Our Jordan itinerary and the best places to visit in the south of Jordan

Planning a trip to Jordan, when you have just a week there, can be overwhelming. This time Nace had the whole pleasure and responsibility to plan our itinerary in Jordan, as  I was busy doing yoga teacher training in Nepal. It all started when a new flight from Sofia to Aqaba appeared. We decided to book it on a whim – so we would be one of the first people arriving with the new direct flight in Aqaba. How we planned our trip, what places in Jordan we visited on our itinerary, and many practical tips – read further.

Jordan, visiting Petra, hiking to Ad-Deir Monastery

Table of contents – our Jordan itinerary

Visiting Petra

Petra is one of the New 7 wonders of the world. So imagine the number of people that would want to witness it. Prepare for lots of people and noise. Still, you can apply some tricks for a more secluded experience.

We decided to go to Petra as early as possible, which was at about 8.30 a.m. (breakfast at the Bedouin Camp was too good to skip or rush). The big parking lot was full of at least 20 huge touristic buses and lots of cars. We parked the car at a more distant car park and walked to the entrance. We got in quickly as we already had the Jordan Pass. Then we started walking towards the Siq – this is the place from all those Instagram photos. Sometimes we waited for more than 10 minutes to hit a moment in between crowds. Then we had to take the perfect photo for like 2 seconds before the next group of people to enter the frame…

Jordan, visiting Petra, Al-Khubtha trail, view to the Treasury Al Khazneh

Petra itinerary for 1 day

We suggest that you start as early as possible because there are better chances to skip the crowds if you start really early – by early I mean the Visitors Center opens at 6 a.m. We made it at 8 a.m. at the entrance and was not early enough. After you overcome the initial shock of visitors, Bedouins, donkeys, horses, carriages, and whatnot all around you, asking you to use their services, you can start walking the Siq.

At the end of the Siq is where Al Khazneh, or the Treasury – the monument that is part of The New 7 Wonders of the World. If you’re lucky, you might take a photo or two without tens of other people and camels. There will be Bedouin kids and adults offering you a special “shortcut” deal to go to a place to see the Treasury from above – either by climbing the rocks or on a mule, or donkey. We skipped this.

We continued along the Street of Facades, passing the Theatre, Royal Tombs, the Colonnaded Street, the Great Temple. We stopped for all-you-can-eat 10 JOD lunch of local delicacies and continued up to the Ad-Deir Monastery. All those Bedouin souvenirs stalls, all the caves they use for living, all that makes you wonder if Bedouin lifestyle in Petra is still a regular way of life and not just a business.

Ad-Deir Monastery was the highlight of the day – fewer people walk all the way to it, so there are space and dust for everyone. We played with the sunshine, drank pomegranate juice, and enjoyed views from some extra hikes around. Exploring caves and rocks, reaching abysses – that’s how we imagined desert exploration in Petra, Jordan.

Petra itinerary for 2 days

If you want to spend one more day in Petra, or just half a day more (like we did), we suggest that you get lost in the ancient city. It’s not so easy, but you can definitely pick a trail with fewer people and enjoy the peacefulness and the vast desert around you. We decided to go around the Royal Tombs and chose Al-Khubtha trail that led us to secluded views, as well as to one of the many Bedouin cafes overlooking The Treasury.

We managed to have one more pomegranate juice and to attempt a few photos from above with the Treasury. It was still sunny and dusty, but much more relaxed and nice. We’re so happy that we returned to Petra for few more hours and to enjoy it peacefully.

Petra by night

It was hard to decide if we wanted to go for the Petra by Night experience. It definitely sounds a magical experience to see the rock city candlelit in dark and to listen to live traditional music under the stars. But we watched a couple of videos and read blogs saying it is super crowded so unless you push your way through the people, there’s a good chance that you won’t see or feel much. And that’s how we decided to save 17 JOD and probably a lot of frustration and alternatively, we spent the evening in the common tent of our Bedouin camp. Chilling out is an art of living in Jordan!

