Jordan : Petra and Petra Only
Aside from our flight being delayed a couple times, and Royal Jordanian not seeming to know much about it, getting from Cairo to Amman was super quick and easy. They even gave us some food on the short (a tad over an hour) flight, which we were not expecting since we had flown on budget airlines so often. Before we knew it, we were landing in Amman, stoked for a new adventure, but exhausted since it was now closing in on 1am.
VISA ON ARRIVAL
The only place I’d ever been (besides Egypt) that did visa on arrival was Cambodia. But there, we were able to fill out the visa form and get approved ahead of time, so while everyone on that flight was filling out visa cards, Caitlin and I were halfway to Angkor Wat. So it was rad.
Jordan, however, doesn’t allow that (to my knowledge anyways), so when we arrived, we had to fill out a form for a visa. We saw several notices onboard saying they did not accept credit cards, so I immediately exchanged cash and got HORRIBLY ripped off with the bad rate/convenience charge/whatever else…only to get to the visa counter and see that they take credit cards. Live and learn. But know this: Jordan is bloody expensive. Especially after coming from Egypt, it is brutally expensive. The visa is expensive, food is expensive, the Jordanian dollar is expensive, Petra is expensive…you get the point.
THE RENTAL CAR
We chose to rent our car from Sixt, the same company we’d used and loved in Iceland. They were by far the cheapest rate we could find, and they seemed to be the only 24/7 location we could find in Amman. We had planned on arriving somewhere near 11pm, so I’m glad we chose a 24/7 place since it was now around 1am when we actually showed up.
Getting the car was super fast and easy. We had chosen to pay a bit extra for an automatic transmission, since Caitlin didn’t feel comfortable driving a manual, especially in a place we’d never been. Within a few minutes, we were on the road, and I was driving, PETRAfied (pun intended, c’mon guys that was a good one) that the traffic was going to be like Cairo. I told Caitlin if it was indeed like Cairo driving, she would need to shut her eyes and I would drive like a crazy person to try and fit in.
I feel like in the USA, at least where we are in Utah, things are quickly becoming more 24/7 than ever before. Sometimes I go out on drives at weird hours and I’m always surprised how many people are out at those times. We have 2 grocery stores within 10 minutes of our house that are open all night. So I guess I was expecting that in Amman for some reason, and was bracing for the chaotic traffic of Egypt. Luckily, that turned out to be far from the case.
In fact, from our drive in Amman to the hotel, it seemed like we only passed one or 2 cars. The roads were incredibly empty. It was cool passing exit signs pointing to the Saudi Arabia and Iraq borders, but I was a bit nervous that I’d somehow end up there by mistake. Which brings me to my next point:
GPS: AWFUL DECISION
Jordan was the only country on our trip (Netherlands, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, France) where T-Mobile’s data and texting was not free. So, since we couldn’t use our Google Maps via phone, we paid something like $7 to rent a GPS from Sixt. Bad mistake. The GPS was incredibly useless, as it was always updating or rerouting or whatever. It probably led us astray more times than if we just guessed where to go. It would get us approximately on the right route, then get confused and tell us to take nonexistent exits or ramps or to pull the wrong way onto a one-way street. So it would be my recommendation, at least with Sixt, to skip the GPS. But it’s your call.
AMMAN PASHA HOTEL
Now, when I say what I’m going to say, I want to make something clear: I never want to hurt someone’s business. It seems this hotel is owned by an individual (based on the signs on the walls, etc.) and I certainly don’t want to badmouth his work. I know how that feels, unfortunately. But I also want to give my honest assessment of the places we’ve been to help my reader (hi, mom) make an informed decision. So here goes:
The Amman Pasha hotel (once again booked using our Hotels.com gift card) had pretty good ratings online. The location wasn’t too far from the airport, people seemed to love it, it had free parking, and provided breakfast. Check mate. The price was decent at $40 USD per night, and Caitlin and I have very modest expectations. We don’t stay in ritzy places, as you can tell by now.
But this hotel just wasn’t my forte. I loved the rooftop lounge (chairs, hippies, musicians) and the fact it had strong Wi-Fi there. I especially loved the animals there. There were heaps of bunnies, baby bunnies, birds, a couple turtles, a mom and baby duck, and a couple cats. It was lots of fun to have them around while we ate and while I worked. That was my favorite part of the hotel. The guy behind the desk was very nice too, and answered all my questions.
