Petra, Jordan is a new world wonder which I have always wanted to visit. I have always been in awe of seeing wonders of the world in person. So when we were visiting the Holy Land of Israel and would be so close I said we should absolutely go! My husband Jay, was less keene on the idea. Petra is an epic place full of incredible scenery, unmatched history, and unforgettable culture. It’s also huge, hot, dusty and has ZERO safety precautions. It can be exhausting for parents, and doubly so for children in Petra. We have always been unique and daring to take our children with us to unconventional travel destinations, and I persuaded that if we can carry sleeping toddlers as we scaled Machu Picchu, we can do anything! Eventually I convinced him after much persuasion, and I am so glad I did! Despite all the challenges, we slabbed on sun screen and had the time of our lives on this adventure as you can see in the video I compiled from our visit. Be sure to subscribe to the channel to see more travel blogs coming soon!
Pro tip, Make sure you give yourself lots of time to experience the site (Especially with young children). Petra is absolutely awe inspiring in person, and there is a lot to see, so pace yourself and take your time- it’s too good to rush through.
The temperatures in Jordan can fluctuate quite a bit between the winter and summer seasons. Jordan summers can be blazingly hot, while the winter can be downright chilly. We went to Petra in the summer when it’s not rare for temperatures hit highs above 40C/100F+. If you want a truly unique Petra experience, however, consider visiting Petra in winter. Through December and January, Petra can still see highs in the mid-teens, but it can also drop below the freezing mark. The best part about visiting Petra in winter is alleged the lack of crowds compared to high season.
The City of Petra Jordan dates back to the 1st Century BC. It was literally carved from the mountainsides during days of the Nabatean Empire. All this work was to create the capital of the empire and solidify the city’s position along key trade routes like the Silk Road. Around 106 AD, Petra was conquered by the Roman Empire and the city continued to grow. Petra, originally known to its inhabitants as Raqmu, is a historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan. Petra lies around Jabal Al-Madbah in a basin surrounded by mountains which form the eastern flank of the Arabah valley that runs from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. The area around Petra has been inhabited from as early as 7000 BC, and the Nabataeans might have settled in what would become the capital city of their kingdom, as early as the 4th century BC. However, archaeological work has only discovered evidence of Nabataean presence dating back to the second century BC, by which time Petra had become their capital. The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who invested in Petra’s proximity to the trade routes by establishing it as a major regional trading hub.
Petra was once the capital of an ancient kingdom that was absorbed into the Roman Empire, fell into decline in the Dark Ages, and finally was abandoned and lost in medieval times. A century from its high, the city of Petra fell to a sudden and dramatic end. History is unclear as to what exactly spurred the decline in this famed city. Some have attributed the collapse to an invasion by the Persian Sassanid Empire, while others have put the blame on natural disasters such as earthquakes. Regardless, by 551 AD, the city of Petra Jordan quickly fell into disrepair and was all but forgotten by the outside world until 1812 when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered the site. Until his re-discovery of Petra, many people believed that it was actually the city of Kerak was the city of Petra.Now Petra is a part of Jordan, and the facades of its temples and buildings, carved from the living rock of canyon walls, are a fixture in adventure movies such as “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.” Petra also is relatively close to Israel, making it possible for visitors to the Holy Land to tack a side-trip to Petra’s iconic ruins into their vacation plans- which is what we did.
Jay, the girls and I first went to Isreal, rented a car and drove to the Israeli Red Sea port and resort community of Eliat, in the extreme south of the country (with a stop at the Dead Sea along the way). Eliat is on the border with Jordan and in the same general region as Petra, making it the most direct starting point for a trip from Israel. You will need to apply for a 30-day tourist visa at the border station using Jordan’s Visa on Arrival service. The fee is payable in U.S. dollars or Jordanian dinars. We walked across the border, we got some funny looks that we weren’t with a tourist group, but that’s not how we roll- we prefer to explore on our own time, and there are plenty of guides available for hire when you arrive for a much more negotiable rate. We then hired a taxi for the journey to Petra. Public transportation in this part of Jordan is infrequent, so this is a normal way of making the trip and normal taxis will make the journey. There is no need to hire a car and driver from a rental car agency.
If you do choose to stay in Jordan, a whole town – Wadi Musa – has grown up around Petra. The town has hotels of all types and budgets, which start right next to visitor’s centre and stretch up into the hills with stunning views. If you’re staying in the centre of Wadi Musa, then Petra is just a short walk away. Or the hotels further out often run a free shuttle down to the visitor’s centre a couple of times a day, though it does mean you’re limited to fixed times. Otherwise there are plenty of taxis waiting outside the visitor’s centre, especially in the afternoons, and you’ll pay about JD5 within Wadi Musa. We opted to go back to Israel, due to time and desire to drive through the night to have more time in Jerusalem as we were on a jam packed trip of 15 countries.
