Petra was one of the most exciting places I have ever visited, but let me assure you: if not carefully planned, it will probably be a lot less exciting and a lot more touristy for you. Lately, a lot of investments have flown into the Petra area: for example the construction of a huge visitor center and a cemented road leading from there all the way to the Petra Treasury (there’s even a parallel path for all the donkeys and horses that carry tourists). I expect tourism to increase strongly in the coming years and much of its magic has been and increasingly will be taken away by the hordes of tourists rushing in and out of Petra Valley. Already today, it’s almost impossible to take a nice photo of the entire Petra Treasury without having other people in it. Almost impossible. This is why in this post, I would like to tell you everything about how I planned my travel to Petra in Jordan and what to consider when going there yourself.
Go as early as possible to Petra (6 a.m.!) and arrange enough time to explore the entire valley – not only the Petra Treasury. My co-traveler Can (@canolcer) and I arrived in Amman at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning, immediately rented our SUV and drove down the empty highway. Already feeling very tired from the flight, we pushed ourselves with loud music and Starbucks coffee that we got at the airport. I sporadically looked at our navigation, but the way to Petra is fairly straight forward: just continue driving straight forward. We hardly saw any other cars or people on the streets and reached Petra city at 5 a.m. without any difficulties, except for a surprise “sandstorm” (very exciting for us Europeans). The newly built Petra Visitor Center was easy to find, but the gate to Petra Valley was closed. We waited for almost an hour until a young man appeared and sold us two entry tickets. Still no other tourists.
At 6 a.m. sharp, we rushed down the path to the Petra Treasury (roughly two kilometers). A few locals were sleeping in their blankets along our way to the Petra Treasury, so we quietly passed by them, trying to avoid any attention. The sun was slowly rising and I was extremely keen on taking some photos in the warm light of the morning sun. It was completely quiet, except for the occasional “Damn it, Can, I told you to stay behind me and get out of the photo!”. I was constantly torn apart between taking a great shot and reaching my goal faster. Suddenly, we had reached the end of the canyon, and I can still vividly remember the moment I first caught a glimpse of the Petra Treasury between the canyon walls. We both quickly forgot the camera and silently marveled at Al-Khazneh, the Petra Treasury.
Time quickly caught up with us, the excitement kicked back in and we started to take photos like crazy. There was nobody else in the entire area: exactly the Indiana-Jones-moment I had hoped for. All souvenir stands were left alone, with many items nicely placed on the tables to serve the tourists that were still sleeping in their beds. We had an amazing head start and I was absolutely thrilled about it. We quickly proceeded further into the valley, not knowing what to expect. But let me tell you already now: what I was about to discover made me forget about the Petra Treasury immediately. Whoever claims to have been to Petra with only having seen the Petra Treasury and the immediate nearby attractions has not been to Petra. It was simply so unreal and excitingly empty. I had no idea where to go, but up is never a bad choice, so we took a turn to the left and proceeded to the top of the mountains.
Once we realized how vast the entire Petra Valley actually was, we decided not to return back down to the Petra Treasury, but follow the paths further up into the mountains. I always felt very safe and we had enough water, so we continued in anticipation of what we would find around the next corner. If only I had known that Petra did not consist only of the famous Petra Treasury, but was actually an entire valley full of other tombs, chambers and carvings! The Petra I have seen is an entire ancient civilization. We found dozens of halls, house-like structures, little monuments, hidden carvings, lion fountains and the most magnificent depositions of sediment. I still get excited only writing about this and it aches me to think about how much more we could have explored Petra by ourselves. At this point, however, it might make sense to mention that I have experienced this entire valley with my co-traveler Can alone – we never met anyone else, although we repeatedly found very old teapots and empty blankets that were spread out like beds. What I’m trying to say is that if we had gone later that day, there might have been more locals and probably other tourists, too. But it didn’t matter, because what counts is the perceived reality and story you make out of it. And that’s what Petra can offer you: a fabulously mysterious valley that anyone can explore in an own, personal way – if you ask for it.
Did you enjoy our Petra adventure so far?
I went into almost every entrance I found, taking tons of photos, always expecting to find some detail that those hundreds of archeologists might have overlooked. And we actually did find quite a lot interesting things. Little faces carved into rocks, piles of hair (probably goat) and many incredibly dark and smelly halls. We always felt alone in the entire Petra Valley, until at one point, I realized that we actually were being watched. I looked up the hill and saw a couple heads looking at us and finally moving around. I was intrigued to pay them a visit, but then we decided to continue through the valley, as they were simply too far up the hill and we were already exhausted, sleep-deprived, felt very hot and got increasingly thirsty. It was definitely time for an iced mint tea, so we walked all the way back to the main attractions and rested in the shades for a moment before we continued with our next adventure that very same afternoon: Wadi Rum, the Red Desert.
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I founded Don't Complain Travel in 2010 with the goal to experience, document and share travel adventures from all over the world. From Zurich, Switzerland.