Jordan is a remarkable country to visit with kids. Middle Eastern hospitality is nothing short of formidable and Jordanians are warm and welcoming. The local cuisine is very palatable for kids (flatbread and home-made hummus? Yes, please!) A road trip through Jordan with kids is a great way to explore the country. Having your own rental car and the flexibility and independence that offers make exploring this Middle Eastern country a real joy.
The Ultimate Guide to a Road Trip through Jordan With Kids!
For a small, landlocked country, Jordan packs a punch and boasts dozens of places of historical and spiritual importance.
“We are in Jordan, a land of friendly smiles, so welcoming of our family and constantly handing out treats to the kids. Jordan has far exceeded by expectations. I’ve loved the country, it’s people and the sights.” –Journal notes, March 2014.
From sweeping vistas of sublime pastel hills to the windswept sandscapes of Wadi Rum; from the eerie beauty of the Dead Sea to the breath-catching splendour of the ancient city of Petra, Jordan is astonishing, and it has something for everyone.
Around every twist and turn, the country boasts jaw-dropping views and mind-boggling history. It certainly puts life into perspective when you’re surrounded by thousands of years of history. In Jordan, you are literally wandering the same land the ancients did millennia before us.
Road Trip Through Jordan With Kids
We secured our rental car at the Queen Alia International Airport where we got a great week-long rate, including car seats for our two daughters. As we looked at the map and plotted our journey, we decided loosely on a loop of the country to see and experience as much as we could.
First Stop: Amman
Amman is a dynamic and electric Middle Eastern City. It boasts Roman ruins, bustling markets, and every restaurant you can imagine from hole-in-the-wall hummus and falafel shops to five-star options. Soak in the charm of Amman’s ancient streets and take in the grandeur of the Roman Empire with a visit to the Citadel and Roman Amphitheatre. In Amman, you can stock up on baby necessities like diapers and wipes, infant formal and baby food.
We stayed at the Jordan Tower Hotel and like everywhere else in the country, it oozed hospitality and welcome towards families and kids.
“I LOVE it. Such hospitality. They love and accommodate the kids. Amazing breakfast with olives and feta. Delish!” – Journal Notes, March 2014.
“Each day on the road contains far too many highs and bitter lows to remember. Moments of awe overseeing the same land Moses did at his death. Moments like the 1500-year old Byzantine mosaic of the Holy Land. Its splendid beauty, the mystery of it. How the mosaicists could capture with tiny stones such remarkable geographical accuracy.” – Journal Notes, March 2014
After getting our bearings in Amman, we headed to Madaba to base there for a few days. Madaba is much smaller than Amman and easier to navigate with kids in tow. Staying in Madaba meant less time managing traffic and more time exploring. The Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, Bethany Beyond the Jordan and the Ma-In Hot Springs, all excellent sites to visit, are within an hour’s drive from Madaba.
For anyone from the Judeo-Christian tradition, the sites around Madaba will ring a bell. Mount Nebo is where Moses saw his first and final glimpse of the Holy Land and nearby Bethany Beyond the Jordan is where Jesus was baptised.
The focal point in Madaba is the Saint George Byzantine church which is home to the Madaba Map, a well-preserved map of the Middle East in the form of a mosaic. The map is the oldest surviving cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and Jerusalem.
A True Dead Sea Experience
The super salty Dead Sea is a marvel. Take a dip and float to your heart’s content, then for a couple of extra dollars, slather on the Dead Sea mud for a complete and true Dead Sea mineral experience.
Along the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, the northern strip is home to resorts and hotels. Just south of the strip lies Amman Beach – Dead Sea. It’s a more affordable option and has public showers on the premises, a restaurant and canteen and umbrellas and chairs for rent. As life-long flashpackers, you can guess which beach we chose.
“The Dead Sea. An amazing experience. Floating so buoyantly in the heavy salt water. It stung eyes and cuts and the oily water coated our bodies and bathing suits. What an experience! Standing straight up and not touching the bottom…not sinking. It took a while to realize I wasn’t treading water to stay afloat. You could lean back and chill out, without sinking.” – Journal Notes, March 2014.