Petra is one of those places where the longer you stay the better value it is. A one-day ticket costs JD50 (£53/$70) per person, but a two-day ticket is only JD55 and a three-day ticket JD60. These are the prices if you are staying in Jordan; if you’re on a day trip and not staying in the country overnight then the price is JD90. You also pay JD90 if you visit Petra on the day you arrive in the country, but if you go back the next day you can get a JD40 refund. Children under 15 get free entry. You can buy tickets at the visitor’s centre by cash or credit card. You can also pick up maps, guide books and hire a guide (JD50–100). If you’re visiting other sites in Jordan, you can get a Jordan Pass which includes entry to Petra plus 40 other sites around the country, including Jesash, Amman Citadel and Wadi Rum. The passes costs JD70 for one day entry to Petra, JD75 for two days or JD80 for three days, and you can buy them online.
The ticket office is normally open from 6am to 6pm in the summer and from 6am to 4pm during the winter, and Petra closes around sunset. The quietest times at the site are usually in the early mornings and late afternoons (also the “cooler” time periods- and I say that relatively). The site is also open at night on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when the Siq and Treasury are lit by candles for the Petra by night tour. Tickets cost JD17 (£18/$24) and the tour starts at 8.30pm and finishes about 10.30pm. It’s really popular but unfortunately we did not get to experience it due to the date we arrived. I’d recommend hanging back so you can walk down slowly and experience the Siq if you have the time and opportunity. Visitors are asked to walk in silence along the path as the dusk turns to night. As you leave the siq and enter Petra, the Treasury building is illuminated by 1,500 candles. These twinkling lights bring an entirely different dimension to this wonder of the world and is certainly a bucket list. The Petra By Night is accented by live Bedouin singing and flute playing. Hope to get back someday to spend more time and visit Aqaba as well.
You’ll be walking over sandy and rocky ground so walking shoes (or sturdy sandals if you don’t mind picking the odd stone out) are the best bet. There’s hardly any shade around the site, so a hat or scarf, and plentiful sunscreen and sunglasses are a good idea too. You see people wandering around Petra in all sorts of clothes – from full-on hiking gear to to shorts, and I even saw one women in an evening dress and heels – I choose comfort over style when having an adventure, but it would be a great photo back drop.
Petra stretches over a massive 60 square kilometers and exploring Petra on foot is the best way to experience this city. However, since we had little travelers, and wanted to support the locals, we did opt to ride some local camels, donkeys and horse rides along the way. A carriage ride from the visitor’s centre to the Treasury costs around JD20 (£21/$28). It’s an easy 15-minute walk downhill though so you might want to save the ride till the way back up as that final jaunt up the sandy path back to the entrance after a day’s walking in the hot dessert sun ☀️ . Also be cognizant of how the animal looks, and support the people who take great care of their furry friends.
There’s a mixture of places to eat and drink inside Petra, from Bedouin tea stalls and simple kiosks to cafés, and there’s even a full restaurant near the museum called The Basin where you can have a buffet lunch and bottle of wine, although you might need a camel to carry you home afterwards ;).
Petra’s surprisingly well-equipped with toilets compared to other tourist spots we have visited. They have toilet blocks at the visitor’s centre, near the Theatre and the museum. There are souvenir stalls all over Petra (with some pushy sellers, so be prepared to haggle prices).
There are few things to be concerned about if you are considering traveling to Petra with kids. While most of the Petra complex is relatively safe to explore, there are very few security precautions in place, and there are steep drop-offs in many places, especially near the Royal Tombs, the Monastery and the High Place of Sacrifice- so we avoided some of those, or carried the girls accordingly.
The other thing to be careful about when visiting Petra with children is the horses and carriages when approaching the Siq and the Treasury. The locals tend to ride these animals hard up the paths. It’s best to be aware of your surroundings and listen for the sound of approaching hoofs so that you can get out of the way in time.
Pro-Tip: If you decide to ride into Petra rather than walk, make sure you negotiate the price openly with the guides beforehand. The horses will only take you to the opening of al Siq, but the carriages can go all the way through to the Treasury.
Just past the Petra Visitors Center is a stall packed with horses led by local Bedouin guides. These guides offer horseback rides to the entrance to the Siq and no further. If you decide to ride a horse (or any animal) to Petra, make sure you negotiate a price first. Be aware that this ride will only take you 1 km to the entrance of the Siq. There is a further 1 km within the Siq that will need to be done on foot.
