‘I would travel only by horse, if I had the choice.’ – Linda McCartney.
I suffered some anxiety before we went to Jordan. The Lonely Planet guide made me feel nervous about the border crossing between Israel and Jordan. It didn’t ease my concerns over independent travel around the country either, taking the easy option and recommending that people opt for guided tours where possible. These are the limitations I often come across when reading Lonely Planet guides. Whilst good for getting a general picture of a country, I do find that LP tend to err on the cautious side. Some are better than others, that’s for certain, but I found the guide for Jordan to be particularly unhelpful.
In this post, I’ll explain how we travelled around Jordan without a tour. I cover only transport, largely in Jordan, including the cost, distances and travel times. I want to prove that it is easy and wholly possible to travel around the country without a tour. With a little forward planning and some help from the locals, you too can explore Jordan independently. Not only will this save you money, but you’ll have a greater flexibility to explore at your own pace, without feeling rushed and you’ll get to see the country from a more local point of view.
Our itinerary for just over a week in Jordan read like this:
Day One. Border crossing from Israel into Jordan. Drive from the border to Amman. Overnight in Amman.
Day Two. Drive from Amman to Aqaba. Overnight in Aqaba.
Day Three. A full day in Aqaba. Overnight in Aqaba.
Day Four. Leave Aqaba for Wadi Rum. Overnight in Wadi Rum.
Day Five. A full day in Wadi Rum. Overnight in Wadi Rum.
Day Six. Leave Wadi Rum for Petra. Overnight in Petra.
Day Seven. A full day in Petra. Overnight in Petra.
Day Eight. Leave Petra for Madaba. Overnight in Madaba.
Day Nine. Depart Madaba for Queen Alia Airport. Depart Jordan.
This was a more rushed itinerary than I would have ideally liked. We only had two weeks altogether for both Israel and Jordan and we visited the Dead Sea whilst in Israel, so cut it from our Jordan itinerary. If I ever go back, I will definitely allocate more time to Wadi Rum and I would recommend another day in Petra. If you want to dive or snorkel more extensively, then I’d spend more time in Aqaba. Basically, we could have done with more time altogether at every stop, except Madaba. Learn from our mistakes and try to add at least an extra night onto each of the stops I list above in our itinerary. The Dead Sea is definitely worth a stop too.
Tel Aviv to the Jordan River Border Crossing.
The Lonely Planet guide makes the border crossing between Israel and Jordan sound as primative as a barbed wire fence separating the two countries, with some fierce guard dogs and men with guns keeping order. In reality, the crossing was rather clinical – very much like an airport terminal without the planes.
We took two buses from Tel Aviv to Beit-She’an, the nearest town to the border. The first took us from the centre of Tel Aviv to Afula, where we changed and caught a bus to Beit-She’an. Here, we grabbed a spot of lunch before taking a taxi the last few kilometres.
At the border, we paid our exit tax, got our passports stamped to show we were departing Israel and caught a coach over the bridge onto the Jordanian side of the border. We chose the northern border crossing as it was the only one where we could get our Jordanian visas on entry. All other land crossings demand you have your visa prior to arrival. Here we paid for the visas, got our passports checked and stamped and then were free to exit the terminal into Jordan.
Jordan River Border Crossing to Amman.
We met a German woman at the border who joined the three of us and informed us that the easiest and cheapest way to get to the capital would be by taxi.
We were lucky to meet her as she could speak some Arabic and therefore haggled with the driver of our taxi and got the price down to approximately 37JOD or £40 for the four of us. The distance from the border to Amman is roughly 170km and the taxi dropped us off about a twenty minute walk from our hostel. £40 was a bargain as far as we were concerned! We walked the remaining distance to our accommodation, but taxis were plentiful and could easily have been commandeered. They cost no more than £2-3 for a short journey.
