Brush up on your ride-sharing etiquette – where to sit will depend on who's driving © Moment RF / Getty Images
You can cover a lot of ground on your first visit to Jordan, given its small size (less than three quarters the size of New York state). But the unique rules of the road, lack of reliable public transportation options and the long stretches of desert highway between popular spots such as Amman and Petra mean that getting around Jordan requires some planning.
The best way to get around Jordan – whether you need a car, take a bus or even travel by foot – depends on your preferences, budget, itinerary and travel style. Here’s some insight to help you decide how to get around.
Is it easy to drive a rental car in Jordan?
Renting a car in Jordan has advantages and challenges, so you’ll need to consider what’s most important for you. Driving in Jordan (where drivers can be aggressive, people pass on both sides and park wherever they like – including the middle of the road sometimes – lines and signs seem to be suggestions rather than rules, and horns are used excessively while signal lights are abandoned) is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re confident behind the wheel and can adapt to the local style of driving, renting a car gives you the freedom to visit the sites at your own pace, access places off the beaten path such as the ruins at Iraq Al Amir, and saves you the cost of hiring a driver or booking a guided tour.
How to rent a car in Jordan
Rental car agencies are abundant in the larger cities, such as Amman and Aqaba, and you’ll find international brands such as Hertz and Thrifty as well as locally owned outfits. You may be able to barter with the latter for a lower rate, but booking online in advance through sites such as RentalCars that offer a guarantee can provide peace of mind. Keep in mind that many businesses are closed on Fridays, so if you need a car for the weekend, call ahead to check operating hours or plan to pick it up on Thursday.
The minimum age to rent a car in Jordan is 21 (with a surcharge for drivers under 25), and you’ll need to show your driving license. By law, an international driving license is required to drive in Jordan, but car rental agencies may not ask for one. Err on the side of caution and bring your international license, but don’t be surprised if no one asks to see it.
Plan your itinerary before booking a vehicle and check the air-conditioning and heating works © Paul Biris / Getty Images
Plan your itinerary before you book to ensure you have the right type of vehicle
Choose a vehicle suited to your itinerary: economy size for main highways and for the cities where parking spots may be small and difficult to come by, or a 4×4 if you’ll be off-roading or driving in the desert dunes (not recommended unless you are highly experienced with driving in soft sand). Before you leave the rental car lot, have a good look at the car inside and out, and note any damage so that you won’t be held responsible when you return the car. Don’t forget to test the heat and air conditioning: weather in Jordan can be extreme, and you don’t want to be stuck on a road trip with a broken heater or air conditioner.
If you’re keen on road trips and the self-drive option, you will miss out on the cultural and historical context that a driver or tour guide provides. Consider hiring a guide for sites such as Jerash, Petra and Wadi Rum, where local knowledge and storytelling adds value and depth to your experience, not to mention friendship. Spending time with local guides allows you to experience Jordanian hospitality, learn from those who know Jordan best and contribute to the local economy.
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Things to know before hopping in a taxi in Jordan
Traditional yellow taxis are available in the cities, but not as common in remote areas. If you opt for a taxi, be sure to agree to the destination and ask the driver to turn the meter on. They are required to do so by law, and if they refuse, you can get out. Keep cash in small denominations on hand; Jordan is still largely cash-based, and taxi drivers may not accept or be able to make change for bills larger than JD5.
While there are plenty of friendly drivers, some travelers have encountered harassment and over-charging when hailing taxis, so it may be worth paying a bit more for a ride-sharing service.
Uber and Careem are readily available in the main cities in Jordan, and you can schedule and pay through the apps. Because the drivers are regulated by their respective companies, the cars tend to be cleaner, and you have the added comfort that your ride is tracked. They do tend to be pricier than taxis, and you may wait longer for an Uber to arrive at busy times, especially during rush hour, public holidays and Thursday nights. When planning your day, always include a buffer of extra time for traffic.
Whether you choose a traditional taxi or Careem or Uber in Jordan, be aware of social expectations: if the driver is male, male riders are expected to sit in the front and females in the back. There are some female ride-share drivers in Jordan, so if one picks you up, the expectation is reversed: female riders can sit in front, but male riders should sit in the back.
If you’re allergic to cigarette smoke, you may be better off renting a car or hiring a private driver. It’s not uncommon for taxi drivers to smoke while transporting passengers. Although Uber prohibits drivers from doing so, some may smoke just before picking up a passenger and the smoke can linger.
