Hiking Petra – Expectations vs Reality

indiana jones petra

indiana jones petraFor a lot of people, Petra is best known as ‘that location in that Indiana Jones movie.’ In fact, while I was at Petra, I saw more than one person watching that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade while walking through Petra – not looking at the scenery they were in the middle of, but watching a movie clip on their phone screen.

While I’ve (of course) seen the Indiana Jones movies, I’ve also seen enough articles from Nat Geo and other travelers to know that Petra is much more than what you saw in the film. And for me, I planned a trip there expecting not only to be completely blown away by the scenery, but to also get in a good amount of hiking. From what I’d read on travel blogs, I knew that I could count on some grueling trails that reward you with amazing vistas. In fact, pretty much all of the travel bloggers who recently took part in the #GoJordan experience raved about their time in Petra. In fact, I was following along with their adventures on Twitter and getting really excited about my visit.

If you checkout the #GoJordan hashtag on Twitter, you’ll find more tweets on Petra and other attractions in Jordan. Just keep in mind that the majority of the people using this hashtag were given a free trip to Jordan in exchange for promoting the country as a tourist destination on social media and their blogs.

Getting To Petra

Since I flew into the Amman airport and was staying in Madaba, I ended up paying a driver to take me down the King’s Highway to Petra. The cost was around 60JD and included stops at Wadi Mujib and Karak. It is definitely a great way to get there.

view from Kings Highway
view from Kings Highway

The King’s Highway is the slow way, with the Desert Highway being the alternative (and faster) way to get there. If you have the time, the scenery is really amazing on the ride down the King’s Highway. However, the road is full of curves and your driver may like to pretend that he is a race car driver on them. So, if you get car sick easily, take some Dramamine or skip this route entirely.

view from Kings Highway
view from Kings Highway

Where To Stay In Petra

Assuming that you want to spend pretty much all of your free time hiking and such in Petra, I suggest staying as close to the park entrance as possible. There are a few hotels, shops and restaurants in that area while the rest of the city is up at the top of a hill.

Important note: all the ATMs are also up that hill. Get your cash BEFORE you get to Petra to avoid the unnecessary walk up the hill.

Staying close to the entrance also means that you can easily get back to your hotel room to shower or crash after a long day in the park. It also makes it easy to leave the park for lunch, if you want to do so. Click here for my list of the best places to stay in Petra.

I stayed at the Petra Moon Hotel, which was close to the park entrance but on a hill. This means an incline you have to walk up when returning to your hotel. This was a pretty nice hotel for the money and they have a great nightly buffet in the restaurant. It’s not super cheap, at around $35 USD for two people, but there is a lot of food to choose from as it is an international buffet. And, it’s perfect after a grueling day of hiking in the heat!

6 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Visiting Petra

petra treasury at night
hey look, it’s the Treasury at night!

When you start researching a trip to Petra online, you find tons of people talking about how amazing it is. And, of course, the obligatory photo of the Treasury. But it’s not all life changing moments and beautiful scenery.

1. You Need Your Passport When Buying Tickets

Despite all of my research about Petra before arrival, nowhere did I see it mentioned that you need to take your passport with you when you buy your tickets. Want to buy a 2-day pass? It’s 55 JD with your passport or 90 JD without it. We were able to just show our hotel key card and get the cheaper tickets, but definitely take your passport with you just in case your cashier won’t let you slide by with the hotel key.

2. Donkey Shit Is Everywhere

When you plan that trip to Petra, you really don’t imagine looking up at the Treasury or walking through the Siq and it smelling like a petting zoo, right? Yeah, me neither. But there are more donkeys, mules, camels and horses than you would ever see in a petting zoo and they are pooping all over the damn place with no one really cleaning it up. Here’s another interesting fact about donkey poo – it makes the rocks very slippery. So, when you’re hiking up to the Monastery or the High Place of Sacrifice, try not to step on any poo or you just might slip and fall to your death.

3. The Bedouin Are Kinda Like Pushy Used Car Salesmen

As you may already know, the Bedouin are all throughout Petra. They are the ones riding all those pooping animals and trying to talk you into paying to ride them. And they do not like to hear the word ‘no’ when they are badgering you to ride them. And when you are hot and sweaty and just want to get to where you are going and have a moment of zen, having to deal with a group of Bedouin guys who repeatedly block your path in an attempt to sell you a ride on a camel or donkey really taints your experience of visiting Petra. Expect to hear, almost as if on loop, them asking things like:

“Donkey, miss? Want to ride the donkey? Take a camel to the gate, miss? Ride the donkey? Here, get on the donkey. Horse to the gate? Miss, ride the donkey?”

It is truly a never-ending stream that is only interrupted by the equally as persistent female Bedouin shopkeepers you are convinced that you need whatever trinket they are trying to sell. What’s worse is that they are even stationed on the hikes!

And whatever you do, make certain that you do NOT listen to their directions after you have told them “no” a million times. Doing so will just end up getting you way off the beaten path, and possibly even on a more treacherous path. Read another traveler’s experience with that here (and yes, it happened to me, too, only I never ended up paying to ride that pooping donkey).