A note on responsible travel in Petra

When you visit Petra, you might feel tempted to ride a camel, a donkey, a mule, a horse, a carriage. But if you can use your feet and walk, just try to think about all those dreadful ways they use to domesticate and force those animals, just to get some dinars from you. We saw camels and donkeys being beaten by their owners (sometimes young kids) the way down (when they have no tourists to ride them).

It’s true that if it’s not you, someone else will ride that camel. But if we don’t cut the demand, there’ll be more and more supply. Imagine if you have to be ridden all day long, in the biggest heat every day, just so someone can feel more of a “desert vibe”. Plus with the money, you’ll save you can always hydrate yourself better or buy locally-produced souvenirs or wear.

We couldn’t help it…the end of the day in Petra 🧡
Sun is low, last visitors chasing donkeys 🌞
Bedouins trying to make the last sell for the day 🧣
Royal tombs in the background with the perfect golden light 👑

Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

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This time we had a blast with our stay near Petra. Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp was such a nice welcome to Jordan and the hospitality of the Jordanians. In the middle of the desert, with the sky lit by stars and between rocks lit by candles, we couldn’t imagine desert romance any other way. When the wind got too cold for stargazing, then we would go into the “social” tent for Bedouin tea, shisha and warming up near the stove.

Bedouins (or Bedus) are nomadic Arab people who have inhabited desert territories from North Africa to the Middle East. Maybe because of the Arabic origin, maybe because of the nomadic ones, Bedouins (nowadays) are very welcoming and show a great level of hospitality. Just imagine the opportunity to chill in the middle of the desert, sipping sweet tea by the fire, shishas dimming the whole tent. Then you go out and start counting stars just before you put on those two blankets and fall asleep after a rough day gathering so much wind and sun in your hair. Even the cold showers (yes, hot water was over at some point) can’t make you wake up from this dream, from this utopia.

Jordan, Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp
Bedouin camp hospitality ⛺️ ☕️ 😊
It’s amazing how all those colors and patterns give complement the rocky desert outside 🐫

Wadi Mousa

Wadi Mousa, or the “Valley of Moses” is the nearest to Petra archeological site town. We stopped by just to park the car when we visited Petra or to have a bit. When you have to choose between restaurants, we suggest that you focus on the most local-looking one with as many people already dining there as possible. We had a blast with Jordanian mezze – a dish of tiny portions of different appetizers with amazing Jordanian bread. We were spoiled with hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, yogurt with sumac spice, olives. Jordan is one of the biggest producers of olives, by the way. On the sweet tooth side, Nace was in heaven – all his favorite baklavakanafehhalva in one place!

If you wish to stay closer to Petra and indulge in food, you can check out accommodation in Wadi Mousa.

Jordan, Wadi Mousa view
The view over Wadi Mousa

Little Petra

Little Petra is the little sister of Petra, very underestimated but IMHO equally beautiful. There are certain opening times of the visitors center, so make sure you get there before the closing time. Otherwise, you can get lost in the nearby formations, rocks, and desert anytime. We focused on some very futuristic-looking domes and headed with the car there.

It was a hotel property (a very fancy hotel named Bubble Luxotel Petra) that let us enter and enjoy the sunset view over the desert, together with the shining bubbles (rooms and restaurant). The wind was so strong we were afraid the car might go somewhere without us. This was pure desert romance and we loved the fact that renting a car gave us independency to go wherever we want and get lost to discover more of the Jordanian desert charm.

Jordan, Bubble Luxotel Petra at sunset
Sunset over little Petra and the bubbles…

Wadi Rum desert

We chose the company Wadi Rum Nomads and we couldn’t be happier with their service and tours. If you want to stay overnight in the Wadi Rum desert, then you have some options: stay in a tent/cabin at a camp, sleep under the stars (don’t worry, mattresses and blankets are provided), or sleep in a cave. In November, the last was not an option. Sleeping under the stars is an option only when they have clear skies and a decent forecast. We wondered if we should go for it because we know it’s supposed to be amazing, but then we saw temperatures dropping to 12 degrees Celcius at night, so we thought it’s better to stick to a tent/cabin.

