When people ask us what our favourite family travel destination is, we have a very hard time answering. How do you choose? There are so many amazing places on this earth and each one is unique, but Jordan holds a special place in our hearts.
It had been a bucket list destination for us for a long time, mainly having fallen in love with the images of Petra when watching Indiana Jones. I guess we weren’t the only ones, because in 2007 Petra was voted one of the 7 new wonders of the world by 100,000,000 people! But due to its close proximity to Syria, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – hotbeds of conflict and tension over the years – we were a little apprehensive about going, especially with the kids.
More recently, media articles on visiting Jordan caught our eye and we started checking Tripadvisor and the Foreign Office for recent reviews. It seemed safe, something we always check before travelling anywhere, especially with the kids. One of the articles we read was an interview with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Travel Weekly in which he conveys his passion for his country and how he is encouraging tourism. As a result, tourist numbers are increasing.
We decided to visit during the Easter holidays and had 10 days to play with, which turned out to be a good amount of time to see the highlights of Jordan. If you are considering 10, 12 or 14 days, you can take a look at our itinerary and adapt it to suit your needs. We didn’t do Amman on this trip as we felt there were enough places to visit that were more child-friendly and we didn’t want to overdo it – but if you have more time, we would definitely recommend going.
Day 1 – Madaba > Dead Sea
Day 2 – Dead Sea
Day 3 – Dead Sea > Jerash
Day 4 – Dead Sea > Petra
Day 5 – Petra
Day 6 – Petra > Wadi Rum
Day 7 – Wadi Rum > Aqaba
Day 8 – Aqaba
Day 9 – Aqaba
Day 10 – Aqaba
We arrived in Amman late at night and picked up our hire car. It was all pretty straightforward as the hire company met us at arrivals and took us to their office where we sorted out the paperwork. We always book our car online before we travel to get the cheapest rate, using price comparison websites. The roads are pretty good and everything is well signposted, but we always plug in the location of our accommodation in google maps when we have wifi so that we have a working map when we’re offline. We brought our own car seats as reviews had suggested they weren’t up to scratch and we’d recommend doing the same. We got to the Mariam Hotel in Madaba very late, checked in and went straight to bed in our simple 4 single bed room.
The next morning we took breakfast on the roof terrace. It was a very simple affair including bread, hummus, olives, boiled eggs, yoghurts and cereal. The boys had a little swim but the pool was freezing so it was a quick in and out. We had a walk around the mosaics which is the reason we stayed there (and arriving so late at night we wanted somewhere close (25 mins) to the airport). The mosaics are very impressive but not particularly captivating for the boys so we didn’t stay long and found a quick and tasty chicken shwarma for lunch before heading off to our next stop, the Dead Sea and the lowest place on earth.
The journey took just under an hour. Thank goodness for Google Maps as our hotel would have been impossible to find otherwise! There are no real roads to get there, just a few tracks that are only there because people have driven over the ground enough times to make it look like dirt roads. Sometimes it felt like we were driving through people’s backyards. We stayed at the Thara Dead Sea hotel because it had good reviews and was cheap. Something to bear in mind is that Easter in Jordan is expensive. Probably the most expensive time of year to visit. We would have preferred to have stayed at a hotel on the shore of the Dead Sea but they were all very expensive. We had a car and were only 5 minutes from the main hotels (as long as you don’t take a wrong turn!) so it wasn’t a problem as we knew that we could get a day pass from one of these larger hotels anyway.
The hotel had a pool but only men could use the outdoor one. They had an indoor one which was for women, but when local women and children weren’t using it, they allowed us all to use it. The room was simple but had air-con, a small kitchen and fridge. The owner was very welcoming, although didn’t speak much English.
We had read much about the magical properties of the Dead Sea mud and were keen to try it ourselves. While we can’t confirm the rejuvenating properties of the mud, it was a fun experience. Take an old swim suit as that mud does not wash out easily! The floating experience was also something else! Weird fact – you can’t actually sink in the Dead Sea but you can drown. Because of the high salt content, you bob like a cork and it is difficult to swim. If you flip onto your front, it is difficult to lift your head out of the water. Even in a shallow bit of water, you can’t put your feet down.
