Driving through the Jordanian desert with my father, I was horribly ill after eating something I probably shouldn't have, but on this day, this was one of the better days. As the majority of this trip was spent focusing on providing assistance to Syrian refugees in the north of Jordan, a little tourist excursion was a pleasant getaway. As we approached Petra, the excitement overtook the queasy stomach. When we arrived, we weren’t entirely prepared for the excursion, so we asked a few locals for tips, and were we glad we listened! Here are seven ways to make the most of your trip to Petra in the beautiful Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan!
Get there early!
My father and I arrived in Petra around 6:00am, which is right when the ticket booths open. You'll want to arrive early in order to avoid the eventual crowds that arrive a couple hours later. As we were the first people to arrive (literally), acquiring tickets was painless, and we had Petra all to ourselves. As a tourist who is not a Jordanian citizen, you must pay more, but the fee for entry depends on how long you've been in the country. We were definitely there for more than three days, so our tickets cost us 60 dinar (JOD) or roughly 84 dollars (USD). If you've only been in the country for two days it costs less, around 55 dinar, and if you've only been in the country for one day it costs only 50 dinar. When you arrived at the first monastery, there will be about six camels waiting for you -- another reason to show up early -- you don't have to wait for one!
Don’t take the carriage ride!
At the ticket booth, they'll ask you if you want a carriage ride. A local told us to not bother paying the extra 20-40 dinar -- and he was right! First of all, this allows you to stroll through the mesmerizing gulches full of ancient art decorating the canyon walls -- something you wouldn't be able to witness if you flew by on a carriage. Another reason to avoid the carriage is that they are terribly bumpy -- just imagine a rickety carriage flying over cobblestones and uneven rock...not my cup of tea. The only true benefit to the carriage ride is not having to constantly tell the Bedouin children you are not interested in their jewelry...unless of course, you are interested in a souvenir, then go ahead and splurge!
Side note: The longer I spent in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the more I realized how much of a ripoff a lot of the touristy places were. The guides have no problem lying to you about historical facts and offering you "historical" items, later requesting you pay for what they handed you. Of course none of these "artifacts" they offer you are actually real and the prices skyrocket once you enter these areas. In all honesty, prices skyrocket once they realize you're a foreigner, even in local rural markets, it's just something you have to accept. You still do have the option of attempting to negotiate prices--it is your money after all. Local rural markets offer a lot of the best stuff!
Ride the Camel
Once you get to the treasury (the first spectacular work of ancient architecture), you'll see camels lying down and Bedouin men offering you a ride -- TAKE IT! Spend the money and saunter (or run) through the lower half of Petra via camel, they're a ton of fun to ride and the experience will make you feel as though you've gone back in time. The Bedouin men tend to hold the rope as they walk beside you, but if they feel you're a competent rider, they'll let you take control of the camel...which ultimately decides where you're going.
Take the Donkey
As you wander, you'll come to a cliff face and will have to make your next big decision -- walk the rest of the way, or take the donkey? If you're scared of heights, or the possibility of dying in a crevasse in the middle of Jordan -- do not take the donkey -- just choose to walk. Walking takes about four hours for the average person, or if you're fit, maybe two hours (the "Bedouin" kids can do it in about 20 minutes). My father and I decided to take the donkey as per the local's recommendation, but we had no idea the absolute terror we were about to endure. I would be lying if didn't tell you that the daredevil in me was utterly thrilled at the idea of a 1 1/2 hour near-death experience. My father on the other hand -- a man who I had never seen afraid of anything in my entire life -- was now debating this donkey-decision with every precariously placed step of the donkey's hoof. The Bedouin men had control of the donkeys when they needed to, but mostly let the donkey follow it's own instincts.
Going up wasn't even the worse part of the adventure...it was going down. The specific problem with going down was that the donkeys wanted to go fast. So here you are at deathly angles with your feet at the donkey ears, finding yourself holding on for dear life as this animal careens down the side of what seems to be an almost vertical cliff. The cliffs seem to get steeper and steeper the farther down you go, leaning to my unprecedented willingness to try to get killed in the Middle East. But I would not have had it any other way.
Explore at the top!
After passing many little stalls selling jewelry and trinkets and crossing over dangerous precipices, you'll arrive at the top. Around the bend, you'll see the monastery, grandiose and lonely in the morning light. I honestly wish I would have stayed longer and got some better pictures, but at the time of this adventure I wasn't thinking about photography or blogging, but rather experiencing. Regardless, make sure to climb the nearby rocks and get a far away shot of this beautiful structure!
Be willing to Say “No”
You'll find that people are trying to sell you a ton of things when you get to Petra (or anywhere in Jordan for that matter), but be wise. A lot of what they are trying to sell you is not what they claim. Chances are they are not selling actual silver or gold. Chances are those are not actually historical items but replicas. Chances are you're getting a really bad price. If you really do want something, by all means, indulge and just accept you'll never get the "locals" price. It's something you just have to get used to in crowded touristy areas or markets, the art of saying, "no." Sometimes the art of saying "no" is gentle and calm, and other times it will take a firm and abrupt "no" to get the job done. It will all depend on the situation, but don't feel like you're being rude if you don't want to buy something that's being thrust into your path. Also do not accept anything they try to put in your hands (this should apply for any country), because once it's in your hand, they'll require you to buy it or claim that you were trying to steal the item -- so just be wary.
Have any other suggestions for a trip to Petra? Let us know by commenting below!