Wadi Rum desert tour

Our Wadi Rum desert jeep tour consisted of two days and one night. We started and finished at Rum village. After a nice cup of Bedouin tea, we hopped on the jeep and started riding through the desert. Out-of-this-Earth landscapes took turns with interesting stops along the route. We respect the Bedouin guides’ knowledge of how to navigate through the desert, where there are no signs or roads at all.

Day 1: Welcome to the Wadi Rub desert!

We stopped at the Lawrence spring to climb the huge stones and see the desert from above, then continued to Khazali canyon which was a bit of a challenge to walk through. The red sand dune is the place to enjoy downhill running in sand (and then enjoy cleaning yourself for hours). We checked some ancient petroglyphs and inscriptions in Anfishiyyeh and headed to Lawrence house ruins.

We stopped for a hearty lunch in the company’s camp. We continued in the afternoon with a beautiful drive to the Mushroom rock and a short climb of Um Fruth rock bridge and some other mesmerizing views of the Wadi Rum desert. Then we drove to the surprisingly green and narrow Abu Khashaba canyon. We walked from one of the sides and finished at the other. We passed the rock bridge of Burdah (it’s forbidden to climb on top of it but unfortunately many people still do it) and then settle at Um Sabatah to watch the sunset and say the day goodbye in the most picturesque and romantic way.

Some spent the night under the stars, some spent in the little wind-period cabins. For us, it was like 50/50 – sleeping in the cabin but also spending a decent amount of time watching and photographing stars and the Milky Way.

Best places to visit in Jordan - sunset at Um Sabatah in the Wadi Rum desert
Tea and sunset in the desert ☕️🏜🌄

Day 2 of exploring the Wadi Rum Desert

The next day we had no idea where we’ll go – and it turned out to be a private tour of the desert with a picnic lunch. It’s not easy to describe the emotion that takes you over when you ride with speed unlimited in the vastness of the desert, having no worries and no obligation of reaching a specific destination.

At some point, we reached the second-highest mountain in the Wadi Rum desert – Jabal Ram or Jebel Rum. Our hike started easily on huge platform-like stones. When we got to the highest plateau, we could see a giant elephant formed of stones. The views of Saudi Arabia made us just sit and dream of flying over the desert, passing mountains, rocks, and countries.

Hiking with sandals was no issue for our Jordanian guides. While we were absorbing the views and dancing on the mountain top, they had arranged a fire and of course, some mint tea. We raised our sugar levels up again, ready for the descent and to write our names as memories on giant flat stones. Well, Rashid wrote ours in Arabic, hopefully, right. 😊

We continued riding through the desert, being both mesmerized by the unbelievable landscapes and Rashid’s abilities to navigate through the desert. We didn’t get lost not a single time! Finally, we stopped near a huge rock so we could use some of its shade.

We were on a desert meadow, our picnic blanket started getting full of appetizers. Rashid cooked some amazing vegetable stew and we started eating. In the distance, we could spot some camels grazing the tiny grass and bushes. After finishing lunch, we sat down to enjoy some Bedouin stories and note different traditions in different cultures (Nace was dreaming of a birthday cake for his birthday in two days but there is no birthday celebration in the Bedouins world).

Best places to visit in Jordan - Wadi Rum desert picnic
The best desert chef 👨‍🍳 So far we’ve been enjoying Jordanian food – not only delicious but also made with love and offered with the best view 🏜
Rashid took it to another level – a quiet place in the desert, a quick vegetable stew, and a nice chat about Bedouin life… 🐪

Bedouin camp under the stars

That is the cutest tent in the desert! ⛺️ It has everything – beds with thick blankets, local design of the interior, a view towards the mountain, and quick sandy access to the toilets…
Perfect for desert romance 🏜 and stargazing 🔭

Best places to visit in Jordan - Wadi Rum desert camp
Jordan itinerary - Wadi Rum desert camp at night
Nace and the Milky Way

Aqaba – the start and finish of our Jordan itinerary

We decided to stay a few days in Aqaba to explore the city and to check out the diving and snorkeling at the Red Sea.

We booked an apartment with a shared kitchen and bathroom in a quiet neighborhood. After being offline for few days, we acquired a SIM card from one of the stores in the central shopping area. We didn’t bargain much as we didn’t suppose you can bargain for a SIM card with telecom.

