When I determined that I was starting my journey in Tel Aviv, Israel, my next thought was that I needed to visit Petra — one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Now, I had seen images of Petra on blogs, in travel publications and in Indiana Jones, but I didn’t do too much research before visiting. So, I had no idea of the wonder I was about to see.
What is Petra?
Petra is an ancient city, developed possibly as early as 312 BC by an Arab Tribe known as the Nabataeans, who called the city Raqmu. It was a major trading hub and features numerous monuments carved out of the colorful rose sandstone. At the site, you can see their innovative means for capturing water, stone carvings and transportation. It is called the “Lost City” because it was lost to the world until 1812 when it was discovered by a Swiss explorer. It is believed that there’s still more than 80% undiscovered.
How to see Petra
We visited Petra as part of a three day tour of Jordan and therefore had transportation and a guide. I would definitely recommend having a guide – at least for part of your visit, but I’d also recommend staying by the site (we saw a Movenpick, Crowne Plaza and other hotels in quick walking distance) so you could go in the morning (before the crowds) and also in the evening to see the different light. We arrived at the site early, which was great, but there’s also so much to see at Petra, that I’m not sure we even scratched the surface.
When you enter Petra, you have a choice of walking, taking an included one-way horse ride or taking a $30 round-trip carriage ride (for two people) to get near the Treasury. If you have limited mobility, I’d highly recommend the carriage ride. We opted to walk to the sites and took the horse on the return, which was uphill. Keep in mind that the horse guides will expect (and bargain for) a tip.
Tourist riding a horse at the entrance of Petra
Sites of Petra
One of the things I didn’t realize is how naturally beautiful Petra is. In addition to the carved rock, there are canyons and gorges. At times it felt like it could be Antelope Canyon in Arizona. At other times, Ephesus in Turkey.
If you are taking the horse ride, they will drop you off at the entrance to the Siq where you will walk to the Treasury (carriages ride through the Siq). The Siq is a natural split in the sandstone that serves as a waterway. Each turn was more beautiful than the next.
Entrance to the Siq
Local Bedouins in the Siq
At the end of approximately 2km walk from the entrance, you get your first peak at Petra’s most well known and well preserved ruin, the Treasury.
The Treasury is in remarkable condition, but you’ll notice that there are hundreds of bullet holes from the native Bedouins who had hoped to find some of the riches that were believed to be stored there.
But wait, there’s more…
While many tours (and tourists) will stop at the treasury from lack of time, lack of knowledge or lack of energy, there’s much more to see at Petra. Take another 2 km or so walk down “Main Street” to discover more tombs, the Theatre and the Temple.
Before I left for Petra, several people told me, “Trust me, take the donkey.” I didn’t really have a clue what they meant until we decided to reach the monastery. Located 900 or so steps above the end of Main Street, the Monastery would be a good hike for those who hadn’t already walked six miles. But with limited time, we decided to take the donkey up to the Monastery and back to the Treasury. You can do this by bargaining with the donkey owners… and don’t be surprised when they quote you a completely different price that you agreed upon at the end of your ride.
Even with the donkeys, the ride to the Monastery was eventful. My friendly donkey, Suzanna, was very eager to be the top gal and thus decided to race the other donkeys to the top. This led to almost falling off a few times, a few bruises and a lot of laughs. At the end, it was worth it to enjoy the beautiful view without any crowds. We enjoyed a nice drink at the end of our ride before heading back down the hill.
A rewarding view of the Monastery
A donkey finding some shade near the top
Once we got back down to the Treasury, we walked the Siq, grabbed a horse and said a fond farewell to Petra.
A few notes…
Jordan has been hit very hard by the threats in the Middle East, and tourism to Petra has suffered as a result. I can say without any doubt that I am so glad that I went to this country and to this beautiful UNESCO site. The Jordanian people were so welcoming and appreciative of our visit. They’d ask where you were from and then would say, “Welcome friend.” There’s definitely a lot of people trying to sell their wares, but you can tell they are friendly folks trying to make a living. I’ll share more about Jordan soon, but it definitely was a magical experience.
- Go early in the day to beat the crowds and the heat. We had a beautiful day, but it was still warm.
- Bring or buy a hat. The sun is strong and it helps keep you cool.
- Bring or buy water. They have many stands and restaurants within the site, so you can re-hydrate and eat.
- If you’re taking the donkey, wear a backpack or bring a very small purse. Trying to keep a large purse and your balance is not easy!
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. My phone said we walked 10.9 miles and climbed 60 flights of steps.
- If you are approached by the vendors and are not interested, say “No. Thank you.” If you tell them you will be back later, they will remember and consider that a “contract.” If you say no, they are respectful.
- Don’t stop at the Treasury! Continue down Main Street, check out the Monastery and if you have time the other trails. You could spend days there if you have time.
- Just go!
Have you been to Petra before? Do you have any tips to share? Or are you looking to go to Petra and do you have any questions?