For those with limited mobility or the elderly, you can also hire a chariot to bring you straight to the Treasury. There are a limited number of these, so you may need to wait until one comes back. Many of the horses in Petra are not treated well, so please look for signs of abuse before you consider hiring one.
Camels, Horses, Donkeys, Oh My!
Once you arrive at the Petra Treasury you will find a number of camels for hire. The Petra camels can be hired for those wanting to visit the lower levels of Petra. The camels are an iconic symbol and tend to be better cared for than the horses. They are allowed at the entrance to Petra for photo opportunities.
Most people who hire a Bedouin guide in Petra will have access to a donkey. This was our option of choice, mainly because, with two small children, we wanted to make sure they didn’t get tired, and we would have the energy to explore Petra properly. Hiring a Donkey in Petra also means that you can travel to the higher places within Petra with kids, such as the Monastery and the High Place of Sacrifice. To find the donkeys you need to walk around the first corner after the Treasury building.
The Entrance Walk And The Siq (Al Siq)
Getting to the famed Petra Treasury involves a 2.2 km walk or ride from the Petra Visitor Center. The first 1.2 km of the journey is passing through a wide canyon with ruined temples and buildings on either side. The views along this route can easily be overlooked by those rushing towards the Treasury, but many of these buildings represent the best version of the Nabatean architecture- so take some time to enjoy their beauty and breathe it all in. If you choose to ride the horses, “buckle your seat belt, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”.
Tombs, Temples, and Columns of Bab Al-Siq
The breathtaking sites along the walk to Al Siq can often be overlooked in the excitement to get to the majestic buildings within Petra. Anywhere else in the world this would be a destination in and of itself, the various shapes among the mountains surrounding the paths are incredible. Lining the mountain walls were towering Obelisk tombs, caves, and columns.
The tombs are the most spectacular site on the way to Al Siq. There are several that you can explore along the way, the largest being three stories of towering sandstone. The reliefs along the front offer witness to the Arab, Egyptian, and Roman occupation of the region.
Entering Al Siq
The Siq, or Al Siq is where experiencing Petra’s dramatic beauty comes to life. The cliffs extend up towards the heavens, and we entered a narrow passageway that stretched for nearly a kilometer. The siq was key to defending the city of Petra from invaders, as any attackers would need to funnel through this narrow passageway. As we approached Al Siq we passed over a bridge. To the right was a small store built into the cliffside. This is the only place to get drinks and snacks until the Treasury, 1.2 km away. As we entered the Siq, we were instantly realized how small we were compared to the majestic beauty of the towering 200 meter cliffs.
We observed many visitors rushing through Petra’s Siq to get to the main city, it’s their loss- let them go and meander at your pace to take in all the beauty. Anywhere else this would be a destination in and of itself as Al Siq offers some spectacular sites. The walls are lined with niches that once held sacred statues for Nabateans making the pilgrimage to Petra. Many of these are still visible today, although most have been badly eroded due to weather and time. One can also observe the remains of once detailed sculptures illustrating Petra as one of the key trading hubs in the region. One of the best-preserved depicts a man leading a group of camels through the Siq, echoed by the ancestors of the people and camels still leading tours today.
Through a Child’s Eyes
The best thing about exploring al Siq in Petra with kids though is to experience the wonder through their eyes. Our girls could have spent hours frolicking and wandering around this amazing rock alone -which from one side looks like an elephant, and from the other side, appears to resemble a fish.
“I loved climbing on all the rocks, and riding on all of the animals, especially the camels… I think we should go back!” – Brooklyn (age 6)
“I loved riding all of the animals too- like the camel, and the donkey, and the horsie… it was a lot of fun playing with the rocks and sand and climbing on things”- Cali (age 4).
The Petra Treasury
As you get through the walk or ride through the Siq, you see one of the most breathtaking marvels your eyes will experience. The incredible view of the towering detailed Treasury building, illuminated by the sun through the dark walls of the Siq, is amazing. The Treasury is where countless visitors swarm, sipping a coffee and snapping photos with the camels. There are a few shops and small restaurants here to grab some refreshments. Words cannot describe how breathtaking and majestic this is to view in person. Pictures simply do not do it justice. It’s incredible to believe things like this were carved thousands of years ago and are so well preserved and majestic even after all these years.
Unfortunately, this is as far as many visitors go, however the Treasury building in Petra is just the start of your adventure, so keep exploring Lower Petra. Lower Petra consists of a few different areas that can easily be explored on your own. But a guide will help you get a better understanding of what you are seeing.