Aqaba City tour – do it yourself

The central part of Aqaba can easily be explored on foot. You can choose to follow the locals and find hidden gems like the best places to eat, hang out, and do some shopping.

  • For history buffs, we suggest the Aqaba Castle and the remains of fortress walls in the city.
  • If you want to go shopping, you’ll be spoiled for choice in the central shopping district. There are also some western malls if you fancy air conditioning.
  • For food – basically, every place is good, but we highly suggest Hashem Son’s and Alfawal Aldmdhqe near Princess Salma Park – simple yet delicious food, super affordable. In our neighborhood, we just check out grocery stores where we could handpick our veggies or order pizza, or see the process of baking delicious sweets.
  • Beach lovers, there’s a city beach that can do the job (modest dress code). We suggest going for the snorkeling and diving spots as they have more sand and fewer people.
  • You have to chill out with lemonade and shisha in the evening, sitting somewhere on the sea promenade/over the tony beach. It’s what many locals do and it’s a signature thing to do in Aqaba.

Diving and snorkeling in Aqaba

It turned out we were neighbors with the owners of Coral Garden Diving Center in Aqaba so we booked a dive and later a snorkeling day with them. Diving spots are plenty, most of which are located just south of Aqaba. One can choose between different sunk old ships, tanks, planes, etc. It turned out the King of Jordan was an avid diver so he made sure it was a diver’s paradise out there in Jordan and its touch with the Red Sea.

Our dive was in a group of 6 (inclusive of the divemaster) and we dive to the Cesar Pride Shipwreck. It was amazing to see all the new inhabitants around the wreck. The visibility of the Red Sea was totally amazing and we had lots of fun! There were a father and a son fellow divers who got certified within a day in Holland and the result was that the divemaster was mostly occupied with them most of the time. We had no issues and it was just Nace’s birthday. We celebrated the same way last year in Honduras, but back then he tried to drown me. Ups. Actually, Nace experienced a mask squeeze for the first time diving.

Jordan itinerary - diving in Aqaba
Nace after his first mask squeeze while diving

The next day we went snorkeling as we wanted to be completely OK for our flight back home plus we were a bit sick and it wouldn’t be enjoyable. Nace was recovering quickly from his first mask squeeze. We snorkeled around the public beach, saw The Tank (it’s pretty shallow, like 12 meters), and then went around one of the newest sites – the Hercules airplane. It was full of divers sitting and taking photos in the cockpit. We were happy to just watch from above and see clearly all the action. Definitely amazing visibility!

Aqaba Bird Observatory

Any ornithologists here? Even if you don’t consider yourself one, the Aqaba Bird Sanctuary is a nice thing to do when you have time after exploring Aqaba, and a car of course. You should bring your passport, as you’re getting really close to the border with Israel.

This outdoor observatory is a nice place for bird-watching, especially when it’s not too hot outside. We visited it at the beginning of November, mid-day, and it was ok. We managed to spot some cormorants, eagles, lots of ducks, and maybe a falcon. If you visit Aqaba Bird Observatory during migration times, you might stumble upon tens of different birds.

Expect walking on well-defined trails as well as crossing dirt paths and to pass between water reservoirs. Their website has everything you need to know to plan your visit.

Work from Aqaba

We tried, really tried to find a quiet coffee place in Aqaba. We even went to a mall outside the city just to realize the coffee shop was closed for good.

The internet on our SIM card was just as reliable as the WiFi in our apartment (same provider anyway). We still managed to finish some stuff, but when it came to calls – OMG. Anyway, Nace did manage to conduct a planning meeting from a cafe that was slowly turning into an afternoon bar. Quiet and Aqaba just can’t coexist.

Jordan itinerary - work from Aqaba

Practical tips for happy traveling to Jordan

Here is everything you need to know to plan your trip to Jordan. How to deal with currency and cash, SIM cards, do you need a visa, Jordan Pass, and also how to rent a car and explore and what to put in your luggage.

Currency

The local currency is called Jordan Dinar and at the time it was quite strong – 1 JOD equaled 1.25 euro. British people complained that JOD was stronger than the pound. We are used to most of the currencies being stronger than the Bulgarian Lev.

