Jordan Chronicles 1: Tips for backpacking in Jordan on a budget

It was March 2016 when I went on a solo backpacking trip to Jordan for 6 days. 6-10 days is good enough to visit most of the country.

Why Jordan? The first reaction (maybe, obvious as Jordan is still an off-the beaten track destination) I got from many friends and family was “why Jordan and why on earth would I want to go alone to an Arab country in the Middle East??!!” Well, I always wanted to see Petra and most importantly, I fell in love with the Wadi Rum desert the first time I saw pictures of it. I had put sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum and walking around in Petra in my bucket list since 2014 and finally I had a chance to do it. But honestly, going out of your comfort zone, taking risks if necessary and living your dreams is the biggest gift you can give yourself!  Additionally, Jordan has visa-on-arrival (including Indian passport holders, check on this website) for many countries and it just makes the experience much more hassle free!

Map of Jordan_500
Map of Jordan in the Middle East

Best time to visit:

Spring (March till May) is the best time to visit Jordan as temperatures are soothing and you will have a lovely time.

Summers (June-September) are very hot because it is in the middle east and temperatures can go up till 45 degrees. Good time to avoid!

Autumn (September 15 – November 15) can be good marked with rain showers in October. This is definitely the second best time to visit the country.

Winter (December- February) can be very harsh and the experience wont be same with such cold temperatures (specially in Petra and Wadi Rum). Temperatures can drop till – 6 degrees. Better to avoid for sure!

Languages spoken: While Arabic is the national language and Islam is the pre-dominant religion, most people in the cities and touristic sites speak English well and I did meet many Christians too who were natives of the country as well. Even though next to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, Jordan is very different and much more liberal and open-minded country unlike its neighbors.

Dress-code: You should be fine with loose trousers and shirts. Don’t put on flashy clothes as you will only draw unwanted attention. The main religion being Islam, you need to respect the culture and not show off much of your body. I have seen many female tourists wearing shorts in Petra which looked fine but they were all a part of organized group tours and not traveling by their own. When you travel by yourself, you instantly get more attention, and hence, I would advice to wear loose clothes. I always wore trousers and T-shirts. You can buy a head scarf anywhere in Jordan (around 3-4 JDs) and it is a nice experience to learn to put it on. Head scarf doesn’t just let you blend in and have a local feeling, but also saves from the heat and sand dust everywhere. FYI, it also gave me a chance to take numerous selfies (Girls, you know what I mean :P).

My itinerary: In Jordan I visited Amman, Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum.

  1. Amman is the capital of Jordan.
  2. Aqaba is in South Jordan and serves as a gateway to the Red Sea.
  3. Petra is one of the 7 wonders of the world.
  4. Wadi Rum is a desert which is also known as the “Valley of the Moon.

Travel expenses:

1 JD = 1.4 USD approximately and USD is accepted in many places except local shops. I would strongly advice using JDs as ATMs and money exchange shops (western union preferred) are not uncommon (except Wadi Rum). Jordan is definitely not a hard-core backpacking destination because it is an expensive place to visit and the visit to Petra itself takes 50 JDs (70 USD) for a day! Yes, it is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you cant count it on your backpacking country list. It is possible and I did it. Tickets from Amsterdam to Amman on a Turkish Airlines flight costed me 340 Euros when booked 3 months back. FYI, I saw round trip tickets from Amsterdam to Aqaba (another port of entry in Jordan) for 190 Euros recently. So keep an eye!

How to curb down your expenses in Jordan?

