A few tips for visiting Petra with kids.
July 21, 2019
by Ivan Seixas
My wife and I have two girls, a three-year-old and a nine-month-old. We never skipped a trip because of them. So, after moving to Lebanon, in 2018, we took a look at what would be worth it seeing in the region and Petra immediately stood out. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and it’s where Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was filmed. It’s not the easiest of trips to do with kids, but neither is it the hardest. All it takes is a bit of planning.
The huge historical site is located in a small town in the south of Jordan, a quiet and peaceful kingdom in the heart of the middle east. It comprises an area of almost 300 square km. A whole city carved in stone that lasted thousands of years, with a history spanning from biblical times until the Roman Empire.
Petra was built by nomads who once dominated part of the silk road. The strategic location at what used to be an important crossroad connecting different caravan routes ensured that the city would thrive through centuries to become what ancient travellers described as a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, an oasis with irrigated hanging gardens in the middle of the desert. Petra’s monumental architecture still astonishes travellers, who nowadays come from all around the world just to see it for themselves.
How to reach Petra
Jordan is largely unaffected by the surrounding conflicts in the Middle East and is well served by planes from Europe, Turkey, and the Gulf as well as from all neighbouring countries. We took a one-hour flight from Beirut to Amman and rented a car at the airport – since, after Petra, we went on a week-long road trip through Jordan.
The highways are first class and the only danger is speeding. I got fined twice by very courteous royal policemen.
Traveling with kids
Travelling with kids can be scary. So when we started talking about visiting Petra with the girls, many of our friends thought we were crazy and/or reckless.
Of course, we know travelling with the girls, however feasible, requires several adjustments. We need to first adapt our own expectations. We have got to be aware that we’ll be moving in a much slower pace than most people – including ourselves in our best days. We need to plan and research a lot more than what we used to when we were indeed crazy and reckless.
The Historical site spans almost 300 square kilometres, but the main touristic trail through Petra is around 4 or 5 kilometres long. Most travellers need 3 hours to walk from the entrance to the “Monastery”, which is the last attraction in Petra. The problem is that after reaching the “Monastery”, you need to go all the way back to where you came from, almost duplicating the time and effort of the trip.
Start from the end
So, here is probably the best tip we found while researching and it really made all the difference: you can pay a Jeep to take you to Petra through the “backdoor”. It means you can start from the end and do the trail once instead of twice. It is not written or advertised anywhere at the site, and even if you are in a hotel, nobody will tell you to do it if you don’t specifically ask. When we did ask at our hotel, it took the concierge a good couple of hours to arrange the ride for us, so I advise you to book ahead.
The Jeep is overpriced – like most things in Petra, and I would say Jordan as a whole. We were charged 50 JOD (75 USD) for the fifteen-minutes trip. But believe me, it was worth it.
Invest in comfort
Another good tip is choosing a nice hotel. If you’re walking for a whole day under a scorching sun, going back to a clean, comfortable room, with a hot bath and reliable food makes a big difference. We decided to stay at the Mövenpick. It was the most expensive hotel in the city, but it paid off. Our friends who decided for a cheaper option complained a lot, and even came to have dinner at our hotel.
Prepare for an expensive trip
Jordan is expensive, and in touristic sites, such as Petra, things can get really pricey, so be prepared. The entrance to the Historical site alone costs JOD 50 (or USD 75), and then there’s the jeep to take you to the “Monastery”, the camel ride, or the donkey, or the cart – there are three different options of transportation inside the historical site, each of them takes you through a third of the trail and cost around USD 20 per person.
Pack some food
There are many vendors inside Petra, so you will find water, tea and chips almost everywhere. There are even a couple of restaurants. Do not expect the food to be good and do pack some snacks for the kids.
In Petra with the kids
At the end of the day, it took us seven whole hours to go from the “Monastery” to the entrance. We took it slow and enjoyed – A LOT – the trip. We stopped at almost every monument, we sat down, had water, snacks and let the girls loose. The day was much more relaxed than we expected.
Petra is amazing. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. The views of the desert are to die for, the architecture is gorgeous and the place feels like you are in an old movie. As we reached the “Treasury” – the most famous and beautiful of Petra’s monuments – at sunset, I had the impression I was dreaming. The sunlight was bathing the sandy walls and surrounding rocks with a reddish light, adding texture and beauty to the already surrealistic buildings. We were exhausted from the 5 hours walking and took some time to feel the blood rushing through our veins. It was one of those moments when you look around and feel it’s worth it to be alive.
Of course, there were also moments of endurance. The sun was scorching and the temperature reached 38 degrees Celsius – it was early May. I had to carry our three-year-old in my shoulders for large parts of the day. My wife carried our nine-month-old in the carrier the whole time and at some points, covered her whole body with a cloth so that the sun would not burn her.
But I would do it again. And looking back, it was more than worth it. And I would recommend it to everyone.