As part of her epic cycle from London to Cape Town, YJ’s Emily travelled through Jordan. She shares her guide to exploring this fascinating but often overlooked country by bike.
Bordered by Syria, Israel and Iraq, there is a common misconception that Jordan is a dangerous place to visit. However, this peaceful oasis is not afflicted by the turbulence of its neighbouring countries. We were constantly inspired by all the country had to offer; stunning landscapes, a rich history and warm welcomes from everyone we met.
Here is an itinerary to give you a flavour of cycling in Jordan. Jordan’s roads are excellent quality so they are well suited to road bikes but there are also a number of MTB tours you can go on. Use this guide to explore on your own otherwise there are a number of your companies who’ll carry your kit for you and follow in support vehicles.
Day One: Arrival in Amman
Amman, Jordan’s capital, is a friendly and buzzing city to give you an introduction to the Middle East. Bear in mind that it is a hilly city. Spend a few days in the city to explore either at the start or end of your trip. If you bring your own bike, I’d suggest pre-booking transport as it can be difficult to find a taxi to take your bikes.
Day Two: Amman to the Dead Sea – 59km
The driving in Amman is crazy and it’s built on a very steep valley so you’ll find yourself negotiating some sharp hills as you make your way out of the city. An early start means you can tackle these before the heat of the day really kicks in, and also means you have maximum time to relax when you arrive at the Dead Sea. The main roads have a large hard shoulder which makes for safe riding, and as your destination is 420m below sea level, it is all downhill. A perfect first day on the bike.
Swimming (or rather, floating) in the Dead Sea is a novel experience and definitely one to tick off your bucket list.
Day Three: Dead Sea to Madaba 50km
This route is a tough climb. At 45km in length, it leads you from 400m below sea level to over 1,000m in height with absolutely nothing in between. Make sure you’re well stocked up with food and water as there’s nowhere to stock up en-route, although you will no doubt be offered sustenance (and a lift!) from other travellers, such is the hospitable nature of Jordan’s people.
As touring cyclists, we were travelling with a lot of weight, which made long climbs extremely slow. However, if you’re planning to ride without weight, you might want to consider adding on a loop up Mount Nebo onto your day. Madaba is home to a collection of interesting mosaics from the Byzantine era.
Day Four: Madaba to Karak 100km
The road out is mainly flat for the first section until you reach the top of the famous Wadi Mujib – “Jordan’s Grand Canyon”.
The ride down is spectacular and perfect if you like challenging descents – lots of sharp corners to put your weight behind but barely any cars to worry about. Once at the bottom you’ll ride across the big Mjuib Dam before heading back up the other, steeper side. An epic climb in every sense of the word that will push you to your limit but the views are reward enough. At the few cafes dotted about before the top you can quench your thirst with sweet tea and soak up the incredible views of what’s to come.
From the top of the Mujib, there is another undulating 30km to Karak Castle.
Day Five: Karak to Dana Nature Reserve 99km
On this section you will ride along the King’s Highway, one of the oldest trading routes in the world. The Highway offers a variety of smaller gorges and hills to climb and a dramatic landscape in return.
Your destination is the Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan’s largest protected area. Along with varied wildlife such as hyenas and eagle owls, there are also four separate ecosystems within it meaning in winter it could be snowing on the top and 20 degrees at the bottom! If you enjoy hiking then I’d recommend pressing pause and spending a few days here. There are a few hotels to choose from in the historical Dana Village and if you have some more time you can camp out in the canyon.
Day Six: Dana Nature Reserve to Petra 65km
The road from Dana to Petra is undulating but relatively straightforward with no major climbs – although you will still see around 900m of ascent! Wandering herds of camels are a common sight, and Shobak Castle makes a great stopping point.
The ancient city of Petra is in a valley accessed from the town Wadi Musa that is sprawled across a steep valley and home to some of the steepest roads I have ever cycled up or down. Definitely make sure your brakes are working!
Day Seven: Exploring Petra
Petra is an ancient city carved into a valley of pink sandstone that dates back as early as 312BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans. You will no doubt recognise it as the lost city from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Top sights include the iconic Treasury building, the Roman amphitheatres, and tombs carved into the rocks, while a climb up to The Monastery affords fantastic views over Israel.
You could easily spend a few days exploring Petra but if you’re prepared for an early start and plenty of climbing it is possible to squeeze it all into one day.
Day Eight: Petra to Wadi Rum 101km
Located at the bottom of the valley, there’s only one to way to exit Petra: up. After the tough climb however, you’ll be back on the King’s Highway riding undulating but good quality roads with a decent hard shoulder.
After 90km you’ll turn off the main road and follow the desert road to Rum Village, a dramatic desert wilderness. The striking red and pink coloured sand makes you feel like you are on Mars! At the visitor centre you can buy a park permit for the protected area where you can then arrange tours and accommodation or meet your pre-arranged guide. Again, there is plenty to do in Wadi Rum such as sand boarding, camel trekking and rock climbing; perfect if you want to stay for a few more days.
Day Nine: Wadi Rum to Aqaba – 82km
This ride leads you south towards the Red Sea and sandy beaches. The landscape changes yet again in the last 20km of this route to a series of dramatic granite mountains. The Red Sea is famed for its beautiful coral reefs and is therefore a great location for scuba diving. If you don’t fancy a resort hotel, there are smaller guesthouses available to stay.
If you choose to travel independently then it’s really easy to get on a bus back to Amman with your bikes otherwise your tour guides will be able to help you out.