For a lesser-known but super cool day trip from Amman, consider spending the day in Ajloun and Jerash. This was one of my favorite things that I did in Jordan, and is a welcome respite from the touristy hustle and bustle of other popular attractions in Jordan.
You’ll explore Greco-Roman ruins at Jerash that rival the Via Sacra in Rome, and enjoy some piping hot mint tea next to a 12th century castle in Ajloun. Blissfully, there are very few tourists here, which will certainly enhance your experience.
Read on to discover everything you need to know for a day trip to Ajloun and Jerash, from bus routes to top sights to the best photo locations.
Getting There + Know-Before-You-Go
If you’ve read Why Not Walk’s guides to Petra and the Dead Sea, you know we’re big fans of the JETT bus, or the Jordanian Express Tourist Transportation bus service. They offer inexpensive bus tickets to get to and from a variety of Jordan’s treasures from Amman, and are prompt, comfortable, and convenient. While the timing didn’t work out to take the JETT bus to the Dead Sea, we were really happy with the service to Petra, and decided to check out another day trip we could book through them– deciding on Ajloun and Jerash.
A few things to keep in mind:
- This is not a guided tour– it is purely round-trip transportation between Amman and the two sites. While you can do this using a combination of public transit and taxis to save a couple JOD, the JETT bus was really convenient– we don’t think it’s worth the hassle just to save an almost-negligible amount of JOD to try to time everything yourself. For reference, the JETT bus costs 15 JOD round-trip.
- The bus picks up at 7th Circle, and runs the Amman — Ajloun — Jerash — Amman service on Thursdays and Sundays. The bus departs at 8:30AM sharp, heading to Ajloun first.
- The trip to Ajloun takes a little less than an hour and a half, and the trip from Ajloun to Jerash takes about 1/2 an hour. The bus returns to Amman from Jerash at 4:15 or so PM. Overall, we felt that we had more than sufficient time at both sites and were pleased with the timing of the schedule.
- The bus stops at a restaurant (seemed to be some sort of kickback situation) between the two sites, where you have the option to have a buffet-style lunch for 10 JOD. You definitely don’t have to eat at the restaurant. In fact, only 2 people on our bus chose to.
We had brought lunch with us, but ended up following the rest of the group down a large hill and wandering around a bit. We stumbled upon a bakery, where we promptly stuffed our faces with delicious, piping hot pitas and an assortment of mouthwatering dips and sides. And, of course, some sweet goodies for dessert. The driver had told us to be back within a certain time frame, so we just got everything to-go and were back in plenty of time.
- Admission to both Ajloun Castle and the ruins at Gerasa is free if you have the Jordan Pass (which we highly recommend!)
PS– We said this in our Petra post, but just in case you’re unfamiliar, the Jordan Pass is essentially a visa-slash-tourism bundle, which includes free entry to 40+ of Jordan’s best museums and attractions, as well as a discount on the visa itself. The list of attractions includes Petra, Ajloun, Jerash, the Jordan Archaeological Museum, and more. The Pass costs 70 JOD, but is pretty much always the best deal for tourists, given that the standalone visa costs 40 JOD and a one-day visit to Petra alone costs 50 JOD. You will get a lot of mileage out of your Jordan Pass on even a 3-4 day trip to Jordan– we really recommend it. (Not sponsored, just our opinion!)
Exploring Ajloun Castle
Ajloun, best-known for its 12th-century Ajloun Castle, is the first stop on your day trip. The trip mainly encompasses the castle and its surroundings, and the bus drops you off right in front of the entrance. Again, admission is free if you have the Jordan Pass. They’ll provide you with a brochure at the entrance with the history of the castle and such, but there is no formal tour or anything.
The castle was built in 1184 by one of the nephews of historical heavyweight Saladin (first sultan of Egypt and the Levant, founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty, etc.), Izz ad-Din Usama bin Munqidh. It commands an excellent strategic position atop a hillside at 1250 meters above sea level.
First built as a fortification against invading Crusaders, it was later sacked by the Mongols, rebuilt, and then commandeered by the Ottomans, also as a fortification against invasion. Most of the other surviving castles in the area (like the popular ruins at Karak) are Crusader castles, so it’s neat to have the experience of exploring one that was built as a protection against the Crusaders. Given all the turbulence it has witnessed, including surviving several earthquakes, the castle really is in quite good shape!
