Follow in the doors of Lawrence of Arabia on a self-drive tour of Jordan with this itinerary. Book a rental car and easily explore Jordan at a fraction of the cost you will pay for a private tour. Plus, you get to explore at your own pace and visit places off the beaten track that may not feature on a typical tour itinerary.
Our explore Jordan itinerary
Note you will need an international driving licence to hire a car in Jordan. You can get one online and these cost around £35. It is a pretty simple process and definitely worth the trouble as Jordan is a stunning country. You may be surprised to know that it is packed with beaches, five-star resorts, ancient ruins and incredible scenery.
Day one – Amman
Pick up your hire car from the airport and head to your overnight rest stop at the Amman Airport Hotel. The hotel is just 1.5 miles from the airport and has a range of facilities including a gym, outdoor pool, restaurants and bars. It also offers a free airport shuttle and free area shuttle and is a great base for the first night.
Day two – Amman to Ma’In Hot Springs
Rise early and head south to Ma’In to visit the hot springs. 74 km south of Amman and 37km from Madaba, this popular tourist destination is 264 metres below sea level! The thermal mineral springs and waterfalls tumble over sheer cliffs into pools ranging from a toasty 45°C to a blistering 60°C. There are a number of pools open for public bathing and the waters contain potassium, magnesium and calcium, renowned for healing.
The waters can help those who suffer from many ailments including skin and circulatory diseases, bone, joint, back and muscular pains, and varicose veins. It is also hugely enjoyable to stand under the waterfalls and enjoy the pummeling.
Days three/four – Ma’In Hot Springs Hotel
Please note this hotel used to be part of the Six Senses hotel chain. We visited twice and on our first visit had such poor service that we complained. The hotel offered us a complimentary stay in a suite should we choose to return which we did. Sadly, the service was still not great for the price of rooms in the hotel and I have no idea if the hotel has lost its status because of this poor service. There are no other amenities in walking distance and the nearest quality hotels are around 20 minutes away on the Dead Sea.
By the Dead Sea, there is a Movenpick and a bunch of other fabulous resorts. Many of these offer access for day guests but with no local competition, the Ma’In’s service may not have improved. That said, the Ma’In Hot Springs hotel is in a simply stunning location and is a one of a kind.
The spa pool is hewn from rocks, over which natural hot springs tumble and the waterfall kneeds your shoulders as you bask under its torrent. The spa is also delightfully decorated with white drapes wafting in the breeze, day beds in the sun and a range of delightful treatment rooms. The hotel is also unique in that its location is below sea level! It’s a beautiful place with spectacular rooms and gorgeous, dramatic scenery. Plus it is a great base for visiting some of the local sights such as Bethany By The Jordan, The Dead Sea and the Canyons Of Wadi Mujib.
Bethany by the Jordan
On the East Bank of the River Jordan, 9km North of the Dead Sea is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan. The site is set in a pristine natural environment and is believed to be the location of John the Baptist’s baptism by Jesus. ‘The site hosts Roman and Byzantine remains including churches and chapels, a monastery, caves that have been used by hermits and pools in which baptisms were celebrated, testifying to the religious character of the place‘. Religious travellers will definitely not want to miss this destination.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is a destination that everyone should visit once in their lifetime. Bathing in the sea is comical but far from flattering. As you attempt to float in the water, it is likely that you will flip unceremoniously and emerge spitting lukewarm saltwater. Note, that whilst you can float reading a book, if you drop your sunglasses, they are gone forever.
Head to one of the five-star hotels along the shore and pay for a guest day pass to access beaches where bikinis are acceptable. Smother yourself in dark healing mud and wade into the tepid water for a soak. When you wash off the mud, your skin will feel utterly amazing! (Unless you are like Jason who experienced an allergic reaction!)
Mujib Biosphere Reserve
For your last day at the Mai’in Hot Springs hotel, head to the Mujib Biosphere Reserve to explore dramatic canyons with soaring cliffs and thundering waterfalls.
Grab a life jacket and a wet bag and prepare for an adventure as you wade into the chilly waters of the Mujib’s canyons. The 2km Siq Trail offers adventurous travellers the option to clamber over boulders, pebbles and waterfalls to reach a spectacular soaking pool. Reminiscent of canyoning in Turkey it is a great way to cool down in the Jordanian sun.
