Visiting Petra with Kids: The Ultimate Guide
Have you ever considered visiting Petra with kids? Whilst it is undoubtedly the number one highlight of Jordan and firmly on most people’s bucket list, many still don’t think of visiting Petra with kids.
For us, it was the absolute highlight of our 10 day family trip to Jordan (although surprisingly only just ahead of our epic overnight camping adventure in Wadi Rum desert). We’d like to share our tips and advice so that you might consider visiting Petra with kids. You will then see for yourself why it truly deserves to be one of the new 7 wonders of the world and how it can easily be done with kids.
Where is Petra?
Petra, also known as the Lost City, is located about 230km south of Amman. Once yu’ve finished exploring the sights of Amman you can drive to Petra in about 3 hours 30 minutes. If you’re staying in Aqaba in the south of Jordan by the Red Sea, it’s about a 2 hour drive from Aqaba to Petra which makes it easily doable as a day trip.
History of Petra
It’s believed to date back to the 5th century BC when it was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom. The Nabataeans were a nomadic Bedouin tribe and Petra was ideally located close to major trade routes. The city consisted of many temples and tombs that were carved out of the rose-red sandstone rock faces.
It thrived until sea trade routes became more important and then a huge earthquake destroyed many structures in AD 363. It was forgotten by the outside world, only inhabited by Bedouin until it was rediscovered in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
Arguably, it only really became famous in the 1980’s. All you die-hard Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade fans will know what I’m talking about here! It became even more famous in 2007 when it rightly became one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Things to see and do in Petra with kids
The Siq (Al-Siq)
Once through the ‘entrance’ of Petra (where the tickets are checked), you follow the 2 km long trail along the Siq to the Treasury. It starts out as a wide canyon with buildings carved into the rockfaces on either side. It’s well worth spending some time appreciating and exploring here, especially if you are planning more than one visit to Petra. A lot of people will rush past these in order to get to the Treasury.
For our first visit to Petra, we opted to walk. It was 4 pm and we had missed the heat of the day. The kids had a great nap in the car on the way to Petra from Wadi Rum so they were full of energy.
We recommend walking over hiring a donkey or pony. We say this not just so that you can appreciate the sights but because it appears that the animals are not particularly well cared for. If you need to hire one of the animals, see our section at the end on what you need to know before hiring animal transport.
After 1 km, the Siq transforms into a narrow gorge with towering cliffs either side of you that ends at the Treasury. If, like me, you’re an 80’s kid who loved Indiana Jones and have had Petra on your bucket list ever since, this will be where the excitement really starts to build.
Because of the narrow track, you can’t see far ahead of you. At each turn, you wonder whether you will get your first glimpse of the Treasury. Let me tell you, turning that last corner and getting your first sighting of the Treasury was just how I imagined it would be. We stood for a few moments taking it all in as tourist buzzed around us taking photos and haggling with camel owners. It was truly spectacular.
The Treasury Petra
The Treasury (Al-Khazneh) is the most famous of all the temples in Petra. It was originally built as a mausoleum but bedouins believed it contained treasure which is why it is now called the Treasury. You can’t go inside it but you can stand outside and marvel at it for as long as the kids will allow you to.
Because of its position, you won’t always see it in full sunlight (which is when it’s at its best). The best times to see it are between around 9 am and 11 am. Of course, this is when the rest of the world will be wanting to see it too. Don’t worry too much. It is still spectacular at other times of the day.
The Street of Facades
Once you tear yourself away from the Treasury, heading round to your right (as you are facing the Treasury), you will come to the Street of Facades. There are hundreds of Nabataean tombs carved into the rockface, including the Royal Tombs. You can climb up to take a closer look at them which is great for kids who love to climb and explore. They are just beautiful when bathed in the early evening light.
Some of the tombs are very dark inside so you might want to consider bringing head torches with you. We gave ours to the kids and they felt like proper explorers. Just a word of warning. Some of the tombs are treated like toilets and the smell can be quite off-putting! You might not want the kids exploring too closely on their own.
The Theatre Petra
Walk further along past the Street of Facades and you will come to the Theatre. It’s a huge amphitheatre and incredibly was carved out of solid rock by the Nabataeans over 2000 years ago. It could hold around 3500 people and then the Romans expanded it to hold 8500 people. It sits directly below the High Place of Sacrifice.
