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Amman To Petra: A Breathtaking Road Trip

Some of the ruins in Jerash

With stops in Jerash, Madaba, Mount Nebo, and Al Karak

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Jordan is a very small country that is overflowing with history, culture and beautiful natural wonders. A few months ago, we spent six days touring Jordan. We packed an awful lot into our time there. We explored Petra, Wadi Rum, the Red Sea, Dana Biosphere and the Dead Sea, all of which were simply amazing destinations for an endless number of reasons. For more information about these experiences, my recommendations and tips, I would suggest reading my other articles which are listed at the end of this blog. Today, I only want to talk about the beginning of our journey – our extraordinary road trip from Amman to Petra. Over a couple of days, we visited stunning archaeological finds in Jerash and Amman, and then, in Madaba and Mount Nebo along the Kings Highway.  We saw spectacular scenery and met absolutely lovely people. It was extraordinary.

 

Amman To Petra
Exploring Jerash.

 

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Arriving For Our Amman To Petra Road Trip

I worked with a local tour operator called Jordan Direct Tours to create our Jordan itinerary. They provided a large van and a driver/guide who drove and guided us throughout our whole time in Jordan. He was a source of endless information about Jordan’s history and culture on our road trip. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to matter what we asked, he was always able to answer our questions.

 

Amman

Our flight arrived in Amman, the capital of Jordan, around 7:00 pm. My family of six (4 kids aged 14, 15, 17 and 21 years old) were greeted by a representative of our tour operator who thankfully found a way to bypass the  huge visa lineup. Once we collected our luggage, we met our driver/guide for our 6 day Jordan itinerary who drove us 30 minutes to our hotel, Le Grand Amman where we stayed for two nights.

Le Grand Amman was stunning and luxurious. The rooms were large and extremely comfortable. We ate breakfast each morning at the hotel. It was a combination buffet and a la carte menu. The buffet was enormous and filled with dozens and dozens of choices from all over the world. It was simply delicious.

Each evening, we ate in the hotel as well. The first night, we had Japanese food at the 282 Restaurant. The second night, we went to Salt, a steakhouse. Both restaurants were exceptional. We do not normally gravitate to hotel restaurants on our travels. We much prefer to explore and find local restaurants that we can enjoy. Unfortunately, there weren’t any near our hotel.

Amman to Petra
Coffee and bar in Le Grand Amman Hotel
Amman to Petra
The breakfast room at Le Grand Amman Hotel

 

Accommodation In Amman Jordan

For accommodation at Le Grand Amman or elsewhere in Amman, I would recommend searching below in booking.com and using the amazing interactive map to find your ideal location at the best prices.

 



Booking.com

 

Recommendations and tips for the start of the Amman to Petra road trip

  • The airport was extremely busy. If you have a long flight to Jordan, I would recommend having someone meet you at the airport who can help bypass the line for your visa.
  • Traffic was bad in Amman. You should expect delays when driving short distances. Exiting the airport was also chaotic and slow.
  • The large luxury hotels are all found in the same area near our hotel Le Grand Amman. This was not an attractive area or tourist friendly. I did not see restaurants or shops within walking distance from our hotel. In fact, we were very close to the highway. Having said that, I felt very safe here (and elsewhere in Amman). It was the commercial and diplomatic area.

 

Day One – Exploring Jerash And Amman

Jerash on our Amman to Petra road trip

The next morning, we woke up early, met our driver and headed to Jerash. There, we met our guide for an extraordinary two hour tour. This is one of the Jordanian sites that you are not allowed to use your own guide  to tour (in our case, our driver/guide) but must hire one at the site. There are several sites like this in Jordan (Petra would be another example). Accordingly, Jordan Direct Tours booked our English speaking guide in advance of our arrival.

Jerash is a city in Jordan located 48 km (30 miles) north of Amman. Our drive was very pleasant along a main highway with rolling hills. The scenery was lovely.

 

In ancient times, Jerash was one of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world. It was settled as early as 7500-5500 BC and founded as a Hellenistic city in the 2 BC. Jerash is recognized today for its Roman and Byzantine ruins which are considered among the largest and best preserved in the world.

Jerash was truly massive. Remarkably, only 30% has actually been excavated. On this tour, we saw many unbelievable ruins such as Hadrian’s Arch built in 129 AD in honour of the visit of Emperor Hadrian; the Forum with its 56 Ionic columns surrounding a paved limestone plaza; and the North and South Theatres with their carved out seating and amazing natural acoustics. I was truly in awe throughout our time there. We were welcome to climb, sit and scamper in and out of most of the ruins which made it not only fascinating but also a fun tour.

 

Amman to Petra Road Trip
One of the theatres in Jerash.

 

Amman To Petra
Exploring Jerash Jordan.

 

Recommendations and tips for Jerash on our Amman to Petra road trip

  • Admission to Jerash was $17 USD and a guide was $30 USD.
  • If you do not book a guide in advance, you should be able to hire one at the gate. However, to be sure, it would be best to hire one before arriving.
  • You are not required to hire a guide to walk around Jerash, but I would highly recommend it. There is little to no signage and the site is extremely large. In addition, our guide highlighted both large monuments and buildings, but also smaller details that would have been all but impossible for us to have discovered on our own. Hiring a guide also allowed us to efficiently explore Jerash, freeing up our afternoon to explore Amman.

 

Exploring Amman on our Amman To Petra Road Trip

In the afternoon, we returned to Amman to tour the city and have lunch.

We ate lunch in downtown Amman at Hashem, a famous falafel restaurant popular with tourists and locals alike. It offers delicious falafels and pitas of course, but also mouthwatering dips such as moutabel (made from eggplants) and hummus (made from garbanzo beans and tahini). We absolutely devoured our food!

After lunch, we toured the Roman Theatre and  Amman Citadel, both in downtown Amman and within walking  distance of the restaurant and each other.

 

 

Roman Theatre

The Roman theatre is a 6,000-seat, 2nd-century Roman theatre and it is breathtaking to see. Our driver was not allowed to guide us there and he recommended against hiring one of the on sight guides as unnecessary. He told us its history before we entered and some key items to discover. We spent around twenty minutes walking through the Roman Theatre and found that to be enough.

Amman to Petra
Olivia in front of the Roman Theatre in Amman.

 

Amman Citadel

Next, our driver guided us around the Amman Citadel which sits on top of one of the large hills overlooking Amman. It has a long history of occupation by many great civilizations. Most of the buildings still visible at the site are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods. Most buildings are not in as good condition as the Roman Theatre or those in Jerash, but it was still a very interesting site to explore. In addition, I loved the views of Amman.

Amman to Petra
Amman Citadel
Amman to Petra
The view of Amman from the Amman Citadel.

 

Recommendations and tips for Amman on our Amman to Petra road trip

  • Amman was not an attractive city. As I said earlier, I felt safe and people were friendly. We walked freely never feeling like we stood out or were being watched suspiciously. However, there wasn’t a lot of green space or distinct areas that made us want to stay and tour longer.
  • I was quite satisfied with our half day in Amman. I did not regret leaving the next day to drive on the Kings Highway to Madaba and Mount Nebo.

 

 

Day Two – Driving The Kings Highway On Our Amman To Petra Road Trip

Today was a long but exciting day. We started in Amman, drove to Madaba, then Mount Nebo, Al Karak Castle and ended in Petra. The drive was 326 km or just over 5 hours. However, we stopped several times along the way and explored many outstanding sites.

We drove along the Kings Highway, an ancient trade route that connected Africa to Mesopotomia (modern day Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran), which wound through mountain towns and around tiny villages. It was a beautiful drive that still had the marks left from traders, armies and pilgrims who crossed it centuries ago.

 

 

Madaba On The Amman To Petra Road Trip

Our first stop on our drive from Amman to Petra was the town of Madaba.

Madaba was not a particularly pretty town. It ended up being typical of what a town would look like in most of Jordan – largely a collection of one level stores, a few 3-4 level residential or commercial buildings (hotels and such), lots of cement or sand, without any real town planning. However, Madaba contained some stunning archaeological sites.

Madaba is a Christian town in a predominantly muslim country (95% muslim). It is commonly referred to as the “City of Mosaics” and for good reason. I loved what we uncovered there.

