Jordan with a Toddler

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From our very first days of living in the Middle East, we knew we absolutely had to visit Jordan sooner or later. Shon longed to go to Petra ever since he watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a child. He couldn’t believe that the temple where the climactic sequence was filmed could possibly be real. When he found out it was in Jordan, it became a dream destination. Finally, we went to Jordan with a toddler, nicknamed Turtle, in tow.

Jordan with a toddler. Is it safe? What is there to do? Can he (and you!) possibly enjoy it? The answer is a resounding "YES!"
Fun was had by all (most of the time)

What is Jordan like? Coming from the UAE it’s a bit of a surprise.  It’s poor.  There’s lots of trash on empty lots. White plastic bags and other litter degrade the landscape as you drive along.  Buildings aren’t tall and splendid–they’re short or stunted, some missing an upper story, perhaps to be added at a later date when money has been set aside for that purpose.  Cars are old and beat up.  A layer of dust covers most everything.  But the people are nice.  They’re humble and friendly, and they work hard for what they own.


At a cafe in Madaba, men relax and watch the cars roll slowly by.

We flew into Amman and picked up our Sixt Rental Car. A distressed group of Westerners who just found out there were no more cars available made us grateful for the hidden advantages of traveling with a toddler – like preplanning and reserving a rental car in advance. We even brought our own carseat with us. Rental vehicle secured, we headed south to Wadi Musa with 2 stops on the way.

Madaba

Our first stop was in Madaba – a city of about 60,000 that dates back to Middle Bronze Age. It’s so old, it’s mentioned in the Old Testament several times. The main tourist draw is the mosaic Madaba Map on the floor of the church of Saint John. The mosaic is famous because it is the only surviving original map of the Holy Land and Jerusalem.

Madaba Map
The oldest surviving original map of the Holy Land and Jerusalem

Church of Saint George in Madaba
In the cool, simple interior of this church, it was easy to imagine parishioners from centuries past.

As one can imagine, our 17-month old didn’t care much about old mosaics, but he did enjoy the opportunity to get out of his carseat and run around the church yard. By this point in our travels, we learned the importance of making stops to allow the toddler to do something that’s fun for him.

Kerak Castle

A word of warning: back in the fall of 2014 it was NOT a very good place to go with a young child because of safety issues. We have seen several uncovered wells around the castle and Turtle was not happy with having to be in our arms most of the time. However, if you keep your kids close, this Crusader’s stronghold – the largest one in the Levant – is worth a visit.

Kerak Castle in Jordan
Jenia and el nino at Karak Castle.

Kerak castle
A preteen or teen may enjoy this a little more 🙂

Wadi Musa

There used to be a time when tourists could camp out right in Petra. For better or worse, those days are gone and one needs to find a hotel, most of which are located in the neighboring town of Wadi Musa. The place we stayed at is not a hotel. It is called Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp and it’s a fantastic choice for a family. The price is perfect; the tents clean and reasonably comfortable; the breakfast simple but good (for a little extra, you can also have dinner and/or a sack lunch). There are bathrooms and showers but hot water and electricity are only available at certain times.

I thought it an ideal place to stay with an active toddler: there was nothing he could break and virtually no way for him to hurt himself. In the evenings, the guests and the hosts gather around a fire to drink very sweet tea and talk. The owner is extremely knowledgeable about Petra and is happy to help with one’s planning. There’s only one thing to be aware of: the local red dust never washed out of Turtle’s pants.

Sunset over Wadi Musa, Jordan
Our bedouin camp was at the bottom of this rock.

Wadi Rum

Next morning, we headed out to Wadi Rum, also known as Valley of the Moon. This section of desert is known in the West thanks to its starring role in the film Lawrence of Arabia. The Zalabia Bedouin who used to move their camps around Wadi Rum have mostly settled in the village now and run fantastic eco-tourism agencies. We selected Jordan Tracks and had a great experience with them. The first (and my favorite) part of the trip was camel trekking. Granted, the moment when the camel gets off its knobby knees is a bit scary, but once you are up, the experience is like nothing else. Our trusted Boba Air carrier that we’ve taken all over the world with us, came in quite useful and our toddler sat in it peacefully for the duration of the ride.

Toddler riding a camel, Jordan
I can’t believe we got to do this!

Once off the camels, we took in the view, tried sand-boarding, and got into a 4×4 with a local Bedouin guide whose family is among those who have exclusive rights to the national park.  He told us that his grandfather is still leading a nomadic life! One of our stops was at the so-called Lawrence’s House (he may or may not have actually been posted there). The scenery was amazing.

Lawrence's House
Shon was able to climb a rock right next to Lawrence’s House

View of Wadi Rum in Jordan
It’s a joy to see a splash of green in the midst of these reds and browns

And if you should spend the night there, either in a tent or a cave, as many people choose to, you would be amazed by the total lack of light pollution late at night.  The stars present themselves in a way that it’s easy to forget is possible when you spend most of your time in the urban sprawl that encompasses much of our modern world.

