Precious cultural property of man’s heritage
So here we are at the peak of our trip to Jordan. Petra was the reason number one to come and plan the entire trip at first instance, and while we knew it would be a very difficult and exhausting day trip from Amman, we also know it is place we will not return in the near to medium future, if at all we even ever return. One of the most grandiose and stunning places from antiquity, from one of the most incredible civilisations the earth has ever known, the Nabataean Kingdom, and Petra, its most glorious capital and so today one of the most precious UNESCO World Heritage Site. Incredibly so well preserved, fact due to the site being forgotten and only “re discovered” in 1812, and still being excavated to this date.
The ancient city is a very big site right in middle in the desert, only accessible through a narrow pathway through the rocks 1.2 kilometres long, known as the Siq. This is one of the major facts that helped the site to be forgotten, and hidden.
With so much information I want to share, I rather split it into different sections for easy clarification. Please do remember this is a very vast site, where the scorching heat and lack of fresh air can make things hard, hence in order to enjoy the visit, take everything in consideration and prepared in advanced. For information on the history of Petra, check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Jordan’s currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JD). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
- How to get there from Amman
Before arriving to Jordan, it is highly advisable you book in advance your bus tickets to Petra, especially during the high season. They can sell out very quickly, and the last you want is to spend a fortune having to go by taxi. The best company is JETT with tickets costing 8 JD each direction (at the time of writing this).
There are various times of departure you can select from, but the one I can recommend as per experience, is the one that leaves from Abdali bus stationin Amman at 06.30am, arriving to Petra around 10.30am. The return journey is at 16.00pm on the same day. You don’t really need to stay overnight in the new city of Petra, where hotels are by far much more expensive than Amman or elsewhere as obviously they live from the many tourists coming to the area, and they know they can play with the fares since you have no other choice. Remember, you can see the 100% of Petra in one day, so there is no need to spend lot more to be here two days, and suffer twice the extreme heat of the desert.
If on a budget, then you have on the other hand the cheaper option of taking the bus from Wehdat bus station (also known as South Station) for merely 4 JD. But please bear in mind these buses won’t be as comfortable as JETT and will not have air-con; and believe me when I say you really need air-con. You will be crossing the desert, nothing on the right, nothing on the left, and the temperatures severely extreme.
As last, the cheapest options is on one of the 25-seater minibuses. Those leave when full, and usually operate throughout the day. The fare from Amman to Petra is just 3 JD, with a journey time of about 2 hours 40 minutes. These minibus taxis leave from Amman’s Wehdat bus station.
- Entrance fee
The entrance fee for Petra is not cheap. By the time we went there it was 50 JD. Consider it a truly rip off, but at the end, you know you will need to pay this, there is no other way around. Considering you have come this far, so you know the facts. Jordan nationals pay only 1 JD. Other fees do apply depending if you are coming to Petra for the day, or for two days; if a trip while staying in Jordan at least a night, or if crossing the border for the day and back. For the most up to date information on the timetable, tickets and costs, this is the office website.
Unfortunately, the place itself is not even well cared for. A lot more should be done to preserve and restore it. The rain for example, thankfully not often; is “melting” the stone of the temples, and nowadays the site looks more like an amusement park to be honest, full of donkeys, horses, camels and stalls selling whichever unimaginable crap to tourists.
- Visiting the site
From where the bus will drop you, there is a long walk towards the Siq under the open desert between stones and sand. The Siq is another long walk, 1.2km but much easier to do as the sun is not hitting you in full, plus it’s half desert sand and the original ancient pavements and roads. And finally, at the end of the Siq, the best known picture anyone will recognise of Petra: the view of the Treasury at the end of the narrow passage.
The Treasure area is where most of the people pile to make pictures. Once you have done yours around, continue ahead. Now it’s where the true experience starts. Walking in the desert sand (original pavement still under it and can be seen on areas where they clear the sand), and with nothing to cover yourself from the sun, making your way towards the Theatre. Notice the way will split in two, one to your right which leads to many big tombs carved on the rock, being the most famous and most photographed the Urn Tomb; and the left way, with direction towards the Roman Forum. Take the left one. After the Theatre, many smaller tombs and buildings carved on the rock will be in your way, then you will have reached the Roman Forum. After the forum, the road splits again, take the one to your right; this is following the way towards The Monastery.
Eventually, you will arrive to the last section; this is making all the way up The Monastery. This is without doubt, the hardest part of the entire site. You will need to climb up and up, step after step, then ramps, zig zags one after another, with a deadly sun above you. At least 45 minutes after you started the ascent, you will reach the top. The reward is truly worth the hike! You will have on your right hand side the largest of all the buildings ever built in Petra, The Monastery. To appreciate it in full, move farther from it towards the café. Notice the people by the entrance, how small they are.
And now, all the way back. Exactly the same as you came in. Calculate the time according on when is your bus back to Amman (or wherever you need to return). It might be longer walk than expected as you might already be really exhausted. And perhaps, it’s even more difficult the way back, as in the afternoon is when the most roasting temperatures happen.
- What to bring with you
It is basically imperative you have plenty of sun block lotion, a hat and sun glasses, but of course, plenty of water. This last one can be bought easily inside the site, but expect to pay a high price for it. Also, beware that when you start climbing your way up The Monastery, there are no sellers of drinks in all the way, only when reaching the last meters, hence consider to keep some or buy before you start your way up.
I am not fan of sun glasses, but believe me, it is worth to have some here. The desert sand reflects the permanent killer sun, coupled with the heat, you can barely open your eyes in full.
And as last, if you don’t have sun cream you are guaranteed hospitalization in few hours. You need to keep putting on yourself, and be careful on your face. The heat will make you sweat, and the salt of the sweat together with the sun cream, can be terribly irritating to your eyes (speaking from experience).
Although a camel ride is said to be included in your ticket, make sure it will be really included and you will not need to pay extra for it. You are already paying an enormous amount of money to enter the site and the last you want is to pay more. The guys will want in any case and at all costs that you pay them extra as a tip. Never mind, the question is, do you really need to do this? We simply avoided it, not wasting our precious time.
Donkeys or horses are available but these are for sure at an extra cost. If you are not too heavy or you have kids, you can go up the Monastery in a donkey. But from the look of them, so exploited and exhausted, I would recommend to avoid it. It’s quite cruel to see how they are treated.
While there is not much I can say on where to stay in Petra, something for sure is that it is impossible anywhere within the ancient site. The new city of Petra, few kilometres away is where most of the hotels and hostels are. As explained at the beginning, expect to over pay, or be based elsewhere as in Amman. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.