The Colonnaded Street
If you carry on walking past the Theatre and take a left turn opposite the Royal Tombs, you’ll reach The Colonnaded Street. It used to be the main shopping street in Nabataean times and lead to the Great Temple. The columns were made out of marble-clad sandstone, although there is not much left intact today. You can also see the remains of the paving stones that lined the street.
At the end of the street is the Temenos Gateway. All that remains are two (very) large columns but they once held an enormous wooden door in place. These doors separated the busy commercial street off from the place of worship and through them you would have found the Temenos (sacred courtyard) of the Great Temple.
The High Place of Sacrifice
If you are visiting Petra with small kids, you may only have the opportunity to visit one of the higher level sites. The question is, which one do you choose? The Monastery is arguably a more impressive structure, but we had heard that the views on the route up to the High Place of Sacrifice were incredible and that it was more accessible.
We opted for The High Place of Sacrifice (al-Madhbah). As the name suggests, it was where the Nabataeans would sacrifice animals to the Nabatean God Dushara.
The route starts by the souvenir stands and toilets in the Street of Facades. You ascend steps carved into rocks that wind up through a ravine. It’s really not too tricky as there are steps in places where it gets steep although it’s still advisable to keep little ones close.
It’s about a 30 – 40 minute climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice. At 170 m above the lower level of Petra, you get great views. Just keep the kids away from the edge as it’s a sheer drop!
You can come back down the way you came, or you can take a slightly longer route via Wadi Farasa. This route opens out into flatter, wide open spaces where the kids are safe to walk ahead and explore. You’ll pass the Lion Monument and many more tombs, including the Roman Soldier Tomb.
This route takes longer. We started at 7 am and finished at 9.30 am. We estimated that we hiked 7 km that day, including the Siq. The kids were exhausted and so after walking the 1 km from the Treasury to the end of the narrow part of the Siq with the kids on our backs, we relented and hired a pony for them.
They, of course, thought this was really fun and a great way to end the adventure.
So now you’ve seen how much there is to do in Petra with kids, here’s the practical information you need to know about visiting Petra.
FAQs on Petra
Is Petra suitable for kids?
If your child likes to explore caves and climb, then yes. It’s also a yes if your child is into Indiana Jones. If your child is into history, then yes. I think that covers most types of child, so in general, yes, Petra is suitable for children.
Is Petra safe for kids?
Yes, Petra is safe to visit with kids but there are a couple of things you should know before you go.
- When walking along the Siq (if that is how you choose to do it), make sure to keep your children close because horse and carts fly by quite fast. In some places it’s very narrow so if you hear a horse and cart coming, get to the side.
- If you’re hiking up to the Monastery or High Place of Sacrifice, there are some steep cliffs with no barriers in certain places. We held hands with the kids and helped them navigate these places.
How much is Petra?
Entrance to Petra is JOD 50 for 1 day or JOD 55 for 2 days. Children under 12 visit Petra for free. We highly recommend that you buy a Jordan Pass before you visit Jordan. On the Jordan Pass website, they put it quite well. It saves you time, money and effort. It includes entrance to over 40 sites in Jordan and you can either print your pass or download it onto your phone.
The pass including 1-day access to Petra and your entry visa costs 70 JOD ($100)
The pass including 2-day access to Petra and your entry visa costs 75 JOD ($106)
To put into perspective how good this deal is, visiting Petra for 1 day costs 50 JOD ($70) and your entry visa into Jordan costs 40 JOD ($56). You’ve already saved money buying it!
Should we hire animal transport in Petra or walk?
We faced a bit of a dilemma with this. We do not support animal cruelty in any way and we had heard that the ponies, donkeys and camels are not treated very well. However, after our 7 km hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice, the kids were exhausted. We walked the 1 km from the Treasury to the Siq on our way home, giving them piggybacks but we were also very tired so we hired a pony for the last 1 km stretch.
If you can walk, we recommend walking but if you have to hire an animal, always haggle. There is no real set price. There is plenty of room here to be scammed and it’s the only place in Jordan where we felt a little susceptible to it, but the people are still very friendly.
Ponies – will only take you the first 1 km from the gate to the entrance of the narrow section of the Siq. You have to walk the rest. Expect to pay about JOD 20 for a round trip.
