One of my favourite days in Jordan was the day we started with a private half day tour of Petra and ended with a star gazing show in Wadi Rum desert. It was a day filled to the brim with absolutely jaw dropping moments like exploring Petra on foot, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and then, Wadi Rum by jeep, the famous beautiful red desert. In future blogs, I will discuss our time in Wadi Rum and all of our amazing experiences that we had. For now, I only want to talk about our Petra half day tour.
Petra was stunningly beautiful and far surpassed my expectations. Quite frankly, it blew me away by the magnificent natural beauty, the unbelievable artistry of the ruins, the enormous size of it, and the untouched and authentic feel to the grounds.
My family of 6 – four children aged 14 – 21 years old – only had 6 nights/6 days in Jordan. Jordan is a small country and it is possible to see a lot in six days. And boy did we! I worked with a local tour company, Jordan Direct Tours, who helped me create an amazing itinerary for our family. I couldn’t wait to do everything that we had planned. However, a small country with lots of opportunity to do a lot could lead to creating an itinerary with too much. I didn’t want to do that either. I didn’t want to fill our time with so much that every experience was lacking or felt rushed. Accordingly, was a Petra half day tour enough time? For us, it was. Here’s why.
Brief History of Petra
Petra Jordan was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom from 6th century BC. It was chosen as a centre of trade for a number of reasons:
- It was a cross road. Petra was well positioned in the trade routes between the Arabian and the Mediterranean Seas, and Egypt and Syria.
- There was lots of water. Our local guide told us that at least 26 natural water springs supply the area.
- The mountains provided natural defensive advantages, such as outlook points and obstacles to successfully attack them.
Little else is known of the Nabataens except that they were nomadic, very business minded and incredibly wealthy.
Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Most of what you see at Petra was built by the Romans. Petra continued to flourish until an earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water systems in 749 BC. After that, Petra was largely abandoned.
Other than the local Bedouins, people forgot about the ruins. They remained hidden to the world until the 19th century when they were “discovered” by a Swiss explorer. In 1929, the first major excavation of the site occurred.
Where we stayed in Petra
The hotel was exquisitely situated. It was perched above Wadi Musa, looking over the Shahara Mountains, and around 1.9 km away from the entrance to Petra. It was not walking distance. However, that was far from being a negative. The town was very busy with narrow windy and busy roads that were built prior to modern demands on the town. Consequently, I liked being away from the hustle and bustle of it. On the plus side, the hotel provided shuttles to the Petra Visitor Centre, the entrance to Petra.
We really liked the hotel. It felt connected to the landscape with large rooms furnished to highlight local culture and handicrafts. In addition, the staff was very kind and helpful.
Petra Half Day Tour
Our 2 hour private tour of Petra began the following day at 7:30 am. Our driver dropped us off at the Petra Visitor Centre and introduced us to our guide.
As discussed earlier, we only had the morning to explore Petra. Our day was jam packed. After our tour, we had to meet our driver, drive approximately 2 hours from Petra to Wadi Rum by mid afternoon, so that we could take our 3 hour sunset jeep tour in the desert. I knew from my research that a Petra half day tour was barely enough time to scratch the surface. However, I decided that this would have to be enough. In the end, I was happy with my decision. I would have loved more time, but I was happy under the circumstances for a few reasons.
1. Our guide was amazing on our Petra half day tour.
Our guide was lovely. He had excellent English, was very personable, and had many, many historical facts and anecdotal tidbits that kept all of us engaged for our whole tour. He knew that our time to explore Petra was very limited. We walked quickly and covered a lot of ground. Petra was very quiet during our tour, with only a handful of tourists exploring while we were there. Regardless, our guide led us away from the normal tourist path. We climbed, scampered up rocks, and looked at breathtaking ruins from many different view points. We absolutely loved our tour and our time there. At the end of our guided tour, he gave us a few more suggestions about what we could do in the time that we had left. Those suggestions ended up being very helpful.
2. Our family remained engaged on our Petra half day tour.
A two hour private tour followed by an hour or so of touring on our own was enough time for our family. I had to balance seeing and learning about “everything” in Petra with what my kids could happily tolerate. A half day in Petra was a reasonable compromise and it worked.
3. The weather and crowds were manageable.
We started our Petra Jordan private tour around 7:30 am. The weather was warm and very pleasant. However, by the end of our Petra half day tour, it was already beginning to get very hot and unpleasant. By 11:00 am, as we were making our way to the exit, it was hot! Accordingly, even if we had more time to explore Petra, we would not have lasted too much longer.
Similarly, at the beginning of our tour, there was only a handful of tourists wherever we explored. We had the benefit of being able to take some spectacular photos of sites with hardly another soul in sight. However, by mid to late morning, Petra was busy. We would not have had the same luck.
4. We had visited Petra by night the evening before.
The night before we had our Petra half day tour, we visited Petra by night. The experience was beautiful and magical.
At 8:30 pm on certain weekdays, visitors can walk 2.4 km (1.5 mile) from the entrance of Petra to the Treasury along a path that is lit up by hundreds of candles. Once you arrive, you sit on mats, are served tea and listen to live music – “the show”. Once that is over, you walk back the exact way you came. You do not go beyond the Treasury and explore more of Petra. That is only allowed during the day. For more information and tips for making this an exceptional experience, please refer to my article Petra By Night: Tips For An Amazing Experience.
