The opportunity to walk the Siq in almost darkness, to emerge onto a candlelit Treasury, in short to see Petra by night sounds like a must-see activity on any tour to Jordan, but the reality is a little different and not quite as romantic as you might expect. What was probably once a great idea when numbers were small is now little more than overcrowded, underwhelming tourist trap.
The days of spending a night inside the ruins of Petra stopped once UNESCO made the ruins a world heritage site, but some enterprising tour companies set up the Petra by Candlelight tours to give visitors the chance to see the ruins by night. The two hour tours run 3 times a week and consist of a walk from the Visitor Centre down the Siq to the Treasury, where, once everyone has arrived, you sit on the treasury plaza, which is beautifully lit by candles, and listen to musicians and story tellers.
This all sounds fine, but the biggest problem is the sheer numbers of people on the tour. The night we did the tour, there were somewhere between 300 and 500 people on the tour, making it impossible to organise and very difficult for people to appreciate it. I asked one of the guards on the way out what the limit was and he said he no idea.
The Siq and the Treasury do look great by candlelight, but, just like visiting Petra by day, the magic of the place is being lost somewhere in the crowds.
Even if you are not Doctor Jones, riding a horse in Petra could be a great experience. You're not allowed to be alone, and a guide will drive the horse, walking with you.
1st trap: price requested are in the range from 2 to 10 DI for the guide...
2nd trap: Don't pay in advance
Unique Suggestions: There is a high risk you'll ride your horse alone, which could be nice if you are familar or a bad experience if not ...
Fun Alternatives: Agree on the price with your guide before
Pay at the end
... and don't be afraid to bargain a little. There is no (with a small exception for Petra) tourism harrasment for souvenirs and other gifts. Peoples are honnest and don't expect a sigificant price cut (-5% -15% maximum, most of the time).
but, some significant differences could be found: dead sea products are cheaper in Aqaba compared to what could be found around the dead sea, in special big shops.
Example on the same product: 5 JD in Aqaba in a small shop, 8 JD in a decicated big shop on the dead sea. So...
Unique Suggestions: Just be consciencous and ask the locals. Official guides have most of the time some deals with big shops and will/could push you to go here.
Fun Alternatives: don't be afraid to bargain a little, but be polite and fair.
Recently we visited the beautiful gorge of Petra with a tour group. Some of the group rode a horse drawn cart, but they were very dirty and it was dusty. Also those who rode them had to leave the ruins at an appointed time. Walking was better! We just took it slowly.
I got ripped off big time on souvenirs I bought from the Bedouins who had shops along the way to to monastery. It's not worth it to buy any thing from either the shops or the hawkers. Just enjoy the sites and buy the merchandise elsewhere.
Our whole team found the best deals for souvenirs at Madaba. The fresh dates are great there.
Aqaba is the only Jordan city on the water, i.e. the Red Sea. Although known for its supposedly clear waters and thus wonderful snorkeling, we were highly disappointed by Aqaba. The beach is tiny, dirty, and mostly public, meaning women are not allowed to go swimming unless fully dressed. Furthermore, the water is filthy due to the big oil boats and of course floating garbage.
Unique Suggestions: If you really have to end up going to Aqaba either:
1. wait 20 years until the complete redesigning of the city and beaches is done.
or 2. go to a 5 star hotel such as the Movenpick or Continental with a private beach where women can actually swim in a bathing suit and the garbage is not everywhere in the sand and water.
Fun Alternatives: There is really no need to go to Aqaba. It would be much better to spend more days in Petra or doing a camping trekking excursion in the Wadi Rum desert.
Beware in Petra, Maan and other place in Jordan, Petrol station attendants are trying very hard to cheat the tourists.
The master of that is the owner or attendant of Petra petrol station.
They have several trick in their pocket and the most common is to simulate a break down of the petrol dispenser, start it again but at the end charging you an extra 5 or 10 JOD. Just watch the info on the gas dispenser and the manipulation of the attendant.
