Ever since seeing Indiana Jones, I've wanted to see Petra. In this post, I cover basics of traveling in Jordan, getting there from Israel and Petra, how much time to give yourself to enjoy Petra, including what not to miss!
****Post was updated February 16, 2017 as the border crossing has changed in 2017.***
Part II of Jordan covers Bedouin culture and the Wadi Rum desert.
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Jordan from Israel. Why?
Well, I was traveling in Israel and so wanted to see Petra. You can save A LOT on flights if you can get a budget flight into Tel Aviv (I paid less than 150 Roundtrip from Amsterdam). The equivalent flight into Amman was around 600 euros at the time of writing. You can take tours directly from Tel Aviv if you're into tours, otherwise you can go to Jerusalem and cross into Jordan from the Allenby Bridge.
Passport Stamps: If you go from Israel to Jordan (or Egypt) by land (bus), you will receive an Israeli exit stamp in your passport. Expect very heavy security on the way back. On the way back into Israel, you will receive an Israeli entry stamp. Both are not negotiable. Only if you fly in/out of Israel, you will receive the paper visa, which means your passport remains unscathed. If having an Israeli stamp is an issue for your future travels, I recommend only flying in/out of Israel or doing Jordan on a separate trip as you will not receive a permanent stamp.
The bigger question: To take a tour or not!?
I found flying into Jordan to be quite expensive. The main option is to fly into Amman (read about Sarah's Jordan experience starting in Amman. We were already planning on seeing some sites in Israel, so it just made more sense to do both via Israel There are a large number of tours, including the one that we took that will take you from/back to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Eilat. It's typically cheapest from Eilat as it's closest to Petra and Wadi Rum, but it's dependent on how much time you have although there are only three main crossings into Jordan, so you need to decide where you will cross.
I looked into the many possibilities as I typically dislike taking tours. You cannot drive a rental car across the border and the mark-up for taxis from the Araba border to Aqaba is quite high. There are public buses within Jordan and I heard very good things about. However, we did not have that much time and with the visa changes, we wanted help with transportation and organizing the visa/border crossing. The tour that we took had us stay at the fairly luxurious Bait Ali bedouin camp in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert, which is where Matt Damon stayed while filming the Martian (read more!). I was quite impressed with the guides as there aren't any plaques or explanations in Petra and our incredible guide had so many stories for us that I hadn't read anywhere else.
Due to the visa changes, things have been very slow touristically compared to previous years (1000 tourists crossing from Israel per day --> 5 tourists per day when we were there), so you will have a very different experience visiting, even with a tour. We were quite lucky that it was only us and another person, which resulted in us having a private tour the entire time that we were there. Typically, these tours involve large buses; it would be good to find out how crowded your tour will be. (More about the recent visa changes & how to travel without a prearranged visa.)
Visa/Border Crosses: Click for updated information by the Jordanian government!
Language: People speak fantastic English in addition to Arabic, so you will have minimal problems if you're reasonably comfortable in English. Other languages might be more difficult to accommodate.
When to go:
Summer; Brutally hot, especially out in the desert (as with Israel).
Spring after March: High Season.
Rest of the year: Not as crowded or hot except for December, which sees a peak in tourists traveling around New Years/Christmas.
In January, there is a distinct chance of snow. If it snows by Petra, it's often a very large snowfall (although rarer) and it will shut down Petra. The road to Petra, which passes through the mountains can close for 5 days when there is a lot of snow, so if you're considering traveling in January, you might need to give yourself some extra time. Winter can be quite cold in late January as it was in the 40s F (4 C) most of the time with the weather slightly warming to 55F at some points (12 C). Bring a good coat.
Don't do the one day tour of Petra if you're considering it. It's not enough time unless you just want to see the Treasury. You need 2 days at minimum to see Petra properly and 4 days to really see it completely. I think about 3-4 days for the total trip, including 1-2 full days spent in the desert would be a good pace if you're just interested in the highlights (Petra & Wadi Rum). It is worth looking into swimming in the Dead Sea AND snorkeling/scuba diving close to Aquaba.
The Jordanian dinar is quite strong (at time of writing 1.4 USD = 1 JOD). ATMs common only in Major Cities (Petra, Aqaba, Amman), so plan on taking out the cash that you need ahead of time. We could not find an ATM that accepted Maestro, however Visa/Mastercard were accepted at almost every ATM that I saw. In Petra, you will have no problems paying with major credit cards, however outside of the cities, cash is the only option. Plan accordingly as we didn't. If you have euros or dollars, they are readily accepted in touristic locations. Some tours will even accept shekels!
Traveling as a woman:
I can't address solo travel, however I felt quite comfortable in Jordan. It did help a lot that I was traveling with my boyfriend although I often felt like people would address him primarily. When we were in more remote towns, I would feel eyes on me as my hair showed a little under my hat (although I was covered up otherwise), although it's good to dress modestly. You don't need to wear a headscarf as a tourist, but it's worth bringing with you as you'll be stared at otherwise.