Pro-Tip: If you want to hire a guide to show you around the area, tit’s a great opportunity to do so here (however we hired a guide in front of the visitor center, and he was wonderful- even helping to carry the girls or are bags). His deep understanding and expertise of the area and history were eye opening. Camel guides, which can lead you to the lower areas of Petra are available here, but donkeys and horse guides wait around the corner and aren’t allowed directly in front of the Treasury.
On the right-hand side, after a row of tall and magnificent tombs is the largest house in Petra. This three-story cave house features huge rooms that the girls loved to explore. The home holds a coveted spot in the city, directly across from the Theater. The Theater was built out of the solid rock about 2000 years ago for an audience of 3,500 people. The amphitheater in Petra was expanded by the Romans in AD 106 to hold as many as 8500 people. If you listen quietly, you can almost hear the whispers of the crowds cheering in the breeze…
The Royal Tombs
Along the Petra cliffs, to the right, the wadi widens immensely. On the right is a long line of the most spectacular tombs. You can access them by following along the cliff, or from a staircase from the lower floor of the wadi. The Royal Tombs are the most elegant of all of the buildings in Petra. The walls are intricately detailed and there are multiple levels to each of the buildings.
The Colonnaded Street
As we rounded the corner from the Theater we came to the Colonnaded Street. The start of this stretch is marked by a 450-year-old pistachio tree. The tree makes a great spot to stop and grab some shade and eat some lunch. There are a few small shops nearby as well as a washroom.
The Great Temple
Along the colonnaded street sits the remains of the Nymphaeum and the Great Temple. We entered the Great Temple through the wide staircase at its base. Heading deeper into the ruins to explore.
At the end of the Colonnaded Street that marks the outer rim of the main area of Petra sits the Temenos Gateway. These massive pillars once held huge wooden doors and separated the commercial district from the sacred temple.
The High Place of Sacrifice Route
Heading back towards the Theater, local Bedouin guides can take you up to the High Place of Sacrifice. The High Place of Sacrifice can be reached via a long series of switchbacks. The High Place of Sacrifice is located in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra. It is named after its high location perched on top of the Jebel Madbah Mountain. A high place was a localized or regional worship center dedicated to a god. Worship at these local shrines often included making sacrifices, burning incense and holding feasts or festivals
Those with kids or elderly or handicap can opt to take horses. Some guides offer to take you up the back way to give us some even more unique views.
The Tomb of the Roman Soldier
The Tomb of the Roman Soldier is the first stop on your way up the side of the mountain. The Tomb of the Soldier, also called the Tomb of the Roman Soldier, is one of the best-preserved tombs in the ancient city of Petra. Although its façade is its most recognizable feature—with three carved figures inset between columns—the tomb complex consists of several different architectural elements with varying degrees of preservation. In addition to the tomb façade, there is an associated courtyard, the remains of several two-story buildings, rock-cut rooms, a triclinium, and several large cisterns. The main building phase of the tomb complex took place during the third quarter of the 1st century AD. The inside of the building is impressive on its own, with all of us inside with the horses with room to spare.
The Lion Triclinium
As you make your way up cliffs opposite the Tomb of the Roman Soldier and began to climb up the steep steps towards the upper levels of the cliff you will need to dismount you steeds and make your way up the toward the Lion Triclinium- not for the faint of heart. The Lion Triclinium was located at the top of the steep stairs in a narrow canyon. It featured the reliefs of two lions outside a tomb that was believed to have held funerary practices.
The High Place of Sacrifice
As you reach a wide landing there is a small shop to get water. The horses are not allowed at the High Place of Sacrifice. When you reach the top you are met with incredible views of the Petra mountains. The peak features a flat stone landing on which is perched an altar with a large rectangular triclinium. This is where animals were sacrificed and celebrants would share communal dinners.
The Petra Overlook
Past the sacrificial altar, you cross a narrow path along the dizzyingly high cliffs. The path was marked with small red arrows on the rocks and ground over rock ledges you can be treated to a view over the wadi and the Royal Tombs.
Pro-Tip: The High Place of Sacrifice along with other High Places in Petra have sheer cliffs and no safety barriers. Please keep a close eye on your little ones everywhere in Petra, Jordan.
The Petra Monastery
The Monastery was built in the 3rd century BC and is an astounding 50 m wide and 45 m high. There is a cave tea shop across the plaza from the Monastery which allows you to take a well deserved break from the heat with a delicious lemonade and take in the views. The brave can climb to an amazing lookout, those scared of heights can relax. The short hike to the lookout takes you past a few more tombs with defaced carvings. the largest structure in all of Petra is the Monastery.
