We have just returned from our first adventure abroad as a family of four. In a moment of madness, we booked a tour of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. To say that we were nervous beforehand was an understatement.
To be clear, we weren’t worried about our safety in Jordan, despite the troubles facing its neighbours. That it is unsafe is a common perception of Jordan from Westerners and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Carpe Diem Our Way has a post on safety in Jordan with kids.
What concerned us was how the kids would handle it. We’d be taking them out of their comfort zone and we had no idea how they’d react. This was not helped by the fact that we hadn’t even been able to celebrate Bonfire Night a week previously due to a Cub meltdown which resulted in us having to leave the town bonfire just as the fireworks started. I was having palpitations imagining both children dissolving into inconsolable screaming rages shortly into the 5-hour flight.
However, our fears were unfounded (I’ll just forget about the 30-minute screaming fit as the plane began its descent into Amman; it could have been worse) and we had a better trip than we could have imagined. Jordan was a good choice for a family as children are universally loved. Ours had to contend with daily cheek-pinching and kissing, and never-ending requests for photos. This appealed to the Cub’s diva side – “No photos, no photos!” she cried, dismissing her admirers with a wave.
The tour company we used, Jordan Select Tours, were great and they supplied us with a brilliant driver who really helped to make our trip.
I’ll be writing more posts about our trip in detail, but for now, this is how we spent our time…
Day 1: Umm Qais, Ajlun and Jerash
We left Amman early in the morning (having arrived the previous evening) and drove north, to the Syrian border (gulp) and the Golan Heights. Umm Qais, or Gerasa, is a Roman ruin made of black basalt, and is one of the decapolis cities. We spent a little while wandering about the ruins and looking out over the views from the top of the hill. The amphitheatre here was in good condition and we were glad that we poked our heads around the corner here as at first glance, it appeared inaccessible.
From Umm Qais we drove to Ajlun castle which is perched on top of a hill giving it a commanding position above the surrounding area. The famous Moorish commander Saladin used this castle as a base during the crusades. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its setting, it was never conquered.
Our last stop of the day was Jerash. We were blown away by the absolutely stunning ruins here. I couldn’t believe how much remains of this ancient city. From the wonderful oval forum, still standing, to the beautiful Nymphaeum and the still-paved streets, Jerash is an architectural marvel. It is suspected that half of it is still buried beneath the sands and we could see where pillars had not been fully excavated.
Day 2: Amman and Dead Sea
For our morning tour of Amman we headed to the Citadel which is an ancient site on top of one of the city’s many hills. You can get a great view of Amman’s limestone buildings from here. This site has been inhabited since the bronze age and ruins from bronze and iron age settlements well as Byzantine, Roman and Umayyad architecture has been excavated here.
We went down the hill to the Roman theatre which has been restored recently. Full of secrets, it was our favourite stop in Amman. This was a good place for the kids to stretch their legs while the husband and I explored.
From Amman we headed to the Dead Sea. Floating in the Sea was a great experience, although as it’s not suitable for small children this was probably the one activity where we felt limited by the kids. We had to take turns going in while the other watched the children. It was also a slightly chilly day!
Day 3: Mt Nebo, Madaba, Kerak, Petra by Night
An absolutely mammoth day which started with the wonderful mosaics found at Mt Nebo, from where Moses stood and looked out over the Promised Land. A new church and monument has been built here and mosaics from the local area have been beautifully restored.
We progressed to Madaba where we explored more churches and mosaics in this town with a large Christian population. If you were to visit Jordan as part of a Christian pilgrimage, you shouldn’t miss Madaba. The markets looked good, too.
Kerak castle was the penultimate stop of the day. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting. The town of Kerak now completely encircles and even encroaches upon the castle ruins which we felt spoiled the grandeur somewhat. But it was a great place to explore, with secret passageways and pitch-black rooms to tiptoe through. And the views are spectacular.
As if all that wasn’t enough, we then drove to Petra where we had just enough time to check into our hotel and sort the children out before we walked down the famous Siq to the Petra Treasury, illuminated by candlelight, where some local Bedouins performed music for us. A wonderful end to the day!
Day 4: Petra
We had high expectations for Petra which were met, and exceeded. All of us loved it (well, Bee is only 15 months old so he was probably just pleased to be carried by Mummy all day). We packed a lot into this day, but with two such small children we couldn’t quite manage to cover all of Petra, and so we had to miss out visiting the High Place of Sacrifice.
Our highlight was making the climb through the mountains up to the Monastery, Petra’s largest building. By this point in our trip we were already vowing to come back to Jordan (and we don’t always think that about the countries we visit) and so we didn’t feel so bad about missing out on anything.
Day 5: Little Petra and Wadi Rum
On our way to Wadi Rum we stopped at Little Petra, another smaller ruined city set in a gorge. Continuing on our way south we finally entered Wadi Rum. The setting for many films, including most famously Lawrence of Arabia and more recently The Martian, Wadi Rum is a spectacular desert landscape unlike anything else on Earth.
We took a jeep tour through the desert until sunset, before spending the night at a Bedouin camp. The desert was where we managed a brief camel ride; the Cub’s favourite moment of the trip.
Day 6 and 7: Wadi Rum to Aqaba
We spent a morning in our campsite, having breakfast and talking with the local Bedouins before packing up and heading to Aqaba for a rest. By now we were all pretty tired and so the relaxing couple of days before the return to Amman for our flight home was just what we needed. There are a few ancient sites in Aqaba if you’re interested but the main draw of the town is scuba diving and snorkelling in the Red Sea.
The husband and I have agreed that Jordan is one of the most interesting and spectacular countries we’ve ever been to. It is so much more than Petra (which deserves its place in the new Wonders of the World) and it saddens us that the Jordanian tourist industry has been so badly hit by the war in neighbouring Syria. At no point did we feel unsafe or anything other than welcome in the country and we’d encourage everyone to visit.
You won’t be disappointed.