  1. Get the Jordan Pass: The first thing you should do after you make up your mind on Jordan is to get the Jordan Pass which might sound expensive in the beginning because it is 70 JD (99 USD), but it includes visits to Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash, Roman Theatre in Amman and many many other sites). Most importantly, it includes your visa on arrival fee of 40 JDs (55  USD) too! So, what are you waiting for? Grab it and remember to order it online atleast 4 days before your visit to Jordan as you need to show the confirmation email at Amman airport to get your visa fee waived off!. It is still not very popular among tourists and I did know about it before my arrival to Jordan, but just didn’t know that I had to order and pay online for it 3 days in advance atleast! Stupidity!!! 🙁
  2. Enter and leave at Aqaba airport: Yes, if you enter and leave at Aqaba airport, then you don’t need to pay the visa fee! How cool is that..You instantly save 40 JDs! wow 🙂
  3. Couch-surfing and Hotels: I didn’t stay at any hotels in Jordan as I was always couch-surfing. Couch-surfing is a great option for backpackers as there are many options in big cities and many many people do it there including big groups and couples. So, try it. If you didn’t ever try couch-surfing, start with making an account and Jordan will not disappointment you. But hotels are not much expensive and will be around 20 USD at max for a budget double room all over the country. The next relatively big money you will probably spend is in Wadi Rum. I paid 40 JDs for a 1N 2D Wadi Rum tour including everything as I shared my trip with 4 other girls. This was relatively very cheap and it is hard to crack a deal like this, but not impossible!
  4. Rent a car: Renting a car in Jordan is not expensive and gives you a lot of flexibility. Public transportation in Jordan is very cheap but not very reliable except in big cities. Major bus operating company is JETT bus. I used only public transportation while moving from big cities and it was very cheap.
  5. Hitchhiking: If you are very adventurous, then hitchhiking can be a very good and safe option. I did it twice and it worked out very well. Getting a ride is very easy and people are always curious about you, your culture and mostly try to communicate with actions if they don’t speak English (here it works well if you learn a bit of local words in Arabic which I did and worked fine). Please note that putting your thumb to the car is considered prostitution in Jordan, so better check the rules first. Check out hitchwiki for best advises for hitchhiking rules in different countries and how to do it good. Taxis are also not very expensive if you are traveling within the city. But can get very expensive if you want to do long distances like reach Petra from Wadi Rum/Amman for example!
  6. Volunteering in Jordan: Volunteering in Jordan for a week (2 days for me) is a good way of seeing the country at a very cheap price. Free food and accommodation are provided and you do very easy jobs like I helped a bedouin guy in Wadi Rum to build his website in English. On return, my entrance fee for Wadi Rum was waived, I got one grand meal for free and he teamed me up with 4 Swedish girls for the jeep tour in Wadi Rum for 2 days at a little price of 40 JDs. He also arranged for us to sleep under the stars by giving us a mattress and blankets (it was an amazing experience as we didn’t have any tent on us).
  7. Food: Ok, couch-surfing has a lot of perks like I didn’t have to pay for own food anywhere and always my hosts would prepare local (vegetarian) food for me and often take me out and pay for my food! Did I say that Jordanian hospitality is well renowned in the world? :). But if you have to pay for yourself, I suggest avoiding touristic places and a bit outside the major touristic attractions and then the price reduces by half! Food isn’t super cheap, neither super expensive.
  8. Skip Dead-sea: I know its not a very good suggestion, but definitely an economic one! I really wanted to float in the dead sea, but the price you pay for that is terrifying. There is a public beach, but if you are a female and want to really have a good experience, then you better not swim (with all your clothes on and people staring at you) in the public beach. You have to stay at a high-end resort in the Dead sea to access the private resort beaches and another option is to book a day access to the private beach from a resort, but still its very pricy. Prices to stay at one of the resorts start at 99 USD per night for a couple. It might not be very expensive for many people, but for a broke backpacker like me, it was! May be next time when I am traveling with my partner (ahem ahem 😉 ) or I am at Israel as the Israeli side of Dead sea is definitely much bigger and better.
  9. Getting a local Jordan sim card: I wish I had stopped being lazy and got a local sim card which was just 4 JDs for 1 GB internet. Instead, I kept using my American number and which landed me with a huge bill. Don’t be so stupid like me. Really!

Overall experience: Did I have a good experience and will I recommend you to visit Jordan? Hell yes! Little did I know how amazing my trip would turn out to be. I met many Bedouins (cave dwellers in Jordan) and even couch-surfed at couple of them. I also met local Jordanians (both Christians and Muslims), enjoyed great food together, got blissed with beautiful landscapes, swam and snorkeled in the crystal clear Red Sea with thousands of fishes, ventured into the beautiful Wadi Rum desert where I slept under the falling stars, hiked in Petra with beoduins and also got a taste of Amman (the capital of Jordan). I made a point to only couch-surf and use public transport (well, I was brave enough to hitch-hike twice) in Jordan. Not to forget, that SISHA is a must-try in Jordan if you don’t mind smoking flavored nicotine! I am not a smoker, but it was a very nice experience! Overall I had an incredible time ! Happy reading :).

Read my next post on how I traveled from Amsterdam to Jordan here: Jordan Chronicles 2: Amsterdam to Aqaba