We took some USD with us because we heard they give better rates for dollars rather than for euros. At the airport and in Wadi Musa, even nearby Petra – the rate was the same or similar. We didn’t want to draw money from ATMs as we read that it’s very rare to do this painlessly with European cards.

SIM cards in Jordan

If you want to better navigate through the country and search for places of interest online, a local SIM would be really helpful. We didn’t get one at the beginning of our trip to Jordan but as soon as we settled in Aqaba we decided to get one as we planned to do some work and the connection in the apartment we stayed in wasn’t reliable.

We decided to go with one of the biggest Jordanian operators – Zain. We tried a couple of mobile shops but they turned us down – it was like they weren’t interested in selling prepaid sims for foreigners. Eventually, on one of the Aqaba’s market streets, we find a guy that sold us a SIM card – with 28GB of data for 11 JOD. The thing was that Zain did not cover even some parts of Aqaba, so getting online was a huge pain in the ass. We couldn’t even use 10% of the prepaid package so we decided to give the SIM card away for someone else to use until it expires in one month. That didn’t work out, too.

So, unless you’re staying for a longer time or you really really need to be online, don’t bother to search for and bargain for a local SIM card. Free WiFi here and there could do some occasional job.

Jordan itinerary - Wadi Rum desert camp at night
Luckily, there’s no cell phone reception in the desert.

Jordan Pass

You might be wondering if buying the Jordan Pass is worth it. Check on their website, they have listed all the attractions that are included. We noticed plenty of the attractions included and open by the time we were visiting revolved around Amman and we had no plan to visit it during our Jordan itinerary. But then we saw it will fast forward us to the waiting lines for Petra + we could visit Aqaba Museum and Aqaba Castle. The big deal for the Jordan Pass is that it includes the visa on arrival fees.

Visa for Jordan would cost 40 JOD per person for us. The entrance to Petra for 1 day costs 50 JOD. And the Jordan Pass with a 1-day Petra entrance fee included costs 70. So it was a great deal!

So basically if you plan to visit Petra and there is a visa fee for your nationality, the Jordan Pass is totally worth it!

Jordan Visa

While the visa is waived for some countries, most of the countries are not. So if you have to get a visa on arrival in Jordan, it would cost 40 JOD and more time at the border (as you also have to pay for it). Holders of Jordan Pass are entitled to the Jordan visa (it’s included in the price of the pass) so it happens really faster at the border.

Renting a car

Renting a car gave us some flexibility and also the chance to discover more places on our own (usually fast) pace. We managed to visit so many places because of the car we rented.

We used Rentalcars.com to find the best deal and then all we had to do was to get an offline map of the country. Nace got used to the dark roads as soon as the sun goes down and the occasional lack of signs to help you orient better. We couldn’t get used to the road bumps which were too many and too bumpy in some places.

It’s important to know the gas has a different price, depending on how touristy the place is. For example, we paid 27 JOD for 22 liters of gasoline in Wadi Musa (the town near Petra) and 13 JOD for 15 liters in Aqaba. If you want to save money, avoid popular places to fill in your tank.

Jordan packing list

As you’ll be outside exploring the wonders of Petra and Jordan, the most essential items to your packing list are:

Comfortable walking/hiking shoes – for Petra, Wadi Rum, and all the desert experiences in general.

Flip-flops/sandals – they will be for Aqaba and your beach/diving/snorkeling activities + to wear at home/showering.

Layers of clothes – T-shirts, tops, polar jackets, jackets, windbreakers, scarfs – it could get quite hot during the day and very chilly at night, especially in the desert. So layer up and you won’t have any problems.

A good daypack to carry water, clothes, camera during long and full of experiences days.

A sunhat, bandana, and sunglasses – the sun could be scorching and it could be quite dusty and sandy.

Sunscreen, and all the regular cosmetics.

Clothes and underwear as you wish, but don’t forget the onion style to feel comfortable at all times of the day. Dress modestly for religious sites a.nd regular public places like the streets of Aqaba

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Looking forward to our next encounter with the amazing Jordan 🇯🇴 and its breathtaking nature and friendly people! 😊

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