Horse and Cart – will take you to the Treasury. Expect to pay about JOD 25 for a round trip. They will set the pick up time when you first book them. If you miss it, they will not wait.
Camel – you can hire these at the Treasury to explore the lower levels of Petra
Donkey – you can hire these at the Treasury for exploring the higher levels of Petra (the Place of High Sacrifice and the Monastery)
Where to stay in Petra
There are numerous Petra hotels, although you don’t actually stay in the ancient city of Petra. Petra is located in the town of Wadi Musa and all accommodation is located in Wadi Musa. As Petra is really the reason you come to Wadi Musa, you should consider finding a hotel as close to the entrance as you can. The advantage of staying overnight in Wadi Musa is that you can have an early start and beat the day-trippers who start arriving between 8 am and 9 am.
The Movenpick Resort Petra is probably the closest but also one of the most expensive hotels in Wadi Musa. As beautiful and convenient as it is, it was sadly out of our budget. We stayed at the much more reasonable Esperanza Petra which was about 500 m away and had a large family room with bathroom. Breakfast was made available for us at 5.30 am and we could take extra bread and fruit with us for the kids who didn’t want to eat so early.
Where to eat in Petra
Our boys loved the food in Jordan. There’s a lot of grilled meat, flatbreads, rice, hummus and vegetables. It’s very similar to Lebanese. We checked out the Tripadvisor recommendations and asked our guesthouse for great, local Petra restaurants.
We went there for an early lunch after we did our 7 km hike. The boys were so tired, they both fell asleep before the food arrived. It wasn’t a sign of the service though. It was very fast and friendly and the food was delicious and filling. Just what we needed after our hike.
We had a lovely dinner here up on their roof terrace. It’s decorated with very bright traditional rugs and the service is really friendly. We ordered a load of tapas sized dishes and some chicken kebabs and the kids had some lovely fresh juice. In fact it was all fresh and delicious.
Located right at the exit of Petra and part of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. You can’t spend a day in Petra and not stop here for a drink to celebrate seeing your bucket list destination. That is, unless you have very tired and cranky kids with you. Luckily ours were fine after our first quick late afternoon visit so we stopped off for a drink.
It’s an old Nabataean cave which has been converted into a bar. They were very welcoming of families and served great mocktails for the kids.
What to bring to Petra
When visiting Petra you will probably spend a good deal of time there. The standard things we would recommend taking are:
- Water – you can buy water there but it will be more expensive. Why not think of the environment and bring your own refillable bottle? We love Camelbak bottles.
- Suncream – the temperatures can soar in Petra and you will need to re-apply if you are spending the day there. We recommend Little People Organic Suncream as it is much better for the environment.
- Hat and sunglasses – there isn’t much shade around Petra so a hat and sunglasses will offer a little protection.
- Snacks – There are snack stalls in Petra but it’s always worth having some of the kid’s familiar snacks from home, especially if you’re going on a hike. This will help keep them going and incentivised.
- Petra Guidebook – you may decide to hire a guide for a Petra tour, but having a guide book will help fill in the gaps if there is a language difficulty or if you don’t hire a Petra guide.
- Extra layers – even if daytime temperatures can reach the mid 30’s, you may still be chilly at 6 am. Be warned that it is very dusty so you may not want to wear your best clothes.
- Headtorch – not essential but we found that it added to the fun when exploring dark caves.
- Backpack – put everything in a small backpack. We like to use the Osprey Daylight 20L backpack.
When to visit Petra with kids
The best time of year to visit Petra is between March to May and September to November when the weather isn’t too hot.
In terms of the best time of day, the tour buses with day-trippers arrive around 8 am so you want to get there before them. It opens at 6 am and closes at 6 pm. On our first visit, we got there at 4 pm when it was really busy. By the time we had explored the Treasury, the Street of Facades etc, it was 6 pm and most of the tour groups had disappeared. It was eerily quiet and we enjoyed a peaceful stroll around the Treasury and back along the Siq. The second day we got there at 6 am and were the first ones there. We highly recommend getting there as early as you can or later in the day to avoid the crowds.
We hope we’ve inspired you to visit Petra with kids and that you’ll enjoy it as much as we did!
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