Petra has firmly put Jordan on many travel bucket lists. The thought of walking down the cavernous Siq, anxiously awaiting that first glimpse of the brilliantly carved façade of the Treasury, is enough to elicit goosebumps. Unrest in neighbouring countries has scared many tourists away from Jordan, however this needn’t be the case! Jordan is friendly, safe and welcoming for all tourists, including families. Trust me, visiting a visit to Petra with Kids is not something you want to miss! And if you’re thinking of heading to Jordan, make the most of your visit. Hop on over & check out my 7-10 day family itinerary!
When visiting Petra, most people stay in the adjacent town of Wadi Musa. I looked at hotels in Wadi Musa but they just didn’t seem to offer up the experience I was hoping for. Sure, they’d be great if we were just gonna buzz in and buzz out, see the ruins, then carry on to the next site. However, I wanted a more meaningful, local experience.
I found a Bedouin tent near Uum Sayhoun that looked perfect! However, after some uncertainty with the hostel situation in Jerusalem, we decided that a bit more traditional accommodation would be better. Still not willing to commit to a hotel in town, we found an apartment in Uum Sayhoun. It was owned by a local Bedouin family, and promised to provide us with a more local experience than Wadi Musa. After an incredible night in the Wadi Rum Desert, we were definitely excited for another local stay!
We had a bit of trouble actually finding the place. Then, upon our arrival, we discovered an archaeology grad-student in one of the rooms we’d rented (he moved in with the owner’s family in the apartment across the hall for our visit). After a bit of unease and uncertainty, we settled in. I didn’t let this detract from the excitement. It felt like Christmas Eve! The next morning we’d be playing Indiana Jones in Petra!
The First Day In Petra
We woke early, wanting to give ourselves as much time as possible at the sites. It was surprisingly cold! Although the day time highs were warm, the mornings were freezing (not literally, but it felt like it!). After using our Jordan Passes to get our entrance tickets, we decided it was time for a warm drink. The little cafeteria was open, so we stopped in for coffees for the adults and hot chocolates for the kids. Considering we were at one of the 7 New Wonders of The World, I guess it wasn’t too expensive, but it felt like we paid a small fortune for our drinks! I was grateful for it though as we made our way to the Siq.
Walking The Siq
There are a number of sites along the walkway from the front gate to the Treasury. Not wanting to rush the journey, we took our time and tried to find them all. We had the kids on the look out for the Dijon blocks, the Obelisk Tomb and the Dam. We didn’t have a guide with us, and just read a bit about each place on our map and in my Lonely Planet Guidebook. Between sites, the kids climbed along the ledge separating the walkway from the horse & carriages, and we looked ahead as the cliffs rose up, waiting to swallow us into them.
Once inside the canyon we knew we were getting close. The girls enjoyed running ahead, and did their best to listen for the horses to ensure they got out of the way of the carriages that now shared the narrow space. Kacela decided to walk along a ridge in the wall at one point because she knew it would keep her safe from the horses. Personally, I think that was just an excuse to climb a little bit!
The width of the walkway ebbed and flowed. At times it was so wide that we hardly felt like we were walking through a canyon. At other times it narrowed to barely more than a crevice. On the walls we could still see the remainder of the clay pipes that formed the aqueduct system, bringing water to this ancient Nabatean city in the middle of the desert.
After walking through the canyon for about 20min, the top of the treasury became visible. I stopped. There were a few people ahead of us, and I wanted to wait for them to get out of the way so I’d have an unobstructed view.
The moment was what I had hoped for. The air was calm and cool, the cliff edges rose up tightly on either side of me, and the Treasury could be seen through the narrow crack up ahead. From this angle it looked quiet, like we might have the whole place to ourselves. It was a pleasant illusion, but I appreciated it.
The Treasury (Al Kazneh)
Leaving the cool boundaries of the canyon was like stepping into a different world. Crowds of people could be seen in every direction, decorated camels and donkeys posed for pictures, and it was almost impossible to avoid the ambitious locals selling everything from magnets to scarves. We were able to make our way to the very front of the treasury and take a few family pics without anyone else impeding the view.
Even early in the morning it was busier than I expected. The walk down the Siq to the Treasury was incredible, but the actual Treasury itself was a bit of a let-down. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it in pictures so many times. Or, maybe it wasn’t the serene & peaceful experience I’d secretly hoped for. Either way, I found it underwhelming and lacked the desire to linger as long as I thought I would. I forced myself to take a couple extra seconds to soak it in and really try to appreciate it, then we made our way down the Street of Facades to the Theatre.