 

Archaeological discoveries in Madaba

First, we toured with our driver/guide St. George Greek Orthodox Church which has on its floor the Madaba Map, a Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land from the 6th century. It was in amazing condition.

Madaba
The 6th Century Madaba Map.

 

After, we walked a few minutes to the Archaeological Park which houses the remains of several Byzantine churches, including the amazing mosaics of the Church of the Virgin Mary. The Church of the Virgin Mary was built in the 6th century and unearthed beneath the floor of a private house in 1887. It contains a central mosaic, thought to date from 767, that is a masterpiece of geometric design. I was astounded by the number of mosaics in the Archaeological Park and the incredible beauty of them.

Madaba
Mosaics from The Church of the Virgin Mary in the Archaeological Park
Amman to Petra
One of the beautiful mosaics found in the Archaeological Park

 

Lastly, we walked a few minutes more to St. John the Baptist Church which has more beautiful mosaics and a well that is over 3000 years old. On December 7, 1967 the Vatican recognized this church as belonging to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and a Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. It declared it a sacred site and urged visitors and pilgrims to visit it.

 

Madaba Jordan
St. John the Baptist Church in Madaba.

 

Amman to Petra
Mike checking out the 3000 year old well in Saint John the Baptist Church in Madaba.

 

Recommendations and tips for Madaba

  • Madaba is a popular stop along the Kings Highway from Amman to Petra to see the Madaba Map. It was busy and a little crowded. However, the Archaeological Park and St. John the Baptist Church were almost empty. If you would like to view the Madaba Map without the crowds, I would recommend leaving Amman very early or stay in one of the hotels in Madaba.
  • Do not leave Madaba without going to the Archaeological Park and if possible, St. John the Baptist Church. They were extraordinary and unique experiences in Jordan. If pressed for time (as we were), you can see all three sites within 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Dana Biosphere Reserve and the Dead Sea (all of which we visited during our 6 day Jordan itinerary) did not offer anything similar to what we experienced in Madaba (and Mount Nebo)..

 

Mount Nebo On The Amman To Petra Road Trip

Mount Nebo is 10 km or around a 15 minutes drive from Madaba. It is considered to be one of the most important holy sites in all of Jordan. Remarkably, this is where Moses climbed from the Valley of Moab and from where God showed him the Promised Land. In addition, it is believed that Moses died and was buried somewhere close by.

Mount Nebo features ruins from the 4th to 6th centuries of a Byzantine Church and monastery, built to commemorate Moses’ death. There were more stunning mosaics to explore and other excavated portions of the church. Today, a small and beautiful modern church has been erected over top of the ruins.

Mount Nebo is 710 metres above sea level. There are stunning panoramic views of the valley and the River Jordan below.

 

Mount Nebo
The view from Mount Nebo over the Jordan valley.
Mount Nebo
The modern day church over ruins at Mount Nebo.
Mount Nebo
More ruins and mosaics at Mount Nebo.

 

Recommendations for Mount Nebo

  • This is a must see site. I would give yourself an hour to walk through the site and to enjoy the the mosaics and the views.

 

From Mount Nebo to Sierra Mosaic Workshop on The Amman To Petra Road Trip

After lunch, we headed to the Sierra Mosaic Workshop a few minutes drive away. There, we watched craftspeople make modern day mosaics while learning about the process. Then, we were able to walk through an enormous store with thousands of handmade items. I knew that this was a “tourist trap” – it was designed for tourists with overinflated prices. However, we couldn’t resist and purchased a few small items.

Amman to Petra
Modern day craftsmen working on mosaics.

 

Recommendations 

  • Although the Sierra Mosaic Workshop is set up for tourists, I would still recommend spending around 30 minutes there.
  • We did not see another store on our 6 day Jordan itinerary that offered us any other mosaic items or other genuine handicrafts. If this interests you, I would recommend purchasing some souvenirs here rather than waiting to see whether something better comes up. In our case, that never happened.

 

Al Karak Castle On Our Amman To Petra Road Trip

From the Sierra Mosaic Workshop, we drove two hours to Al Karak where Al Karak Castle is located. This is a large Crusader castle and one of the largest in the Levant. Unfortunately, we only drove around it – we did not have time to park and actually explore the castle. Instead, our driver drove us through the small town below where inhabitants historically lived in caves in the rocky hilltops. We did not see anything else like this during our six day Jordan itinerary and it was fascinating to see.

