This is the third in a 6 part series of posts – Jordan Adventures Part 3 – Petra.
Living in the Middle East, we took it for granted that we would visit Jordan while we were here. Even before we arrived I knew it was somewhere we should go. After 2.5 years here and hearing such inspiring stories from our friends it became a must-do destination.
There is also a post on the itinerary we took (and would recommend) which you can read as more of a quick read. If you don’t have time to read all 5 posts, watch out for the itinerary post which will include details on when to go and what to take. It will come at the end of this series.
Other posts in this series include:
When you think about Jordan you probably immediately think about Petra. You might even think about floating in the Dead Sea. There is SO much more to Jordan than I ever realised until we started planning this trip.
Officially known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, this little country of just 6.5 million people and occupying an area of a little under 90,000 sq km is unique in so many ways. Just starting with its history – it has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. It has seen the highs and lows of a number of empires including the Nabateans, the Romans and the Ottomans and was once a British Protectorate. A number of serious earthquakes in the region over the years have had the effect of changing the various fortunes of its cities and regions.
Now in modern times, Jordan often finds itself in the middle of a number of conflicts going on around it -both in neighbouring countries and across the region. It has striven to maintain neutrality in ever increasingly tense situations, has succeeded in maintaining a generally peaceful and safe territory, and is now home to millions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees.
One of the first questions people asked us when they heard we were going to Jordan was if it was safe enough. Despite facing increased instability since the Arab Spring in 2011, security has been pretty tight since some high profile attacks in 2005. I know there were some attacks again in late 2016 but, to be honest, I think you could just as easily be caught up in attacks in London or Paris as in Jordan. We were relieved that we felt very safe during the time that we spent there.
Jordan is a major tourist destination in the Middle East and, indeed, the world. Iconic photos of the Treasury and Monastry at Petra and of people floating in the Dead Sea are what attract tourists here. But ancient ruins, desert landscapes and the beautiful Red Sea are all additional delights that made us keep extending our itinerary as we planned it.
Petra is one of the most iconic attractions in Jordan. You’d be hard pressed to find a tourist in Jordan NOT going to Petra! This historical and archaeological city was originally known as Raqmu and is located in Wadi Musa (Moses’ Valley) in southern Jordan. It’s believed it was established as early as 4th Centrury BC by nomadic Arabs (the Nabateans). They used it to access major trading routes which crossed at this point. It accumulated great wealth, evidence of which can still be seen today.
The Romans arrived in around 100AD but several earthquakes destroyed it and it was buried until it was rediscovered in 1812. Our guide explained that they believe 90% of Petra still remains buried and he showed us some parts that are cordoned off at the base of the Treasury to prove that there is more below. There’s reluctance to excavate much given that weather / tourists will slowly do the same job. With luck, Petra in some form will remain in Wadi Musa for people to wonder at for many years to come.
What to do
When to arrive
Petra opens at 6am to people holding multi-day passes or 7am to those buying a ticket on the day. Our driver recommended arriving before 7.30am to avoid the crowds. After that, he said, it didn’t really matter if we went at 8am or 1pm. Petra closes at sunset which is early in the winter so make sure you leave enough time to see everything you want to. Anyway, since we were there on Christmas Day, we concluded that the chances of us getting up and out before 7.30am was non-existent so we just headed there at 8.30am to meet our guide.
Tickets cost 90JOD if you aren’t staying overnight or 50JOD if you are for a one day pass. Kids under 12 years old are free. Guides are extra – ours was arranged through Petra Nights Tours.
The main entrance to Petra is through the Siq, a narrow walkway through rock walls that was created by an earthquake. There is a short walk from the entrance (Bab As-Siq) to the Siq.
Then there’s a walk through the Siq itself. On it’s own, the walk is really interesting and features dramatic rock walls rising high above you, evidence of water collections and old wall carvings.
Coming out of the Siq, you are welcomed by the majestic view of the Treasury.
The Treasury is probably the most photographed monument in the city. It’s a stunning piece of work, a temple like facade carved entirely from the sandstone rock face. It was actually a tomb, build for the Nabataean King Aretas III.
Walking past the Treasury along the Street of Facades….
…you can see hollowed out caves in the rock face where the Nabateans lived.
You can also see more incredible monuments such as the Royal Tombs.
Walking further along you come to the Colonnaded Street which forms part of Petra’s Roman ruins.
This brings you alongside several ruins including the amazing Great Temple…
… and the ruins of a truly magnificent Nabatean temple.
There are several other things that we didn’t do which brings me to…
Petra By Night
Mr Wanderlust and I managed to get back to the Treasury for Petra By Night on Christmas Day evening. I’d definitely recommend it. The walk down is lit with paper bag lanterns. When you arrive the lanterns are placed all over the ground in front of the Treasury.
There’s a bit of a talk from a local guy and a couple of musical interludes with traditional instruments. It’s all very peaceful and lovely and then they light up the Treasury in different coloured lights. It’s very cool and was a nice break for Mr Wanderlust and I (thanks Granny Wanderlust!).
How to do it with kids
Everyone looked a bit taken aback that we were taking the Things hiking in Petra and consequently I felt pretty nervous about the plan. But planned it was, so off we set.
First off is the walk to the Treasury through Bab As-Siq and the Siq. It’s not a LONG way, if you’re an adult at least. But it is a long way if you have little legs and we must remember that Thing 1 is only 5 and poor little Thing 2 is only 3! There are a few options when you get to Bab As-Siq : one is to take a donkey ride (10 DNR) to the Treasury. The other is to take a horse and cart (20 DNR) but you book for them to meet you to bring you back.