You can catch inter-city buses to get to some major sites such as Petra and Wadi Rum © Aivolie / Getty Images
Take the bus for the adventure, not the convenience
City buses do exist in Jordan, but the public transportation system can be unreliable and limited in reach. Timetables are hard to come by, buses often don’t arrive on schedule, and they generally don’t travel between locations that are popular with visitors, so you’ll probably want to skip this option. Of course, if you have time to spare and are simply interested in the experience of riding the public bus, you can give it a try. Ask your hotel or travel operator for info on routes – you’re unlikely to find up-to-date info online.
There are also inter-city mini buses, but you’ll need some patience and Arabic language skills if you want to take one. They tend to only depart once full, which can mean waiting for an undetermined amount of time, and you’ll need to ask around for departure and destination locations.
The roomier, air-conditioned JETT buses are a possibility for those specifically looking to travel between the cities it serves, which includes Amman to Petra or Aqaba and Aqaba to Wadi Rum. JETT also offers daily tours to some popular sites through their tourism program. Routes and timetables are available online and tend to be reliable, but the schedule can change, so it’s best to call directly or go in person to the head office to book your ticket.
Use the airport shuttle bus if you're on a budget
If you’re looking for an airport shuttle to Amman from Queen Alia International Airport, the Sariya Airport Express bus is great for those traveling in Jordan on a budget. The Airport Express gets mixed reviews and does not drop passengers off at hotels, so if you’re in a rush or prefer direct, private transportation, a taxi or Uber is best.
Guided tours are the most stress-free way to get around Jordan
For those who want to leave the driving in Jordan to the pros, the most stress-free route for getting around Jordan is to book a guided tour. While going on a tour may cost more than a bus or rental car, you can sit back and enjoy your experience while the tour operator handles all of the logistics and traffic. A guided tour also provides you with local insight, any required equipment (such as helmets needed for canyoning), safety, support and the chance to meet other travelers. Sharing transportation with others means reducing your carbon footprint as well.
If you want the freedom of a self-drive experience without the stress of navigation, opt for a customized private tour or build your own itinerary and hire a driver.
Insider tip: Some rental car companies offer driver and car services. Reliable private drivers are often shared by word of mouth and on social media groups, such as EXPATS in Amman, where you can search for recommendations.
Some car rental companies include a driver to navigate Jordan's unique driving conditions © Joe Windsor-Williams / Lonely Planet
Flying is not the best way to get around Jordan
Jordan is a small country, so many people opt for a car, bus or guided tour between Amman and Aqaba or Wadi Rum. However, domestic flights are available between Amman and Aqaba. The short flight will run you around US$100 to US$200 depending on the season and availability, and you’ll need to consider traffic, travel time to and from the airports as well as wait time in the airport to decide whether flying is the best way for you to get from Amman to Aqaba.
Accessible transportation in Jordan
Options for accessible transportation in Jordan are extremely limited, so visitors should inquire with their tour operator well in advance for any accommodations needed. Private transportation will be your best bet for getting around Jordan, and Accessible Jordan is a great resource for the most up-to-date options.
Click here to download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide.
Why walking is my favorite way to travel in Jordan
At first glance, Jordan does not appear to be a pedestrian-friendly place. The weather can be extreme, sidewalks are broken or nonexistent, there are no subways or trains, and the steep hills the capital city is built on can be challenging, especially in the hot summer sun. But walking is actually deeply embedded in Bedouin culture, and if you follow in the footsteps of those that came before, you will understand why it is one of the best ways to get around Jordan. The slower pace allows you to connect with the land and the people you meet along the way, rather than whizzing by in a car.
Here are some tips for experiencing Jordan safely on foot:
- Be prepared. Carry plenty of water and snacks, and wear sun protection and sturdy shoes.
- Enjoy the rare walkable neighborhoods. Walking is not the best way to get around Amman, but in some areas, such as Rainbow Street, Al Webdeh and Al Balad, it’s possible and a fun way to experience the city.
- Stick to designated trails. Thanks to the Jordan Trail, a 675km (420-mile) through-hike from Umm Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south, you can cross the country from top to bottom on foot. If you have the time (it takes between 30 to 45 days to complete depending on your pace) and ability, this is the ultimate and most eco-friendly way to get around – or rather, up and down – Jordan, trekking the country’s varied terrain, passing through dozens of villages, walking Bedouin trails, and visiting several archeological and Unesco World Heritage sites including Gadara, Jerash, Petra and Wadi Rum.
- Avoid hitchhiking. If you are planning to travel a long distance and will not be following the Jordan Trail route, consider renting a car for the long stretches and plan to hike or walk at your destination.