Once we were away from the Treasury, the crown thinned to something much more enjoyable. The red rock and intricately carved cliff faces surrounding us were spectacular. It was easy to imagine everyday life happening here a few thousand years ago. The cliffs provided shelter from the hot sun, creating a comfortable oasis in the middle of the desert.
As with many other structures in Petra, the Theatre was something we could look at but not touch. After climbing the immense and incredibly well preserved amphitheatre in Amman, the small, inaccessible Theatre in Petra didn’t hold our attention for long. The kids were able to climb on the wall that was keeping them out of the “fun part”, but that just reminded them they couldn’t do what they wanted! We soon found ourselves winding our way further up the path to the small shop and refreshment stand owned by the Rizek, the man who also owned our apartment.
A Picnic Lunch In Petra
I always enjoy people watching, and Petra is a fantastic place for this! We sat on small couches, in the shade of the refreshment stand, and watched people walk by while enjoying a mint tea and some water. After our drinks, we decided we were actually hungry! We’d packed a lunch in with us, so we made our way across the path to some rocky outcrops just below the Royal Tombs and sat in the shade to enjoy our picnic lunch in Petra.
The Great temple
There’s just so much to see in Petra that it feels like it’s almost impossible to see it all. Many of the facades can be appreciated from afar, and after a while they all start to look similar. It was a short walk up to the Royal tombs, but we decided to admire them from the bottom. Had we not been exploring Petra with kids we likely would’ve walked the short distance to see them up close and personal, but everyone seemed content to stay on the lowest ground possible. Instead, we walked up the Colonaded street to the Great Temple.
Beyond the Great Temple the path leads up to the Monastery, and that was on our itinerary for the following day. Instead we took the opportunity to use the bathroom facilities and prepared ourselves for the LONG walk retracing our steps back to the car. The kids spent some time playing in the dirt (in the shade) and watched the camels and donkeys walk by, with and without tourists on their backs. I considered paying for a ride back to the entrance, but it seemed unnecessary. I’m never one for giving my kids a break from walking! I fear if I do it once they’ll always expect it!!
A Local Bedouin Evening
The evening after our first day in Petra was one of my most memorable from our entire year-long trip. We went across the hall to Rizek’s apartment, where his wife had laid out a traditional Bedouin meal for us. We sat on the floor around a large platter of food, using our fingers to scoop up the rice, veggies and meat into delicious little bite-sized balls.
After dinner we took our mint tea outside and joined the family in their nightly routine. The adults sat on the sidewalk, drinking tea and gossiping, while the kids played in the streets around us. I always love watching the girls play with local kids, and how quickly they find ways to communicate without a common language. Play is the common language, and it never takes long for everyone to participate in whatever game is going on.
As I sat sipping my tea in the warm evening air, talking with the neighbours and watching the kids play together, I felt incredibly grateful. It was a tiny little window into the lives of these people, and they let us be part of it, if only for a night.
A few tour buses rolled past, whisking tourists from Petra back to their Western hotel for a “normal” dinner. I felt sorry for them, and a little smug! I was sad thinking that although they’d SEEN Petra, they really hadn’t experienced Petra and it’s incredible hospitality. Walking down the Siq, seeing the Treasury, and marveling at the impressive history was extraordinary. But sitting on the street, drinking tea with the local Bedouin family, was just as awesome, if not more so.
Day Two In Petra With Kids
We followed up our wonderful evening on the street with an equally amazing day hiking the “back way” into the Monastery, and selling camels in front of the Great Temple.
The Back Way Into Petra
The back way into the Monastery is limited to those hiking with a Bedouin Guide. Luckily for us, Rizek (the owner of the apartment) is Bedouin, and it just happened to be Sunday, his day off! He offered to escort us in the back way (for a fee, of course!). The hike was beautiful, and fairly easy to manage for the kids. As we walked, I enjoyed watching the sun constantly change the colours of the mountains around us. There were all different shades of white, grey, black and red. I found it fascinating how different the mountains could be in such close proximity to each other.
The Monastery At Petra (Al Deir)
We arrived at the Monastery mid-morning, before many other tourists showed up. The Treasury is impressive, but the Monastery is like the Treasury on steroids! It’s so much bigger, and had the added advantage of being relatively quiet. We spent some time taking pictures, then settled ourselves down for a drink and snack at the little café overlooking the Monastery.
