Jordan, a peaceful kingdom in the Middle East, offers families the chance to see bucket list places like Petra and the Wadi Rum desert. Then add experiences like floating in the Dead Sea and riding a camel to see why it’s a destination favorite among travelers worldwide. But is it great for families? Absolutely says National Parks TravelingMom, who spent a week exploring Jordan. Read on for her ultimate Jordan Bucket List.
Jordan’s history paired with the adventure it offers makes it a destination kids will remember for a lifetime. After visiting Jordan for a week, I can’t wait to return. I added Jordan to my bucket list back in high school. So after 20 something years, did it live up to its fabled history and adventure? Absolutely and more. Best suited for well-traveled tweens and teens, families can hike, swim and 4×4 across a country the size of Maine. Since it’s a trip that must be planned, I’ve pulled together a list on how to plan a trip to Jordan with kids.
Need another TravelingMom’s take on Jordan? Christine Tibbetts shares her trip in her TravelingMom article.
6 Places You Must Explore in Jordan
Built at the crossroads of trade routes between the Arabic, Egyptian and Syrian-Phoenician peoples, the Nabataeans rock carved a city of elaborate facades. The exact date of construction is unknown though could be as early as the 4th century B.C.
As a symbol of trading wealth Petra flourished though abandoned by 700 AD. Petra remained a secret only to a few herders for centuries. It was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812. It’s been on my bucket list since seeing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven wonders of the modern world, Petra is a must for every visitor. It can be seen in one long day though at least two is preferred.
Located in the southern part of Jordan, the Wadi Rum is closest to Aqaba and the Red Sea. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site not to be missed.
The British Officer and one of the leaders of the Arab Revolt, T.E. Lawrence, described the Wadi Rum as vast, echoing and god-like. As a frequent explorer of deserts, I agree – it’s an experience I will carry with me. The desert’s lack of sound haunts the fearful and cleanses the mind of the strong.
Take a 4×4 tour and a camel trek. Stay in one of the Bedouin tent camps for glamping. See the stars overhead including the Milky Way. Leave transformed. Pack for adventure with hiking boots, long pants and a scarf.
Located along the border with Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, 1,412 feet below sea level at the shore. It’s the deepest hypersaline lake at 997 feet deep and one of the saltiest bodies of water at 34% salinity. That’s ten times saltier than ocean water.
King Herod established the Dead Sea as a health resort about 2,000 years ago when he visited to relieve skin issues. Since then visitors flock to the area, now home to four and five-star luxury resorts.
Add it to your list. Floating in the Dead Sea was fun, such a different experience than anything I had ever felt. Walking out a few feet and then, like a fishing bobber, I was floating high on the water.
My ultimate way to relax and rejuvenate is sitting by a tropical pool oasis watching the sun set while thumbing through a magazine. I found the spot on the Dead Sea. After exploring Jordan for close to a week, it was heaven to spend my last night at a Dead Sea Resort.
TravelingMom Tip: Even in October, the weather was perfect for lounging at the pool. Be prepared to stay within the resort.
Dana Biosphere Reserve
South of the Dead Sea, the Dana Biosphere Reserve contains four different climate zones, ranging from Mediterranean to the desert. Since it’s home to 25 endangered species, explore Dana Biosphere Reserve with a local Bedouin guide to understand it’s significance.
Visitors can explore the reserve on foot, on a mountain bike or even do some canyoneering. After exploring the rugged, mountainous landscape retreat to one of the top ecolodges in the world.
Seeing Israel and Egypt from the balcony of my seaside resort stirred my perpetual case of wanderlust. The Red Sea is another resort area catering to Middle Easterners and Europeans on holiday. As a bonus, it offers snorkeling and SCUBA diving cruises to the Aqaba Marine Park.
The Holy Sites of Jordan
Many Christians are surprised to find so many Holy Sites in Jordan. With a tolerant attitude towards Christianity, pilgrims can freely visit Holy Sites. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have visited the Holy Sites of Jordan.
- Bethany Beyond the Jordan—Baptism Site of Jesus of Nazareth.
- Mt. Nebo—Mountaintop where Moses saw Canaan.
- Madaba—Visit St. George’s Orthodox Church’s mosaic religious map from the 4th century AD.
9 True Jordanian Experiences
After spending a week exploring Jordan, I pulled together a bucket list of experiences for travelers.
Ride a Donkey in Petra
Petra is more than the Treasury, the rock-carved façade that Indiana Jones stumbled upon in the The Last Crusade. It’s a whole city rock carved city that takes at least a day to discover.
Conserve your energy and take a donkey up the nearly 1,000 steps to visit the magnificent Monastery as it glows in the afternoon sun. With an experienced guide leading the way, the donkeys climb the steps with a sure-footed hoof.
TravelingMom Tip: For experienced riders only, not advised for small children or nervous riders.
Go Bedouin Glamping
Take a 4×4 across the Wadi Rum desert, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Pass camel caravans while experiencing the epic landscape featured in the movie Lawrence of Arabia.