We loved Petra by night. I think that our evening visit to Petra was an important component to why I felt that our half day tour of Petra the following day was enough time for our family. Even though we walked in darkness, with only candles and the moon lighting our way, we were still able to see a lot of the natural beauty of Petra and some archaeological sites, like the Treasury.
Exploring Petra On Our Half Day Tour
I spent most of my time in Petra completely awestruck by what I saw. It was stunningly beautiful almost everywhere we looked.
The first thing that I noticed was that we were completely surrounded by pink. The sand, the craggy rocks, and honey-combed mountains were all different shades of pink. In fact, Petra is commonly referred to as the “Pink City”.
As we walked and walked, the next thing that struck me was just how huge Petra is. Although there are mountains everywhere, it felt spread out and open. The only exception was the Siq, a 1.2 km narrow and windy path in a gorge that was naturally carved between two mountains. This was and still is the main entrance to Petra.
Finally, over thousands of acres, and scattered here and there in the enormous rocky faces, are hand carved caves, temples and tombs. So, one moment you are walking admiring the natural beauty of your surroundings and then the next, you stumble upon a work of art etched into the stone that is normally several stories tall.
What we accomplished in our Petra half day tour.
Notwithstanding we had limited time, we managed to walk on foot and see the following:
- Entrance to the Siq
- Street of Facades
- Royal Tombs
- Colonnaded Street; and
This included climbing up into the mountains, looking into caves and seeing the ruins from many unique perspectives.
Important tips for touring Petra
Here are some travel tips to make the most out of your time exploring Petra.
1. If you want a private guide, you will need to hire one for Petra notwithstanding you may have your own driver and guide. Many important sites in Jordan require you to hire a local guide. The purpose is twofold. First, it helps to distribute the wealth that tourism brings to Jordan. Rather than have all the tourist dollars go to one driver or guide for a group of tourists on a road trip like ours, tourism dollars are spread out more fairly. Second, it allows specialization. The different guides that we had in Jerash and Petra were incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the site. They also knew about hidden viewpoints or special paths that took us away from crowded tourist spots.
2. However, you do not need to hire a tour guide at all. I saw lots of people wandering about on their own or with a guide book in hand. However, I would highly recommend one for a couple of reasons.
- First, as I said, the guide will take you to places that you won’t know about or wouldn’t find without a lot of research.
- Second, we wanted to see as much as we could within our two hours. We didn’t have time to explore on our own after. Our guide was able to show us everything that we wanted to see, with spectacular viewpoints along the way, very quickly and efficiently within our timeframe.
- Third, there are services like horseback riding or sitting in a gladiator style horse and carriage at various points between the Petra Visitor Centre and the ruins of Petra. It looked like people without guides were being a harassed a little bit by people offering these services. We were left alone with our guide.
Timing and expectations
3. You should arrive early. There was very little shade and the afternoon sun was very hot. Also, there are less crowds earlier in the day. Passengers from cruise ships docking in the Red Sea, approximately 2 1/2 hours away, may arrive late morning.
4. The main path is largely wide open, mostly flat (with some incline as you exit the Siq), and generally level. There aren’t any dangerous drops or obstacles. I would be unconcerned with bringing young children provided they can walk for long distances. However, it is a little uneven with small crushed rocks. Generally, people with decent mobility should not have any problems walking on the path, but I would recommend a walking stick if you think you need a little bit of support.
5. You are free to climb all over the rocks and ledges in Petra. Some are very high. None of them had any guard rails or warning signs. I would be very careful taking young children or anyone that lacks attention off the main path.
Mobility Issues and what you should wear
6. You should wear running shoes, hiking shoes, or anything flat with good support. As I said, it is a long walk and if you want to climb up rocks to see ruins or beautiful views, you need proper shoes.
7. Like any place that is hot and sunny, you should bring water, wear a hat or scarf and put on lots of sunscreen. These are available for purchase at the entrance to Petra, and in a few other spots inside Petra, although they were more expensive than normal. when we were there.
8. For those who have mobility issues, are concerned about the sun, or have young children unable to walk long distances, there is horseback and camel riding, or horse and covered cart rides available for rent. They are offered all over Petra in case you refuse one and then, change your mind. Bring cash as they do not accept credit cards. Be prepared to negotiate and ultimately, expect these services to be expensive.
Our Petra half day tour was very successful. We loved it and our time exploring Petra. Notwithstanding the time constraint, we explored many key areas of Petra, climbed up and into rocky caves and ruins, and saw beautiful views. In a perfect world, I would have liked more time. However, once the heat and the crowds arrived late morning, it would have been far less enjoyable to do anymore exploring.
My kids stayed engaged and enthusiastic throughout our whole time exploring Petra. In my opinion, that is far better than everyone dragging their feet and complaining because the day was too long, hot and busy. For anyone that is trying to pack their Jordanian itinerary with as much as they can, or is concerned that they or their family do not have the wherewithal to spend all day exploring Petra, rest assured. A Petra half day tour can be an excellent decision.
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