I took the opportunity on my recent trip to Israel to suggest a trip to Petra in Jordan. Luckily for me, Alen was game and we set up a day trip to the historical site. It was going to be a long day but I figured it would be sort of something I only attempt once in my life and we had the time to do it.
Petra, the Destination
For those who are more interested in the destination over the journey, let me talk about Petra. Petra is a city carved into pink coloured stone. Arriving a Petra you are greeted by heat and a visitor centre. The tour had all the tickets arranged and we entered into the site. Passing by the gift shops you start your 1.2km journey through a gorge into the city that was carved years ago by water.
The first thing you notice are the horses... and the smell of their poop. It is hot. There is very little wind. Tourism is the money maker and there are locals trying to sell you horse rides. The horse rides don’t even take you fully into the city, you can only go so far before you have to walk. Not only are there horses to ride, but there are chariots with drivers pulled by horses. These go right to the Treasury, the focal point of the visit. The chariots actually looked like hell... as soon as you hit the large cobblestones you can just see the teeth and bones chattering of the older folk who paid for the chariot ride down and up. Apparently the ride costs about $70 USD. It was hot, but I would rather walk.
When you make it to the gorge after about 700 metres, the walk down is quite beautiful. There is a bit of wind and shade and the pink coloured sandstone is quite lovely. The guide would stop frequently and fill us in on some of the history of the area and maybe some carvings that we were passing.
The most famous part of Petra and the one you are probably familiar with is the Treasury. It is a massive structure that reveals itself at the end of the gorge. It is surrounded by tourists, a few gift shops and some camels that are for hire for picture opportunities. The structure is quite breathtaking and detailed. You can’t go into it, it is more of a visual experience and Instagram opportunity. People climb up the rocks opposite to try and get better photos also. We did not ride a camel, nor did we climb any rocks. We were already hot and sweaty from the 45 minute or so walk from the visitor centre.
Petra is actually huge. The entire area is actually 264 square kilometres. If you spend more than just the 4 hours that we had, I’m sure there was much to explore. We did continue past the Treasury and into an more open area that had an amphitheater and more caves carved into the stone.
After some short exploration we made our way, tired, sweaty and hot back through the gorge past the horse poop up to the gift shop area. We found a nicely air conditioned restaurant for some eats, but even better we figured out that the visitor centre bathrooms which were disgusting could be easily bypassed for the toilets at the museum which were freely accessible.
Overall the city is beautiful and and definitely glad that I was able to experience, I don’t think I need to go back anytime soon, it is more like a once in a lifetime sort of visit. The journey was an adventure...
We booked through Tourist Israel. I didn’t do much research, but it seemed reputable, it had availability, and it was easy to book. The tour cost $299 USD for the one day tour per person. That included entry into Petra which was about $70 USD but it didn’t include the border fees, more on that later.
Call time was 3AM. We woke at 2AM, got ready, hopped on a scooter and made our way to the meeting point. The first bus trip was comfortable on a half full bus with good air conditioning. We were tired so of course it was an easy ride... our first 4 hour bus ride to Elat, the southernmost tip of Israel that borders Jordan.
The bus stopped just after 6AM at a roadside location, which at that early hour seemed deserted. It was a convenience store / kiddie ride / rooster habitat / and some sort of zoo. It was sunrise so it did make for some pretty pictures.
Our next stop was the border crossing to Jordan. This was quite a process. First we had to wait for the tour staff to get our Israeli border fee of $60 USD. Credit card or cash. We exited the bus and met up with those coming from Elat or those bougie people that got private transport to the border. We were all one now. They gave us instructions since the Israel tour group does not cross with us. We then had to scan our passports to exit Israel. We were done with Israel. Shalom.
We then walked across the border which was maybe 300m. We were then in Jordan. As-salam alaykom Jordan.
We then had to go through security on the Jordan side. We were taken to an outdoor cafe, which sounds more luxurious than it is, and had to wait for everyone to get across. Payment was required, another $60 for Jordan Border Fee, which was cash only. Alen with his Israeli passport, got to skip that payment. We then waited for all the day trip folks to pay again. We then had to go through passport control and stand in another line. After our group was done we were finally able to head to the bus. We think we spent about 2 hours at the border in total. We left about 9:45.
We then departed with our day trip travellers on another bus and our new Jordanian Tour Guide. He was a friendly guide despite his use of repeat jokes... Have a break, have a Kit Kat.
The drive to Petra was about 2.5 hours with a stop at a gift store, cafe, bathroom break about 40 minutes out from Petra. We also had to stop just before we parked to pick up our boxed lunch. Out of the bus, grab our lunch, get on the bus and continue to the parking lot. We finally arrived at the parking and visitor centre at 12:15pm. This was 9.5 hours or so after leaving the apartment.
Lunch was interesting. The bags, not boxes, were randomly packaged. Some fruit that may include a tomato (that you were to eat like an apple), an apple, banana, Israeli cucumber, chip that looked like noodles, and packages of cookies. Alen didn’t get the same as me. I avoided the fruit... I didn’t want to suffer any unclean food poisoning like Brad did from grapes at a hotel in Shanghai. We had long bus rides to get home!
We had to be back on the bus at 4:30pm to start the journey home.
Starting the bus ride home was quite miserable. It was hot, the bus was full with some travellers that were wrapping up multi day visits. The air conditioning was not doing its job and the road was incredibly windy... the fact that we were tired and hot was also an issue.
The ride back to the border seemed much longer including a stop once again at a cafe / gift shop. When we got to the border it was dark and close to 7PM. We had been pre warned that we needed to be through the Israeli side by 8PM because they close at 8PM sharp. We were tired but we made it through. We had to exit Jordan, walk across and go to passport control in Israel. I made it through with no problem but some other folks got grilled by Israeli border agents. One guy who was just visiting Egypt had to unlock his phone and show him all his photos. I just had to give my dad’s first name.
So back on the bus we were, the same bus from the morning with strong air conditioning but we didn’t get our own row this time. What seemed like forever, we arrived where we started at 12:30. We were home just after one after a cool scooter ride along the beach.
Jordan is much more liberal than many of the other middle eastern countries. The tour guide actually gave a little speech at the end letting us know the the people of Jordan are not extremists and the people that give them this bad reputation should be shipped to Antarctica.
Plastic, plastic, everywhere. We could have been on the highway in the desert and almost guaranteed I could see plastic bottles everywhere. I understand many of these places may not have running water but it is incredible sad to see so many one time use plastics just laying around. That along with rubber tires that have come off trucks.