Jordan offers incredible history, culture and natural sites that made my heart almost burst with happiness. With four days in Jordan we learned that the people are lovely, and the food is sublime. It should absolutely be on everyone’s must-visit list.
It was easy to navigate and beautiful to photograph.
We visited Jordan for our spring break trip in late March. My parents joined our family, so we had a total of 8 people in our group. Even though my parents are getting a little older, I was totally impressed that they were able to navigate everything really well. There were a couple of really physical days, but they did great, as did my children.
Before going to Jordan, you should order the Jordan Pass. If you purchase before arrival, the pass allows you to waive the visa on arrival fee for tourists. It also allows you to enter 40 different sites free. These sites include Petra, Jerash and Wadi Rum, the three places we went to. It may not be worth buying the pass for children, because a lot of those sites have free entrance for children.
We arrived at Queen Alia International airport in Amman in the early morning. It was so easy to navigate the airport and rental car counter which was right outside in the arrivals hall. We picked up an 8 seater, automatic rental van for a fairly reasonable price. There is a Starbucks in the arrivals hall and a small convenience store where we bought some water and a few snacks and we were on our way!
The airport is some distance from Amman and we navigated some pretty narrow roads through small towns on our way to the baptismal site of Jesus Christ along the River Jordan. It took us about an hour.
The River Jordan
There is a checkpoint where they check your passports and lead you to a parking lot. It’s a small lot where you buy tickets and wait for the shuttle to take you to the site. It’s a little run down, but there is a kiosk to buy water and coffee and you can wait in the shade.
We waited a short while before boarding a minibus to drive 10 minutes to the baptismal site. We passed a few modern churches built by various denominations including Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox. A guide on the bus described the history of the site and how they determined that this was where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ.
We walked along a path while the guide pointed out different facts from the area. He highlighted both ancient and modern history. It was very interesting to see the site where historians believe Jesus was baptized. Further along the path, the Jordan River deepens and becomes the border for Jordan and Israel. On the Jordan side people can’t get in the water, but we could see people getting in the water on the Israel side and being baptized. The entire visit took about 90 minutes. It was an interesting introduction to the ancient and modern history of Jordan.
From there we drove to the Dead Sea. We had made tentative plans to visit a public beach there, but we were open to other beaches along the way. In planning vacations, I like to have a specific plan, but I also keep myself open to learning new things and adjusting the plans as we go.
A few of our friends have stayed overnight at resorts in the area or purchased day passes to go in the water near the resorts. This is a good idea but we didn’t want to stay even more than an hour and we wanted a cheaper option.
A little further south from the resorts is Amman Beach, a public beach with changing rooms, outdoor pools, and a restaurant. Entrance fee is about USD $25 so it was a bit expensive. But we enjoyed some time in the Dead Sea, which the kids hated actually, but they loved the pool!
We left Amman Beach about 3:00 p.m. and headed down to Wadi Musa, the city near Petra. We drove along the King’s Highway, which was spectacular. I could not believe the beautiful views of the Dead Sea and the mountains as we drove along the mountain passes. It was an incredibly memorable drive, especially since we weren’t expecting much. It is very winding and steep, so be careful if you get carsick.
We arrived in Wadi Musa late at night and felt so lucky to stay at the Oscar Hotel, a cheap and cheerful budget hotel. The staff were kind and generous. We were exhausted after our long day and they were incredibly helpful.
I don’t mind staying at budget hotels and saving money where I can. There are a lot of international chains and options in Wadi Musa. But, if you don’t mind staying at a place that is a little more local, the Oscar Hotel was fantastic.
We decided on an early start. I had heard horror stories about the crowds in Petra. We left the hotel about 7:30 a.m. and arrived at Petra a little before 8:00 a.m. The ticket office opens at 6:00 a.m.
An early morning walk to Petra would be a beautiful way to start the day if you are an early riser.
Parking our car wasn’t too difficult at 8:00 a.m. and the weather was cool. We were all wearing jackets and my kids had hats on to keep their ears warm. It is warmer when the sun comes out, but there was a good breeze and a good part of the walk is in the shade. We were glad to have those warm jackets.
Petra is incredible! We have obviously all seen the Treasury, but there are many other beautiful ruins throughout the complex. We opted not to have a guide, preferring to read information from the internet along the way.
The walk to the Treasury is a bit down hill, but not too difficult. There is a small cafe to sit at when you arrive there and it was nice for my parents and children to rest a while.
We were approached by local guides who asked if we wanted to see the treasury from above. They told us we couldn’t go by ourselves, but that we could pay them to take us. My husband and I, along with our 9 year old son paid a local guide $25 to take us to a viewing rock above the treasury. It is a fairly difficult climb and at the viewing platform without guardrails was a little scary for this nervous mom! It was a really spectacular view though and totally memorable! We got some great pictures from above.
