Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Get Off the Beaten Path in Amman
Amman may not be as famous as Petra, but Jordan's capital has plenty to offer beyond the typical tourist haunts. Venturing off the beaten path reveals a vibrant, modern city with rich history, delicious food, and friendly locals happy to share their city with visitors.
Start by exploring Amman's downtown area on foot. Meander through narrow alleys lined with fruit stands overflowing with fresh produce. Pop into hole-in-the-wall eateries and sample mana'ish, flaky flatbreads topped with za'atar spice, or sunkar, cardamom-spiced milk tea. The downtown area showcases Amman's diversity, with ornate mosques nestled beside ancient Byzantine churches.
For panoramic views, take a taxi up to the Citadel. This sprawling complex was inhabited for millennia, with remains dating back to the Bronze Age. Don't miss the striking Temple of Hercules at the entrance. Then head inside the Ottoman-era palace for exhibits showcasing Jordan's history. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.
Experience modern Amman with a stroll down Rainbow Street. Cute cafes, hookah bars, and art galleries have opened in once-crumbling townhouses. Stop for a fresh-squeezed juice or a cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe. People watch as locals and expats mingle and animated conversations flow in Arabic and English.
As evening falls, join locals gathering at souqs like the covered Souq Jara. This vibrant market overflows with handicrafts and enticing street food. Try a juicy kebab or savory falafel sandwich. Browse stalls selling handwoven rugs, natural olive oil soaps, embroidered dresses, and copper wares. Don't be afraid to haggle for deals on unique souvenirs.
Venture outside Amman to explore ruins and landscapes virtually untouched for centuries. Jerash hosts a well-preserved Roman city, while the desert castles include mysterious ancient structures. Follow King's Highway south through stunning canyons to Kerak Castle dramatically perched on a hilltop. Go further south to float effortlessly in the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea.
What else is in this post?
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Get Off the Beaten Path in Amman
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Float in the Dead Sea for Free
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Camp Bedouin-Style in Wadi Rum
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Experience Petra's Majesty on a Budget
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Eat Local Delights for Pennies
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Discover Jerash's Roman Ruins
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Relax at Azraq Wetlands Reserve
- Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Splash Around at Waterfalls in Wadi Mujib
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Float in the Dead Sea for Free
Floating effortlessly in the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea is an experience like no other, and budget travelers will be happy to know it doesn’t have to break the bank. While some public beaches along the Dead Sea charge entrance fees, there are a number of free public access points allowing you to enjoy the water’s buoyant properties at zero cost.
One such spot is near Kalia Beach, about 15 minutes south of Amman along Highway 65. Look for the turnoff near mile marker 5 and follow the road past the resorts to a small gravel parking area. From here, a short trail leads to the water where locals and tourists alike swim and float while soaking up the landscape’s raw, desert beauty. Come prepared with water shoes as the salty seabed can be rough on bare feet.
Further south, additional free access points can be found past the resort area of Neve Zohar in Israel, including a section near Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. Arrive early to claim your spot, as these unofficial areas fill up on weekends. Keep valuables locked in your car and watch your belongings, as petty theft can be an issue at busy free beaches.
Floating effortlessly with no exertion required is entirely thanks to the sea’s extreme salinity—10 times saltier than the ocean. The high mineral content increases the water’s density, causing you to bob like a cork. Take the weight off your feet and lean back as the water cradles your body. Gaze up at the striking cliffs towering above and enjoy the surreal sensation of lifting arms and legs with ease.
While you can only wade in at the edges of the Dead Sea, you can still coat skin and hair in the mineral-dense water reputed for its therapeutic effects. Be sure to keep the salty water out of eyes and avoid swallowing it. The high saline content can burn sensitive areas. Afterward, rinse off under the public showers usually found near free access points.
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Camp Bedouin-Style in Wadi Rum
Escape the chaos of Petra and immerse yourself in the majestic desert wilderness of Wadi Rum. Sleeping under the stars in traditional Bedouin camps allows you to experience the area’s raw natural beauty for a fraction of the cost of staying in hotels.