Ma-In Hot Springs
The Ma-In hot springs and thermal waterfall sit roughly 30km southwest of Madaba and 20km southeast of Amman Beach. Here, a warm waterfall plunges off a cliff into a pool below. There is a small restaurant on site and the warm pools are wonderful for a swim with the whole family.
Heading South – Onward to the desert!
After our fill of the Dead Sea, thermal hot springs and thousand-year-old mosaics, we hit the road for Arabian sands.
Wadi Musa – Petra
Located 236km south of Amman, Petra, the rock-cut capital of the ancient Nabateans has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. It’s been inhabited since prehistoric times but became a major caravan centre during the Greek and Roman empires.
Most days I am not thankful when my young children wake me up at the crack of dawn. But the day we explored Petra, I was bursting with gratitude.
We walked the 1.2km through the Siq, the only way to enter Petra. The narrow gorge has sheer rock faces that rise from the rocky ground to the barely visible sky above. Walking, walking, walking, rock on all sides as you meander and twist the rocky path of the Siq. And then, we caught a glimpse of the Treasury, purple and pink in the early morning light. We had one of the world’s most famous monuments all to ourselves.
We explored Petra for a full day, opting for short, self-guided hikes to the High Place, the Monastery and the Amphitheatre, to keep things manageable with our one and three-year-old in tow. At the end of a long day of exploring, we hired donkeys for the ride back to our hotel.
Wadi Rum – Our Very Own Arabian Nights
Haunting, rugged, windswept desert landscapes. Wadi Rum hand delivers your fill of sand, rugged beauty, and camels. We stayed at the Sun City tent compound (we stayed in the tents, there were no Martian domes in 2014!) where we stayed in semi-luxury in the middle of the desert.
We put the kids to bed in the tent, then made our way to the shared area, with rugs and pillows to lounge on, for a feast of roast lamb and couscous. Every 20 minutes, we took turns running through the sand back to our tent to check on our slumbering children. As we walked back to enjoy more of our meal, the Milky Way burst overhead, stars shining magnificently in the desert’s inky blackness.
Pick and choose your camel ride carefully. We made our decision in a split second and ended up with a pubescent boy camel guide who talked on his phone the whole time. Also, our children were terrified of the camels.
Aqaba – Where Nations Converge
Crucial geography converges around Aqaba. The borders of Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are a stone’s throw apart. The crystal-clear waters and in-tact reef, make a trip in a glass bottom boat, or a diving/snorkelling trip great fun.
We stayed at the Bedouin Garden Village which had rooms encircling the restaurant. This made evenings of adult conversation and calmly sipping tea and imbibing shisha a possibility once the kids were asleep.
Venturing North for Roman Ruins
If Biblical history isn’t your thing, relics from the Roman empire are a-plenty in Jordan. After catching enough of the sun’s rays and seeing the downed tank while snorkelling, we headed north on Jordan’s Highway 15 for Jerash and Ajloun. We were ready for more Roman ruins and castles.
The ancient walled city of Gerasa lies just outside of Jerash. Gerasa, along with Umm Qais in Jordan’s far northwest made up two of the cities in the Roman ‘Decapolis’. At the Gerasa site, you’ll find Hadrian’s Arch, the Corinthian columns of the Temple of Artemis and the remarkable Forum’s oval colonnade. The site also has a hippodrome, an ancient sports field that used to seat up to 15,000 spectators!
The sheer size of the archaeological site is magnificent.
Castles and Forests in Ajloun
The 12th Century Ajloun castle was built by Saladin’s nephew in CE 1184-1185, primarily to manage nearby Bedouin tribes who allied themselves with the Crusaders. Much of the castle is open to explore.
When we tired of crusader history, we visited the Ajloun Forest Reserve for long walks in the sunshine surrounded by wildflowers. After Ajloun, we hightailed it back to Amman to drop off the rental car and catch our flight onwards to Kuwait.
This was our story and our adventure in March 2014 with our then nine-month-old and two-year-old daughters in tow.
Have you added Jordan to your bucket list yet?