We chose to spend a single night in Amman, getting out in the evening to walk around the more touristy central part of the city and have some dinner. We found the city to be vibrant and welcoming and not at all intimidating. Men did stare, but I never once felt threatened. We ate in a touristy cafe called Pizza Roma, which had a great atmosphere and good food.
Amman to Aqaba.
We caught a bus from Amman all the way to Aqaba. Our decision to head as far south as possible immediately and work our way back slowly makes the most sense to me, but there were also buses to Petra and Wadi Rum if you wished to follow a different itinerary.
The bus company we travelled with is called Jett and their bus schedule and prices can be found here. We walked from our accommodation to the bus depo, but I would have preferred to take a taxi. Amman is hilly, so be prepared for sweaty climbs if you walk! There was no need to book the bus in advance when we travelled. We arrived at the small depo, showed our passports and bought our tickets for the next bus heading to Aqaba.
The bus was double decker and quite comfortable, with a tea service. It stopped a couple of times for the driver to get out and smoke (along with half the passengers). Be warned that there is a checkpoint as you head into Aqaba which requires all passengers to disembark. Luggage is scanned and your documents will be checked before you can get back on board and continue on your journey. This added about fifteen minutes onto the travel time.
In Aqaba, the bus station is quite central, and was a ten minute walk from our accommodation. We took a taxi between our accommodation and the Berenice Beach Club where we spent a day relaxing and snorkelling. This cost 5JOD for three of us.
Aqaba to Wadi Rum.
The distance between the two is no more than 70km and the drive took approximately one hour. We had pre-booked our desert camp and had a phone number to call when we arrived at the park entrance.
We decided to take a taxi from Aqaba, which cost roughly 20JOD or £22 for three. This was the quickest and easiest option. Make sure you settle on a price before getting into the taxi. Taxis were readily available in Aqaba and are a common mode of transport between the city and Wadi Rum. I think that the price we paid was reasonable, especially since our driver phoned our camp for us and organised for them to collect us at the park entrance.
This they did and we rode the rest of the way into the desert in the back of a pick-up truck… Arriving in style!
Wadi Rum to Petra.
Our camp guides arranged for us to get a local bus between Wadi Rum and Petra along with a couple of others. The price was around 5JOD per person and the departure times were a little hit and miss. We were told to be ready to go by 9am, but didn’t actually leave for a while after this, and then nearly missed the bus!
This bus was more of a large mini-bus, onto which passengers were slightly overpacked. However, it wasn’t uncomfortable, and it took us directly to Petra, dropping us off in the centre of town. Our accommodation was a five-ten minute walk up a steep hill. Be aware that you will get a lot of taxi drivers coming up to you upon your arrival, trying to give you a ride. However, the town isn’t huge and as long as you’re up for a walk and don’t have much luggage, I’d recommend this over paying a taxi fare.
Whilst in Petra, we used local taxis to get to and from Petra and the main town. On our first evening we were taken on a tour by our hotel owner’s father, a wonderful elderly man who spoke fantastic English and told us a lot about the area. Taxis were cheap, around 2JOD, and we added the tour to our hotel bill, paying a tip to our guide upon our departure.
Petra to Madaba.
This was the most expensive journey we took, arranged by our hotel in Petra. We paid 70JOD for a private taxi which took three hours. Our driver was friendly and attentive.
We chose to come here as our flight was early on our final morning and Madaba is closer to the airport than Amman. Otherwise, we would have taken a bus back to Amman to spend a final night here. Madaba was the only place we stayed where I didn’t want more time.
Madaba to the airport.
We booked our hotel because they arranged airport transfers. The taxi they booked arrived about twenty minutes late (leaving me feeling very edgy) and cost 15JOD for three of us. The journey to the airport took roughly twenty five minutes.
There’ll be more posts to come about my time both in Jordan and in Israel, including more stories from both countries. I will include more practical tips for travelling in both countries in future posts if and when required.
If all this practicality has worn you out, feel free to check out some stories from my time in Israel and Jordan that are already up on the blog – my souvenir tales which can be found here.