Wadi Rum’s vast expanses of weather-carved sandstone feel virtually unchanged since the days of Lawrence of Arabia. Craggy peaks and canyons glow red and gold as the rising sun’s rays set the sand ablaze. The absence of light pollution provides stunning views of the Milky Way swirling overhead at night. Laying beneath the glittering cosmos is an experience that reconnects you with the ancient nomadic spirit of the desert.
Most Bedouin camps offer an authentic taste of traditional desert life for budget travelers. Sleep in spacious goat hair tents or outside under the stars. Sit around a campfire, sipping sweet tea and conversing with locals eager to share their culture. Savor home-cooked Jordanian meals like mansaf, tender lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served over rice.
During the day, explore surrounding canyons and rock bridges on guided hikes or 4x4 excursions. Scramble up weathered sandstone domes for panoramic vistas. Seek out ancient petroglyphs etched into rocky overhangs centuries ago. As the sinking sun casts long shadows, relax over a picnic while a traditional zalghouta dancer in flowing robes performs to the beat of drums.
For the most authentic experience, stay at a small family-run camp like Sun City Camp where the friendly owner Mohammad will spend hours swapping stories and songs around the fire. With just a handful of tents, you’ll feel part of the family. At Beit Ali Camp enjoy traditional music performances and learn to bake meat pies in the embers.
Larger camps like Mazayen Rum Camp offer more amenities like WiFi, pools, and en suite bathrooms while maintaining Bedouin hospitality. Upgrade to a luxury glamping tent for well-appointed bedding and stone bathrooms. Enjoy stargazing through telescopes after feasting at the buffet.
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Experience Petra's Majesty on a Budget
Petra's sprawling complex of ornate structures carved into rose-hued cliff faces never fails to inspire awe in visitors. This ancient city was the thriving capital of the Nabataean empire over 2,000 years ago. Today it stands as Jordan's most visited attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
While Petra merits its fame, the steep admission price of 50-70 JD (around $70-100) can deter budget-conscious travelers. Thankfully, you can experience Petra's grandeur for less by purchasing a two-day pass. This allows you to see the main highlights at a more leisurely pace without feeling rushed. Opting for a longer visit cuts costs by amortizing that initial entrance fee over multiple days.
Arriving early is key to dodging the crowds and temperatures. Be at the gate right at 6 am when it opens. Put those first few hours of cool morning light to use exploring top sights like the iconic Treasury facade and the giant amphitheater relatively crowd-free. The walk down the Siq gorge is especially magical in the hushed dawn hours.
Pack snacks and water to avoid pricey food stalls inside. Eat your home-packed lunch outside the gate where there's shade, then go back in when it's cooler late afternoon. Since your pass is good for two consecutive days, you can repeat this strategic early bird approach.
Staying overnight outside of Petra also saves substantially on lodging. Nearby Wadi Musa teems with budget hotels for under $50 a night. Wake up early and arrive right as the gates open. Or consider sleeping under the stars in a Bedouin tent camp. Experience Petra at sunrise sans crowds before tucking into a traditional breakfast.
Riding a horse or donkey is a popular way to see Petra's expansive area. But opting to walk instead of hiring transportation both immerses you in the sights and reduces expenses. Wandering by foot allows you to notice intricate details and really soak up the majestic surroundings at your own pace. Let your feet do the work rather than hitching a ride.
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Eat Local Delights for Pennies
Jordan boasts delectable Arabic fare, but dining out frequently can devour your travel budget. With insider tips, though, you can feast on local flavor for just pennies. Authentic street food saves substantially and offers immersion in Amman's street life and culture.
At Hashem Restaurant, a hole in the wall downtown institution for over half a century, savor Jordan's national dish mansaf. This hearty meal features tender lamb cooked in fermented dried yogurt sauce and served over rice with a side of bulgur wheat. Hashem's generous portions cost around 3 JD ($4)—a steal compared to most restaurants charging 10 JD ($14) or more.