After watching the sun set over the desert, head to a Bedouin desert camp for a traditional Zarb, an underground BBQ with chicken, lamb and vegetables. Savor the feast while gazing at the Milky Way overhead. Retreat to a goat hair tent, outfitted with beds and bathrooms.
For more adventures in lodging, from goat hair tents to seaside luxury, read Christine Tibbetts’ article on TravelingMom.
Ride a Camel Across the Desert
After glamping in a desert camp, wake before dawn to meet a camel caravan. Travel like the Bedouins have for 10,000 years. After climbing into a traditional saddle, camels stand up and glide across the desert sand that swallows everything in its path.
After riding though the soundless desert, reach the point where the sun breaks over the horizon.
Float in the Dead Sea
A trip to Jordan isn’t complete without a float in the Dead Sea. With its salinity over 30%, the Sea carried my body high, like a body boat. No swimming required, though paddling helps to navigate.
I recommend reserving a room at one of the luxury resort that ring the Dead Sea’s shore. Spend a few days enjoying the therapeutic benefits of the Dead Sea along with Jordan’s amber sunshine.
TravelingMom Tip: Most floaters slather themselves with Dead Sea mud and enjoy a full-body mud mask. Pack some water shoes that won’t slip off and an old swimsuit for the mud mask.
Take a Scenic Cruise on the Red Sea
The Red Sea boasts one of the top places in the world to snorkel. Take a scenic cruise to get the coral reefs in the Aqaba Marine Park.
The Gulf of Aqaba is home to 1,000 different species of fish and 200 different types of coral. Snorkelers can see Red Sea clownfish, and the common lionfish along with several varieties of sea urchins.
Visitors can arrange transportation to the Aqaba Marine Park. I found a beach and snorkelers can swim to the the coral reefs from the shore.
Stand in the River Jordan
Make a Christian pilgrimage to the spot where John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this area remains important for Christians worldwide.
Jordan is a Muslim country, though a percentage of its population is Christian. During my visit, pilgrims performed baptisms in the River Jordan. Walk through the Saint John the Baptist churches located next the river.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring an empty bottle and grab some River Jordan water from the font to take home as a souvenir. I recommend attaching a water label.
Enjoy a Middle Eastern Mezze Feast
Jordan food is similar to the Greek cuisine available in North America. During my visit, I sampled a variety of dishes, since Greek food is one of my favorites. Restaurants serve several communal dishes that diners can serve themselves.
Flatbread is provided at every meal. And vegetarian options are available with ease.
Alcohol is rare except at hotels catering to Westerners. Try a non-alcoholic cooler instead. I love the lemon-mint cooler that reminded me of a mojito.
Traditional Dishes of a Middle Eastern Mezze
- Shish Kebabs, chicken or lamb
- Moutabel, similar to Baba Ghanoush
- Manakish, or Arabic pizza
- Baklava made with pishachios
For more information on Jordanian food, visit Nasreen Stump’s article on TravelingMom.
Sip coffee with a Bedouin
Grab a cup of coffee where coffee originated. Learn the importance of sharing a cup of coffee to the Middle Eastern culture. People discuss major life decisions over coffee. Guests are welcomed with coffee.
Visit a traditional Bedouin tent to share coffee. Learn how the beans are roasted, ground and brewed into coffee over a small fire. Sometimes brewed with cardamom, coffee is served in small cups and guests can ask for another cup.
Take a Turkish Bath
Find a Hamman, or Turkish Bath, for a ritual brought to the Middle East by the Romans. After disrobing, I relaxed in a series of hot steam rooms, each hotter than the previous one.
Then my masseuse guided me to a bathing room where I climbed onto a stone-topped table. She poured soapy water infused with moisturizers then took a loofa to my skin. After scrubbing my skin vigorously, she revealed a newer, softer me.
After rinsing, I enjoyed a massage before returning to the steam room. I recommend this after a long day of hiking. It’s an experience best enjoyed with a group of friends.
TravelingMom Tip: This is for adults only. To enjoy a Turkish Bath, bathers need to be comfortable with nudity. Some baths cater to women during the day only. If desired, request a female masseuse.
Barter with a Merchant in the Souq
Shopkeepers eye their visitors with sideways glances, waiting for buyers to find a souvenir. After finding the perfect scarf, you’ll need to ask for the price.
In an age-old art, merchants barter with buyers in amazing English. I winced at the first offer and immediately got another. Still persistent, I put down my item and walked away. Success. I got my desired price.
TravelingMom Tip: Make the best bargains at the end of the day. Have a price in mind and offer the correct amount in local currency.
Basic Information for Your Trip
All international flights from North America land in Amman, Jordan’s capital.
Looking for family fun in Amman? Read this article on TravelingMom.
For lodging in Amman, check out this video.
Traveling to a Muslim country requires special considerations when packing. For a packing list and more, read my article to prep and pack for Jordan.