We all enjoyed Wadi Rum, but I think it was Turtle’s favorite part of our trip. It was so toddler-friendly! He got to play in the sand and pick up rocks to his heart’s content, he got to ride in a Jeep without a carseat, he climbed things, and enjoyed the attention of the Bedouins.

Cute Toddler in Wadi Rum
This must have been his favorite part of the trip. A giant sandbox! Rocks! Jeeps!

Toddler Buying Bedouin Tea
I keep kicking myself for not buying some Bedouin tea. It was very good and I couldn’t find it outside of Wadi Rum

Petra

Finally, the next day we made it to Petra. If you want to make it there before everybody else does, get up early. At 7.15 in the morning, we were walking in the perfectly empty Siq, rubbing our hands along canyon walls and singing, our voices reverberating. It was, indeed, something special to see the Treasury (that’s the Indiana Jones place, you know) present itself as we made our way through the Siq approaching it.  The sun colored the rocks orange as it rose higher. To this day, I get goosebumps when I think about it.

You walk the Siq expecting to see THIS at every turn.</p[>

Some of us were less awestruck.

Neither one of these photos would have been possible a couple of hours later when the square filled up with tourists, camels, and local vendors selling trinkets.
 
We spent an entire day in Petra, almost until sundown. We carried the little guy most of the way. Fortunately, he decided to nap in that amazing Boba Air carrier, so he didn’t feel the need to be down and running around the entire day, or we’d have never gotten anywhere.
hiking in Petra, Jordan
I was worried about this hike, but it turned out to be easier that it looked.
 
We climbed to the High Place of Sacrifice, and descended to the Great Temple, an area that Brown University has been excavating since 1993. It was a pretty easy hike. Midday by then, we were feeling tired, so Shon hired a donkey to take me up to the Monastery. By the time he stopped to rest in shade kindly offered by an aged merchant lady, drank some water, and let the toddler get out of the carrier, he was wishing he’d gotten a donkey ride himself.

Seeing the Monastery was pretty awesome.  It’s so big!  There’s a great place to eat in the shade, on a bench, right there with a view of the Monastery (so named because it was repurposed as a church for a while) and we ate our lunch there. There several merchants up there and I bought a lovely silver ring.

Toddler with Bedouins, Petra
These lovely ladies were selling different goods and kindly allowed me to take photos.

By the time we got back down and walked the main street of the ancient city, we were hot, tired, and ready for dinner. Financially, it makes more sense to buy a 2-day ticket to Petra but one day was enough for our family.

The Dead Sea

We couldn’t go to Jordan and not make a stop at the Dead Sea. Friends strongly suggested that we book a nice hotel for this portion of the journey, and we were glad we did. For one thing, it was very nice to end the trip relaxing, but more importantly, it was the best possible way to access the Dead Sea, especially with a young child. Our stay at Crowne Plaza was brief but very nice. Even though the resort cost more than we’d prefer to spend on a hotel, it actually ranks as really affordable for a five-star hotel and, we agree, it’s worth every penny. A little word to the wise–plan to eat at the hotel, because there isn’t much outside of the resorts for dining.

Crowne Plaza Dead Sea
Watching the sunset from our balcony at Crowne Plaza Beach

The Dead Sea itself was a rather surreal experience. It felt like it was messing with my head: everything you’ve ever known about water suddenly becomes untrue! I didn’t expect it to be so hard to put my feet back down. We followed the accepted procedure and smothered ourselves with the Dead Sea mud after getting out of the water. Turtle didn’t like the idea of the sea and liked the idea of the mud even less.

Mud and Water of the Dead Sea
The water felt oily, and the mud did, too. Amazingly, it didn’t stain the swimsuit.

Fortunately, there was a kiddie pool. With a slide. His happiness was restored!

Toddler on a water slide
He was delighted and didn’t want to leave!

Dead Sea salt crystals
Salt crystals in my hand and on the buoys.

So what is it like, then, to travel the country of Jordan with a toddler? It’s pretty great. Our traveling Turtle had a blast with sand, slides, celebrity status, and open space, and Shon and I got to experience the wonders of Petra (Wadi Musa), Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. That Sixt rental car gave us freedom to explore at our own pace, and each and every place we went was interesting. Jordan has much to offer, from camel tours to Bedouin camping, and we’d go back in a heart beat.

BONUS:

If you like reading, do check out Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite Van Geldermalsen–a New Zealander who, as the title suggests, married a Bedouin from Petra. She still lives in Umm Sayhoon Bedouin village and works with her son Raami selling unique silver jewelry that local women make.

Should you go to Jordan with a toddler? Yes, you should. There is so much to do there! #ourtravelingzoo #Jordan #familytravel

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24 thoughts on “Jordan with a Toddler”

  • Love it! Petra is on my list. I love historical and biblical locations. Never knew Jordan was poor; not as rich as UAE but comfy still. So jelly of your tent stay. I want to experience that one day.

