If you love cultural and historical interesting places, sun and good food, I recommend Jordan. Petra and Jordan is on my Top 10 destinations in 2018 for the cultural explorer due to the opening of a new walking trail. It’s also on Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel for 2019. Besides having the friendliest people and serving the most delicious food, there are some spectacular sights for both the cultural and the natural explorer.
The top sight is definitely Petra, a place which all Indiana Jones fans know. The ancient city of Petra is not only a UNESCO site, but also one of the New 7 Wonders of the World! It’s well deserved (unlike some of the other wonders), and this ancient city is way larger than the iconic treasury, and it can be fun for kids.
Here you find: what to see & do, how to handle Petra with kids, some info on the Nabateans and suggestions for a Jordan itinerary.
WHAT IS PETRA?
Petra is an ancient city covering a huge area. Imagine in Roman times traversing the Arabian desert for weeks or travelling the Silk Route with camels packed with goods hoping not to be attacked, and then finally arriving at a splendid town. That is Petra: a refugee for caravans. And now tourists. Although the refugee part is gone.
When I went back in 2011, it was crowded. Now, it’s probably packed. It was impossible to take the great picture without a lot of other people. But who are we kidding? The featured image in this post is a cropped version of this one below.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
The beautiful building carved out of the cliffs behind us is the best known in Petra. I was surprised at 3 things: first, you can’t enter, which is extremely disappointing, because, as we all know, that’s where the holy grail is. Second, this is only one building in a vast city. Third, this treasury is not a treasury.
You enter the place through the long winding Siq, which is an experience in itself. Remember to see the buildings before the Siq as well.
Coming to the end of the Siq and getting the first glimpse of the treasury, was the most exciting. This was my primary reason for coming. You probably know why by now…
A HUGE CITY
The treasury or Al-Khazneh is as mentioned the most well-known temple in Petra. It was originally built as a mausoleum for a Nabatean king (more on them later), but stories of treasures have been whispered for many years giving the temple its current name. As iconic and fantastic it is, make sure to have plenty of the time for the actual city of Petra around the corner.
Besides the treasury the city has a dam, many tombs and a Roman theater. Unfortunately, an earthquake destroyed a lot, but there are still many tombs left, since they are carved into the rocks.
The theater can accommodate 4.000 people, and it’s interesting reminder how culture is used for political purposes. Give them Roman theater, and they will be more like Romans.
There is also a museum, but we didn’t have the energy to visit after (not) sleeping in a tent all night in cold Wadi Rum. I wish we had, but I also know that you can never experience everything you want to and sometimes it’s just more important to sit down for a cup of mint tea. Especially with kids.
BRINGING KIDS TO PETRA
As you can see in the first image of my son and I in front of the treasury, Petra is not necessarily a great place for kids. But my then 4-year old warmed up, when he discovered the innumerable amount of stairs and rock to climb. And you should climb along with the kids – it’s great exercise!
Everywhere are shelves carved into the rock with fantastic colours.
You can buy plenty of ugly souvenirs, if pictures aren’t enough for your kid. Make sure to bring plenty of water, but you can also buy in the souvenir shop. I wouldn’t, but I was convinced to…
…buy a camel ride. I usually just say no, but our son was so tired, that the two of us took a camel back. It was actually kind of fun, but the experience was later completely overshadowed by a camel ride in the Sahara desert in Morocco. But you can’t blame the camel (or dromedary).
The area of the city of Petra is so large, we only saw some of it. Use 2 days, if you can.
For more ideas on family travels, try the family friendly island of Moen in Denmark that will get kids into geology.
NABATEANS - WHO?
Why was Petra so important that you 2.5000 years later absolutely have to take a selfie here? Nabateans, you know…
Actually, people have been at Petra long before, but not much is left. The Nabateans was an Arabic tribe settling in 6th century and the city called Raqeem. First they stayed in tents, but grew more organized and more powerful – so much they became interesting not to be sacked. They were skilled in many crafts and architecture as you can see. The Greeks changed the name to Petra – meaning rock. Eventually the Hellenic influence was to much to resist (I feel the same way), and later on the Romans including King Herod tried to control the area because of important nearby trading routes.
Petra was then on the outskirts of Roman Empire as you can see on my old map hanging in my kitchen (yes, love history). The blue areas are the Roman Empire in different stages and the red lines are trading routes. Petra is connected to Gaza and further in to Egypt, but also to Philadelphia in Arabia and further north to Damascus in Syria (old Syria) and noticebly a connection to the desert caravans. My map reads the goods were textiles, drogen and weihrauch, which is textiles, spices and incense. It was also very close to the all important Silk Route. A little tax on these sought after goods brought a lot of money.
This meant a huge flow of goods, wealth and cultural exchange as ground for development. And being a part of the Roman Empire, you can’t go down on equipment and of course it helps cement your border, if you build massively. Not a borderwall as others do, but build to impress.
In real Indiana Jones style, the place was rediscovered (by Europeans anyway) in 1812 by a Swiss guy. After this, it quickly became a tourist site, so you are a not a first mover here.
How to get here, sights near by and suggestions for a small trip to here from the bay of Aqaba.
HOW TO GET TO PETRA
When we visited, we just bought a ticket at the office before entering the Siq. But as with every other site in the world beginning to sell tickets beforehand and in many destinations it has become a travel planning necessity, definitely check up on that. Read more on the official page.
FROM AQABA & BACK
We were stationed in the small city by the bay: Aqaba. To get to Petra, we hired a random dude from the street in Aqaba to drive us, and luckily (as often happens) he was super nice, and we had some great conversations about our differences and similarities (like taste in sunglasses).
Day 1 Aqaba → Wadi Rum / Spending the night in Wadi Rum
Day 2 Wadi Rum → Petra → Aquaba.
Only do this if you don’t have much time, otherwise I recommend using 4 days for this trip. We were so tired after (not) sleeping in the cold desert, we had to drag ourselves through Petra and didn’t really have the energy to explore everything. Read more here on spending the night in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan!