A nine-day Jordan Highlights Itinerary for Families
In March 2017 we took on one of our biggest family road trips yet to Jordan! Living in the Middle East for nearly five years I can’t believe we have put off this trip for so long and letting you all in on a little secret – IT WAS OUR FAVOURITE FAMILY TRIP YET!
We’ve received a lot of questions on the “how to” of organising our trip and an itinerary that will keep kids happy, so here it is down to the detail!
In this post, we will walk you through:
- Self-driving vs organised tours vs driver
- Tips for planning your itinerary
- Our 9-day Jordan itinerary with kids
- Further resources to plan your trip to Jordan
Self Drive vs Organised Tour vs Driver in Jordan
So what is the easiest way to get around in Jordan?
In relative terms, Jordan is quite a small country. The total population is about 7.8 million, with the large majority living in Amman and the north.
The main tourist attractions of Petra, Wadi Rum and the Red Sea town of Aqaba in the south are a decent drive away from the capital. They can be reached as day trips but you are best organising to spend your time moving from one location to the next rather than basing yourself in one spot.
Especially with children, don’t try to squeeze in too much or you’ll spend your whole time on the road.
What to expect if you self-drive
Even coming from the UAE to Jordan there are big differences in the style of driving! Cars are left-hand drive.
Although most of the main highways are dual carriageway, road condition can be poor in places so don’t expect to drive at top speed. Distances on maps are longer than they appear! Especially through the mountainous regions driving is very slow. Between road conditions, slowing for obstacles and other cars you do need to take your time and pack your patience, but self-driving for foreigners is very do-able.
Fuel stops are frequent enough, but only a few are “proper” service stops with restaurants and toilets (definitely BYO toilet paper). Road markings are casually observed, indicators hold no relevance and overtaking two or three abreast seems accepted. Random stoppages are the norm, potholes, speed bumps in the middle of freeways or people walking on to road completely expected.
There are several hire car companies operating out of the airport, but don’t expect a top-notch vehicle. We booked a bigger car for 5 of us and for flexible luggage space. We got a Ssangyong with a broken tail light, no working air conditioning and with the overtaking power of a lawnmower. (Still not happy with your lack of response SIXT!!!)
We found Google maps to be quite accurate and hugely assisted our navigation. Make sure you download any maps you want to use in advance so you can use over GPS without needing data (It is possible to buy data bundles at the airport but we chose not to take this option so we could unplug a bit).
There are numerous police checkpoints throughout the country. Security was particularly tight during our stay due to a Middle East summit being held at the Dead Sea but we are told the roadside police stops are regular (not the line of armoured tanks along the freeway that we encountered on arrival!).
Do stick within the speed limits – if road conditions will let you get that fast – as police will pull you over for this.
Hire cars have a different coloured registration plate so I believe that’s why we were generally flagged through most police stops. If you are pulled over though they ask where are you from and wish you a pleasant stay in Jordan. Always carry your passport, drivers license and car rental documents in the glove box in case requested.
If you are in any way a nervous driver, hopeless with maps and directions or generally like to sit back and relax on your holidays, then self-drive might not be for you and you may want to consider hiring a driving service or joining an organised tour.
An Organised Tour
Our friends at Wandering Wagars took this option and booked with a company called Jordan Select Tours which with their two small children they highly recommend. As there were no small groups running at the times they requested, they were able to organise a tailor-made itinerary, perfect for when you’re travelling with small children and need flexibility. They had one driver for their entire time in Jordan. You can see more here on their experience using the organised tour option.
Tips for planning your Jordan Road Trip Itinerary
It doesn’t matter too much which order you do your road trip, i.e. you could head south first then work your way back to Amman, or head north then west and see the Dead Sea first but a couple of things you might want to consider planning your timings around:
- We recommend timing your stop in Petra for an evening where you can catch “Petra by Night” which at the time of writing occurs on a Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The rest of your trip can fall into place around this.
- Like most Middle East countries, Jordan has their weekend on Friday – Saturday, so you will find overnight stays especially in the resort towns of Dead Seas and Aqaba will be a lot busier on Thursday and Friday nights as you will be joined by weekend trippers from Amman.
- In 9 days you can literally capture the highlights. Living in the region and having family now living in Amman, we know we will be back and have future opportunities to explore many more sites particularly closer to Amman that we missed on this trip. If this is your “once in a lifetime” trip, allow at least 14 days.
Our 9-Day Jordan Itinerary
If you only have a week of school holidays (plus weekends) for example, this itinerary neatly fits in most of the highlights without feeling overly rushed:
Day 1 Amman
Most visitors to Jordan come via Queen Alia International Airport (AMM). Spend your first night in the capital, Amman. Head to downtown for the Jordan Museum and Citadel, or the more modern Rainbow Street for restaurants and soak in the atmosphere. A lovely family-friendly find nearby is Wild Jordan Center with some stunning views over Amman and cafes where you’ll be made to feel welcome.
Amman is a huge sprawling city housing around 4 million people. It really strains under its own weight so even if you have opted to self-drive, I’d leave your car at the hotel and use a taxi or Uber to get around town as the traffic is incredibly heavy and haphazard.
We stayed with family in Amman but good central options suitable for families include Sulaf Luxury Hotel (has family rooms, breakfast included), Nishan Hotel (Can sleep 5 and includes breakfast) and Diamond Hotel Suites which has 2 bedroom apartments.
Day 2 Amman to Aqaba (Tala Bay) via Karak
350km – time 4 hours. Add 2.5 hours for a stop in Karak
It doesn’t take long to navigate out of Amman city centre to Airport Road (Route 15) which becomes the Desert Highway. There is a fair amount of greenery close to Amman but as you head south there’s a whole lot of rocky desert out there! The drive without air conditioning even in April was almost unbearable but luckily for this leg at least we were travelling in tandem with family so could swap around cars when the sweating got too much.
A “quick” pull in to Karak was a great idea. It was the first taster for the kids on ancient castles and they loved searching out caves and underground pathways in the footsteps of ancient crusaders. My fears that they might find it ‘just a bunch of old rocks’ was completely unfounded.
Onwards down the Desert Highway, you can keep on this road all the way to the Saudi Arabia border. In amongst the rocky mountains, trucks and industrial zone it’s hard to believe you suddenly pop out at the luxury resort village of Tala Bay on the Red Sea. A far more picturesque route would be to come in via Aqaba even if it adds a few minutes.
Note Aqaba is actually in a special economic zone. You will be pulled over here by police/customs officials and most likely just be asked for your licence or passport and sent on your way.
This leg, I must say, is a very long and boring drive in places, then suddenly opens up with dramatic flare! Be ready for the occasion though, bringing plenty to entertain for the kids in the car and plan a few roadside stops for drinks and loo breaks (and prepare kids for the fact they might be pit toilets!)
Our home for the next two nights was Mövenpick Tala Bay Resort & Spa – read more about our amazing Red Sea experience here.
Day 3 Tala Bay – Aqaba
We only had just over a day to enjoy our stay on the Red Sea at Mövenpick Resort. If you love being on the water and snorkelling, I would allow more time for this part of the trip, and after a long drive I’m sure the kids would like the extra down time too.
Far from being stuck at an isolated resort, there is a lively marina next door with lots of boating action and a real Mediteran feel to it. You have to keep pinching yourself where you are in the world – a small corner where four countries meet – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Egypt.
Day 4 Tala Bay to Wadi Rum
Tala Bay to Wadi Rum Visitor Center 1 hour 5 minutes (add 15 mins to buy tickets and get to Rum Village)
I’ll be honest, this was the part of the trip I was dreading but loved the most. The idea of spending a whole day bumping along in the back of a jeep then camping overnight, no electronics, no ah, grown up drinks?! with our little expat kids far more familiar with kids clubs and resorts than dust and sleeping bags, how could they possibly enjoy this?
I can categorically say, they had the TIME OF THEIR LIVES!!!!!
Entry into the vast Wadi Rum protected area of desert is only allowed with a Bedouin guide. You can simply turn up and try your luck at the visitor center, but travelling with kids I would pre-book. We chose as our guides Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp. We largely made this decision because they advertised a family size tent and we weren’t disappointed. The owner Mohammed Hamad and his brother took such great care of us and having kids themselves, they were the perfect hosts to understand our needs.
There are many different options for visiting Wadi Rum. You can arrange it as a day trip from Aqaba if you would prefer, or take a 1 or 2-day package with a guide. Unless you are travelling in a large group you will find the guides to be very flexible to what you want to see and do. Accommodation will vary from very rustic to full-on glamping with pools (Bait Ali Lodge looked lovely and top end – though it’s technically not in Wadi Rum!!)
Day 5 Wadi Rum to Petra
113kms, Rum Village to Petra 1.45hrs
After taking hours to get to our campsite navigating through the desert highlights the day before, the drive back to Rum Village and our host Mohammed’s house where our car was parked was remarkably quick! Promises have been made to return and have them take us deeper into the desert next time after seeing how much the Globetrotters enjoyed this experience.
With the sat nav on, you rejoin the Desert Highway north for a short stretch before joining the Kings Highway which takes you up through the heart of historic Jordan. This is a very long and winding drive through the mountains, but that first view of Petra and the greaft rift valley beneath you is simply spectacular – hard to capture the enormity of this moment in a photo!
Arriving around lunch time but not wanting to start our exploration of the ancient city until the following day, we took a side trip to Little Petra (siq al-Barid).
Unlike Petra, there are no entry fees, and most of the ancient buildings you are free to explore. There were hardly any other tourists to contend with and it was another great place to let them adventure, climb, use their torches and their imagination (they definitely gave this the thumbs up over the much larger and exhausting Petra sight!).
In Petra we stayed at the Mövenpick Resort due to its proximately to the entrance of the Petra historic site – literally, the ticket office is only 100m away!
The only closer hotel was the Petra Guest House Hotel which is a cheaper option but looked full of tour groups. Don’t miss the opportunity here though to have a beer at the 2000-year-old Nabatean cave bar! Most visitors stay in the nearby township of Wadi Musa.
Day 6 Petra
At least one full day is needed to explore Petra, and as we explained above, you can enhance your experience by also visiting Petra by Night.
We have a fully comprehensive guide on how to plan your trip to Petra with kids here. We go into a lot more depth on where to stay and how far you’ll be from the Petra site; how to manage your day once you’re inside Petra; how and where to hire transport to help you out and all the other practical little tips you will need for one of the most epic day outings with kids you’ll encounter!
Day 7 Petra to the Dead Sea via Shobak
197km – 3 hours (add 1 hour to stop at Shobak)
Continue your journey heading north up the Kings Highway. The next town you will come to is Shobak and the imposing Shobak Castle. Definitely worth making a little detour on your journey, it’s another opportunity for little explorers to let their imaginations run wild in this amazingly well-preserved Crusader castle. Not normally one for tours when travelling with kids, we took up a guided option and we were not disappointed.
The drive from the mountain tops down to the Dead Sea is truly one of the most spectacular and breathtaking experiences. You snake through hillside villages with colourful houses, intertwined with shepherds herding their flocks. Dramatic and very sheer cliff faces that are clearly prone to landslides finally give way to a lush green oasis beneath the mountains.
The Jordan Valley is a fertile part of an otherwise predominantly arid landscape. There’s much activity with produce sellers on the side of the road. You’re also competing with trucks making it a slow going drive. You drive past the potash production plant, bromine factory then sudden before you – the Dead Sea! The lowest point on earth.
You can see immediately see from the tide marks on the shore how far the Dead Sea levels have been dropping – apparently up to 1 meter a year. Again nothing quite prepares you for how spectacular the sea looks. The glistening deep blue waters set off against crystal blue skies, the mountains of the West Bank in the background.
We enjoyed a stunning afternoon simply admiring the view before making our attempt to test the salty floating waters then capturing one of the most magnificent sunsets.
We stayed at Mövenpick Resort & Spa in the Dead Sea, renowned for its village-like atmosphere and kid-friendly facilities.
Day 8 Dead Sea – Jerash – Amman
With the Dead Sea only sitting 60km from Amman, you can squeeze many things into your final full day. Some choose to explore the religious sights around Mount Nebo and Madaba.
We chose to head north to the ancient Roman city of Jerash as our final stop and once again, the pictures can’t really do it justice! A difficult self-drive out there with Amman traffic to contend with, and difficult parking in a manically busy little town. You may well want to dump your car by this point back at the airport and get a driver for the final leg.
Once we got past the crowds and fair-haired obsessed mobs that were following us (yes, literally), you are able to truly marvel at the ancient Roman ruins that adorn the hillsides. By far one of the most complete examples of a Roman city you will see, and even worth that extra stressful drive!
There are only limited hotel options in Jerash so you probably want to make your way back to Amman by evening.
Day 9 Amman to home
An uneventful final day for us with family but those looking for another morning of activity before an afternoon flight may want to check out the Jordan Museum and the Roman Theatre if you didn’t fit this in Day 1.
Returning to the airport in a hire car, note once you have passed the E45/E15 junction there are no further fuel stops! Top up nearer to town to avoid airport fuel charges.
Queen Alia International Airport is bright and spacious with plenty of opportunities for last minute tourist tat or dining options at the usual selection of international takeaway places. If you explore nearer to the airport lounges you may find some more coffee shops too. (NB anyone flying to US or UK destinations out of Jordan, please note current onboard electronics ban applies)
Further resources to plan your Jordan Trip
Pop over to our next instalment for further facts about visiting Jordan with children – Visa requirements, what to pack, weather and best times to go, how to save money plus much more!
We have also started a facebook group for those who want to learn more about travel with kids in and around the Middle East – sign up here!
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This post is part of our Jordan series – click here to see more from Jordan & the Middle East
Disclosures; We were not compensated in any way to write this post, all activities were paid for and all opinions as always are our own. Some of our accommodation was discounted in partnership with Mövenpick Jordan. There are affiliate links on this page based on our recommendations which may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you.