All resorts will have lifeguards watching but keep an eye on the little ones! If you aren’t staying in one of the big hotels, a day pass is probably worth it because it is quite difficult to find somewhere along the shore to just stop and access the water and you probably also want some facilities to wash off the mud afterwards. Or maybe not. Each to their own!!
We decided to get a day pass. Lots of hotels do them, and they range in price. We went for the Crowne Plaza for about £15 per adult. We spent the day by their pool which was great for kids. They seemed to have one for residents and another for anyone. Just something to be aware of when checking out the Dead Sea, due to the high mineral content of the water, it can be quite harsh on sensitive skin. Our youngest suffers from the occasional eczema and he came out in a rash all over. Even though I didn’t think I had sensitive skin, I felt the stinging. There are showers right by to wash off the water and the mud so if there is any tingling, make sure to wash the kids immediately as it will continue to irritate. Also – take flip flops. Those stones are HOT!!!
We decided to take a day trip to Jerash. Jordan is a relatively small country and most things are reachable if you decide to stay in only a couple of places. From our hotel by the Dead Sea the trip to Jerash took 90 mins. We set off early so we could beat the crowds and the heat. We got there around 9.30am and it was already hot and so dry. The boys had hand held fans which doubled up as toys. They were really helpful. Also have loads of water…and hats!! There is quite a bit of walking if you want to see everything. We mainly focused on the huge amphitheatre and a few other bits as we wandered.
On the way back we watched a gladiator show. The boys loved this and got to hang out with the gladiators afterwards. We thought they looked pretty scary but the boys were fascinated.
On the way back we stopped at the baptism site of Jesus – just because it was there… and there were amazing views from up top.
And so to Petra. Our whole trip to Jordan was pretty much based around our visit to Petra. We probably shouldn’t have hung so much importance on it, but it was out bucketlist destination after all. You don’t actually stay in Petra. If you are searching for accommodation, type in Wadi Musa. There are so many hotels to choose from. Some are within about 50m of the entrance to Petra. It was a relatively long drive from the Dead Sea to Wadi Musa (3 hours 30 minutes) so we broke it up with a stop in Kerak to see the castle.
It is well worth a visit. The boys had headtorches which were initially a gimmick but actually came in very handy in a few places in Jordan, particularly this castle. There are lots of dark caverns and tunnels to explore. The boys loved it – although some parts were a bit spooky! After the castle we grabbed a quick lunch on the go so we could get to Wadi Musa and catch a sunset visit of Petra. Our boys love their chicken shwarmas!
We got to Wadi Musa at around 3pm and dumped our bags at our Seven Wonders hotel. We grabbed hats, suncream, water, comfortable shoes, long sleeved tops (it can get cold early morning and late afternoon) and headed off. There is a large car park near the entrance of Petra so we decided to drive and save our legs for exploring the Lost City.
The entrance for Petra is JD 50 for a day or JD 55 for 2 days. We opted for the 2 day pass as part of our Visit Jordan pass. See info at the end. You will want to spend at least a couple of days exploring.
We had a little hassle at the beginning of the Siq (the 2km walk through a gorge to get to the Treasury) from people offering horse rides but they were all very friendly. We wanted to take it all in at our own pace so we walked it. We also felt it was important to get that first view of the Treasury on foot – and it was so worth it.
We wandered around the Treasury taking in the atmosphere and hung around until sunset and beyond. We were one of the last ones out. It was quite a full on day and we decided against the Petra at night experience but it looked amazing when they were setting up for it with hundreds of lanterns everywhere. We have more on our Petra with kids post.
Travelling with kids usually means we are up early so we made the most of this and set off early to get to the gates for 6am when they opened. This time we decided to get a head start on the crowds (not that there were many at that time of day!) with a horse and cart. It meant that we were the first ones to see the Treasury that day and got some great pictures with nobody in them (well as great as they can be when you have two little monkeys trying their best to sabotage your attempts!).
That day we managed a hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice. It was a 7km round trip and the kids walked it all themselves, which was incredible considering our then 3 year old insisted on being carried back home if we walked more than 200m! The views were spectacular. Just make sure to bring snacks, water, hats, suncream and long sleeves for early morning chill.
After the hike we put the boys on a pony to get back to the exit. The 2km walk through the Siq was just a step too far for the boys and they were absolutely pooped! Saved us carrying them when we were pretty tired too.
They were so tired that they fell asleep at the table at lunch before the food arrived which was a first!
