I’d call Petra Jordan’s main draw but this country has so many that it’s difficult to label even Petra as the definitive sight. It’s certainly a top destination though – a fantastically preserved ancient city, a Wonder of the World and filming location for Indiana Jones (though due to my awful film knowledge I had no idea about this until a friend pointed it out). It’s not hard to see why visitors come here in their droves.
The gateway to Petra is the small town of Wadi Musa, literally on the ancient city’s doorstep. It’s obviously a small, sleepy place which has had to adapt pretty quickly to having a major worldwide tourist destination right next to it, so the town is a bit of a work-in-progress. It’s basically split into two halves – the lower half, close to Petra, is touristy and full of tourist-oriented restaurants and expensive hotels. The upper part of town, whilst still catering to tourists, has more of a local feel to it. The 9am minibus from Wadi Rum arrived in the small bus station in the local part of town.
It was an eventful journey. Due to lack of space, I ended up giving up my seat so a couple could sit together… only to end up being plonked on a bit of cloth in the middle of the aisle for the 70 minute journey. I’ve had comfier journeys. Then, when the bus arrived in Wadi Musa, a huge argument broke out regarding the price of the bus. It seemed some passengers had put their big bags onto another car and for some reason had thought they would be able to do this free of charge. I was travelling light so it cost me 8 JD (it’s an extra 2 JD if you put bags in the car). There was a lot of moaning and groaning with one woman trying to get the driver to re-evaluate his entire pricing structure. I feel if you don’t clarify the price beforehand, you can’t really start kicking off later on. It’s not nice paying a bit more than you expected but it still amazes me how angry travellers manages to get over a couple of pounds or less.
Besides, 2 JD extra on a bus is nothing compared to the huge entrance fee for Petra. Clocking in as one of the most expensive attractions I’ve ever visited, a one day pass costs 50 JD (just over £50). It’s an additional 5 JD for 2 day’s and another 5 JD if you’re super keen and want to spend 3 days there. It is expensive but the site is incredible (and huge) – you really get your money’s worth. One way to save cash in general in Jordan is to buy the Jordan Pass beforehand online. It includes Petra, the cost of your visa and the cost of various other attractions around the country and ends up saving you a lot. I didn’t bother with it since I got my visa for free by arriving in Aqaba, but if you’re flying into Amman, it’s really worth looking into. I was short on time in Jordan so I only went for the one day pass but it’s probably worth paying the extra 5 JD for 2 day’s. I powered through nearly 8 hours in the park and saw everything I wanted to see but I’m quite a fast hiker and a more relaxed way to do it would be to see it over 2 days.
The best advice I received and can impart where Petra is concerned is get there early. I seriously can’t stress this enough. In winter, the site opens at 6.30am. I arrived at about 7am and it was really quiet – it was an overcast, drizzly morning so perhaps that also had something to do with it. It wasn’t until about mid-late morning that it started filling up. The park is so huge that, even when it’s busy, you don’t notice it too much most of the time. However, it’s when you stop at the main attractions that you begin to notice the crowds and the touts. Getting that head-start is really worthwhile. Because of my early start, I had entire stretches of the Siq, the narrow entrance to Petra, to myself. After initially entering, there is a long gravel road until finally you enter the Siq, a narrow road flanked on either side with huge, impressive rock formations. It’s quite something and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll end up straining your neck from constantly looking all around.
The Siq leads directly to Petra’s most famous attraction, the Treasury. For a long time, I thought the Treasury was Petra – it’s certainly the picture you’ll always see promoting the city. It’s every bit as impressive as you’d imagine. Getting there early meant there were only a few other people admiring it with me, adding to the grandeur of it. Apparently it wasn’t initially an official Treasury but was named as such as it was used to stash hidden treasure. If viewing it from below isn’t enough for you, you can also hike up and see it from above. There are two ways to do this. There is a trail right next to the Treasury which snakes its way up to a viewpoint. This one looks like a pretty scrambly climb and didn’t look in very good condition. I decided to give it a miss. However, further along near to the tombs (should be labelled 8, 8.1 etc. if you have the official Petra map), there is another trail which works its way up to another viewpoint. This trail starts off pretty easy and becomes a bit more of a steep hike/scramble later on but isn’t too difficult. It took me around 40 minutes to hike up it. Despite what people might try to tell you, it is not compulsory to take a guide and if you’re in relatively good fitness, you shouldn’t need one to help you. Annoyingly, there is a cafe at the top blocking the best view (you have to buy a drink to see the view – ingenious of them, but annoying). However, just before you come to the cafe, there are a series of rocks you can sit on and you still get a pretty cracking view of the Treasury. It makes for a great picnic stop if you can time reaching the top with lunch.
Another popular hike within Petra is to the Monastery. The Monastery is probably as far away from the initial entrance at Wadi Musa as you can get. However, as with Petra itself, it pays to get here early. I opted to go straight to the Monastery (with brief stops the Treasury and a couple of other ruins along the way) so I could hike up to it while it wasn’t too busy. This was a good move. The hike up was relaxing and quiet, whereas the hike down was much busier and I spent much of my time donkey dodging. It took me about 2 or so hours to get from the entrance to the Monastery. Again, it’s really not a difficult hike, despite the maps and touts labelling it as such. It’s actually relatively easy, with most of it being steps. There is an option to take a donkey up but, despite assertions to the contrary, they don’t look well treated and none of the riders looked in control of them which just made it frustrating for those of us walking up or down. The Monastery itself is amazing, a gigantic structure which is truly awe-inspiring. The walk up also commands wonderful views of the mountains and the whole site. There’s a nice little cafe right opposite the Monastery which is a good place to recharge before the hike down. It has Wi-Fi so you can spam Instagram and it’s not ridiculously expensive considering where it’s located.
The list of other sites and ruins you can wander round in Petra is too huge to list. Getting a map is definitely a good move and a bit of forward planning is useful, especially if you’re planning on visiting for a couple of days. I was overwhelmed with how big the site was but for me personally, I was glad I visited for one day. It was an exhausting 8 hours of hiking, admiring and photographing but I preferred being completely immersed for that one day rather than splitting it up and having two half days. It depends on your personal preference – there’s more than enough here to have a full-on one day visit or a more relaxing two day wander. I was even gladder about my decision to spend only one day since Jordan’s weather took a dramatic turn for the worst during the week I was there. Whilst I got a pretty overcast day in Petra, flash floods soon after caused the entire site to be evacuated and closed. Later on I met travellers who were there when it happened and it sounded pretty stressful. A hysterical German lady arrived at my hostel in Aqaba recounting how awful her day had been (though in fairness it was her sixth time in Petra so she didn’t really miss out).
It’s a testament to how remarkable this city is though that, despite earthquakes, flash floods and 2000 years of history, so much of it still stands and looks as resplendent as ever. Truly, it is a wonder of the world.