By Rhonda Carrier
It came as a pleasant surprise that the archaeological site of Petra abounds with children: young visitors riding horses, donkeys and camels and exploring the caves with their parents, but also Bedouin kids, leading the animals or playing amidst the rocks. They don’t actually live on the site anymore – there’s a new village on the hillside, with modern facilities – but their presence helps to bring this magical site alive as the one-time capital of the Nabataean civilisation and nexus of its trading network.
'A desert camp made for a thrilling night under a sky fizzing with stars. We sat around a campfire trying to decide if we would make it up to watch the sun rise from behind the mountains. After breakfast, we piled into a 4WD to hurtle across the sand dunes to see where TE Lawrence (‘of Arabia’) made his base, look at ancient petroglyphs in the rock face, ride camels and enjoy a spot of sandboarding.'
Petra can’t be conveyed in words. Familiar as you and your kids might think you are with it from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusaders, there’s no describing the feeling one has walking or riding through its long sandstone canyon and catching one's first glimpse of the iconic Treasury, glowing pink in the sunshine as if lit from within. And knowing that despite its glories, Petra is still only 20% excavated makes one's head spin at what must lie beneath the stones…
Jordan is an unbelievably exciting and evocative place for children and parents alike - don’t let yourself be dissuaded from visiting by tensions elsewhere in the region (we felt safer here than in many European cities). To get the most of the country, we recommend a dedicated family adventure trip, which can help you to break it down into bite-sized chunks and gives you a short-cut to its highlights with the help of an expert guide with invaluable insider insights and the historical facts at his/her fingertips.
A week-long Jordan Adventure Holiday, for instance, aimed at ages five and up, gives you a day in Petra as well as the chance to explore another extraordinary site - Jerash, one of the most complete provincial Roman towns in the world, miraculously preserved beneath the sand for centuries, and including two theatres, a forum and a nymphaneum. At certain times of year, gladiator shows are hosted in the old hippodrome, with visitors able to hitch a ride in a horse-drawn chariot. As a counterpoint, the holiday also includes a day and night at Aqaba on the Red Sea, with the opportunity to snorkel off a boat, and a stopover at the Dead Sea to float on its famously salt-heavy water and slather yourself in some of its mineral-rich black mud.
Perhaps most exciting of all for kids in Jordan is the desert valley of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan, which some parents and older kids might recognise from The Martian with Matt Damon, where it stood in for Mars. Numerous desert camps here make for a thrilling night under a sky fizzing with stars, sitting around a campfire trying to decide if you will make it up to watch the sun rise from behind the mountains. After breakfast, you can pile into a 4WD to hurtle across the sand dunes to see where TE Lawrence (‘of Arabia’) made his base, look at ancient petroglyphs in the rock face, ride camels and enjoy a spot of sandboarding. Things neither you nor your kids will ever forget…
Other Unmissable Things to Do in Jordan
• Stay in a wooden cabin in the Ajloun nature reserve west of Jerash, where you can trek to a 12th-century castle, eat in a family household and visit a soap house and sweet house to buy locally made products.
• Drive through the proposed nature reserve of Masuda, with a breathtaking landscape of striated mountains dotted by Bedouin encampments and roamed by solitary goat-herds.
• Meet some Bedouins and experience part of their daily life, including bread-making and coffee-roasting, during a stay at the Feynan Ecolodge - a stylish solar-powered retreat only accessible by 4WD, lit by candlelight in the evenings. Dine on vegetarian cuisine then head to the rooftop to watch shooting stars and study the heavens by telescope.
• Go trekking in the Dana Nature/Biosphere Reserve with its rich birdlife and animals including the Nubian ibex and big-eared Blanford’s fox. Like Aljoun, the reserve is run by the non-profit RSCN (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) and benefits local communities - the abandoned vilage of Dana itself is being rebuilt and brought back to life.
• With older kids, try canyoning and climbing in the Mujib Nature Reserve.
• Dine with a view on the terrace of the Dea Sea Panoramic Complex - and make time to tour its small but fascinating museum all about the sea and the local landscape.
• Book a place on a cookery lesson at Petra Kitchen, learning how to make delicious Jordanian specialities including baba ganuj, fattoush, galayat bandora, araies lahmah and the amazing magloubah or ‘upside-down chicken’.
Read more about family holidays in Jordan.