The room itself was meh. It was 2 twin beds, not unlike our Egypt hotel, but these were much less comfortable. The bathroom was beyond small and when we showered, it drenched the floor, which makes for a miserable bathroom stop at 2am when you sleepwalk to the toilet and get wet socks. The toilet took quite a while to fill up, so we had to wait for one person to go, then 10 minutes (or so), then the other person.
Parking was just out on the street on the curb, and it was very hard to come by. The guy at the front was really cool and said to leave him the key and he would take care of it, which he did. So no issues there.
Breakfast? That was an issue. We had planned to eat at the hotel and then again at Petra. I specifically booked a place with breakfast to save us some time, and when we got downstairs it was…missing? There was a mostly-gone pitcher of milk and some cold falafel pieces…and nothing else. I actually wondered if we had missed it, but no, that was it.
Lastly, the Wi-Fi only worked on the ground floor and the roof. Again, no major sin, but it was lame to have to go elsewhere to get my work done, especially when I had to do a few things upon arrival since our phones were out of commission. It was close to 2am and I just wanted to sleep, not trudge down to the lobby to send emails.
But alas! Nothing about the hotel was too horribly wrong. We just didn’t love it, and would probably stay elsewhere if we could do it again. I only pass along that info for you to make your own judgments.
AMMAN TRAFFIC IN THE DAYTIME
So I drove late night, and it was no big deal. The daytime, however, was a different story. It was nothing compared to Cairo, but as I mentioned, our GPS was pure rubbish, and the chaos was strong with the traffic.
Caitlin was driving, and the similarities to Egypt were definitely there. People pushed through red lights, honked at each other for who knows what, and made as many lanes as they felt like. That, combined with our GPS continually rerouting/thinking made for a tense and not-fun drive. Caitlin was driving and was pretty nervous, but once we got out on the highway, it was wide open and much easier to drive.
Maybe I’ve seen too many movies (I hate movies) or read too many news stories, but I was a bit freaked out by all the wide-open desert we drove through. A lot of the drive to Petra is very desolate, and I was convinced that there were terrorists out there waiting for us to break down. Even when we needed gas, I was too scared to stop until we hit a bigger town. Paranoid? Probably.
I’m not going to do a step-by-step of Petra, because there’s heaps of better and cooler websites that do that. I am going to tell you some tips that would have or did help us. But first things first: Petra rules.
Again, like Egypt, it was hot. So bloody hot. Like, bone-meltingly, seeing-mirages hot. Unlike Egypt, however, Petra has lots of shade, as a big part of the walk is through a slot canyon. If you’ve been to Zion National Park in Utah, you may find Petra feeling familiar. In my opinion, it was not unlike the Narrows hike.
Before we made the decision to hit Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, Caitlin and I thought we might only be able to do either Egypt or Jordan but not both. My thinking was we’ll probably never go back to the Middle East, so let’s do ‘em all. Caitlin’s view was that it would be too rushed (and, after looking at the cost of Jordan, too expensive) and we should choose one or the other. I, having no idea what Petra was besides a stone building or something, was dead set on Egypt. After all, we spent months in elementary school learning about the ancient Egyptians. If Petra was so important, why didn’t we learn about that?
Caitlin, being the smart and beautiful one, kept insisting we couldn’t miss Petra. So I gave in and gave up on my dreams on Egypt. (I should note, a busload of Coptic Christians had been murdered recently in Egypt, and that, among other things we’d heard about Egypt, made Caitlin nervous about Egypt). In the end, after talking to someone from Egypt she knew, Caitlin came around to the idea of Egypt, I came around to the idea of Jordan, we called Delta and paid lots of Skymiles to extend our trip, and we made time to do both.
Anyways, most of you will at least know Petra from Indiana Jones. I hate movies, so I haven’t even seen that. I knew nothing about Petra. NOTHING. So even though we’d already spent tons of money on everything Jordan so far, when they told me a tour guide was only $50 AND they accepted credit cards, I was sold. Hence, we met Mahdi
Mahdi THE TOUR GUIDE
Having Mahdi was cool for a few reasons. First, he taught us lots about Petra and Jordan in general. I had all sorts of questions about the culture, religion, food, and everything else, and it was fun asking and learning so much.
