The awe-inspiring carved pink sandstone treasure that is the ancient Nabataean city of Petra is a must-see for dedicated travellers at least once in a lifetime. Jordan is a desert country, with tourism outside the cities and resorts bearing little resemblance to the integrated services and facilities in many other destinations around the warmer regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Away from the capital Amman and larger cities such as Aqaba and the Dead Sea resorts, with luxury hotels in Petra springing up all over, the tale is very different, focusing on the Hashemite kingdom’s nomadic traditions, religion and ancient heritage. Visitors to the remote, mysterious corners of Jordan don’t need to search out adventure tourism options– the trip itself in an adventure from start to finish, with Petra itself its unforgettable heart.
For those travelling on a less than banker-style budget, the luxury hotels now being developed to cope with upscale Petra-bound tourists may not be affordable, but a hotel in Petra set close to or in the adjacent village of Wadi Musa should fit the bill, if carefully chosen. In spite of the many advertised one-day tours to Petra from even distant location, the overwhelming ‘rose-red-city’ needs at least two days’ exploration, making staying nearby a necessity.
Coping with the hot, arid desert climate needs some preparation, mostly involving quantities of water and several packs of rehydration salts, essential after a day wandering around the ancient city. A hat and sunglasses will help prevent heat stroke. Light, covering clothing prevents sunburn but, especially in the winter months, warm coverings and coats are needed at night, as the mercury drops like a stone after sunset. Rainy December and January are best avoided, as the valley can flood without much warning, with guards evacuating visitors at speed by four wheel drive.
Cultural understanding can make the experience far more enjoyable, especially in Petra itself, where bargaining skills are essential. Motorised transport is forbidden in the city and the only ways to get around are on foot, by donkey or by camel. The owners of these traditional Arabian beasts of burden start negotiations at least 50 per cent higher than the acceptable figure and it’s up to you from that point onward! A few friendly words of Arabic is the fastest way to find yourself riding a camel for the very first time, with enough left in your wallet for a trip up the mountain by donkey later in the day!
Most visitors here are relieved to find that alcohol is not forbidden, but may be surprised to find Jordan’s wine-making history goes back to ancient times. Its cuisine is a flavourful mix of Mediterranean and Arabic recipes, with hummus, tabouleh, falafel, lamb kebabs and baba ganoush on every menu along with Jordanian delicacies. Creepy tales of sheeps’ eyeballs or testicles on beds of rice can safely be ignored although a few other unrecognisable body parts may make an occasional appearance.
Culturally speaking, a cup of coffee here is a sign of mutual goodwill if offered and must be seen to be enjoyed, whether decaff or not! The full Bedouin coffee ritual involves three cups of very strong coffee at least the first of which must be drunk. If you can’t take more than one cup, just tip the cup gently from side to side and hand it back. Roadside coffee stalls not only serve great coffee, they’re also a chance to mingle with the locals.
In general, health isn’t a problem here, as most eateries are perfectly safe although street food vendors may not be so fussy in the cleanliness department. The biggest risk to life and limb here is on the roads, but if the worst does occur, Jordan’s hospitals have a fine international reputation and a great deal of experience of traffic-related traumas. Respect, especially for the King and Islam, is a must, with the slight possibility of a visit to local hospital if this custom isn’t adhered to. Jordan is known as a safe country, although normal care should be taken.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Hotels in Petra content.