    • You should go if you ever get a chance. It was kind of funny to seat at the bank of the Dead Sea with Mount Nebo behind us, look at the lights of Israel on the other side, and think that we are, after all, no better than Moses 🙂

  • You’re trip to Jordan sounds like so much fun. It seems like you’ve got the traveling with toddler thing down – go slow, and give them time and room to explore. He’s already a jetsetter! I really want to experience swimming in the Dead Sea and slathering myself with black mud. Sounds like an adventure.

    • Thank you! Traveling with young kids requires an adjustment but is so doable! I hope you get to go to the Dead Sea, it’s an adventure for sure!

  • This looks amazing! I definitely want to go see Petra and the Dead Sea. Camels are also my favourite animals, so I am pretty jealous. Good call on reserving the car ahead of time, I would never trust just showing up and hoping there was a car available, especially if you had certain requirements.

    • Well, apparently at least some people show up without reservations 🙂 We lived in the Middle East for 3 years, got to see a lot of camels! They have such adorable faces!

  • Petra is so high on our bucket list… especially because we both grew up loving Indiana Jones! So beautiful that you underlined that you can travel over there with a toddler. The bad press and stereotypes sometimes label it as a dangerous place! Also… I can’t believe there’s so much to do!

    • There is a LOT to do, and we haven’t been to the whole country either. We felt perfectly safe the whole time and the people were lovely.

  • Kerak Castle looks incredible. Had to google Bedouin Camp and would love to have that experience some times.
    Very tender picture of you guys on the camel with the background of hardcore mountains.. Thanks for sharing..

  • I love Jordan, and yes, there probably are some parts that the sidewalks are not great or the ruins (castles) are a bit treacherous, but isn’t it amazing how the locals love on your kids and are so friendly. We visited all the same places, and I loved every single one!

    • Yes, the locals are amazing. We had a man run to our car when he saw we were looking at our map, offered help and invited us over for tea.

  • What a fascinating story. Having two grown kids, I cannot even imagine being somewhere so foreign with a toddler. Hats off to you. The pictures are beautiful and I loved the story of each and every place. I did not know about the trash situation or really how lovely the architecture was.

  • I love the Arabic culture and most of all the mosaics! Your post is great, because many people think that they cannot do certain trips while their kids are still small. My experience is that people in the countries that are not considered ‘child proof’ embrace you and your child and make so many things easier for you (which shows on the pix with the ladies). When my daughter was a toddler, I moved for a couple of months to Belize, later to Honduras and Costa Rica- we both had a great time and she’s still profiting from the cultural impact and the language skills! However, I love the irony in your Pinterest pic!

    • Well, the Pinterest pic is the reality of life with a toddler 🙂 This particular kid is almost 5 now and has been to close to 30 countries. It’s amazing how much he can remember! Your adventures sound awesome, that’s the part of the world we haven’t gotten a chance to explore yet.

  • Wadi Musa looks like a great place for a family to stay. Wadi Rum looks fascinating. There’s so much to see and do while marveling at the region where Lawrence lived. We’ve experienced many of the challenges of traveling with small kids and can really appreciate the picture of a crying Turtle at Petra. If we had money for every time our kids would not cooperate for pictures, we’d have a lot more money!!

    • Haha, so true! We weren’t even sure what it was he was crying about. Then again, toddlers are going toddlers no matter where in the world they are!

  • It’s wonderful to bring a toddler along on your travels. I know they wouldn’t take things in, like archaeological sites or historic buildings but I do think it leaves an impression on them 😊

    • I really believe it does. Our kids always seem to have a sort of a growth spurt either during or right after a trip – they learn new words, new tricks, gain a new confidence. It’s awesome to watch.

  • What an amazing experience – I am also an Indiana Jones geek and that movie made me want to visit Jordan too! That mosaic map must have been incredible to see – such amazing history and so cool that it still exists after all this time! I would love to visit the Dead Sea too – I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of it, so I hope I get to experience it for myself one day. Great you could do all of this with a toddler!

    • I think you’d fall in love with Jordan. I really mean it when I say that I’d pay the entrance fee again just to see the Treasury as it peeks through the canyon early in the morning.

  • Wow, this is such a dream destination. My mother is from Egypt and I’ve really wanted to make it to Egypt, Israel and Jordan some time in the future to experience the cultures. I was wondering how safe you felt travelling through this region in general (also with a toddler, and Jenia being a female traveller).
    Thanks
    Steph

    • Hey Steph,

      We felt perfectly safe. People were friendly, and driving was easy. Jenia didn’t feel uncomfortable at any point. Jenia reminds me there was one little town we stopped in to get lunch, and the proprietor (who spoke no English at all) gave us free falafel. We did live in the UAE at the time, though, so we were fairly accustomed to life in the region. Perhaps that played a part; with your mom hailing from Egypt, you’d probably have a good understanding of regional culture.

      -Shon

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