I wanted to wait for the sun to light up the front façade, but it sure took it’s time! We finally decided to start to make our way down towards the main Petra sites around 11am, and the Monastery still wasn’t in full sun! As we walked down the stairs away from the Monastery, there was a steady stream of people making their way up to it. We were definitely leaving at the right time!
Selling Donkey Rides To Unsuspecting Tourists
Once we got to the Great Temple, we met up with some of Rizek’s family, whom we’d been drinking tea with on the street the night before. They all made a living selling camel and donkey rides to tourists. Their families still lived inside Petra up until 1985, and had lived there for centuries (claiming they’re descended from the Nabateans that built Petra). When Petra became a UNESCO site, they were moved to the purpose-built village of Umm Sayhoun (where we were staying) and forced to give up their semi-nomadic lifestyle of goat herding and small-scale farming. Tourism provided a way for them to continue to make a living, albeit in a bit less traditional sense!
This was a good “travel wake-up call” for me. I tend to always get annoyed by pushy touts and I often forget to turn the coin around and view life from their perspective. There’s a difference between someone trying to take advantage of a tourist (like how I felt in Bali!), and someone merely trying to make a living because tourism (and the changing times) has obliterated their ability to make a living in the same way their forefathers did. The hard-working Bedouin men in Petra definitely fall into the latter category.
I will forever be grateful for this day. For one, the kids had an absolute blast! But also because it reminded me to challenge my perspective when interacting with touts.
The kids had a blast with the animals. They went for a short donkey ride, then took turns trying to sell donkeys and camels to unsuspecting tourists. They had the spiel down…
…”you want donkey?” (pause)
…“Maybe later?” (pause again)
…“MAYBE TOMORROW” (yelled after them as the poor, confused tourist hustled away!).
It was hilarious to watch the faces of these people as these cute little blonde kids tried to sell them a camel ride. Many had no idea how to take it or what to do about it! Unfortunately, none of the kids managed to sell a camel ride, and they finally relinquished control back to the animal’s owner, who had clients secured within a matter of minutes. The girls were a bit disappointed! After India, they thought their blonde hair would help them sell anything to anyone! I think it was a good reality check for them.
Once they reluctantly relinquished their donkeys, we decided it was time to make our way back to the apartment. We had 2 options; to walk all the way back to the Tourist Center and get a taxi to Umm Sayhoun, or walk out the back road, which at the time seemed much closer. In reality, the back road actually WAS short, at only 3km to our apartment. The trek back through the entire Petra archaeological site was 4km, and then we’d have to get a taxi. The only minor difference is that Petra is relatively flat and well-shaded due to the high cliffs. The back road was almost straight uphill with absolutely no shade to be found after the first 10min of walking!
We still had a bit of food and water, so we decided to stop for a snack in some shade under a rocky outcrop on the side of the road. This gave us a little break before the extra-steep uphill section leading into town. We slowly slogged our way up the hill, running out of water part-way up (major parenting fail!). By the time we reached Uum Sayhoun we were hot, tired and thirsty! I broke down and bought bottled water at the first little shop we came to, something I very rarely do. It was 100% necessary at that point though. We also got ice cream, definitely a well deserved treat!
I’m still not 100% sure we made the right decision. In fact, I’m pretty sure we would’ve been much happier to walk back to the Visitor Center. But I guess hind sight is 20/20 (said by my geeky Optometrist brain!!).
Know Before You Go To Petra With Kids
Map Of Petra
Where To Stay Near Petra
Most people choose to stay in Wadi Musa due to the close proximity to Petra. I can definitely understand this decision, although it’s not the one we made! There are a large number of accommodation options for all budgets here.
Budget – Esperanza Petra
Esperanza is a short walk from the visitor center, and the best location in this price range. Breakfast is included, and there are good sized family rooms.
Mid-Range – Petra Guest House Hotel
This hotel is located right AT the entrance to Petra. The rooms are spacious, and breakfast is available (at a cost). The best part though, is the Cave Bar. It’s the perfect place to relax with a drink at the end of a busy day exploring Petra.
High End – Movenpick Resort Petra
This is an incredibly popular, high end hotel located right across the street from the entrance to Petra. Breakfast is included, and there’s a beautiful pool to relax in after spending the day walking around the ruins.
Where To Stay In Uum Sayhoun
Petra Family House
This is a basic apartment in the local Bedouin village just up the road from Wadi Musa. It’s still within very easy access to Petra, and gives the opportunity for a more local experience. The family that owns the apartment even lives across the hall. If you can, ask Rizek to cook you a meal one night. If you manage to coordinate your trip so that one of your Petra days falls on a Sunday, Rizek is a well-known and competent guide to the Monastery. If he’s not available, he’ll be able to arrange a guide for you!