Also, wait as much as needed to get your money back !! Do not leave anything as tip !!!!
So far, I never get that sort of problem at petrol station in Amman.
At Petra's entrance and also later on you'll get various offers to ride the animals. There are camels, horses and donkeys.
Don't accept the bedouin's offers. A ride is expensive and it is not worth to pay for. Apart from the costs it is a far better way to discover Petra while walking around the area. The animals causes a lot of dust and you won't be able to stay longer at the places you like most.
Secondly most of the animals only pass the Siq and the can't go more far than the main place in Petra, but this is the most comfortable walk in Petra, not as strenous than hiking to the Monastery for instance.
Unique Suggestions: If you are in bad condition ask, wether the animal will bring you to the Monastery too. This is the most strenous way and the only one, where paying exorbitant sums for animal help makes sense.
Fun Alternatives: If you are just looking for a photo shot riding a camel, ask the Bedouin's for it. probably they will take a much smaller sum for just let you sit on the camel's back for one photo.
As usual the Taxi "Cab" Driver is the ultimate master to cheat you!
once he know you are a tourist or stranger!
Unique Suggestions: Show your knowledge of the direction you are going to!
buy a map of the city and hold it in front of the driver's eyes to show you don't want him to cheat you!
Fun Alternatives: Bus is the best and cheapest way to move in Amman!
but you have to be cool as you could reach the point you need later as the Bus has a Graphic to ride on!
To avoid being hassled while cavorting at the seaside it is advisable to pay to use the facilities at one of the many large hotels along the Aqaaba foreshore. Actually its quite nice to laze under an umbrella, half naked and sipping ice cold 'Stella'. The problem is you'll still get unwanted attention. We had about four or five local men in their wet and see through white y-fronts following us around whenever we went near the water.
Stay away from the Red Sea resort of Aqaba in the south of Jordan... there are dirty (incredibly dirty) beaches, but this was not the worst part. Stationed in the harbour there are some rusty (oil?) ships... not a nice sight. The same sight is visible from Eilat in Israel, just opposite. It's really worth giving both places a miss, unless swimming in polluted and dirty waters is your idea of fun.
Unique Suggestions: simply don't go, it's a waste of time
Fun Alternatives: Anywhere else in the red sea should be less polluted
One of the most dangerous things that you'll find in Petra is the child bearing half dinar rocks. They're such professionals at grabbing your heart and convincing you that you need to buy this particular rock instead of one that you could just pick up off of the ground. But,I figured that I was helping contribute to their economy...I call the picture of the girl, 'Dirty Feet Girl' as she had the dirtiest little feet.
In Jordan I more than once got the feeling that I was being taken for the stupid tourist with a lot of money. E.g.:
- Paying about $4,- to get a 2 minute look in a mosk in Amman.
- Paying $4,- for a sandwhich while on tour with a guide, and paying $ 0,20 for the same sandwhich while ordering for myself.
- Paying $6,- for a beer at an 'authentic' nomad family in the Wadi Rum desert. We were being welcomed by a bagpipe and a nomad and camel made out of paper !! It felt like I was at the Monthy Phyton set. Btw, since we refused to buy beer the price dropped to $3,-
- Paying extra money to see the famous arch in Wadi Rum.
Many of the rides in Petra could be considered tourist traps. Negotiate. Negotiate. Negotiate. Resist the ride vendors that start hawking their rides soon after you pass the visitors entrance to Petra and before you enter the Siq.
Yes I suppose that it was a 'tourist trap' to pay the locals to cover you in mud from the Dead Sea... but it was also fun at the time and did give us some unusual holiday photos! Mind you it was a tough job getting rid of the mud afterwards. Be warned it gets everywhere!!
You have to buy tickets for horses to go to the beginning of the Sik (gorge) at Petra, even if you do not intend using them. If you use them then a horse owner goes with you and you go at his pace and cannot stop for photos.... So we walked. You really need to walk through the sik at your own pace to get the feel of the area.
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