(PS…if you want to book Mahdi, who does all sorts of cool desert tours and other stuff through the Middle East, you can reach him on Whatsapp at +962 7 9558 2783 or his website gojordantours.com. I am not getting any compensation, just want to pass along as a resource).
But the biggest reason it was worth $50 is he hooked us up with cool kids (and yes, I mean kids) who led our donkeys/mules/whatever they were up the insanely steep stairs to the monastery, probably the coolest point of Petra. Basically, our tour guide helped us avoid being hustled, as happened in Egypt.
He negotiated the rate for the donkeys (another $40 or so USD) and told us upfront we could tip if we wanted but we didn’t have to. We did, of course, and along the route, probably 5 of these kids’ friends told us, “Hey, tip these guys!” in perfect English. In 100-degree heat and already super sore from walking the Great Pyramid the day before, the donkeys were SO SO SO worth the money!
Mahdi was telling us, as we walked through the slot canyon, how the Treasury is the most famous part of Petra but there’s so much more to see, Petra is more than just the Treasury, etc. He actually almost talked it down, like “Yeah it’s cool but there’s better stuff.” So I guess, since I had no expectations or knowledge, I was expecting it to be meh. And how wrong I was.
Basically, seeing the Treasury was one of the coolest experiences of my life. It IS all it’s cracked up to be, and more. It’s incredible and hard to describe. It’s hard to imagine how it was carved out of stone, and, for lack of a better term, seems surreal. It’s also a really fun atmosphere, as there’s a giant sandy area where tourists and locals are taking photos, bargaining for stuff, eating, chilling out, and lots of animals like donkeys and camels for rent. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done and that experience alone made Petra, expensive as it was, worth it for me.
Mahdi also told us a story that soldiers (don’t remember what war or any details) thought the big carved vase at the top of the Treasury contained gold, and actually shot machine guns at it. I have no idea if that story is true, but there were several what looked to be bullet holes in it. Crazy stuff.
THE ROAD TO THE MONASTERY
After taking us to a few more sites and to a shop for lunch and ice cream, Mahdi introduced us to our tour guide children. I can’t remember their names (one was Ali, I think), but these kids were dope. They were 8 and 11 years old, and out of school for the summer. It was so much fun sitting on our beasts of burden, talking to these Jordanian kids about school, girls, food, life in general, and having them teach us Arabic. It was another one of those introspective moments where I was like, “This isn’t my life…this is way too cool to be my life right now.” Just so much fun and an experience that would be hard to replicate elsewhere.
It was nice to cover the distance quickly, but I hadn’t seen any steep stairs so I was wondering if these donkeys would be worth the money. And then…boom. Staircase. After staircase. After…well, you get the point.
If you’ve ever done Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, you’ll remember the Walter’s Wiggles part of the hike, near the top where it’s a bunch of steep zigzagging staircases, right? The Monastery stairs are like that but MUCH steeper and MUCH more of them. It looked neverending and I was suddenly really grateful for my beautiful steed.
Speaking of, it got a bit sketchy a few times. I am not exactly a cowboy, having ridden horses something like 5 times in my life. With no training or direction, we got up on these animals and let little kids direct us and them, which was generally fine. Until it wasn’t. A couple times, both going up and down the Monastery stairs, I started leaning way up on the donkey’s neck, to the point I thought I might fall off. And to my right was a massive drop-off, probably fatal. Obviously, I didn’t fall either time, but it was enough to make me a bit nervous and later wonder if that was the smartest choice. Oh well, c’est la vie!
As you go up the stairs, there’s lots of people selling souvenirs and drinks and other such stuff. One of the few things I hate about travel (besides the boring plane/train/automobile rides) is having to constantly say no. For one, often times people selling things like this are persistent and make you feel like a schmuck for saying no. And secondly, it makes you realize how lucky you are to do whatever it is you do wherever you’re doing it, because at least you’re not sitting in hundred-degree heat trying to sell stuff for $1. So I felt bad saying no so often but we eventually did stop for a lukewarm Red Bull and bought our guides drinks…which they promptly fed to the animals. Live and learn, I guess.
