Travel Guide: Jordan
Travel has such a unique power to transform you. I come back from each place a different person – with a new perspective, appreciation and motivation. My love for bike travel is at the core of this obsession. My bike is a vehicle to explore the world, meet people and break down cultural barriers unlike anything else.
My love affair with Jordan (and the Middle East) started with a trip to Dubai two years ago to coach a mountain bike skills clinic. I added a couple of weeks onto the end of my trip to travel. Even though I had traveled in the Middle East as a kid, it isn't a place I had explored as an adult and I had a lot of questions and uncertainty. So, I made up my mind that this was my time to explore and form my own opinions about a place we are taught to fear.
“Go to Jordan,” was the overwhelming response from my friends who had traveled in the Middle East. I absorbed advice and information from my contacts in the Emirates like a sponge, looked at flights, found things to do, Googled ‘Mountain Biking Jordan’ and found a Facebook group of people who knew where to ride. Two days later, I was on my way to Jordan – solo.
Within 48 hours of arrival, I had an immediate crew of friends. The following three weeks were a whirlwind of life-changing experiences.
When I left, I promised to return… and so I did.
My adventures in Jordan are one of those things I will look back to and reflect on for my entire life. I returned having grown as a person and with a newfound perspective, realizing the world is so much smaller than we think it is. I am happy to help anyone discover the magic of Jordan for themselves. Read my guide below!
Visiting Jordan is a great way to get your feet wet when traveling in the Middle East. It’s easy to navigate, safe, there are a tone of historic sites, the riding is super fun, the food is fantastic, and the people are incredibly kind and charismatic. Jordan has all the infrastructure for tourism, but since tourism is low right now, you get it mostly to yourself!
Why by bike?
A bike is an icebreaker; a bike is disarming; and, a bike brings out the child in everyone you meet. When you travel by bike or with a bike, you will meet more people and have some incredible off-the-beaten-path, meaningful experiences – the type that don’t usually happen on the normal tourist route.
Plus the food is amazing, so why not work up an appetite and eat that much more of it!
is it safe?
This was my main concern too. Although it looks quite daunting in terms of geography, Jordan is stable, quite progressive and modern.
Being mindful of culture and customs is one of the easiest ways you can show your respect. You are not going to get in trouble if you show bare skin in Jordan, but it is not respectful to do so.
As a woman, I traveled solo and never felt uncomfortable or in danger. Like visiting any foreign country, you want to keep your wits about you. With that said, keep your head up, and your heart open.
Tip: I wore both short sleeves and long sleeves, but I didn’t wear shorts aside from my time on the bike - which is totally normal and acceptable. I always kept a scarf and a long sleeve shirt in my bag, just in case.
What to ride and see?
There are several must-see places to add on to your biking escapades. The best part is you can double up the locations. A day of sights, a day of bikes.
Petra: A trip to Jordan would not be complete without visiting Petra. Often known as the “Lost City” and made famous by Hollywood blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade , there are tons of images of Petra out there – but if you don’t know, it’s an ancient city carved into rock. Just outside of Petra, there happens to be some of the best mountain biking in Jordan. It is quite special to experience this area by bike as there is so much history in the area. While you can’t ride in Petra itself, you can see glimpses of it on occasion from your ride.
Most people do Petra in a day but I think you are cheating yourself a bit with so little time. This area is INCREDIBLE. Spend some time there - both on and off the bike.
Dead Sea: A trip to the Dead Sea is surprisingly pricey, but I think that it is well worth it. There are no public beaches on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, so your best bet is to pay for a day pass to one of the hotels and soak it up. Cycling Jordan has day tours that leave from Amman and ride the 70km to the Dead Sea, which could be a fun option. 70km might seem like a lot, but remember the Dead Sea is -1400 feet below sea level – so gravity is on your side! There is a race called Dead to Red which races from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea - it is on my bucket list!
PRO TIP: The mud from the Dead Sea is great for your skin. In fact, it is used in beauty products around the world! So make sure you get muddy on your trip to the Dead Sea!
Amman: Amman has really grown on me as a city. There is some really great stuff to see, so put on your walking shoes and get after it. While I did ride around the city, you will have less to worry about as you go into restaurants, museums and sites if you explore the city by foot. The city itself is not particularly bike-friendly. So if you do decide to ride, you must be aggressive.
From Amman, you can also take day trips up to As-Salt, Shobak Castle, Kerak and Jerash to ride and see historical sites. There is nothing like rolling up to a castle on your bike and having a hot cup of Bedouin whiskey (and by whiskey, I mean sweet tea). Cycling Jordan offers tours to these spots!