For under 1 JD (less than $2), stop at a bustling falafel stand like Al-Quds for piping hot fried chickpea fritters stuffed into warm pita bread along with vegetables. Add a cup of lemony sumac onion salad for a flavor and crunch boost. Dunk it all in creamy hummus and tahini sauce.
If you're craving something sweet, bakeries like Habibah ply sugar-dusted ghraybeh shortbread cookies, sesame-encrusted barazek sesame bread rings, and other Arabic sweets. A bagful of assorted treats runs just a few dinars.
Visit Amman's chaotic souqs like the covered Souq Al Balad for produce stands overflowing with mounds of peaches, figs, dates, and more—all offered at a fraction of grocery store prices. Pocket a bag of just-picked cherries or pomegranates to snack on later.
For a refreshing reprieve from the heat, stop at a juice bar like Al-Saha. Sip freshly squeezed pomegranate or sweet mango juice for 1 JD or less. Or try sugarcane juice pressed on an old-fashioned crank press—the perfect rehydrating companion while exploring sites.
In Petra, packing snacks avoids paying inflated prices inside. But treat yourself to a bowl of moutabel, smoky roasted eggplant dip, and warm flatbread inside Little Petra's low-key Resthouse Café—prices remain fair at 5 JD ($7). Refuel before tackling Petra's sprawling size on foot to save on transportation costs.
Near Wadi Rum, stop at roadside fruit stands for bananas, melons and other produce. Pick up pita, hummus, yogurt and other grab-and-go snacks in town supermarkets for outings. While visiting the canyons, many Bedouin camps can rustle up delicious and economical meals like zarb-baked meat and vegetables cooked underground in an earth oven.
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Discover Jerash's Roman Ruins
Step back in time over 2000 years as you stroll the ruins of ancient Jerash. This provincial Roman city flourished for centuries before being lost to the sands, only rediscovered in the early 1900s. Today it stands as Jordan’s largest and most impressive Roman site, remarkably well-preserved with archways intact and cobblestone streets ready for chariots.
As you pass through the imposing Hadrian Arch gateway, envision entering grand Jerash in its heyday as a thriving metropolis. Colonnaded streets stretch before you, flanked by soaring columns that would have shaded citizens conducting daily business. The sounds of horse-drawn carts and merchant chatter fill your mind as you walk the timeworn flagstones.
The vast oval forum commands your gaze, ringed by stately temples and civic buildings. Feel humbled by the massive magnitude of the remaining architecture. Climb steps leading to sacred precincts dedicated to Greek and Roman deities worshipped here centuries ago. Admire exquisite mosaics intricately pieced together to form stunning scenes from mythology.
Marvel at two sprawling theaters, including Jerash’s immense Roman Theater able to hold over 3000 spectators. Imagine the roar of crowds as actors graced the limestone stage. Stroll the racetrack of Jerash’s sprawling hippodrome, visualizing fierce competition between charioteers. As a chilling breeze whistles through the crumbling spectator seats, reflect on the sheer passage of time.
Wonder awaits at every turn, like the intricate network of aqueducts and underground drainage channels engineering Jerash’s urban water system. Ornately carved nymphaeum fountains must have provided welcome refreshment for parched locals. Look closely to spot ancient gaming boards etched into paving stones where Romans once wiled away idle time.
Though a powerful earthquake destroyed much of Jerash in the 8th century AD, the bulk of the ruins remained buried and protected for centuries under windswept desert sands. This left structures weirdly frozen in time until excavations began in the 1920s. Today you can stroll Jerash’s unearthed streets and buildings much as they looked to residents in the era of Emperor Hadrian.
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Relax at Azraq Wetlands Reserve
Tucked away in Jordan's remote eastern desert, the oasis of Azraq holds a landscape brimming with natural serenity and rare wildlife waiting to be discovered. Azraq Wetlands Reserve provides a tranquil escape from the bustle of Amman and Petra to reconnect with nature and yourself.
As Torsten says, “Azraq is an ideal spot for travelers craving a bit of peace.” The wetlands encompass pools fringed with rustling reeds, where bird species from Africa and Eurasia pause to rest during biannual migrations. Sit silently and you may spot shy pygmy Cormorants perching on branches, their gem-green eyes gleaming. Grey Herons elegantly prowl the marshy edges spearing fish with quick jabs. Watch for rare species like the Greater Spotted Eagle riding thermals overhead, identifiable by distinctive white patches on wings folded in repose.
The best viewing spots are along specially designed wooden walkways and hides discreetly positioned at prime locations. Grab a pair of binoculars and take your time gazing over the tranquil pans. Early morning boasts the most bird activity. But visiting at dusk presents magic of its own—the sunset's glow illuminating creamy pink flashes of flamingos wading through darkening shallows.
In stark contrast to the wetlands’ lush pockets, much of Azraq’s terrain is starkly beautiful desert, where oryx and ostrich roam. Bouncing in a 4x4 over sandy plains through the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve reveals gazelle bounding gracefully away, their white rumps twinkling like signals as they disappear into the scrubland. If you’re lucky, sight the rare Arabian Oryx’s elegant horns rising above the brush. Peer into the wavy desert heat and watch gazelle begin to materialize like mirages.
When the midday sun scorches, the reserve’s Azraq Lodge offers respite with a spring-fed swimming pool amid date palms. Savor a traditional barbecue lunch on the outdoor patio and watch birds flit by. The Lodge’s eco-conscious cabins embedded into the landscape provide peaceful accommodations immersed in nature, starting at just $70 a night.
Jordan Gems: 11 Insider Tips for Exploring Jordan on the Cheap - Splash Around at Waterfalls in Wadi Mujib
Tucked away in the rugged mountains of western Jordan lies Wadi Mujib, an area known as Jordan’s “Grand Canyon.” This steep-walled siq gorge carves through sandstone cliffs for over 60 miles, fed by year-round streams cascading down in tumbling waterfalls and serene pools. Exploring the upper sections of Wadi Mujib brings refreshing opportunities to splash around while soaking up stunning scenery. Avoiding the entrance fee to Mujib Nature Reserve lets budget travelers enjoy these swimming holes at zero cost.
The upper reaches of Wadi Mujib boast a series of pristine waterfalls and deep pools, perfect for swimming on hot days. Locals and tourists alike relish stopping to splash around at spots like Mudawwarat Wadi Mujib, where the river tumbles down a rocky slope in foamy white torrents. Wade in up to your neck where the current isn’t too strong. Let the cool mountain meltwater wash away the desert heat and dust. Daredevils can jump into deeper plunge pools from surrounding boulders. Lay back and float while gazing up at the canyon walls towering above.
Further upstream near the village of Rmeimeen, visitors soak weary feet in burbling streams after tackling the steep hike up to El Habla waterfall. This peaceful spot sees far fewer crowds than the touristy areas closer to the Dead Sea. Pack a picnic and relax riverside on smooth rocks while water burbles nearby. Since these spots lie outside the reserve’s boundaries, you can stop and swim for free without paying admission.
Venturing even further up-canyon leads to sublime swimming holes that only locals know. Spot impromptu ropeswings dangling over languid pools great for adrenaline-pumping Tarzan jumps. Clamber over boulders near frothy cascades to claim your own private pool. Let the soothing sounds of rushing water wash your cares away as you gaze at desert wildflowers clinging to the canyon walls. Scramble up the siq’s craggy sides for panoramic vistas over Wadi Mujib carving through the rugged landscape.
While visiting the upper reaches of Wadi Mujib, take care to avoid flash floods when rains hit upstream. Never jump or dive in unfamiliar areas. Pack along food, water, and sun protection for full days of adventure. A local guide helps navigate to the best swimming spots safely.