Emerging from the canyon path and laying eyes on the Treasury Building of Petra is a truly memorable experience. The ancient city in Jordan dates back over a thousand years, famous for it's beauty and history...not to mention it's prime placement on just about everyone's travel bucket list!
But the experience depends on a few crucial factors. After experiencing Petra for one day this past June, I offer a few pieces of advice to make sure your dream doesn't turn into a nightmare.
What Exactly Is Petra Anyways?
Before I fill you in on the details let's cover the basics. Petra is an ancient city most famously known for the iconic Treasury Building. The city is carved into well-preserved sandstone and remains a UNESCO World Heritage site today.
Expect to walk several miles through waving narrow canyons that were once flooded to reach the main "city center." If you opt out of walking, horse drawn carriages and camels are always an option!
Although people come for the Treasury building, I was equally blown away by the city homes that remained intact. This rock-cut metropolis is extremely vast.
Petra is located in the Ma'an district of Jordan towards the southern end of the friendly, Middle Eastern country. In order to get to there you would need to fly into the country's capital, Amman. From here, the drive is roughly 3 hours along a well-paved highway.
You have three options for the drive: public bus, hiring/renting a private car, or arranging a private tour. We opted for the latter and it consisted of a driver and Petra tour guide. While the driver spoke English well, our Petra guide did not - I could barely understand him. In hindsight, I would only spend money on the driver. You receive a local cell phone, so contacting him is no issue. Plus you get to stay on your own schedule.
We spent two nights in Amman, wrapped around our day trip to Petra and the Dead Sea. Side note: The Dead Sea was AWESOME and I would highly suggest it, although it makes for a long day if you combine with Petra. But if you are on a tight schedule - like we were - opt for the mega-day and do both.
But back to Petra. There are tons of hotels in Amman that are fairly inexpensive. For safety concerns (it was my first time in the Middle East), we chose Le Meridien and thought it was good; although nothing special. Petra and the Dead Sea also have many hotels, if you would rather stay close to the attractions.
What To Expect
First and foremost, one of the coolest things you will ever see. The Treasury Building of Petra is magical and the Middle Eastern culture fascinating. There is no way you won't feel truly faraway here.
But prepare yourself! It will be really hot, you will be walking a lot, and your shoes will get dirty. Much of the walk is in the blazing sun so also wear a hat and natural sunscreen to stay protected. Other than that, enjoy the unique beauty of Petra and all it's history!
FUN TIP: Ask a vendor for a sampling of different essential oils and scents! Frankincense and Myrrh are commonly used as ancient healing remedies in Jordan. Their bright colors displayed in ornate boxes remind me of Middle Eastern treasures.
When To Go
Jordan gets very hot in the warm season so it is best to aim for spring before the dead summer heat. Weather averages for May are around 80 degrees Fahrenheit so this time would be ideal. I travelled in June and it was so hot! As a female traveller this is especially brutal because you have to be so fully covered. The hills around the country side are supposedly green in early spring but were pure brown when we were there - one more reason to beat the dry heat.
One other note on this: try to get to Petra as early in the morning as possible, both for weather and tourist purposes. We left our hotel at 5:30am and I still wished we left earlier. Walking through the canyon path and emerging upon the Treasury building is a once in a lifetime experience - an experience that can be jaded by scorching heat or herds of people.
FUN TIP: Ask your driver to stop at one of these many coffee shops along the road. The incredible Jordanian coffee is Turkish style but roasted with fresh cardamon - yum!
What To Wear
Traditional head wraps are worn by Jordanian women and I would highly recommend these in Amman. It is not against the law to have your head, arms, and legs exposed but expect vicious stares if you decide not to cover up.
While I do not respect cultures that suppress women in any way (or promote gender inequality), I am not well-adversed enough in the culture to speak on it. Having said that, I covered myself with a head wrap while in Amman to avoid uncomfortable looks. This also goes for my arms and legs.
In Petra and the Dead Sea, no head wrap was needed and many tourists even wore mini shorts. Here, I still would recommend keeping skin exposure to a minimum by covering your knees and shoulders sans the traditional head wrap.