While there is a ton to see in Jordan as a whole, I suggest spending a couple of days in and around Amman.
Start on Rainbow Street, have breakfast or lunch at Shams el Balad and walk to the downtown to see the colosseum. The temple of Hercules and Hashem has incredible falafel. You may need to walk some more (good thing there is awesome shopping here!) before you try Habibah which is a traditional Jordanian desert. From the downtown, walk up to Weibdeh which is the young and hip area of Amman. Inta Ana offers an incredible yoga classes (I tried Iyengar here!) and is well worth a stop. I suggest having dinner at Joz Hind which has an ever changing delicious menu - it's a tiny little spot but oh-so-good.
Abdoun is an upscale neighborhood in Amman with some great restaurants (and many embassies nearby). Primal is a fantastic paleo restaurant and is well worth a visit!!
Check out the events section of the Jordan Times – there is always something go on!
There is a cool climbing gym called, Climbat which is super fun – I met some great people in here and I am sure you will too!
Amman Tip: When people talk about navigating Amman, they talk in terms of circles - there are 8 circles that break up the different areas of the city. I suggest staying somewhere near the 1st or 3rd circle as you are quite centrally located.
Wadi Rum: Wadi Rum is one of the most magical places I have ever been. It is stunningly beautiful. If you ever wondered how they recreated Mars in the movie the Martian or daydreamed about the vistas of Lawrence of Arabia, that is Wadi Rum. You can spend your days exploring the desert by foot or LandRover and soak up the stars at night. I had seen photos of it before I went, and it far exceeded my expectations. Although I rode some freeride lines in Wadi Rum, pedaling is tricky because there is a lot of sand. So, plan on taking a couple days off the bike and enjoy Wadi Rum for all its beauty. You might fall in love there – I think that Wadi Rum is one of the most romantic places I have ever been, even though I have never been there with a partner!
Aqaba: Aqaba is a great place to end your trip. The Red Sea is beautiful, and geographically it is a fascinating spot. At the tip of the Red Sea, you’ve got Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and you can see all of them at the same time. Since you have your bike with you and the coastline is relatively short 27km (16 miles) I think it is cool to explore it by bike. (Yes, you can wear a bikini and lie on the beach - though you will probably feel most comfortable if you go to a hotel rather than a public beach. You will see everything from bikinis to burkinis!)
Dana Reserve: I only stayed on the edge of Dana for a night but I wish I had more time to properly explore it. Fenyan Eco Lodge gets rave reviews and you can ride your bike there!
What to eat?
Lebennah, Za’atar, Mansaf... Eat it all (and then just ride a little more to work it off)!
In Amman, I have some favorite restaurants, many of them linked above (Shams el Balad, Habibah, Hashem, Primal, Reem, Joz Hind. Everywhere else you go you will likely eat sit down traditional dishes with new friends in random spots. My advice? Just go with the flow – your taste buds will thank you!
Tip: If you are craving a cocktail, the only place you can buy alcohol in Jordan is at the hotel bars. Rather than drinking or going to happy hour, everyone smokes Shisha/Hookah and just chats! If you must though, Bonita is located at the 3rd circle and super cute.
How to get around?
Taxi, Uber, Bus or rent a car. I have done all four. If you are in Amman using Taxi/Uber is straightforward and cost effective. If you want to venture outside Amman – which you certainly should – I think renting a car is your best bet. They are well-priced, and the driving isn’t too crazy. Just watch out for speed bumps! The bus is convenient, but it is a bit tricky logistically with a bike.
How to get there?
Amman has an international airport with direct flights from all major cities.
Where to stay?
AirBnB is my favorite for any travel! Amman has a ton of spots to choose from for reasonable prices. Look for spots near the 1st-3rd circle. I always prefer to stay in low key places and blend it a little bit (no matter where I go in the world). Staying in an AirBnB is great because you will meet more locals!
Wadi Rum: Stay at Fox Camp - Sulaiman is coolest!
Petra: Seven Wonders is super close to Petra and BEAUTIFUL at night!
Tip: Pay a little extra and eat at the camps!
To learn more about biking in Jordan, link up with Cycling Jordan in Amman. They offer a wide array of tours all over the country and also bike rentals. I have spent a lot of time in this shop and I adore them – tell them Katie sent you!
Tip: While the cycling is awesome in Jordan, it is all about adventure rides as opposed to the coolest trails you have ever ridden. Exploring the region by bikes means you get off the beaten path, you talk to farmers, have tea in villages, and see places very few people get to see. It is incredible! Go with an open mind, ready to explore and take it all in.
More questions about Jordan?
Still unsure? Send me andemail.