THE VIEW FROM THE MONASTERY
Yes, this subtitle is a subtle nod to Artic Monkeys, thanks for noticing.
At the top, you get some incredible views. I hesitate to call it beautiful, because it’s kinda desert-y and dry and dusty, but it is a different kind of beauty. The Monastery itself is incredible, much like the Treasury, just a gorgeous façade carved into the rock wall. I say this in every post, but I have run out of words which describe how awesome these places are. Needless to say, it’s worth visiting, and Caitlin and I loved it. Sitting at the top, on the edge of the cliff, overlooking these vast desert plains, I was pretty stoked. Tired? Yes. Burning up? Yes. More sore than I’ve ever been? Yes. But also feeling super lucky to be doing this crazy stuff.
THE WAY BACK DOWN
As mentioned, the trip down got a bit sketchy once or twice. We actually walked down lots of the stairs because the animals couldn’t go down with us on them, and when we rode them down, I wished I hadn’t. But we made it, and to have a ride all the way back to the Treasury was so worth it.
Just as an aside, I’ve read elsewhere that some of these animals are not treated well. Although I didn’t see anything blatantly abusive, it seemed clear that the people see the animals more as property than living things. We didn’t see anything cruel, but we did feel a bit bad when the kids would slap the donkeys with a stick to get them going. I made sure to give my donkey lots of pets (he/she loved it) and, as mentioned, they each got a Sprite…
TIPS, THE TREASURY, AND OUT OF PETRA
As mentioned, we knew we could tip, and we figured it was expected, so we did. I think we gave the kids each $10 Jordanian, which was about $14 USD each. But before we did, as we were getting off the donkeys, they asked for a tip, which in American culture felt a bit weird, but no worries. Then, as we walked back, we had 2 different people (the kids’ friends or family, I suppose) ask us if we tipped them and how much. It was a bit uncomfortable, but no biggie.
By this time, the sun was starting to set and it gave all of Petra this cool red glow. We sat at the Treasury again and just marveled. I know how cheesy it sounds, but it’s true, Caitlin and I kept telling each other how unbelievable it was and what a cool day we’d had. If you can see Petra at sunset, do it because it’s gorgeous.
Walking out felt tedious. We were so hot and tired and sore and knew we still had a 3-4 hour drive ahead. The road out of Petra seemed like it took forever, but we finally got back to the car, got gas (it was like $60 USD, but that covered the whole trip), and headed home.
THE DRIVE HOME
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, driving home sucked. Aside from being tired and nervous driving through the Jordan desert, the roads were a bit weird. There wasn’t a ton of traffic, which was nice, but the highways would go through large stretches without any lighting. I would put the car brights on until another car came into view, at which point it felt like I couldn’t see anything.
Then, at one point, the highway lane I was in abruptly ended and became a median…with no warning. Luckily, I was able to swerve since nobody was in the lane next to me, but it was terrifying. Just be aware.
Lastly, the drive seems like it takes forever. We had brought food in the car but ate it quickly and were so hungry, so thirsty, so tired, so sore, and so ready to be at our hotel. The 4 hour drive seemed more like 40, but it was still worth it. I think a big part of the feeling was knowing that as soon as we got back, we would try and sleep for a couple hours and immediately catch a flight to Israel, so we knew we had lots of rushed stuff coming and were kinda dreading it. Nonetheless, despite my complainings, we got to the hotel, slept soundly, made it to the airport early (4am) the next morning, returned the car, and boarded our flight to Israel.
Petra is rad. I am so glad we went, even though it was a very expensive day and a half. I think I still enjoyed the Pyramids a bit more, but Caitlin liked Petra more. If you’re in the Middle East, I think it’s totally worth it to go. Driving from Amman to Petra wasn’t super fun, particularly the drive home, so if you have a couple days it might make sense to stay in the town near Petra, which looks really cool. Also, if you only stay in Jordan 1 day, the visa and Petra ticket are way more expensive, so it might be worth it to stay 1 extra night like we did to avoid those fees. All up, it was awesome and I’m incredibly happy Caitlin made us go.
Before you go to our Israel post, let us know in the comments: What did we miss in Jordan? Is there stuff worth seeing outside of Petra? Hit us in the comments or send us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.