Are you crazy? Aren’t you scared? These were the standard comments when we mentioned to people our plans to visit the middle-eastern Kingdom of Jordan with kids. Since the Arab Spring began in 2011, the middle-east has been embroiled in horrible civil and international wars and dangerous terrorist uprisings. In the midst of all this chaos, the Kingdom of Jordan offers an oasis of peace and stability. Jordan shares its borders with Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Territory, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq and while Jordan’s proximity to these volatile environments is obvious from its military readiness and ever present police and security checkpoints, the country remains a very stable, safe and importantly, a very welcoming country for travellers.
Why visit Jordan with kids?
With the addition of D to our family, we had been taking the easy travel road. Don’t get me wrong, resorts can be great and we truly enjoyed our driving tour of Eastern Canada. However, with D about to turn 2 years old, we decided that it was time to take advantage of our last opportunity to avoid paying full airfare for him. We checked our bucket list and decided on the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The timing of our trip meant it would be shoulder season, allowing us to avoid paying the high season rates; but also, the temperature would not be as blistering as in the middle of the summer.
We contacted the highly recommended tour operator Jordan Select to help us plan our trip. Besides the obligatory visit to Petra, we also wanted to see the capital, Amman, ride a camel in the Wadi Rum desert, dive the Red Sea, go on a pilgrimage to Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan and float in the Dead Sea. The children also wanted to explore as many castles and ruins as we could fit into our schedule. Iris, from Jordan Select worked with us to build an itinerary that fulfilled all the requests of every member of our family. So, off to Jordan we went!
What’s it like Traveling Jordan with kids
If you plan on bringing your children to Jordan, prepare for a wonderful ride. Children within this small country are celebrated and universally loved. It isn’t rare for mothers in Jordan to bear 4 or 5 children, and in a country in which polygamy is legal and a Muslim man may have up to four wives, this means large families.
Jordan boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and it is not rare for children to walk, unaccompanied for long distances to their schools. In fact, if you carry your children, you may sometimes be asked “Why don’t you let them walk?”.
Jordanians take great pleasure in doting on children, and physical contact is central to that love. Be prepared for your children to be touched almost constantly by strangers saying hello and hoping to catch a precious smile from your youngster. Cribs were never difficult to obtain in hotels, and unlike many countries without child-seat laws, most rental and tour companies have large stocks of child-seats to cater to travellers from countries with stricter laws. What was obvious during our journey however was the different views of gender roles. I was constantly being complimented on the fact that I took such wonderful care of my children simply because I was a male who would actually change his baby’s diaper.
One of the most difficult aspects of travelling within Jordan, especially during the summer months is the extreme heat. It is not rare for temperatures to reach beyond 40 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day, so ensure you bring wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, strong sunscreen and lots of water to avoid dehydration and heat-exhaustion. The water in Jordan is deemed safe to drink. However, children can be more vulnerable to stomach upsets, so it never hurts to keep them drinking bottled water to avoid upsets.
Jordan offers a myriad of adventures for children, including exploring castle ruins (make sure to bring headlamps so they can see in every nook and cranny), running up and down giant sand dunes, building castles on the beautiful beaches and lizard spotting. Lizards are everywhere. These, combined with the ample opportunities for donkey, mule, horse and camel rides can help make any trip to Jordan an adventure for children of all ages.
Our Jordan Itinerary
Lying 30 km northwest of Irbid in the village of Umm Qais lies the Decapolis city of Gadara. C and D explore the shops and star in their own show within the beautifully decorated amphitheatre while we marvel at the epic vistas showing the Dead Sea, Israel, Syria and Palestine.
The historic Ajloun castle lies atop Mount Auf and was built between 1184 and 1188. The castle offers amazing views of the Jordan valley and three Wadis while the hallways within the castle walls offer countless nooks and crannies to explore.