 

Amman to Petra Road Trip
Al Karak Jordan and the tiny village with mountain inhabitants.
Amman to Petra
The self proclaimed “Smallest Hotel in the World” under Al Karak Castle.

 

From Al Karak Castle, we drove 2 1/2 hours and reached Petra (Wadi Musa). We had enough time to check into our hotel, go for dinner in town, and then, arrive for the 8:30 pm start to Petra By Night, one of the most magical things that I have ever seen. If you are interested in reading more about our experience, please take a look at Petra By Night: Secret Tips For A Magical Night .

 

Conclusion

Our Amman to Petra road trip was extraordinary. We saw a lot – Amman, Jerash, Madaba, Mount Nebo, Sierra Mosaic Workshop, and a little bit of Al Karak Castle – and loved every minute of it. I feel that we had enough time in Amman and Jerash. However, in a perfect world (with more than 6 days in Jordan), I would have broken up our Amman to Petra road trip into two days. I did not feel rushed in anything that we actually saw or explored. However, I would have loved to stop in a few more of the towns and archaeological sites along the way.

 

We had many amazing experiences in Jordan. For more helpful tips for getting the most out of your time in Jordan, please refer to my other articles:

 

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We spent two days exploring Jerash, Amman, Madaba, Mount Nebo and Al Karak and saw some extraordinary sites. Here is my itinerary and my recommendations. #travel #familytravel #travelwith teens |Al Karak, Amman Citadel, Byzantine, Church of the Virgin Mary, Hashem, Kings Highway, Le Grand Amman, Madaba, Moses, Mount Nebo, Petra, Roman Theatre, Saint George Greek Orthodox, Saint John the Baptist, Sierra Mosaic Workshop, Middle eastern travel, Asia travel guide, Travel Destinations Asia, Jordan

20 Comments

      • I loved reading your account. As I can see you traveled with teens. Would you recommend this trip with younger kids? I would really like to visit Jordan soon and my kids have some experience in long road trips, however it’s always safer to ask another mom for her opinion! Great itinerary, thanks for sharing!

        • Jordan would actually be a great place for younger children. Except for time in actual churches, there is a lot of opportunity to be physically active while being exposed to all these great cultural and adventure activities. Even in Petra, you are allowed to climb up rocks and go into caves and such. So while the adults are taking in the history, the kids can be doing their own exploring. Plus swimming in the Red Sea, or floating in the Dead Sea is fun. This road trip would likely be the most “boring” for young children but everything else could be made to be work for both adults and children.

  • This is exactly the part of Jordan I didn’t manage to see when I was there. I was in the south and did Wadi Rum, Petra, and the Red Sea. I was debating a trip further north but decided to postpone it for another trip. Really looking forward to that.

    • Its hard to do everything. I’ve made lots of choices where I second guess my decision constantly. I am sure that what you did was awesome and you will see everything else that you missed the next time you visit.

  • Wow, what a fantastic trip! Your kids must be so appreciative and proud that they’ve seen such amazing sites. The ancient and modern mosaics are so gorgeous too.

  • I would love to visit, even just to see those mosaics! It always amazes me when something so ancient has managed to survive in such good shape for so long.

  • Jordan just looks better and better, all of these places seems just amazing and definitely worth to visit. Cannot wait to go there!

  • I absolutely love history and ancient ruins! This is exactly the part of Jordan I would love to experience. So glad for your travel tips and the tour operator suggestion which I find really practical.

    • Thanks Georgina. It sounds like Jordan would be an ideal destination for you. History and ancient ruins are really everywhere in this beautiful country.

  • I visited Jordan about 5 years ago and its such a pity that I missed some of these places. I did make it to Wadi Rum, Petra and Aqaba for the Red Sea and of course, the Dead Sea as well but Dana Biosphere, Madaba and Mount Nebo were some places I wish I had made it to because I have heard about them and I can see that it would’ve made for a great road trip from Amman to Petra! Well, I guess there’s always a next time.

    • You did go to some pretty incredible places when you were there. It would have been a shame to have missed any of this! Next time!

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