds instead of pine nuts because of the cheaper price tag. While mansaf is the national dish, most people in urban areas eat it on special occasions and not every day. Other popular dishes include Maklouba, stuffed vegetables, freekeh.
The most popular place to eat cheap Mansaf is the Jerusalem restaurant in downtown Amman.
Levantine-style mezza are served in "Lebanese-style" -which is typical to Jordaian style- restaurants around the country, and you can easily find international fast food chains including McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Burger King. In addition to chains well-known in Europe and North America, there are some local businesses such as:
As for foreign style restaurants, there is no shortage of them. The best ones are usually found in 5 star hotels, but the price tag is high. Italian restaurants and pizza places are somewhat abundant in Amman, Madaba, and Aqaba, but are very hard to find in other cities.
More and more cafes now serve food. There is an abundance of Middle Eastern-style cafes serving Argeelleh in addition to the full complement of Western and Middle Eastern coffee drinks. There is also a good number of Western-style cafes which usually serve Western-style desserts, salads and sandwiches.
When eating at restaurants in Jordan (especially in touristy areas such as Petra and Aqaba), take note of the price of your order on the menu so you have an idea of how much the bill should be. Some restaurants try to charge unwary tourists a bit more than they should. If you have doubts about your bill, do question it and ask for it to be recalculated in front of you.
In Petra, Nawwaf's Kitchen (a stone's throw from the Little Petra site), is possibly the only home kitchen in the country that has opened up to foodies. Run by maestro of Bedouin cuisine, Nawwaf Hwatats, it's a humble and cheap drop-in place that also caters for large groups. Do warn him you are coming though! +962 776 882 309 / email: [email protected] / Website: http://www.nabataeantours.com/home/nawwaf-s-kitchen
Amman has an abundance of 5 and 4 star hotels. In addition there is good number of 3 star hotels and there are plenty of 2 star and 1 star hotels in downtown Amman which are very cheap, and there are plenty of tourists, especially those that are passing by stay in these hotels. Be advised that there are two scales of rating the hotels in Jordan. There are the standard, Western-style 5-star hotels such as the Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, etc, and then there are the local 5-star establishments. The local establishments that are considered '5-star' in Jordan would be more like 3-star hotels in the West. That being said, a traveller will pay top dollar for a Western brand-name 5-star hotel in Amman or Petra and less for the local 5-star hotel.
Furthermore, for longer stays it is possible to get furnished apartments from around JOD200-600 a month.
For long stays, it is possible to take Arabic courses at the University of Jordan as well as other private educational centres in Amman and occasionally the British Council runs courses in Arabic for foreigners.
Amman starting cost for apartments is JOD350-1,400 (USD500-2,000) monthly and they prefer you pay up front and commit for at least a half year stay. The cost of the restaurants around there are average priced.
Alternative is Zarqa Private University. It is 35 minute drive exactly east of Amman and can save you a fortune due to the fact the city Zarqa cost 1/3 less to stay in the apartments. The fact is that you only spend JOD90-120 monthly and get same or even better looking apartments with more room than Amman. The Zarqa Private University bus comes all the time at main street and takes you to a bus station within 3 minutes and from there the bus picks-up everyone (5-10min) then heads to the University.
The Zarqa Private University has a more open space than Amman. Its Arabic courses are very good due to the fact that the communication teacher only speaks Arabic and the other teacher teaches the rules and pronunciation in English. The complete Arabic learning course is 10 months. There are 3 levels. -1st level costs JOD500 for the first 4 months. -(3 weeks break during summer). -2nd level cost JOD300 for next 2 months. -3rd level cost JOD500 for the last 4 months
All courses have 4 hours a day with each hour containing a different subject. 1st class - learning to interact (teacher can't speak English or very little) 2nd class - Get to know the words (teacher speaks in Arabic with English for words that students forgot to study or that is new). 3rd class - learning the rules (teachers covers the grammar in Arabic & English) 4th class - Writing, reading and speaking the letters clear and sharp.
Work opportunities for the casual foreign visitor are somewhat limited in Jordan. The majority of foreigners working in Jordan are on contract work with foreign multinationals and development organisations (Amman is the 'gateway to Iraq' and a key base for the continuing efforts to rebuild its neighbour).