In the mountains of Gilead lie the ruins of the Decapolis city of Jerash. It’s remoteness saved it from pillaging and as such you can still wander amongst the towering columns as it offers one of the most complete examples of a provincial Roman city. Be sure to explore the gorgeous temple of Artemis while you’re there.
Mount Nebo stands 1,000 metres high and according to tradition is the mountain from which Moses first saw the Promised Land. It offers sweeping views of the Holy Land and its ongoing excavations are uncovering incredible remains of early Byzantine mosaics.
Just South of Madaba off the old King’s Highway sits Karak Castle. Karak castle sat within the Biblical Kingdom of Moab and dates back to 1142. The upper levels offer spectacular areas to explore while the lower level offers vast, dimly lit vaulted rooms and corridors.
Shobak Castle is one of the lesser visited Crusader castles within Jordan. Many tour operators skip it due to it being slightly off the beaten path, and that’s a shame because it offers one of the most exciting exploring opportunities of all the castles. Shortly after you enter, be sure to check out the long, winding tunnel (located at the base of a non-descript set of stairs) and see if you can reach its final destination.
We arrived in Petra early evening on a Monday and we found we still had time to catch Petra by Night where you will find yourself staring at the stunning Treasury building while Bedouin singers and musicians entrance you with their magic.
The Treasury of Petra is the face of Jordan tourism and it is by all means as spectacular as you can imagine. However, Petra as a whole is a 60 square kilometre city and there is so much more to see than just the Treasury.
The Monastary may perhaps be the most awe-inspiring building within the bounds of the city of Petra. Located near the end of an hours climb, 220 metres above the floor of the city, you can relax and sip Bedouin tea or on some mint lemonade while gazing upon the facade.
Day 5: Little Petra, Wadi Rum
Nine kilometres north of Wadi Musa lies the Petra suburb commonly referred to as Little Petra. It offers a tiny version of The Siq as well as similar facades carved out of the sandstone cliffs. Be sure to trek up the rocks of the canyon at the end of the town for sweeping views and a visit to the local shops for some tea.
Also referred to as The Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is the largest Wadi in Jordan. Here you can become immersed in the nomadic Bedouin culture while resting the night away with an epic view of the stars enjoying traditional Bedouin meals cooked in pits beneath the desert sand.
Diving the Red Sea
Aqaba offers a dramatic step away from the hustle and bustle of every day Jordanian life. When you arrive, the surroundings leave no doubt that this is a vacation town. However, unlike many tourist destinations, Aqaba is widely visited by the locals during vacations and holidays. It offers quick stops to Israel and Palestine as well as Egypt and many come to swim, snorkel or dive the spectacular waters of the Red Sea.
Bethebara or “House of the ford” is where the New Testament names as the place where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. While the Jordan river has since been diverted, you can still see the marble stairs on which Jesus descended to the waters. Walking further will bring you to the banks of the Jordan where you can dip your toes in the water within reaching distance of the Palestine West Bank where a large church stands.
The Dead Sea
Possible as a day trip from either Amman or Aqaba, we chose instead to stay in the luxurious Kempinski Hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea. There is no doubt that the town caters to tourists and there is a notable Western atmosphere within the music, food and dress of those visiting. Countless pools offer you a chance to relax after some time floating in the gravity defying waters of the Dead Sea and a scintillating Dead Sea mud bath.
There are a myriad of minor castles and fortresses scattered across the desert in eastern Jordan. Most of these castles were built between 660 and 750 AD in the Umayyad dynasty. A visit to some of these castles offers impressive examples of early Islamic art and architecture while some are known for their spectacular mosaics and historic importance, both ancient and more recently. Follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia and get lost in the Desert Castles of Jordan.
The Citadel sits at the centre of Amman and with evidence of civilization dating back 7,000 years it is one of the oldest, continuously occupied places on earth. Explore the soaring columns of the temple of Hercules and marvel at the hand that remains of the once 30 ft. statue to this Greek demi-God while you pick fresh figs from the trees scattered throughout the site.
Stay tuned for more posts about our trip to Jordan.
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.
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