Day five – Kerak and the Kings Highway
Kerak is worth a short stop to explore the castle or as a detour on your return journey to Amman. The small town surrounds the castle and persistent shopkeepers will persuade you to enjoy a shisha or strong coffee. The castle is a sprawling mausoleum to the past and you can clamber almost uninhibited amongst the ruins. From its location, high on a hillside, you can also enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
The Kings Highway
This road is simply stunning. Reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, it meanders around countless switchbacks through desert and rocky mountainous terrain. It seems like little has changed since ancient times as you travel along this oft deserted highway through nature reserves and stunning countryside.
Arrive into Petra and book into a hotel such as the Movenpick. This will allow you to reach the site early the following morning before the hoards of tour buses arrive.
Day six – Petra
It would be a crime to visit Jordan and not visit Petra. Yes, it is touristy but the site is big enough that you can always find an isolated spot. The Siq and the Treasury are always busy but nevertheless incredible. As you exit the narrow siq you will be amazed at what the Nabateans created in the 3rd Century BC. They carved palaces, temples, tombs, storerooms and stables to create this stunning pink sandstone city. Now it is a World Heritage Site and was also voted as one of the seven modern natural wonders.
If you arrive early enough, you could pay for a 2 day ticket for 55JD (around £62). This is a steal because it costs 50JD for a one day ticket. The site is open from 6am to 6pm in the summer and 6am to 4pm in winter. It is around a 35 minute walk from the entrance to the main attractions.
Day seven – Wadi Rum
From Petra, drive 1.5 hours to Wadi Rum, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. This awesome desert landscape is somewhere that all intrepid travellers should visit once in their lifetime. Dunes rise like skyscrapers and rocky outcrops allow tourists the perfect photo opportunity above dramatic rock arches. Sunset is utterly sublime when the desert turns from shades of yellow, to flaming bright reds, oranges and pinks before descending into inky darkness.
If you have enough time (and money) you can stay overnight in a bedouin camp. We visited with Saleh and ate a traditional Jordanian meal at his house whilst his children played in the yard. He also regaled us with stories during the day and even nine years later sends me birthday greetings.
He is certainly a character and will encourage you to hop on a snowboard and surf those dunes under a blistering sun. To visit Wadi Rum is to feel like you are on a movie set for a Wild West.
Day eight -ten: Aqaba
Continue south to the coast and book into one of the fabulous hotels in Aqaba on the Red Sea. We stayed at the Movenpick which is a luxurious hotel with beautiful gardens and pools. The service is outstanding and the breakfast buffet is not for dieters! Even now, memories of that breakfast make me salivate.
As for Aqaba, there is not much to see and do around town. Rather this is a destination where you soak up the sunshine and sealife. It is a great place to dive or just relax on the beach for a few days before you head back to the capital for your return flight. The return journey takes around 4 hours.
Self-drive tours of Jordan essentials
Although it is now some time since we visited Jordan, I still have such fond memories of this country and would highly encourage you to go explore independently. Before you go however there are a few things to beware of which I have listed below to help you out.
For a Middle Eastern country, it is surprising how infrequent petrol stations can be. Pay attention to your gauge and fill up when you get the chance. You do not want to break down in the middle of the toasting desert.
Navigating is easy, but coping with the stress of Jordanian driving isn’t. Jordanian drivers are simply nutters. They will think nothing of overtaking in torrential rain and zero visibility. Drive with significant caution in this country.
I hate to even mention this word given the negative hype that is often associated with tourism to Middle Eastern countries. The UK foreign office guidance states that over 70,000 British people visited Jordan in 2017 and most visits are trouble-free. I encourage you to check the latest guidance before travelling so that you can adjust your plans if necessary.
We have however visited the country three times and I can honestly say that (other than crazy driving) I never felt threatened. We found the people incredibly friendly and warm, but it is important to respect local dress etiquette if you do not wish to receive negative attention. I.e don’t go out into public looking like this!!
Prices are definitely higher than in the West especially if you want to drink alcohol. This reflects the Muslim culture and that much of the produce comes from overseas. That said, prices are also not in the Scandinavian leagues!