There is the possibility of picking up casual English teaching work if you hunt around hard for opportunities.
Fluent Arabic speakers might have more success, though the process of obtaining a work permit is not particularly straightforward. Engage a knowledgeable local to assist you.
The electricity supply in Jordan is 230V/50Hz, but several types of plugs and sockets are in common use: eg European with round pins, British standard three pin, rectangular, Indian and combination sockets that can take multiple types.
Jordan is very safe. The army controls areas adjacent to the Iraqi, Syrian and Israeli/Palestinian areas so it would be best to have your passport with you when visiting such areas.
A police office officer will accompany any organized tour of 10 or more people, for extra security.
Jordan is one of the most liberal nations in the region. Women may wear regular clothing without harassment in any part of Jordan. Western fashions are popular among young Jordanian women. However, modest clothing should be worn in religious sites and when visiting more conservative rural or urban areas. Keep in mind Jordan is a Muslim nation and some Western norms, such as public displays of affection, may be considered crass or offensive, even by Jordan's western educated elite. Jordan is not a place where homosexuality is flaunted as openly as it would be in the West, although it is not illegal in Jordan unlike the case in most other Arab nations. Consensual sex between unmarried couples is not illegal in Jordan as long as both parties are over the age of consent (18 years), again it would be wise to be discreet about this in order not to offend local sensibilities.
As in all urban areas in the world, Jordan's cities have some health concerns but also keep in mind that Jordan is a centre for medical treatment in the Middle East and its world-class hospitals are respected in every part of the world. Just remember to have caution with buying food from vendors, the vendors aren't trying to hurt you but the food might be unclean. Hospitals in Jordan, especially Amman, are abundant. Jordan is a hub for medical tourism.
Also, the biggest risk to your health in Jordan is being involved in a road traffic accident.
Jordan is a very hospitable country to tourists and foreigners will be happy to help you if asked. Jordanians in turn will respect you and your culture if you respect theirs. Respect Islam, the dominant religion, and the King of Jordan.
Wear modest clothing to important religious sites. Respect the Jordanian monarchy which has strong backing by the people. The Jordanian monarchy is very pro-Western and very open to reform, as are the Jordanian people.
Eating in public during Ramadan is not prohibited, but you should not eat in order to support the majority of (Muslim) community. During Ramadan, there are almost empty streets around the sunset, for all people get home in order to eat. Shops, malls, restaurants etc open later (in the summer, generally after 21:00). This does not affect major restaurants near tourist destinations, however. Also, during Eid al-Fitr it is impossible to get a servees (minibus) in the late afternoon or evening in many parts of the country. Plan in advance if you are taking a servees to an outlying area; you may need to get a taxi back. However, JETT and Trust International Transport usually add more buses to their schedules during this time period, especially those going from Amman to Aqaba.
Jordanians have a notable issue with standing in line-ups for service, however this does not affect major tourist destinations like Petra (where most people standing for a ticket are foreigners).
All hotels have active screening devices, however the process is much more relaxed than in neighbouring countries like Egypt.
Although Jordan is a very hospitable country to foreigners, the fact that there's a lot of tourism and that the nation is very much westernized has rendered natives somewhat indifferent to tourists. Although this is an Arabic country, in practice you will feel (especially in Amman) like it is Europe. Natives are friendly, however do not expect the overwhelming welcome you might see in Egypt, Yemen or Oman.
The international dialling prefix is +962. When calling from a local number, use a zero as a prefix.
Most of country has mobile coverage. There are three mobile operators:
Card-based temporary numbers can be purchased at the airport or any mobile shop for free. These numbers can be subsequently recharged with a prepaid card starting at only JOD1. Temporary "throw away" phones can be bought at many mobile phone shops across the country for around JOD20-30, but a Jordanian must buy the phone before possession can be transferred to you.
There's working 3G internet access in most tourist areas and you can purchase it with a prepaid SIM for JOD10. Make sure you have your phone setup by the seller because the process of enabling the 3G is not automatic; It requires a walk through an arabic message registration which takes a few minutes before 3G can be used.