In Transit: Navigating Amman
Queen Alia International Airport
Traveling through Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport is one of the most stress-free travel experiences I’ve ever had. The longest I’ve waited in line is 30 minutes, and the airport seems expansive, but is small enough that it doesn’t require a marathon-ending sprint to get to the gate.
When you get to immigration, withdraw money from the very handy ATMs in the hall before you queue up for the designated counters to buy a visa. If you already have a visa stamped in your passport, head to any of the lines marked for visa holders and/or Jordanians. After you’ve collected your luggage, get a cab through the airport’s taxi service (there’s a booth outside the terminal) instead of booking a ride through a ride-hailing app. Even though the service is a few dinar more expensive, Careem and Uber drivers often have to wait in parking or at the departure terminal one level up, and if you have heavy bags, trying to track them down is exhausting. (Unless you want a game of “Can you see me? I can’t see you! Which red car?!”) There’s also an airport shuttle service (3.25 Jordanian dinar per person) that stops at several main roundabouts, from where you can get a cab.
Allocate an hour and a half to commute from the city to the airport, though it usually takes an hour from central Amman. For now, ride-hailing services like Careem and Uber are operating in a grey zone of sorts; cops have been known to impound cars and/or fine the drivers (but not the passengers). To get to the airport, you can take a Careem or Uber, but drivers are often wary and might ask you to sit in the front seat so the police don’t think they’re ferrying passengers. If you hail a regular yellow cab you’ll have to negotiate the price in advance. My advice is to pay around 20 Jordanian dinar (US$28) but if it’s rush hour, may the force of bargaining be with you.
Airlines recommend arriving three hours ahead of departure, which means you’ll probably have a couple of hours to while away at the airport.
Once you’re at the airport, it’s smooth sailing. There are boards with flight information, and the check-in and immigration queues usually move very efficiently. If you’ve overstayed your visa, pay the fine at the counter on the right before getting into the queue, since the officers will need to calculate your overstay fine (1.5 Jordanian dinar per overstayed day) and issue a receipt before you can clear immigration. Right past immigration is a Duty Free section, where you can pick up boxes of baklava and ma’moul. If the kaftans and touristy knick-knacks in Duty Free aren’t your style, head to the Jordan River Foundation or Wild Jordan shops that have a selection of artisanal handicrafts, soaps and oils, etc.
For business class passengers, the Crown Lounge has a buffet of snacks and free coffee. But if you’re traveling economy, don’t fret: the airport facilities are great. There’s a food court with everything from McDonald’s to Kalha, a falafel joint, and a fairly comfortable lounge, as well as massage chairs and an outpost of the spa. Charging outlets are few and far in between, so ensconce yourself at a Starbucks if you need to charge your phone. There’s a smattering of cafés and restaurants near the gates as well, and lots of seating. There’s also a branch of the upscale Blue Fig café in the airport, if you’d like to fortify yourself with something stronger than caffeine, and Starbucks will deliver a latte to your gate if you place an order via WhatsApp.
Getting around in Amman
I’ve lived in Amman for a couple of spells spaced many years apart, pre- and post-Google Maps, and yet I can’t figure out the inter-city bus system, though this fantastic unofficial map of the bus routes is hugely helpful. Amman has several key bus terminals—including Tabarbour, Wihdat, and Raghadan—and it can be intimidating to figure out which bus you need to go where. At the terminals, just walk around and tell any of the parked buses/conductors where you want to go, and they’ll put you on a bus to your location. My advice to first-time travelers is to use cabs, Uber and Careem, and the white servees taxis.
Servees taxis are shared taxis that work on fixed routes across most of Amman’s downtown neighborhoods. Here are the main ones to know: the servees for Jabal al-Weibdeh leaves from the turn just before Hashem in downtown Amman, and goes up to Paris Circle. The servees stop at Du’ar Dakhliya (the Interior Ministry roundabout) has taxis going downtown through Abdali (get out near the El Muhtaseb bookshop, before the servees taxi takes the turn up Jabal al Qalaa), and you can get a servees on Rainbow Street.
During rush hour, regular cabs will sometimes pick up multiple passengers going in the same direction, though be warned that drivers might charge you the entire fare if you’re the last one out. During rush hour and post-11 p.m., Amman cabbies often ask for larger fares. Pay depending on how desperate you are for a ride, though my personal limit is 3 Jordanian dinar.
Getting out of Amman
Buses at Tabarbour bus station service the north of Jordan. To go south, get a bus from Wihdat. Pay on board when the conductor comes around. Jett, a bus service that goes to destinations including Aqaba and Petra, has a main terminal in Abdali, but you need to book seats in advance.