Jordan is a lesser known tourist destination, especially to Americans. I’ll admit, the only reason I knew about it is from movies! Obviously, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade made a huge impact on me as a child. At that point Google didn’t exist as a way to instantly fing out every bit of information about anything – where the movie was filmed and what was the name of that awe inspiring lost city in the desert!! I found out about the identity and location of Petra years later when I saw pictures of it in a travel magazine. As a child, I thought it was just a movie set – I couldn’t believe it actually existed and I became obsessed with getting to someday stand in front of the great “Wonder of the World” for myself!
We entered Jordan by walking across the border from Elat in Israel. We had some anxiety about the visa process because there were mixed reports about what border would/would not grant them on the spot. We had planned to drive from Tel Aviv to Elat but realized the taxi costs were really high! So we took a short flight instead. This ended up being around $200 for both of us. We heard that the Elat border was the only place where you could get an immediate visa for Jordan…but while in Israel we were told that we could have taken another border close to the Dead Sea and saved ourselves a lot of hassle. I guess better safe than sorry!
The border crossing was super easy. We had no transport pre-booked and there were plenty of cabs waiting outside the border station to take us wherever we wanted. Jordan had taken the fantastic step of setting standardized cab fares between all the popular destinations. This takes so much stress out of haggling and worrying about getting ripped off every time you get in a cab. It cost about $50 and took 2 hours to get from the border to Petra.
Jordan is the first place we’ve been in a while were the local currency is stronger than than the dollar! This was very surprising and made things overall more expensive than we expected.
We booked 2 nights at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp which is a little outside of the main town of Petra (actually closer to Little Petra”. They are partners with the Rocky Mountain Lodge located in town so we were able to drop our bags off there and head straight into Petra (which worked out really nicely!).
Petra is very well organized and has an informative visitor center. They really push you to get a local guide but you honestly don’t need one at all to visit most anywhere you want in the park. There are only a few trails which you need a guide for and you can find plenty of guides waiting next to the trail heads or throughout the park. I would advise waiting and getting a guide at that point because you can get a better price…and by the time you get there you may change your mind about wanting to do that particular hike!
Along with the entry ticket to Petra you are supposed to get a free horsehide and a local guide. This doesn’t happen standardly. Apparently the horse ride that is free is only for a small section from the gate to right before the treasury (about ~5 minute ride). We fell for the trap of getting sucked into a longer horse tour. I wanted to explore the cliffs above Petra but didn’t think my knees would make it so I thought the horse would be a good idea. We paid about 70 dinar for a two hour trip….it probably should have been 50 but we caved pretty easily.
They took us up along the hillside which is the route where a lot of the filming for Indiana Jones was done. It was nice to get away from the tourist circuit and just be alone with the beautiful scenery. We stopped in a little cave and had tea served by an older Bedouin lady.
We then set off on foot to get to a view point way above Petra. Our young guide, Mohammed was very cute. He had us close our eyes and lead us by hand the final few steps to the ledge so we would open our eyes to see the Treasury of Petra for the first time. The view point was not the one I had been expecting. We were really really really high up and could hardly see the Treasury at all! I was cool to be at the top of the rocky cliffs, but definitely not the photographic opportunity I was hoping for.
We got back on our horses and continued to see the High Place of Sacrifice and got an overview of the “downtown” area of Petra. We got dropped off at the top of a trail that took us back down to the main trail through the canyon. It wasn’t until we were at the bottom when we started to see any other tourists. Even then there were not that many. I was expecting throngs of tourist but was pleasantly surprised to find we could easily avoid people.
I would highly advise seeing the Treasury for the first time by foot from below. You need to be on the ground to truly get the full experience of its grandeur. It has the best ever entrance…..you are walking along and all of a sudden you take a turn between two narrow canyon edges. You get your first glimpse of it through a narrow opening and then BAM. There you are, in front of one of the most splendid architectural feats of the ancient world. It is truly breathtaking.