Take some time to explore around the many rooms and passageways. It’s laid out in a pretty frenetic way, so it can be a bit challenging to get your bearings. Don’t miss the opportunity to climb up one of the towers for really fabulous views of the valley below.
After lunch, the bus will take you to Jerash, and drop you off at the entrance to the archaeological ruins of Gerasa. This was definitely the highlight of the day!
Exploring the ruins at Gerasa
Exploring the ruins at the Gerasa site was one of the highlights of my trip to Jordan. In a trip that included a visit to Petra (one of the most amazing experiences of my life), that’s really saying something!
Sometimes called “The Pompeii of the East,” the ruins are really, really well-preserved. Similar to the Ostia Antica site outside Rome, you’re allowed to climb, clamber, and explore up and down the various buildings and ruins to your heart’s content. Most of the ruins date back to the period of Roman annexation of the area, beginning in 63 BCE. Gerasa was annexed to the Roman province of Syria, and later formed part of the province of Arabia, which also included Petra and what is today Amman.
As someone who studied abroad in Rome and visited the Via Sacra ruins countless times, I actually think Gerasa is better-preserved in a lot of ways, and the layout is really conducive to visitors. We were shocked at how quiet and empty the ruins were– there were a few local families picnicking and wandering around, but otherwise our bus group had the place almost entirely to ourselves. The weather was gorgeous that day, which led to really beautiful photos. Side note, I hadn’t upgraded my camera yet, so these photos were all taken with an iPhone 5, believe it or not!
When you arrive, it may not immediately be clear where you’re supposed to go. You’ll have to walk through a small souvenir area/marketplace with lots of touts (and maybe stop to pose for a silly photo at the Jerash welcome sign!)
After showing your Jordan Pass, proceed through the fence and come face-to-face with Hadrian’s Arch, (below right) built in 129 CE to commemorate Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Gerasa. Given that many of the roads in Gerasa date back to Emperor Trajan’s reign, you really will feel like you’re in ancient Rome while you’re here!
Walking through the Arch, you’ll next walk through the sizable Hippodrome and Forum areas. The Hippodrome (photo above left) was used for chariot-racing, and the Forum (photo above right) as a central meeting place when Gerasa was in its prime as a hub of the region. Many of the columns and archways are still standing, and it’s so cool to stand in the middle and feel the sheer enormity. Similar to Petra or Machu Picchu, it’s just mind-blowing to think about how people built these unbelievable structures without the tools we have today.
As you start to explore, keep in mind that the ruin complex is quite sizable, and you’ll want to see everything! So be sure to budget your time carefully so you’re back to the bus in time. You should have plenty of time to explore, but it’s good to keep an eye on the clock nonetheless.
Next up is the looming Temple of Zeus (photo above left), visible from much of the complex. Be sure to climb up the stairs and peek inside before moving on to the Cardo, a wide boulevard-style street (photo above right) framed by massive columns on both sides, many of which are still standing.
The Cardo leads you to the Nymphaeum (which has a really cool, enormous fountain!) and the Temple of Artemis (photos below.) Both are just as imposing and majestic as the Temple of Zeus– structures where time seems to have stood still! Artemis was the patron goddess of the city of Gerasa, which is the reason behind her extra-splendid temple. Impressively, 11 of the 12 Corinthian-style columns are still standing.
Last but not least, there are two theatre complexes, called the North Theatre and South Theatre, that you’ll see while you’re exploring. Their semicircular seating is marvelously preserved and a nice bit of cardio to climb up. Inexplicably, there was a man playing the bagpipes in the North Theatre while we were there, which was… not exactly true to the Greco-Roman theme, but he wasn’t half bad!
If you venture just a bit further, into the grassy area, you’ll come to the Bath Complex (photo below left), which is largely crumbling but still worth seeing. To get back to the bus, it’s probably easiest to just take the Cardo all the way back– perhaps this is what Gerasa’s original inhabitants did as well!
Jerash has to be seen to be believed– it’s so well-preserved that it feels like the history just leaps out at you around every corner. While I’m for-sure a big history fan and always gravitate towards activities and excursions like this, I urge you to visit Jerash even if history isn’t as exciting to you. You won’t regret it.
Have you visited Ajloun and Jerash? Let us know what you thought in the comments!
Pin this guide for later here: