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  Destinations >> Indiana Jones and the Lost Tombs


Where in the world can your children get a history lesson and a donkey ride at the same time? Jordan is an oasis of calm in the Middle East and a surprisingly family-friendly destination.

WORDS Hilary Doling

The Bedouin in the red and white headdress smiles up at us with a face as brown and creased as a sultana, our Arabian horses toss their heads and then we are off riding towards one of the world’s most ancient cities. "Just like Indy," says my son delightedly. Through the ‘Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail’ movie, a whole generation of adventure-loving kids know what the ruins of Petra look like, and with Egypt off limits, Jordan is a fantastic alternative for parents who want to give children a taste of ancient culture.

Naturally, the ‘rose red city half as old as time’, founded by the Nabataeans in the sixth century BC, is the highlight of any trip. Horses are no longer allowed right up to the monument so we walk the last part through a gorge so narrow there is only a crack of blue sky overhead. We step out into the sunlight and there in front of us is a movie set come to life, one of the seven new Wonders of the World: the Treasury of Petra. My son, not usually at a loss for words, is completely silent. Then he sighs and says "It’s awesome!" From a 14-year-old there is no greater praise.

Despite its vast size this is the most kid-engaging site I’ve ever been too, not even the Colosseum’s bloodthirsty gladiator past engaged my son like Petra. Part of the appeal is that the Bedouin who work here once lived in caves in the ruins. They are obviously proud of Petra, so it is not just souvenirs they’re selling but enthusiasm. Plus, what self-respecting kid wouldn’t like a place that offers so many fun forms of transport; donkeys, mules, camels – you name it, they supply it.

First we climb on camels – "great ride, free air-conditioning" – that lollop along the Street of Facades past Nabatean tombs with intricate carvings and rustic stalls selling bottles of coloured sand and bright Bedouin beads. This is a ‘ship of the desert’ and I’m feeling seasick but my son is enjoying the ride. He chats to the camel handler who points out the cave he was born in.

Main image: Magnificent Petra
Above: Taking a ride


From above: Kempinski Hotel
Hanging out with the riders

Near the ruined amphitheatre a donkey in the shade brays a welcome and a little Bedouin girl gives my son a free postcard because of his "big blue eyes" and blushes red as the rosy rock face. We tease him and say it's an Arabic marriage proposal. We walk over to a silver stall run by a New Zealander, Marguerite Van Geldermalsen, who married a Bedouin and came to live here. My son Alex is fascinated by her story and thinks he'd like to live in a cave too, "less homework" he says. "But more hard work," she replies.

After lunch in the main cafe tastefully camouflaged between rocks (and a welcome toilet-stop for kids) we head up the 800 stairs to Ad Deir, the Monastery. The sure-footed mules have no trouble with the steep climb, although Dad has trouble with them and yells to get off after only a few steps - he's sliding off the back anyway so it's a wise decision. He puffs his way up on foot but we enjoy the ride. "Close your eyes and open your mind," says the mule's owner, "we climb to the sky." And we do. The view is magnificent and the Monastery, almost as impressive as the Treasury, is a towering temple hewn out of the rock face.

At the end of the day we trot back on two black donkeys (Michael Jackson and Shakira) along the magnificent Roman colonnaded street. Dad, saddle-sore already, decides to walk. Even we decline the rickety horse and cart back up the gorge which seems to be a pretty painful ride -"Good massage," grins a driver as he hits a huge bump and his passengers' bottoms suffer for it.

Petra may be the ruby-red jewel in Jordan's crown but there are many other memorable moments. We visit Madaba where a mosaic map is a key to the biblical world, conquer the crusader castle of Karak and climb Mt Nebo in Moses' footsteps. This country is a bible lesson without the classroom. In the capital, Amman, we wander the streets of the old town past shops selling incense and spices, kebabs and sweet Jordanian desserts. We also take a cooking class in a traditional home called Beit Sitti where Alex and a fellow teen-on-vacation win the awards for Best Chef for their magnificent upside-down-chicken, a traditional dish.

From Petra we wind our way through the magnificent scenery of the Dana Nature Reserve to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth at 420 metres below sea level. Here the water is so salty nothing lives, hence the name, and you can't help but float. Our son doesn't believe us until he wades in and effortlessly lounges on top reading a newspaper. "It's like being on a salty lilo" he says. Dead Sea salt is traditionally good for the skin, as is the mud on its banks. Our hotel offers mud facials and wraps so we coat ourselves in the thick black stuff until only the whites of our eyes show. "Wow," I say afterwards, "My skin feels as smooth as a baby's bottom!" "Not so LOUD, Mum," declares my embarrassed teen before admitting his skin feels "pretty OK" too.

Our tailor-made Abercrombie & Kent trip had been a great mix of culture and child-friendly. Jordan isn't a destination for young children, but adventure-loving kids from 10 up will enjoy the experience. A&K supply a private car with guide and driver, which means you are free to modify the itinerary if boredom sets in.

Our A&K-picked hotels are perfect for five star families. If I had a little longer I would also head to an overnight camp at Wadi Rum and the Valley of the Moon, where Lawrence of Arabia lived during World War I.

Our memories of Jordan are summed up by our last night's visit to Petra, when 500 candles light our way through the golden sandstone. Bedouins serve us sweet tea and we sit and listen to the haunting sound of traditional songs echoing off the ancient rocks. "This is SO much better than the movies Mum," says my son. History better than DVDs? Wonders will never cease.

Above: Handicraft


The Dead Sea


Best Hotels

  • InterContinental Amman – a short walk from Rainbow Street and the old town
  • Petra Mövenpick Hotel – the luxury hotel with the best position, seconds from the site entrance.
  • Kempinski Hotel Ishtar – right on the beach at the Dead Sea with spa salt treatments

Other family adventures offered by Abercrombie & Kent

  • China – Discover the Great Wall of China, face off with the Terracotta Warriors and soak up the buzz of Beijing as you explore the world’s most populous country.
  • Croatia – An active adventure where you will explore the eclectic city of Split, sail to the island of Vis and hike the mountains around Hvar.
  • South Africa – Come face-to-face with the wildlife in Madikwe Game Reserve and wander around Cape Town.
  • Italy – Teach the kids a lesson at Gladiator School, lean on the Leaning Tower of Pisa, create traditional pizza and walk Florence’s infamous Ponte Vecchio.
  • Vietnam – Glide on a private junk over Halong Bay, cycle around Hoi An and take in the soothing countryside’s rice paddies and rural villages.

TOUR Abercrombie & Kent 
FLY Etihad 
INFO Jordan Tourism 

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