We felt perfectly safe in Jordan. It's worth reading your country's safety warnings in case something is happening, however at the time of writing, it is good to be aware of things occurring closer to the Syrian border. I should note that the Jordanian police is consistently ranked as some of the best in the world and you will see many checkpoints as you go around the country. However, it's good to be aware of yourself and your surroundings as scams, being overcharged(!), and pickpocketing can occur Especially by Petra, be aware of people behind you when you're standing around and being surrounded (even by kids) as we witnessed a not very sophisticated attempt at this. The donkey/camel/horse rides can be very scammy, so be prepared. More about horse rides at the bottom.
Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to visit after watching Indiana Jones. Being in Petra is a bit surreal although you should be aware that Petra is the size of a city; a proper city. Due to its size, plan for spending at least one day, if not two days, walking around.
About Petra: It was the ancient capital of the Nabateans approximately 1st century BC. The Romans conquered it by cutting off the water supply (as you can see in the remains of the Roman archway, changes to some of the buildings, and the water tunnels). Much of the city is an elaborate necropolis due to the many tombs within the city. Its location was forgotten about for many years as it cannot be seen, even from above.
Cost (without tour): 90 JOD ($126) for one day or 50 JOD ($71) if you stay in Jordan more than one day.
Here's a map from Wikipedia as to give you an idea of how massive the ancient capital is. At the end of the trail is the Ad-Deir, the Monastery (as seen in many movies), which is an entire day's hike, so if you want to visit it, plan accordingly.
Petra: the Sites you need to see
From above: Petra was forgotten about for many years, to the point that people actually did not know its location. The first European explorer was only able to find it after living among the Bedouins for many years--and after he asked about the site of Aaron's death (on nearby mountain). You cannot even see it from above as you only see a large mass of rock. It is incredibly well-protected as a result. This requires walking outside of the city/driving, but worth seeing.
The Siq: Impossible to miss. You need to enter through it to see the Treasury. I knew that there was a rock corridor, but I had no idea how massive it was--and how well it protected the city. You'll see some shrines to gods/goddesses along the way although they were partially destroyed by the Romans. You can see on both sides old pipes to have water flow into Petra. The first was built by the Nabataeans before getting destroyed by the Romans as their way of crippling a city that was incredibly well-protected. They built their own water pipe along the walls later on.
The Treasury: The most famous site and honestly, the main reason I wanted to go. You cannot enter, however you can admire the incredibly work. It took 30 years to carve and it was done from top to bottom without any mistakes. Interestingly, it was just a beautiful tomb built for a king although they put extra work to make it especially impressive as it is the entrance to the city. The little tracks on the side were used for the wood scaffolding required to carve it out. The name is due to the little urn near the top that, for many years, locals were convinced had a pharaoh's treasure hidden inside. Nobody has successfully cracked it open, but they've tried using bullets and you'll see the holes.
The Necropolis: the bulk of what we saw in Petra. You'll see many tombs and what seems like houses almost everywhere. The Nabateans took a bit from a lot of other cultures closeby (as they were great traders), so you'll see different influences. In the photo on the right, you'll see little steps to help the soul get to heaven taken from Assyrian influences. They're still discovering tombs and it's astounding how many there are.
The Royal Tomb: One of the most elaborate tombs. The rock is particularly pretty although it's exactly what was underneath when they carved incredibly. The arches underneath were added by the Romans, who converted it into a temple later on.
The Monastery/Ad Deir We did not get there due to time limitations, but it is a large impressive building seen in many movies. It was originally used for religious meetings although it was used as a church, hence the name. It is a FULL day's hike including many, many steps. You most likely will not be able to see this in one day.
Petra: Other Details
The Horseback Rides into Petra: They cannot go beyond the Siq, so it's a very short ride and not worth it. You'll pay about $20 for the honor and you might be asked for more money at the end of the ride. I wasn't a fan of the aggressiveness of the vendors and how after I asked for change, the guy who did it for me refused to give change. I told him to take it or leave it--and suddenly, he was able to make change. The horse might also be too small for you as Jacob was quite miserable as a result. Be very firm and negotiate the price BEFORE you get on the horse/donkey/whatever. If they are asking for more money once you get off, ensure that they don't see any extra cash in your wallet as it will only make it worse.
For people who have difficulty walking: There are numerous camel and donkey rides allowed within Petra itself, so it might be worth doing if you have difficulty walking as it's quite large.
The City of Petra is quite large and very accommodating to tourists. You'll find a bus that takes you around the town as well as many accommodation options. ATMS are easy to find and everyone speaks English quite well. Food is easy to find within the city and within Petra itself. We went to the Petra Magic restaurant, which is buffet-style with INCREDIBLE food and view of Petra. I tried a Jordanian dessert called Umm Ali, which is seriously the most delicious thing I've ever had. It's similar to bread pudding, but made with lots of cinnamon.
If you have extra time, visit the High Place of Sacrifice for a great view and the Mountain of Aaron closeby. Much of the area is where the Jews were supposed to be wandering around the desert for 40 years. On certain nights, Petra is lit up by candles, which seems quite magical. The water in the area comes from a spring where Moses where supposedly he hit a stone with his staff and water came out.
Is Petra on your bucket list?
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Karen and Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Now in Paris!
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