11 things to know before visiting Petra, Jordan
I had been dreaming to visit Petra since I was 14, and my father and I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the cinema (this gives you an idea of how old I am!). Although this is one of the most famous places to visit in Jordan, to be honest, I didn’t know much about the site and I had little time to properly inform myself about it before visiting (that’s the curse of the travel blogger: I travel so much now that I hardly have time to read about the places I am visiting).
Find out more about what it’s really like to be a travel blogger on my post “13 things I learned about travel blogging.”
The few things I knew about Petra were limited to the fact that there’s a building called the Treasury. I also knew that Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Everything else, I learned once I was there. My visit to Petra went really smooth though I had hardly planned it, but I believe it is important to go in with at least some basic knowledge to make the most of it.
So, here’s eleven things to know before visiting Petra.
Eleven things to know before visiting Petra
Petra is huge
My original plan was to spend just half a day in Petra. I intended to arrive there via a 7 days hike from Dana, spend a few hours on the site and then make my way to Wadi Araba border crossing to go back to Jerusalem on the same day. Things didn’t go as planned during the hike: I injured myself on the third day and was forced to change plans (I’ll be writing more about the hike soon).
Learn more about Jerusalem on my post “Traditional and alternative things to do in Jerusalem.”
So I decided to spend 3 nights in Wadi Musa (Petra port of access), and to get a 2-days pass to the site. A one day pass is 50 Jordanian Dinars (JD), which is around $ 70 USD; a two day pass is JD 55, around $78 USD. Keep in mind that Petra is one of the attractions included in the Jordan Pass, which can be bought online allowing to save money and time and also allows to wave the tourist entry visa fees and spend a minimum of 3 consecutive nights in Jordan.
I realized as soon as I entered the site, that I had taken the right decision. The entire area where Petra is located is 264 square kilometers and there’s no way it can be possibly visited in a few hours. On my second day I saw lots of people coming from cruise ships and wondered how they’d manage to visit the site in only a few hours.
There are many trails
Aside from the main trail, which measures around 8 km (one way) and goes to the main points of interest, there are many other trails in Petra, of various levels of difficulty. I walked at least 20 km on my first day: the 8 km of the main trail; the hike to the Monastery and that to the High Altar of Sacrifice (both of them are all uphill). On my second day I only walked to the view point of the Treasury.
Keep in mind I am a fast walker, so someone who isn’t may need a full day just to walk the main trail and the Monastery trail; and a second one for the High Altar of Sacrifice and other trails.
It’s better to get a guide (especially if planning to walk some lesser known trail)
Most of the trails in Petra are well marked. The main trail is really self evident, as is the one to the Monastery. The hike to the High Altar of Sacrifice marked, though I admit I was glad to find a local to ask for directions at some point.
On my second day, I wanted to walk all the way to the view point of the Treasury and I was glad to have hired a guide as the path was pretty much unmarked and I would have gotten lost otherwise. The roundtrip took me around 2 hours, and I literally met nobody on the way, nor at the view point (aside from two locals who apparently had a shop there, and who offered me a highly sugared tea to welcome me there). Once there, I could see the crowds below. In any case, a guided tour of Petra helps making the experience truly meaningful.
It is not always hot
I realized Petra is at an elevation (around 900 meters above sea level) when I arrived there. A chilled wind was blowing and it surely wasn’t as hot as I would have imagined. When I asked the locals in Wadi Musa (the city that is used at the main port of access to Petra) about the typical weather, they showed me photos of Petra under the snow!
It’s important to dress modestly
Petra is a major tourist site, with lots of Westerners visiting every day. Yet, it is in Jordan, and for as open minded as they are, here most people still dress quite conservatively. I dressed modestly, by which I don’t mean that I covered my head. I just didn’t wear shorts or a mini-dress, besides it wasn’t so hot that I’d want to.
Besides, Petra is so huge and there’s so much hiking, that dressing comfortably is a key factor. I wore a pair of hiking pants, a colorful cotton t-shirt, and carried a light sweater and a wind-proof jacket for the evening, when the temperatures start dropping. I also suggest reading a guide to some fabulous, modest dresses for the most conservative countries.
Find out what’s in my backpack on my post “My ultimate packing List.”
It’s better to wear hiking boots
As it wasn’t as hot as I had expected, I opted to wear hiking boots to walk around Petra. I later realized that, unknowingly, I had taken the best decision. There’s a lot of walking to be done in Petra, on often uneven pavements and gravel roads. I would have killed my feet if I wore flip flops or sandals. Wearing hiking boots made me feel comfortable and I was able to hike the various trails.
There’s lot of animals…
Aside from the many cats, the odd dog, and the goats that can be spotted round the site, Petra is packed with working animals. Horse carriages take around tourists; horse, donkey and mule rides are offered; and needless to say there’s even camels. The Tourism Board of Jordan invites only those that are physically unable to walk to use the animals, and encourages to report episodes of animal abuse.
However, I have seen many people happily riding the carriages, the donkeys or the mules, and a few owners pushing their animals to go faster. I was regularly offered rides (the common pick up line is “do you want to ride my Ferrari?”). I generally ignored, or muttered a la, shukran (no, thank you). And when the owner kept insisting, asking why I wouldn’t want to ride, I’d say “because I am able to walk.”
As I have stated in my post “The use of animals in tourist attractions,” I can’t stand the idea that animals may be exploited for the enjoyment of tourists. I hope that more efforts are made by the tourism board to ensure that animals are never exploited in Petra, and that tourists (and owners) who do so are duly fined.
… and even people living on the site
Before visiting Petra, my guide told me that the people that once lived in the site had been moved to a nearby city specifically built for them. I would have never thought that anybody could live in Petra anyways, but upon further explorations, I realized that some still do. I saw some caves that did look like someone was living in them; and on a couple of occasions I even spotted a family.
Drinking lots of water is vital…
Between the sun, the dry air, the altitude and all the walking, dehydration may be an issue when visiting Petra. I carried around two bottles of water and sipped regularly. The good news is that there are many local vendors spread around the site that sell cold water. A good water bottle may be a good idea to keep the water cold.
… as is wearing sunblock (and a hat)
With such strong sun, it is easy to get sunburnt in Petra. I wore lots of sunblock and reapplied it throughout the day. Wearing a hat may also be a good idea.
Petra by Night is stunning
A Petra by Night show takes place at the Treasury 3 nights per week. It costs JD 17 ($ 24 USD) to see it, and tickets can be bought at the visitors centre. The show starts at around 9:00 pm and ends at around 10:00 pm, but consider that it takes a good 30 minutes to walk all the way to the Treasury. The path and the Treasury are illuminated by candles, and traditional music is played for a truly enchanting experience.
Solo female travelers are a target for scams (and more)
Jordan is generally a really safe country to visit. A few precautions will help women traveling across Jordan to have a good time. One thing that is important to know before visiting, is that women are a target in Petra.
When the owner of the Sharah Mountains Hotel where I stayed in Wadi Musa recommended not to trust anyone in Petra, I just assumed that, as in any other major tourist spot in the world, scams would be common in Petra and he was referring to that. Nevertheless, I asked him what I meant. He said not to trust the Bdouls – a local tribe. I told him that I was quite expert in scams, after having visited Cuba. Without going into much details, he clarified that the Bdouls “look for women.”
My visit of Petra went nice and smooth – save from the typical offer to ride a donkey, and I had actually completely forgotten about the warning not to trust the Bdouls. Quite satisfied with the long day of exploration, I was making my way towards the exit when a Jack Sparrow looking guy (as most of the Bdouls, he was wearing kohl so that his eyes and stare were even more intense) approached me, once again offering a donkey ride. Once again, I said no: I was leaving anyways.
That’s when he started inviting me for tea, coffee and even dinner. Again, I thanked him and refused, only to hear him say “I’ll show you my cave.” I swear I couldn’t stop laughing. I could picture a cave man, only covered in fur of sort and holding a club, waiting for me outside a cave.
I shrugged it off as harmless flirting, and anyways I was too tired to even consider any of his invitations. So I went back to my hotel, and only when I posted on my Facebook profile that a guy approached me with the funniest pick up line ever, and my contacts started commenting, I realized that I had actually been quite close to danger.
Apparently, the Bdouls like targeting solo female travelers. They invite them to walk around the side, to discover the hidden parts and to enjoy a full local experience, which includes drinks of Arak, the local liquor, and dinners in front of a fire. There have been allegations that drinks have been spiked and that assaults and rapes have occurred.
My recommendation to all solo female travelers is to keep safe, and to politely but firmly refuse any invitation to follow a local to his cave or home.
What was your experience in Petra? Do you have any further advice for those who plan to visit?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Jordan Tourism Board, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.