High path vs low path
It was good that the kids and my parents rested before we walked through the rest of the complex. There is so much to explore! There is a higher path and a lower path. The lower path is rocky, but fairly flat. You see all the same sites as if you take the higher path, just from a distance. It gives you a sense of the size of the complex, but just not an up-close view of the buildings.
Most of the buildings are facades; you can’t go inside. We stayed on the lower path and enjoyed another hour of leisurely walking to the restaurant. The food was overpriced, but it was great for my parents to rest there while my husband and I took three of our kids on the steep hike to the monastery.
The hike to the monastery was pretty intense, but my 5 year old made it up there and it was incredibly beautiful. The monastery itself was amazing, and the views of the surrounding valley made it especially lovely. We spent an hour just enjoying the view, walking around and looking at rocks (a favorite pastime of my 3 year old).
Throughout Petra local people offer rides on camels, donkeys and carts. It was great to know that these options were available at anytime if one of the kids or my parents began to feel tired. We didn’t end up using those options, but they were available at every point along the trail throughout Petra. I’ve had friends visit Petra in the summer and it sounded SO HOT! I think early spring is the perfect time to visit Jordan – no overwhelming heat!
After Petra we drove about 90 minutes to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is desert wilderness in southern Jordan. It is protected land, but there are many Bedouin campsites for visitors throughout the large region. We stayed at the Bedouin Tours Camp and had a great experience.
There are a lot of options with similar names. I initially booked with another camp, but found them very unresponsive. Most of the camps are run by locals and don’t require payment in advance, so I just cancelled my initial booking, and made another reservation. The owner of Bedouin Tours Camp contacted us just 20 minutes after we made the reservation through Booking.com. He spoke excellent English and was incredibly easy to work with. I would recommend his camp.
Camping in Wadi Rum is rustic. We arrived at the Wadi Rum village and met the owner of the camp at his home. We parked our car beside his home and got into the back of a pick up truck. My parents stayed in the cab of the pickup truck and my children, husband and I sat in benches built along the bed of the pickup. Like I said, a little rustic, but so much fun! We quickly left the paved roads and drove on the packed sand in the desert. It was simply magical to watch the sun set over the beautiful mountain ranges of Wadi Rum as we drove through the desert.
Our campsite consisted of 12 platform tents, communal bathrooms (one for men, one for women) and a “mess hall” where all the guests dined together. We arrived just in time for dinner and enjoyed a beautiful traditional Jordanian meal of chicken and potatoes cooked over hot coals for 3 hours.
After dinner, tea was served and the cooks played guitar and sang some traditional Jordanian folk songs. The kids (and adults!) in our group were falling asleep, so we left and tucked ourselves into our beds. I like to check email before bed, but quickly realized that there was absolutely no service out in the desert, so I turned my phone off and stayed disconnected for our visit.
The owner of the campsite had arranged a tour around Wadi Rum so after a basic breakfast of pita, hummus and hard boiled eggs, we were off again in the back of the pick up truck, to explore the vast desert of Wadi Rum.
The desert is a valley with mountains of sandstone throughout the landscape. There are some incredible places to explore, including natural arches, incredible sandstone formations and beautiful canyons. We let our guide take us to the places best suited to exploring with the kids. But he said there are lots of technical hikers and climbers who come to Wadi Rum and spend a week exploring the mountains.
It was a magical day and we felt so lucky to have experienced such beauty as a family. Probably my favorite part of the experience was the stars at night. They were amazing!
I found so many constellations and was just wowed by the clear night sky full of stars.
It was spectacular. We spent another lovely evening at the campsite and managed to stay awake for the singing and guitar playing for at least 20 minutes. Our four days in Jordan was going by so fast!
The next morning, we packed our things and drove out of Wadi Rum. After paying the owner (entirely in cash, so be prepared – there is no ATM in Wadi Rum!) we drove the four and a half hours north to Jerash, Jordan.
Jerash is just north of Amman and has incredible Greco-Roman ruins that are well-preserved. The city began to develop around the 3rd century BC and was an economic and social hub until the 3rd century AD.
The ruins include a hippodrome which housed chariot races, the Triumphal Arch which honored the visit of the Emperor Hadrian, a beautiful forum lined with 56 ionic columns still intact, and much more. Walking along the cobblestone streets and viewing the incredible temples was impressive.
We opted to go without a guide, but there were many people offering to give us a guided tour of the area. I think the most impressive thing to remind myself when I visit places like this is how vast the Roman Empire was at the height of it’s power. We encountered some rain at Jerash, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the ruins!
From there we drove to our hotel in Amman International Hotel for the night. We went to bed early since we all had early flights the next morning. Although I felt satisfied with what we did with our four short days in Jordan, I felt a little sad that we didn’t explore Amman at all.
I would be very happy to return to Jordan someday.
The people were delightful, the food was incredible, the history is amazing and the landscape is spectacular. It is a do-not-miss place to visit!
Trip taken March 2019