Click here to book the Petra Family House.
Where To Eat In Petra
Why Not Shop (inside Petra)
This is owned by a local Bedouin, and the owner of the apartment where we stayed. It’s a cute little Tea Shop inside Petra where you can get a cold drink, hot drink, or a snack looking up at the Royal Tombs.
Cost: 1 JOD ($2 CAD) for a mint tea
Location: On the West side of the path at the bend across from the Royal Tombs (just past the toilets and the Nabatean Theatre)
Crown Plaza Basin Restaurant
We didn’t eat here, preferring to pack our own lunch instead, but it is one of the only real food options inside Petra. There’s a buffet lunch from 12-4pm, and from what I’ve heard it’s not amazing and quite expensive. However, it is an option if needed!
Cost: 17 JOD ($34 CAD) per person without drinks.
Location: the base of the Monastery Trail
How To Get Around Petra
Wadi Musa is a busy town, bustling with tourists and all the infrastructure to support them. The roads can be a bit busy, so be on alert driving around town. We actually ended up getting in a small fender-bender in Wadi Musa! We were idling on a hill and had just started to inch our way forward when a car backed into us. Randy pulled over to assess the damage and the offending car just drove away as if nothing happened! Luckily it wasn’t our fault (we’re 90% sure anyways), and a policeman was there watching the whole thing. He didn’t seem too concerned about it, although Randy did take a bit of video of the policeman saying it was no big deal just in case it was a problem with our rental company.
A kind man on the street jumped into action. He disappeared and then reappeared moments later with a rag and something in a small tin, and got to work buffing the scratches out. We paid him a bit of money, then with nothing else left to do, carried on our way. Randy called the rental company almost immediately to report it, and they weren’t too worried about it either! I guess either it wasn’t a bit deal, or the man did a great job buffing out the scratches, because we never heard anything about it.
Moral of that story…be on alert when driving in Wadi Musa!!
The actual archaeological site of Petra will require a lot of walking. You can take a horse and carriage ride from the visitor centre to & from the treasury for 20JD ($40 CAD for 2 people) or all the way to the Museum (Great Temple) and back for 40JD ($80 CAD for 2 people). These prices can change, so you might want to just double check them before you pack your cash for the day!
Tips For Visiting Petra With Kids
- Petra requires a LOT of walking (even if you do take the carriage ride part way), so ensure everyone wears comfortable, breathable shoes. Our kids were super comfy in their hiking sandals.
- The temperature fluctuates a LOT throughout the day, especially in Spring and Fall. Make sure you pack layers and a daypack to store your sweaters when you take them off part-way through the day.
- The afternoons are hot, and did I mention there’s a lot of walking? Make sure you pack lots of water to keep hydrated! There are places to buy water throughout the site, but I dislike buying bottled water if I don’t have to. I always filter my own water and bring along as much as possible.
- Food is expensive inside the site, but you can easily pack in your own picnic lunch & snacks. There are plenty of shaded places to sit and eat, especially near the Royal Tombs. The 2 times we stopped at a shop, we ordered drinks and then ate the apples we’d packed with us. No one seemed to mind!
- There are 4 bathrooms spread throughout Petra; just past the Treasury, near the Royal Tombs and two near the Museum (Great Temple). The line-ups can get long, and there’s not always toilet paper, so make sure you’ve got some stuffed in your pocket just incase!
- There are 2 bathrooms near the Great Temple, one close to the restaurant and another one just past it (in the direction heading away from the Monastery). The one closest to the restaurant had a long line-up both times we were there, but the other one was empty. Skip the close one and walk a few extra steps for no line-up!
- We weren’t in Wadi Musa for Petra By Night, but if you’re there Monday, Wednesday or Thursday it’s worth checking out. You don’t have to buy tickets in advance, but you will have to have a valid day-time ticket to attend. The tour leaves the visitor centre at 8:30pm and arrives back at 10:30pm. It’s a bit late for kids, so make sure you bring a carrier, like this Tula carrier for 25-60lbs, so your arms don’t get too tired carrying them back!
- If you’re visiting Petra with young kids, be sure to check out Wandering Wager’s Petra guide full of tips from their trip with toddlers.
What It Cost
We splurged a bit on our time in Petra, specifically the Monastery tour with our Bedouin guide and the dinner our Bedouin hosts cooked for us. We averaged 131 JD ($262 CAD) per day for our family of 4 in Petra.