What to Expect in Petra

    I cancelled a trip to Costa Rica on a Monday, and decided to fly to Israel on Wednesday. With such little time to plan ahead I was essentially winging it, except for one thing that I knew I wanted to see: Petra. Located near Israel in the Jordanian desert, Petra is a city that was carved out of rock 2000+ years ago. It was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and has been used in several movies, including Indiana Jones, Transformers, and The Mummy Returns. It has attracted tourists from all over the world. I finally made the trek there myself, and it was worth every bit of effort. I spent my birthday sleeping under the stars followed by gazing upon the world wonder in an experience that I would recommend to everyone.

How to Get There

To get to Petra you can either fly directly into Jordan via Amman airport, or if you happen to be visiting Israel, like I was, you can cross the border by land. I crossed the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge border which is nearby Jerusalem and Amman. It is approximately a 3 ½ hour drive from Allenby. Crossing the border is time consuming; you will be asked a lot of questions, especially if you are traveling alone. Don’t get too nervous if they keep asking several follow-up questions. Crossing into Jordan I was not questioned as much as when I crossed back into Israel, so it is possible you may have a similar experience.

Best Time to Go

The temperatures are a bit milder in the Spring and Fall. March-May or September-November may be your best bet. I went in early May and though the weather was good for most of my visit, it was still in the 90’s the day I visited.

Where to Stay

I spent one night in Jordan before visiting Petra. I slept in the 7 Wonders Camp just 7 kilometers away. I couldn’t recommend enough that you stay in a Bedouin camp during your visit. After seeing both Amman and Jerash I arrived fairly late to the camp. They served a buffet dinner with all the typical middle eastern dishes I had become so familiar with since being in Israel. After dinner, I was shown to my tent which was small but charming. While it is a camp, it is in my opinion considered more “glamping” than camping. You will be comfortable with a normal bed, and showers and restrooms located steps away. There are small lights installed on the rock face of the mountain next to the camp that add to the dreamy aesthetic of sleeping in the middle of the desert, and I found myself wishing I could stay another night there.

The Siq

What to do in Petra

Explore. Once you pay the entrance fee of 50 JD, you enter the visitors center filled with shops selling all the usual souvenirs and trinkets. You walk down a short road filled with local residents of Wadi Musa or the nearby Bedouin camps asking if you’d like a horse or buggy ride, as Petra is roughly a 1km walk through the Siq (a beautiful, narrow gorge) from the visitor center. I chose to walk of course and it took no time at all. Once you enter, the first thing you will see is the treasury. From there you can go on to explore the various parts of the old city, including the Monastery, tombs, and the treasury. There are plenty of side trips and hiking trails.

The treasury up close

Getting the Best View

This part includes a story. Seeing the treasury from the ground was not satisfactory enough for me. I wanted a view from above, and who better to ask than the locals? I asked several men who were standing in the area with their mules and camels where I could find the best view of the treasury. I got several answers explaining a few different trails, most of which were not actual trails and I would have to sneak past the guards in order to get to them. Finally, I received direction that there was a trail near “the tombs” and if I hiked up that and across to the other side I would find the view I was looking for.

I hiked up several steps and – let’s be honest here – I did not do it with ease. The sun was hot and my water supply was foolishly low. A man followed me up the steps with his Mule in tow and kept asking me if I wanted a ride. I assured him that I wanted to hike up myself but he continued in the same direction as I did. This turned out to be extremely fortunate as I needed to be corrected a few times after taking a wrong turn or two. After reaching the top of the mountain, the route required me to hike back down and then across a sketchy makeshift bridge to the mountain on the other side.

“Old people do this,” he mentioned as I struggled down the rocky mountainside.

I continued with trepidation, not knowing if I was going the right way, or what obstacles were ahead. The steep climb would have been easier with hiking shoes, but of course I didn’t wear any that day. I did eventually reach the viewpoint where the photo above was taken, and I owe it all to my unofficial Jordanian guide! To be honest, this was the type of hospitality I was getting used to from the locals in Jordan. When I finally got there, there was a man sitting under some shade who kindly offered me tea. I drank the tea and took in the view that I worked to get to. After snapping several selfies that inspired strange looks from both men and the occasional “do you want me to take that for you?” comment, I decided to head back.

That’s tea.

The Jordanian man followed me on the way back after ensuring that he knew a short cut. When the short cut failed we had to back track and I finally gave in and rode the mule. I try to avoid riding animals especially in heavy tourism areas where I have no idea as to how the animal is treated, but I had a weak moment. We continued to cross the desert, past caves and small herds of goats, and trekked up and down mountains until finally we arrived at the canyon entrance to Petra. I paid the man and thanked him sincerely for his help. I have included instructions below for finding a perfect photo spot, so that you do not end up on a questionable journey like I did! Though I do have to say, that was half the fun.

In order to get a good view of the treasury…

Walk a little past the royal tombs. You will see a path with steps – follow this up. When you come to a fork where you can go slightly left or right…continue left. The trail isn’t really marked, but follow it to the top. Once you get to the top of the mountain you will then trek back down on the other side. Keep walking until you find yourself across the bridge and on the other side. Follow the path on your left until you reach a man sitting under shade making tea. Then you’ve made it! I suggest paying one of the locals to show you if you’re not comfortable. Bring plenty of water!

My unofficial life-saving guide. Random guy in the background was the only other visitor at the time.

Is it worth it?

If you have been debating whether to visit, have had hesitations due to safety concerns, or simply have not heard of Petra before reading this post, my advice is this – GO! Not only was Petra beautiful and fascinating, but Jordan was an amazing country filled with people who were nothing but kind, helpful, and hospitable. I was only there a short time, but now I am inspired to return and visit more countries in the region.