Friendly. Welcoming. Diverse. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan cannot be captured in a few adjectives, it must be experienced to be understood. From the bustling capital city of Amman to the quiet of Wadi Rum at night, Jordan offers a wide variety of adventures to be had. Its population of about 6.5 million people is friendly, helpful, and very curious about visitors. Jordan is a country full of beautiful landscapes, savory sandwiches, and addictive coffee. Its proximity to other historical sites and popular tourist attractions make it a premium location to start exploring the Middle East.
Geography & Demographics
Jordan is nestled between the Jordan Rift Valley of the Jordan River, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria. It is bordered on the west by both Israel and the West Bank. Jordan has attractive coastal sites, like the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, where visitors can relax, recharge, and enjoy the spa-like qualities of the salt water. What many visitors find attractive is Jordan’s proximity to Israel and the West Bank, where religious sites are overflowing with pilgrims. However, because of instability in surrounding countries, Jordan is home to many Iraqi, Palestinian, and Syrian refugees.
Jordan’s economy is considered upper middle income, and an important issue for Jordanians today is education reform. Queen Rania of Jordan has become an advocate for improved education and began the Jordan Education Initiative, which is a non-profit dedicated to improving the futures of Jordanians by giving them the opportunity to work, escape poverty, and live healthy lives.
Jordan is mostly an arid desert area, so its weather is often characterized by high temperatures. Summer conditions are around 95 degrees Fahrenheit; however, bear in mind that this is a dry heat. Because Jordan is not very humid, the high temperatures will not feel as stifling and unbearable as more humid high temperatures. Early summer nights will still cool down to under 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so a light sweater or jacket is recommended. August is the hottest month, with some areas experiencing temperatures as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is important to dress respectfully even in the heat. As a result, this is not a place for polyester; cotton, linen, and other breathable fabrics are recommended. Long pants, long skirts, and scarves will also serve as protection from the intense sun.
Jordan has short, cool winters; January is the coldest month, with temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the city of Amman has had snow the past couple of winters, so it is important to have warm sweaters and a coat to layer with.
Khamsini weather conditions occur between late March and early May. During this 50-day time period, the weather will be more volatile, with raging winds, dry and dusty conditions, and localized rain showers.
Food & Culture
Having some prior Arabic language experience is helpful in Jordan, but Amman is a very good city for acquiring language skills. It is useful to know how to read Arabic numbers; it makes the process of exchanging money in any transaction much easier. Many Jordanians are eager to practice their English skills, so foreigners have a much easier time getting by and being understood. When practicing Arabic, natives are patient and happy to help.
The conversion rate hovers around $1.40 USD to the Jordanian dinar. The dinar is broken up in to 100 parts referred to as qirsh. It is easy to eat cheaply in Jordan; fresh produce is very reasonably priced, 60 qirsh (about $.84) can buy a falafel or shawarma sandwich. Fresh pita bread is also very affordable at about 10 qirsh for a bag, and it can be eaten with lebaneh, a yogurt dip, for a quick and easy breakfast. While many Western foods are available, it is much cheaper and much better quality to buy and eat what the locals do.
Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan. It is made with lamb cooked in fermented yogurt and rice, sprinkled with toasted almonds. Served on a large platter, mansaf is eaten with the right hand. A handful is taken and then rolled into a manageable ball of rice and meat. It is possible to order individual servings of mansaf at restaurants, but nothing can compare to sharing this dish with companions. Another staple is the shawarma sandwich, which is served in most cafes and restaurants. Shawarma Reem, a chain of food stands located in Amman, was recently recognized in the New York Times for their outstanding sandwiches after being copycatted in other countries.
A very important part of Jordanian life is dessert. There are so many pistachio-based sweets. In Jordan, knafeh is one of the most delicious desserts; Habibeh sweet shop is a must for this treat made of local soft cheese, crunchy topping, syrup, and chopped pistachios.
The Arab tradition of karam, or hospitality, is very prevalent in Jordan. The people are so inviting and generous and it is important to know how to respond to their kindness. Foreigners are regularly invited into Jordanians’ homes for coffee or tea. Accepting at least one cup of tea or coffee is polite and appropriate, but remember that Jordanians will continue to fill the cup until the visitor refuses, in accordance with the custom of generosity.
Although there is a presence of Christians, Druze, and Baha’i, Jordan’s population is over 90 percent Muslim. As a result, the official Jordanian weekend is Friday and Saturday. This is crucial to remember as banks and offices are often closed on Friday. Visitors should be respectful of Jordanians’ norms for modesty. Tank tops and shorts should be avoided by both genders, and this will also help keep the scorching desert sun from becoming unbearable.
Things to Do
Jordan has such a wide variety of places to visit that a unique experience is guaranteed. The easiest place to spend a long period of time is Al Balad, or downtown Amman. The fresh pressed juices from one of the many juice huts are made to order and customizable. Al Balad is the perfect place to purchase gifts for family—the shops specialize in everything from kohl eyeliner to scarves to knick knacks.
Rainbow Street in Amman is well-known for its cafes and nightlife, such as Books@cafe and Turtle Green Tea Bar. Jordan’s cafes are a great place to meet new friends and discover local events like concerts.
Get away from the busy urban atmosphere in Jerash, an entire city of historic ruins. The city has remained structurally sound because its pillars are not fixed—their movement is visible. Like Jerash, Shobak Castle and Ajloun Castle date back hundreds of years; in fact, Ajloun Castle was built by Salahuddin’s generals during the Crusades. One of the most awesome examples of ancient architecture, though, is Petra. This red city was built by the Nabateans, and has the best view in Jordan at the top of the 800-step long staircase to the monastery. In Wadi Rum, visitors can ride camels, sleep in Bedouin tents, hike the endless dunes, and enjoy the star-filled night sky. This valley provides an authentic Bedouin experience, as modern amenities have not yet invaded.
The Dead Sea is perhaps the greatest tourist site in Jordan. Visiting this site is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it is necessary to take certain precautions to make the experience as pain-free as possible. If there are any cuts or scrapes on a person’s body, the salt water will cause discomfort. It is widely recommended that shaving is avoided for two days prior to visiting the Dead Sea. Nonetheless, people flock to the Dead Sea for the spa experience and simply to feel the weightlessness of swimming in highly concentrated salt water. Leave feeling rejuvenated and ready for another trek in the sand!