After lunch we set off for Wadi Rum. After the morning’s activities, the boys had a good long sleep in the car. It took just under 2 hours. We called in at the visitor centre first as we had no clue where our desert camp was. They gave us a map and called the camp for us so they knew to expect us. We were advised to park at the car park and the 4×4 came to pick us up. This was the start of the adventure. We drove for about 15 minutes into the desert. It is a good idea when picking your desert camp to make sure it is a little way into the desert, away from the main road and lights from neighbouring villages.
We hadn’t booked any activities in advance so at the check-in/greeting, we ran through all the activities available and pretty much set off straight away on a sunset 4×4 tour of Wadi Rum. We piled into the back of the truck and set off. The boys loved the experience. It lasted around 2 hours and we got to get out and wander around various sites and play in the huge sand dunes. We caught an amazing sunset and then headed back to camp for dinner – but not before the boys tried a little sand-surfing.
In the morning we opted for a camel ride. Seriously, if you have never been on a camel before, make sure you only do a short ride. Those things are uncomfortable! We’d done a 2 day camel trek in India once and vowed never again. This was fine though – just an hour around the local area and the boys had a blast, particularly Ernie (6) who had his own camel.
We had a quick game of beach volleyball to burn off some more energy and then set off to the coast for some much needed relaxing.
We found a great Airbnb apartment in the Tala Bay Resort. We had access to all the facilities, beach club, diving centre, loads of great pools, beach. We had a huge apartment – and the best part…..we had a washing machine. Yes. That’s what makes a holiday rental special for me as a mum. And with the sunny, dry weather, the washing dried in no time so it wasn’t a chore. Well almost wasn’t a chore 🙂
We chose Tala Bay over Aqaba because the beach looked nicer. Aqaba beach is a city beach at the end of the day and unless you are staying at one of the fancy hotels with private beach, it isn’t that appealing. Tala Bay is also less hectic. It’s only a 10 minute drive to Aqaba so we still went there to explore and have dinner and soak up a more authentic side to Jordan than the manicured, gated development of Tala Bay.
Our days in Tala Bay consisted of mainly swimming, sunbathing, snorkelling and eating. If you have space, take some beach shoes as it was pretty rocky and hard to get in and out of the water with bare feet. We had a self catering apartment so we usually made our own lunches and let the kids have a nap. We love that about our trips. The kids no longer nap at home but we all enjoy family nap time when we’re away. It makes for a more pleasant evening with the boys, rather than the inevitable tired tantrums!
We took a trip on a submarine from Tala Bay. It was great for the boys to experience what the red sea had to offer in lieu of diving, although it was disappointing to see plastic bags and other rubbish floating around the dive sites. The boys have seen for themselves the problem of plastic pollution and this has helped get them on board with things like refusing a plastic straw. This little pile was just from a small section of the perfectly manicured Movenpick beach. The rest of Jordan was pretty disappointing.
We moved to the Movenpick next door to the Tala Bay resort. We like to end our trips with a little bit of luxury. As it turns out, it was lovely, but there was really no need. The Tala Bay resort apartment had almost as much to offer, was much bigger and was a third of the price (although no kids club or all-inclusive).
We made the most of kids club and enjoyed a couple of drinks on the beach in peace and participated in some activities.
We managed to get a late check-out and stayed enjoying the facilities for as long as possible before we set off straight up the highway to stay at a cheap and cheerful apartment near the airport in preparation for our insanely early flight home. It was in the middle of nowhere, but there were a few restaurants so we had a cheap and cheerful meal at a local restaurant. So local in fact that there was no menu and definitely no website – and lots of amused stares. The building was green. That’s all I can remember but they did a mean roast chicken!
If you haven’t guessed already, Jordan is an incredible country to travel with children. The people are so welcoming and friendly and it is very easy to navigate if you choose to self-drive which we would highly recommend. Have we managed to convey how awesome Jordan is? We hope so. We rarely go back somewhere because there’s always somewhere new to see – but Jordan is one of those special places that captured our hearts and we will be back for sure!
Get your Jordan Pass before you travel. We opted for the Jordan Explorer which cost JD 75. It allowed us 2 consecutive days in Petra, access to 40 sites around Jordan and included the entry visa which alone costs JD 40 for a single entry so you will definitely save money, even if you only go to Petra.