When thinking about Jordan, and in particular photography in Jordan, it’s very easy to only think of one or two iconic images that almost everyone has seen. In fact, you’re probably thinking of those images right now: Petra’s famous ‘Treasury’ and, if you’ve seen The Martian, Dune or Star Wars: Rogue One, the famous filming location of the Wadi Rum desert.

If more information on these locations is what you’re here for, don’t worry, we’ll cover these. But we will also touch on some other sites that may be unjustly overlooked by some photo-travellers visiting Jordan.

Cultural considerations

Geographically, Jordan is nestled very near the intersection of the three ancient and culturally rich continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. Given its location, Jordan integrates features of each into its unique culture, making it all the more important to be in the know regarding their cultural norms in order to remain respectful to your hosts.

Wadi Rum

The Jordanian people are extremely welcoming and hospitable. It’s not uncommon for locals to approach you to start a friendly conversation and, if you’re lucky, you may even be invited for a home-cooked meal within minutes of speaking to them. 

While policing of customs is nowhere near as strict as in neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan is a majority Muslim country, and any traveler’s behaviour in Jordan should reflect this. In short, this means that one should dress modestly, refrain from public displays of affection and respect cultural and religious norms. You should also try to stay up-to-date regarding religious holidays so you don’t end up being that one traveler that offers some food to a local in the lead-up to Ramadan.

As for appropriately modest clothing, it’s best to keep the skin on show to a minimum. You’ll see plenty of people walking around in shorts and vests, but it’s generally more respectful to the locals (and given the climate, to your skin) to cover your chest and wear long sleeves and trousers where possible.

Film or digital?

If you’re a film shooter, travelling to Jordan will take some preparation. What I mean by this is you should stock up on as much film as you think you’ll need, and probably a bit more, before you make your way to Jordan. In most places I visited, shops were few and far between and ones catering to film photographers significantly more so.

As a result, Jordan is a better destination for digital photographers or photographers shooting in both formats. My other reason for saying this is that some of the places we will touch on in this post will provide you with far more photographic opportunities than will fit on a 24 or 36-exposure roll.

When I travelled to Jordan, I took my newly acquired Fujifilm X70 and my Fuji DL-300, although in my infinite wisdom I forgot to bring film for the latter so I was essentially carrying it as a glorified paperweight.

Petra Jordan with X70
Petra cliff

The Fujifilm X70 was, however, a great alternative. It was my first international trip with what would turn into one of my favourite cameras ever, and the one that sparked my love for Fujifilm digital cameras. I spent this trip playing around with its settings and its selection of film simulation modes, while also discovering some of its unfortunate downfalls whilst trying to shoot using only the LCD and no viewfinder in the glaring desert sun of Wadi Rum. 

Travelling to Jordan

Wadi Rum

Travelling to Jordan is easy and remarkably cheap from many parts of Europe. The two main airports are located in the northern capital of Amman and the city right on the edge of the Red Sea in the southeast of Jordan, Aqaba. 

I chose to travel to the latter on fairly short notice after finding an unbelievable flight price of only £16 (approximately €18 or $19) from Bristol in the UK to Aqaba. To put that into perspective, my 50-minute coach journey to Bristol Airport cost me more than that. Granted, I was travelling around the Christmas holidays, hardly the most popular time to visit a majority Muslim country, but Jordan had been near the top of my list for so long that I simply couldn’t resist.

Aqaba

So after two Easyjet flights and with my wallet just a tiny bit lighter, I arrived in Aqaba in the late evening. Now Jordan’s weather in early January isn’t as hot as you may expect from a largely desert-covered country, so arriving in anything but the midday heat means you may want to pull out a thin jumper.

From the airport, you can take a cab to Aqaba. This cab ride was my first introduction to Jordanian hospitality, as about 10 minutes into the journey I was invited to my driver’s home to have dinner with his family. As nice as this offer was, my dinner was already being prepared for me at my accommodation and, as I had an early morning scuba dive booked in the Red Sea, I politely declined in favour of getting an early night. 

Aqaba is a very small city located where Jordan meets the Red Sea in the southwest. From the coast of Aqaba, you can also see the Israeli city of Eilat just across the water. In parts, it has the feel of a package holiday town in its quietest season. There weren’t all that many photographic opportunities above sea level in Aqaba, although the coastline can be quite picturesque, particularly at sunset.

Aqaba coast

The real photographic attractions in Aqaba, however, are found in the Red Sea. Now, as my only usable camera was my Fujifilm X70, which no manufacturer I’ve heard of has created an underwater housing for, I wasn’t able to take any photos on any of my dives. While I was lucky enough to be loaned a GoPro for my final dive, my poor planning coincided with poor luck as Aqaba experienced its heaviest rainfall in 15 years the night before, reducing the visibility to almost nothing.

Despite this particularly bad luck for the final dive, I was able to dive at the underwater military museum in the days prior, albeit without a camera. These retired military artefacts were sunk and turned into an artificial reef and scuba-diving attraction, and witnessing the wildlife around them was truly awe-inspiring.

Wadi Rum

Around a one-hour-long drive east of Aqaba lies the immense Wadi Rum desert. Made famous through various Hollywood films using its rocky landscape and red sand as a setting for the desolate surface of Mars or some other extra-terrestrial battleground, the Wadi Rum desert has become more and more well known over the past few years.

Wadi Rum desertscape

The way many travellers, including myself, choose to visit Wadi Rum is by camping in a Bedouin camp overnight, allowing you to witness a sunset and a sunrise, as well as an extraordinarily bright and clear view of the milky way in between the two. Spaces at these Bedouin camps are plenty, so much so that you can even book a tent and a tour on Airbnb on the day. 

