What to do in Petra, Jordan

This article is part of my trip report 'Westward bound'. The trip report index will appear below once all posts have been published.

Petra, Jordan is a an old city constructed in 312 BC by the Nabataeans and later conquered by the Romans. It has been abandoned since the 5th century and was rediscovered in the 18th. It played a major role in several movies Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Arabian Nights, Passion in the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Petra is essentially one steep, long canyon which is just wide enough for two horse carts to meet. The canyon which was used as the main entrance then widens and gives way to a plateau which used to house 25,000 people at one point.

The awe-inspiring 'Treasury' was prominently in featured in many movies and is just one of these sights that will last in your memories forever. It apparently was carved out of one massive block of stone. It appears so unexpected after walking through the tight canyon for 30 minutes that it appears almost out of this world.

After that there are a number of tomb sites along the widening walkway. Many feature equally impressive facades and relief work. Most of them are deemed to be used for burial purposes but it's not entirely clear. There is a lot more research to be done and apparently on 10% of the area has been carefully excavated. Once asks himself why is that?

The path leads along towards an ancient temple and (Roman) amphitheater.

I also took the walk uphill towards the 'Mount of sacrifice' which offers vistas towards the West as you climb up 1,000 stairs from the canyon floor towards the canyon's edge.

Just as I left a sandstorm kept rising up and darkening the skies over Petra.

Petra by Night:

I arrived at about 5 PM the day prior and joined the 'Petra by night' tour before taking the daylight tour a day later. It features hundreds of candles along the canyon floor and a concert with traditional Jordanian music. It's quite magical and most times less than 100 people show up. So if you time it right you have all of Petra's charm to yourself with the stars shining above you.

It's 'just' $15 to see it really gave it me a different perspective which I really cherished. Highly recommended!

Annoyances:

There are way too many aggressive horse cart drivers in the area, rushing through tour groups like sheep. Given the tight canyon this gets really annoying.

Crowds can be relentless – try to plan your itinerary around sunrise or 'Petra by night' if possible. Note that dust storms cloud the area frequently in the afternoon, so betting on the sunset view may not be successful.

The entry fee is a steep $70. Probably the highest entry fee I ever paid anywhere. Is it worth it – yes – but still it seem like a ripoff with locals paying just $1.50.

Petra town has some good hotels, notably the Moevenpick directly across the entrance, but the town is mostly ramshackle. It's not dangerous but still feels desolate (as most of Southern Jordan appeared to my first world eyes). So be a bit more alert.

How to get there:

Petra is a bit out of the way for most travels from the US and it's not that easy to get there but it's truly unique monument of human history and should not be missed.

There are organized tours from Eilat, Israel or Amman, Jordan which charge a steep $195 per person.

You can simply rent a car and drive from Amman or Aqaba, Jordan. Note that you can't take your Israeli rental car over the border to Jordan. Prices for rental cars in Jordan are very reasonable. Roads are pretty deserted in Jordan and drivers adhere to the rules quite a bit. So driving through the desert can be fun!