I would have loved to just sit there all day and watch how the colors change as sunlight beams down through the canyon and see all the people come and go. We stayed until we got kicked out after sunset. We were literally the last people to leave the park. We planned to do the night show but it only happens 3 nights a week so we had to wait until the following night.
After spending the day at Petra, a driver from Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp came with our bags and drove us out to the camp. We could see amazing lights in the distance and wondered what it was all about. We soon found out this was our camp! They have lights dotted along the cliffs all around the camp which creates the most magical ambience.
We were greeted by the manager, a young local Bedouin who wore a long Bedouin robe at all times. He was incredibly friendly and helpful. The camp is made up of a main dining room, a lounging tent, a bathroom tent and then clusters of about 50 small individual Bedouin tents for sleeping.
Our tent was small but comfortable. The meals were served buffett style. They were tasty but nothing fancy. Breakfast was pretty bare bones – pita, yogurt, hummus, and hard boiled eggs. The lounging tent had wifi and was filled with a myriad of different types of travelers – mostly young Brits on their phones. We could not believe they had wifi! The only problem was that everyone smoked in the tent which made it much less enjoyable.
I thought Seven Wonders was a great place to stay and would recommend it. Especially if looking to socialize with other young travelers. It cost 30 JD per person per night and 10 extra for meals.
The weather was very pleasant during our December trip to Jordan. It was sunny and 70s during the day and dropped to around 40-50 at night. You are outside a lot and there is a lot of hiking/climbing involved so I cannot imagine how awful the experience could be during the peak of summer! There was no AC to be found during our whole time in Jordan.
We spent our second day at Petra hiking from our camp to the Monastery of Petra. You can hike all the way or get a jeep ride halfway – we took the jeep ride. This route from the backside had the advantage of more breathtaking scenery and no tourists. We saw no one but our guide on the trail until we reached the Monastery. If you hike up from the visitors center, you are basically seeing the same things twice. When you go the back way you have a new experience the whole way.
The Monastery is the highest point in Petra. I would argue that it is even more impressive than the Treasury. It seems to be much less visited as well so if you visit during a crowded season…make sure you get up to this sight for better photographs! The hike down from the Monastery consists of 850 steps and you have to make your way through endless vendors trying to sell you trinkets. Another plus of hiking up the back way is that you get to avoid this for at least half the trip!
Petra has much more to see than just the two most well known structures. There are countless other temples and graves carved into the rock faces. The whole canyon is filled with them. Walking along the narrow canyon trail is an experience in itself. You never know what is going to be waiting for you around the next corner.
Taking one of the trails up to get a viewpoint right above Petra is a MUST. There are multiple trails which take you to similar view points. There are two on opposite sides of the canyons walls surrounding the Treasury. These take about 10- 15 minutes to hike and you are “required” to take a local guide for around $5-10…however we snuck past without a guide and it was totally fine to do on our own. There is also a longer trail that starts right by the bridge after the Colonnaded Street which will take you past all of the Royal Tombs – this takes about 2 hours. We would have liked to do this but didn’t have time.
Visiting Petra by night is another must do. Three days a week they put on a night show that starts around 8pm. Paper lanterns are set out all along the trail to the Treasury and then spread out all in front of the facade to create the most beautiful display. Cushions are laid you for everyone to sit on and then you listen to some traditional Bedouin musicians and singers. They play for maybe 30 minutes, there is a brief monologue and then a series of more colorful lights are projected onto the treasury façade. Finally, you are given free time to take photos. The whole thing went by pretty quickly – after an hour they ask you to leave. I was hoping we would be able to just sit there all night and enjoy the wonder of the illuminated site. Again we were the last ones to leave…they had to push us out!
There is also a night show at little Petra. I would suggest visiting this site if you are coming to Jordan in the high season because Petra can get really crowded and little Petra might give you a more enjoyable experience for a day.
In my opinion it shouldn’t take much convincing to get anyone to Petra – its obviously an incredible place that should be on everyone’s bucket list!