I took the tour around Wadi Rum in the back of a Toyota pickup truck. My guide, Nasser, took us around various sites of interest, including some magnificent natural rock arches and a cave with some interesting ancient carvings.

Toyota Wadi Rum Tour Truck
Wadi Rum Cave Carvings

We finished the tour and arrived at the camp in the mid-afternoon, and since other activities and entertainment are fairly hard to come by in the middle of the desert, I chose to walk around aimlessly, playing around with Fujifilm’s film simulation modes and meeting some of the more outgoing local critters.

Wadi Rum B/W
Wadi Rum insect

You can easily spend an entire day exploring different areas of the site, and I urge you to as the Treasury is, as you would expect, mobbed by other tourists pretty much every hour of the day. This makes it difficult to get a nice composition from the ground without catching at least one selfie stick. Even from the higher vantage point to the right-hand side (which you have to pay to be given access to), it’s difficult to get a clear shot and, before you know it, you are rushed to move on quickly so as to make way for the next person in the queue.

The impromptu nature of my trip to Jordan meant that, along with my rolls of 35mm film for my DL-300, I neglected to bring a tripod and shutter release. As it turns out, this was a huge wasted chance as the opportunities for astrophotography in Wadi Rum are absolutely endless. The night I was there was completely clear and the view of the Milky Way was the brightest I have ever seen, surpassing even the view I had of it in the Sahara near Merzouga, Morocco. It was so awe-inspiring that it managed to completely distract me from my own carelessness to leave the equipment required to photograph it lying to gather dust in my room in Cardiff.

Petra

About a 120km drive north of Wadi Rum lies the famous ancient city of Petra, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. While the Treasury is what the majority of people think of when they hear of Petra, or even of Jordan in general, it is far from the only point of attraction. In fact, Petra covers an area of 264 square kilometres (or 102 square miles).

As a tip, when you have paid your entrance fee and passed the gate, ignore the salesmen standing by the side of the trail with donkeys and horses trying to sell you a ride to the start of Petra. They will try to convince you that it is a very long walk and that the ride is absolutely necessary, when in reality the walk takes around 10-15 minutes. Some sneakier salesmen will even offer you the ride for free, before firmly requesting a mandatory tip once you’re at your destination.

You can easily spend an entire day exploring different areas of the site, and I urge you to as the Treasury is, as you would expect, mobbed by other tourists pretty much every hour of the day. This makes it difficult to get a nice composition from the ground without catching at least one selfie stick. Even from the higher vantage point to the right-hand side (which you have to pay to be given access to), it’s difficult to get a clear shot and, before you know it, you are rushed to move on quickly so as to make way for the next person in the queue.

Petra vantage point
Treasury Petra from floor

When I got to the Treasury in Petra, I had plenty of time while waiting for other travellers to take their photos to have a play around with my X70’s film simulation modes. The image above on the right was taken using Classic Chrome, while the image above on the right was taken using the Velvia simulation. Both are JPGs straight out of the camera.

Once you’re at the end of the trail and past the Treasury, however, Petra truly opens up. You will hike past and through various magnificent rooms, caves and carvings, and if you’re lucky you’ll even meet some very friendly livestock that walk and rest in areas throughout the site.

More Petra buildings
Friendly Petra goats

Amman

Jordan’s capital city of Amman, as is the case with most of the country, is steeped in historical and archaeological significance. These are inarguably the largest draws for most travellers, whether they arrive in Jordan through Amman’s international airport or head up to Amman from the south.

Some of the best stops around the city include the Amman Citadel, home of the Temple of Hercules, where you can still see the remnants of a statue of Hercules that historians believe stood more than 12 metres (or 40ft) tall. The Citadel is also a great vantage point from which to look out at the rest of the city of Amman.

A mere 20-minute walk from the Citadel, you will find the similarly impressive Roman Amphitheater. The extraordinarily well-preserved ancient structure is difficult to put into words or to capture in one image. Make sure that you bring the widest lens you can and arrive around sunrise or sunset in order to get the best light and tourist-less composition available.

The Dead Sea

Another world-famous attraction that is easily accessible from Amman, and can therefore be done as a day trip using the local bus, is the Dead Sea. I would recommend taking the local bus and then a short taxi ride to the Dead Sea which should cost less than $10 in total, as opposed to opting for the private transfer which will cost roughly $100-110.

At 423 metres below sea level, the bank of the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth that isn’t submerged in water. As you may know, it is also home to some extremely salty water, which reaches roughly 34% salinity, making it more than 9.6 times as salty as the ocean.

This makes the Dead Sea difficult to swim in, but you can essentially sit on top of it, making for some great opportunities for photographs. Just make sure that when wading in the water of the Dead Sea, you under no circumstance open your eyes underwater as no one has ever done this without regretting it for quite some time.

Conclusion 

Now, I think that about wraps it up. My time in Jordan was fairly limited and, as a result, so were the places I was able to visit. I know that this guide will not have done justice to every part of Jordan, but then doing so would be impossible for any country in just a couple thousand words. I hope that I will be able to return to Jordan (with a greater level of planning) soon and when I do, I will expand and update this guide further. 

If there is anything that you think I’ve missed out or should add to this guide, please do contact us here and we will get back to you as soon as we can. If you have some images from Jordan you would like us to feature somewhere on this guide, you can also send these to us at contact@roamerphotography.com.

Thank you for reading and supporting our work here at Roamer Photography! Enjoy your travels and happy shooting!

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