4. You Can Do It All In One Day

I’d read several blog posts on seeing Petra that mentioned how impossible it was to see it all in one day. And, that you really had to get there as soon as it opened in order to even attempt seeing it in a day.

With that in mind, I didn’t reach the Petra gates until maybe around 11 am and I got a 2-day ticket. Note that this is only slightly more than the 1-day ticket, so definitely choose it if you think you’ll want to go back.

I did make the hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice but chose to skip the Monastery after my 2+ hours detour courtesy of the Bedouins who apparently weren’t happy that I didn’t want to ride a donkey down.

In all honesty, returning for a second day to do the Monastery hike was on my to-do list, but after getting back to my hotel and seeking out reviews from travelers who were not given a freebie trip to Jordan, I concluded that I was really fine not seeing it and not dealing with dodging donkey poo on another steep hike.

So, I spent from 11 am until sunset in the park and saw everything but the Monastery, including a scenic and grueling “shortcut” thanks to the Bedouin.

5. Trails Are Poorly Marked

The reason that it is so easy to be tricked when the Bedouin point you to a shortcut is that there is little in terms of trail signage. Most the time, you’re just following the people who are up ahead of you with the hopes that you’re all heading in the proper direction.

If you do not expect to take the Bedouin up on their many offers of animal taxis, then do be sure to pack a compass for when you get turned around out there. And, here’s a friendly reminder that your smartphone likely has a compass. You’ll probably need it, so be sure to charge your phone before you set out for the day.

6. Bring A Flashlight For Petra By Night

No doubt you’ve seen the photos of the Treasury lit up by the light of candles. And if you’ve seen those photos, then you probably think that it is pretty well illuminated, right? Well, you’d be wrong. Yes, candles line the path through the Siq and to the Treasury. But, there are not nearly enough of them. While on the one hand, you might think that this creates some amazing ambiance. The truth is that when you have to dodge piles of donkey poo along the path, not to mention the fact that it’s not exactly a flat path, more adequate lighting is needed. During my walk, many people were using their cell phone as a flashlight.

More On Petra By Night

To do the candlelit walk through Petra, you have to pay an extra 17 JD. You get the ticket at your hotel and the walk is not available every day. So, check with your hotel or online to know which days you can do the tour.

If you do a search for reviews on this walk, then you will notice a lot of mixed opinions. Some people love it and some hate it. The most common complaints are:

  • it’s over-priced
  • you only get to see the Siq and the Treasury
  • the lighting is poor
  • the music performance is lame
  • the guides don’t make it special enough

When the walk starts, a Bedouin guide leads you through the Siq and repeatedly shushes people and tells everyone to respect the holiness of the area. Yet, the Bedouin remain chatty when they are together. The walk ends at the Treasury, where everyone is given mats to sit on directly on the sand (and donkey poo!) or you can sit on a bench if you’re lucky enough to find a free one.

Petra by Night path
Petra by Night path

Unfortunately, they let people sit amongst the candles and thus ruin your photos of the Treasury. And don’t be surprised if you hear the sounds of a generator echoing off the walls as they use it to pipe the music you’re about to hear over the loud speakers. A single Bedouin sits in the middle, directly center of the Treasury, and does a traditional song. This takes about 15 minutes but seems like an eternity. And if I recall correctly, there was some type of story as well. Then, they pass around some type of really sweet tea before telling you that you can now get as close to the Treasury as you want. And when you’re done, you just make your way back down the dimly-lit and poo-covered walkway through the Siq.

Worth 17 JD? Well, it is definitely a bit over-priced for sure. That being said, I found seeing it by night to be the very best way to see Petra for the first time. And, it was the only time that the Bedouin do not try to sell you something!

High Place of Sacrifice

Though most people end up doing the hike to the Monastery, I only did the hike to the High Place of Sacrifice. It was a rather grueling hike. There was some loose gravel, lots of donkey poo, donkey-riding Bedouin who would overtake you on the narrow path, steep inclines, Bedouin trying to sell you trinkets and practically zero signage. But, the view from the top was amazing.

view looking down at path to Monastery
view looking down at path to Monastery
typical path at Petra
typical path at Petra

I did not have one with me, but some type of walking stick would have been a great asset. Of course, you definitely need comfortable walking shoes, preferably some good hiking boots so that you don’t slip and fall. And, don’t forget a hat and other sun protection.

On the hike, there are a few Bedouin cafes set up so that you can buy drinks or snacks, if you need them. Otherwise, try to pack enough in your daypack. And, once you get to the bottom, you will end up coming out where there are some shops and cafes.

From the top of the High Place of Sacrifice, some Bedouin directed us to a “shortcut” that went down the back side of this area. As you might expect after having already read about their trickery, this “shortcut” was much more treacherous than the path up.

Final Thoughts

I think that I was fortunate for Petra by Night to be my first experience at the park. Otherwise, being overwhelmed by the Bedouin and their aggressive sales tactics after entering the gate would have been my first impressions.

I do wish I’d known more fully what to expect before getting to Petra since some of it did not really meet my expectations. But those moments when you can finally get away from all the insanity – that is when you realize how truly awesome it is.

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