Bedouin Cave Houses
Lower Petra contains a series of caves on the shorter cliffs which until 20-years ago many of the guides lived in, until the Jordanian government relocated the local Bedouins to a new town located just up the hill.
Shopping In Petra
There are a number of tents set up throughout Petra where local Bedouins (nomadic Arabs of the desert) sell their goods. Most of the items for sale are trinkets and knock-offs that you can find just about anywhere in Jordan, but there are a few handmade crafts around that are worth checking out. Most Bedouins will beckon you over with a call to share tea. In Jordan, it’s often considered rude to turn down an offer of tea, as they lure you in. If you have the time to spare though, you can often get some great stories and conversation from these locals, and it’s worth sharing a delicious mint tea at least once or twice.
Traveling with children
A big part of traveling to Petra, or anywhere with children, is packing light and smart. This goes double if you are traveling in the summer. There is a lot of walking in Petra, even if you choose to hire guides and animals, yet its very important to pack the essentials. There are not many services within Petra, so you’ll likely need to carry everything that you need. Sunscreen, Hats, Sun-Glasses, and Snacks are my top four – We bring snacks with us everywhere we travel, and Petra was no different. Bringing light, high-energy snacks or pausing to grab a snack and have a rest, will help you power through even the longest days of on your adventure. Also, find a guide who doesn’t mind helping to carry the kids ;).
Amongst the historic sands of time is a modern day wonder. We were lucky to see this museum the year it opened. The Unesco World Heritage site of Petra in Jordan has reached a major milestone with the opening of the new Petra Museum. Five years in the making, it was built near the entrance to the archaeological park with a grant of more than $7m from the Japan International Co-operation Agency. The museum was inaugurated on 18 April by Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein.
Archaeological finds from the 2,000-year-old capital of the Nabataeans were long displayed in the park itself, in museums that were far from ideal for collections management or accessibility. The new venue, designed by Japanese architects Yamashita Sekkei, has 1,800 sq. m of climate-controlled galleries presenting nearly 300 objects from Jordan’s Department of Antiquities. Their numbers will grow when loans to The World Between Empires exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York return after 23 June.
Time for an Authentic Meal
Alwadi restaurant is one of the first restaurants in Petra where you can enjoy a variety of delicious local and Bedouin and Jordanian dishes including vegetarian options and some international dishes as well. Nice location at the heart of wadi mousa by the center circle of the town . Beautiful terrace, hookahs, art and decor throughout.
We ate the Mansaf –is a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur. It is a popular dish eaten throughout the Levant. It is considered the national dish of Jordan, and can also be found in Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, as well as Palestine and Israel. The name of the dish comes from the term “large dish”, and the sauce is unbelievable. We also had the Bukhari, lamb, rice and chick peas cooked in a “special authentic way”, and the Arabic salad- 🥗 – cucumbers and tomatoes galore. We had some mixed fruit smoothies – not too sweet, very refreshing and delicious after a hot day of explorations in the sands of history and fun in the sun.
On our way home, we stopped atop a typical tourist shop our cab driver (who probably gets commission from a friend who owns it, I imagine). Jay insisted on waiting in the car, as I politely declined the trinkets and treasures, and politely looked for the bathroom.
The cab driver who had taken a liking to me, asked if he can show me the view on the roof. Normally, I would make more logical decisions, but perhaps the sun clouded my judgement and I agreed. Luckily, it was all good intentions and the view atop the roof was simply breathtaking. They offered me some complimentary tea or coffee in traditional fashion, and demonstrated how they wear the traditional head scarf in Jordan . This look is inspired by the Queen Noor of Jordan according to the shop owner, a look fit for a queen.
The only other scary moment was Jay did not have enough cash when we arrived at the border, and we were told their credit card machine was broke and they suggested sternly he had to leave us there and go to find the nearest ATM and he made a run for it, with moments to spare and the border closed… gulp. Luckily, as soon as he left, the people with grimaces on their faces, began to open up when the children said hi and asked to play peek-a-boo. Shockingly, some human connection happened and that hard facade melted away, and they smiled at the innocence of children and allowed us to enter their offices and spin on their chairs and some even took selfies with us… as Jay came back with minutes to spare and we made it back to Israel to carry on our next adventure (phew!). In all honesty, the people, the food, and the sights were all delightfully surprising and so much better than imagined. It was indeed a lovely and indescribable trip and we are so thankful for the experience.