Last Updated on January 30, 2020 by Nicole
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 want to talk about the beginning of our journey – our extraordinary road trip from Amman to Petra. In one day, we visited stunning archaeological finds in Madaba and Mount Nebo along the Kings Highway before ending with the magic of seeing Petra by Night. We saw spectacular scenery and met absolutely lovely people. It was astonishing.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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 .
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:
- Petra By Night: Crucial Tips For A Magical Night
- Petra Jordan: Why A Half Day Is Enough
- Wadi Rum: An Epic Guide To Exploring Its Hidden Treasures
- Aqaba Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve And The Dead Sea: Which Is Worth It?
- Amman To Petra: A Breathtaking Road Trip
- Jordan Itinerary With Teens: An Action Packed Adventure
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