I’d gone in thinking we would do everything to resist using animals to help us get to and around Petra. The whole animal thing really bothers me and I’ve tested myself enough times only to regret it.
I wasn’t sure I would convince the Things to get on a donkey and we had to make a split decision.
The tour guide persuaded us to pay the drivers a bit extra so they would “treat us well” (which seemed to be a bit of a scam since they then asked for a tip at the end as well)! You can do donkey and camel rides at the Treasury and donkeys seem to be available up and down the main routes throughout Petra.
I have heard that in busier times these aren’t quite as abundantly available as when we were there.
Keeping the Things occupied
I was beyond proud of my Things that day. It was BITTERLY cold for the first 2 hours (even I didn’t enjoy the sights as much as I wanted to because I was so cold!). They walked nearly the whole way (Thing 2 was only carried for the last hour!) from the Treasury to the temples, round the temples, round the Royal Tombs and back to the Treasury. Here are a few things we did:
Climbing and exploring
Unlike in Athens where the Parthenon is completely cordoned off, the Things were super happy to choose their own routes around the site.
You don’t want to carry lots with you. But if having an aeroplane to ‘fly’ around or a favourite lovie to clutch makes the Things happy then I say just do it.
Snacks and drinks
Staying hydrated and fuelled will always reduce whining levels as well as keeping Things occupied while they eat.
And on that note, a little sit down and a rest can do everyone the world of good.
Laying a trail
Granny Wanderlust’s inspired suggestion had her taking the Things off ahead of us and leaving arrows for us to follow. That was 30-60 mins of activity in a nutshell!
Be it a little piece of chocolate or a sticker, if your Thing has something to motivate them to get to the next place, then use it! *You could also call this bribery…but that’s just semantics.
We were disappointed, but not surprised to miss out the following sights which have been deemed as “must-do” by fellow travellers:
- Highest Point of Sacrifice
- The Monastery
- General Hiking
- Aaron’s Tomb
How long to spend there
The reality was that there was no way that we could have done any more than we did with the Things in the day that we had there. I wish we could have done more but equally we didn’t want to ruin a brilliant day so we took it easy and quit while we were ahead. Without Things or with older Things or by agreeing to divide and conquer, you could do considerably more than we did in a day in Petra.
I know some people would recommend another 24 hours there. I’d say one full day (we had 2 nights) there is plenty if that’s all your itinerary allows for. If you can spend another day there (and your Things won’t get bored with 2 consecutive days), then by all means, take the extra time!
As with most places, you could always stay longer and there’s always more you could do.
What to bring
This is going to really depend on the time of year you go. All the lists I read included supplies for ridiculously hot weather but of course we were there in mid-winter and it was freezing! Well, not ACTUALLY freezing. But pretty cold for 4 soft expats who live in the desert.
Main common sense should really prevail for any season
So wear sturdy shoes regardless of the weather. Bring suncream, hats and plenty of water in the heat. Wear layers of warm clothes, hats, scarves and have plenty of water in the cold. We also took snacks for the Things to keep them going.
Where to eat
There are places to buy water, coffee and a few snacks between the Treasury and the Great Temple. Near the Great Temple is Crowne Plaza restaurant offering a buffet lunch as well as shelter from the heat / cold. We actually took a break here after 2 hours, walked around a bit more, stopped again for lunch and then spent the last hour wandering back to meet the horse and cart at the Treasury.
Breakfasts were all eaten at the Mövenpick and were fine if a little uninspiring.
We also ate dinner on Christmas Eve in the main restaurant in the Mövenpick. We wouldn’t have normally but we wanted to feel a bit festive and have time to get the Things into bed at a vaguely decent hour!
The food was fine but nothing exceptional. Highlights included a visit from Father Christmas and a dancing demonstration by some locals.
On our second day we took the Things to a local restaurant up the road (where they ate pizza, predictably). It was pretty good and a fraction of the price of eating at the hotel. Granny Wanderlust, Mr Wanderlust and I then ended up eating room service in one of the bathrooms while the Things were still going to sleep. Travelling with Things is NOT glamorous!
Where to stay
We had been recommended the Mövenpick by several friends. Being right next to the gate to Petra I would definitely say it was brilliantly located.
Other hotels that are at that end of Wadi Musa are The Petra Moon Hotel and Petra Guest House both of which have been recommended to me by other bloggers.
You can look for more affordable options in the main part of Wadi Musa but know that they will be much further away from the gate. After a long day hiking around Petra, I suspect the last thing you or your Things will want to do is walk for another 20 minutes to get back to town.
Flights arrive daily into the very civilised King Hussein International Airport in Amman. Royal Jordanian Airways is the local carrier but your country’s own carrier may well fly direct. Alternatively there are a variety of Middle Eastern airlines who may fly you via their hub for a more competitive price.
From the airport
The main ways to get to Wadi Musa from Amman is to drive either by hiring a car or by hiring a driver. We would definitely recommend Ahmad from Petra Nights Tours if you are looking for a driver or a tour company. Other friends have also used Petra Nights Tours and had similar experiences albeit with different drivers.
There’s not much need to do anything other than get into Petra from where you are staying and to get out again. I did need to go to a chemist one night and jumped in a taxi to the main town to do it. I’d recommend haggling.