Some places on Planet Earth deserve a little extra recognition. It might be a rare natural phenomenon, some incredible feat of human engineering, or a cultural event of epic proportions.
There have been countless attempts to compile such “wonders” in specific lists, but as of yet, we have not been too impressed by these. As the old Danish saying goes “If you don’t like the smell in the bakery…..” then go make your own damn Wonders of the World list. So that’s exactly what we’ve done.
We have created a series of blog posts showcasing the most impressive, awe-inspiring, motivating, or in any other way fantastic, places this planet has to offer. We will continue to add to the list as we explore more of the world but will only be including places that we have personally visited and been wowed by. It doesn’t matter if they are man-made or natural, or whether they are included on some (un)official list or not. They simply earn our recognition by being unique and utterly extraordinary. And we are quite picky when it comes to that. For each of these wonders, we will provide some background as well as share our best tips and tricks. That will hopefully help you decide which ones to visit, and in turn, how to explore them for yourself in the best possible way.
In this post we will take you on a trip to Jordan – where the ancient mountain city of Petra is located. In our humble opinion, it is a true Wonder of the World. Unfortunately, no matter how awe-inspiring the place was, and how impressed we were by the ancient structures, we have to be honest: We would never, ever go back.
Why, you may think?
We’ll tell you why. First a small disclaimer though. Please don’t get too riled up about our opinion. If you have Petra high up on your bucket list then, by all means, go visit. You may have a completely different experience, and we would hate to take that away from you. We still suggest you take note of the arguments below because in that way you know exactly what you are walking into. If you aren’t taken by surprise, you may be able to filter most of it out and enjoy the experience nonetheless.
Walking through the mountain city left a remarkable impression. The thought of the ancient history behind the mountain carved buildings, and the fact that a whole civilisation – a city full of people – used to live here was really intriguing. Some pretty cool scenes from Indiana Jones and the Mummy were filmed in Petra, and it’s no wonder you immediately feel a sense of adventure when you arrive. The first major highlight presents itself a 15 min walk from the entrance.
You pass through a picturesque gorge called the Siq, where the mountain is literally split in two. The blue sky is just a narrow strip high above you, and the imposing mountain walls could easily invoke a bit of claustrophobia. The shade it generates is a welcome relief from the scorching sun though, and a gentle breeze is flowing through the slim corridor. You walk this scenic passage for some time, wondering how it came to be formed. You start to realise that it serves as a perfect natural gateway to something mysterious, hidden further ahead. The ancient Nabataeans selected this particular spot for their capital city, and it’s easy to understand why. Eventually, as you pass around another bend, the gorge comes to an abrupt end, and a large open square appears.
That’s when you see it.
A massive cathedral-like façade, carved into the mountainside. Directly in front of you is the Treasury, standing 40 meters tall and looking absolutely magnificent. Constructed more than 2,000 years ago, it is an astonishing feat of human engineering. It is definitely the highlight of the Petra site, and it’s impossible not to be won over by its sheer size and intricate craftsmanship.
…the major advantage
You can walk around, take unobstructed photos, and enter all the different structures almost entirely by yourself. Based on our experiences from elsewhere, this is very rare at historical sites of such significance. This is definitely something you should take advantage of it you visit.
Driving all the way from the Dead Sea in the morning, we didn’t even get to the site early. Arriving right after lunch, we had expected it to be the worst possible time to visit. Apparently, this didn’t matter one bit.
…the major disadvantage
So, we were walking around the ancient mountain city of Petra without other tourists getting in the way. Sounds pretty cool right? Well, it should be. It would have been great to walk around this incredible site, exploring all the nooks and crannies in peace, like the wannabe Indiana Jones’ that we are. However, you will quickly discover that this is absolutely impossible.
There are so many local hustlers on the site! They are EVERYWHERE. If only there had been a few tour buses full of other tourists to distract some of them. There weren’t. Instead, they were swarming around us like hungry mosquitoes, at dusk, on a damp evening. Someone is constantly yelling at you. We couldn’t get a moment’s peace. You also have to be careful not to be mowed down by 9-year olds running amok on their donkeys. These kids are completely out of control and have no clue about basic safety precautions or animal welfare. They are roaming around the area, mistreating their donkeys and riding them as if they stole them. You can’t blame the kids of course, but it really showcases the underlying problem at Petra.
Apart from the nuisance of constantly having to turn away hustlers, who would, of course, keep following us, the most unpleasant experiences involved the donkeys. In some places, there are very narrow paths, with steep drops. The kids are clearly not in control, and we are sure there must be plenty of horrible accidents. We quickly started to look anxiously over our shoulders at the slightest sound of hooves. In fact, the general behaviour of the locals in the area made exploration of the site very uncomfortable for us. And we are generally quite open-minded world travellers. We have lived in the Middle East for 2.5 years, so don’t start thinking this is just us being small-minded or even racist. It is just the fact that the locals are mistreating their irreplaceable wonder of the world, which also happens to be, by far, the biggest draw of tourists to the country. We are all in for tourism supporting the local environment, but when it is executed like this, everyone loses. It could easily be run in a much more sustainable way, especially considering the steep entry prices (general 1-day entry is approx. 70 USD).
It is such a shame that no one seems to bother. But maybe the authorities don’t realise. If no one speaks up, how could they? That’s why we feel compelled to write this post in a harsh fashion. We genuinely believe the Jordanians have a fantastic ancient site here to show to the world, but they gotta step up their game. If other people feel like us, we are not surprised why there were so few tourists. The ancient Nabataeans have given us, and the locals, a magnificent gift, but Jordan offers no reason to recommend the place, let alone come back for another visit. Instead, it becomes more of check-it-off the bucket list kind of experience, when in fact it should have created a beautiful and impressive memory never to be forgotten.
Excuse us for the rant. But we really feel that the locals are creating an inhospitable environment for the travellers who make it all the way to Petra. On top of that, they are showcasing clear examples of animal abuse, which we had a very hard time swallowing. We once rode camels in Egypt and have regretted it ever since. But they were treated very, very nicely compared to the ones we saw in Petra. Don’t jump on any of the donkeys, camels or horses there, or you are almost sure to support animal abuse.
To add a little more to the pain: The conservation of the area is quite poor. We felt very sad to see that the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan, perhaps in the entire region, was not being protected as necessary for future generations to enjoy it as well. The way things are going, there is just no way it will last a hundred years more. One sad example is that many of the locals seem to camp there for the night. This appears to be an easier opportunity if you work as a full-time hustler in the area. We do understand that many poor people struggle through life, but when you enter an ancient 2,000-year-old house carved into the mountain and clearly see it being used as a toilet, you just lose a little hope for humanity.
All in all, a terrible experience which totally ruined our exploration of this otherwise magnificent site. We will never go back ourselves, and cannot possibly recommend our readers to go either. It was sort of okay for us, because we lived in Abu Dhabi at the time, just a couple of hours away. We didn’t have to go out of our way to visit, and yet we felt our time was wasted. We cannot even imagine how you would feel if you came all the way from the US, Australia or even Europe.
What not to miss if you decide to visit Petra
If you choose to make the once in a lifetime trip (at least this is what it will be for us), remember to do the following before leaving the site. Don’t miss any, as there is a very high chance you won’t bother to come back.
- Be there as late as possible, to experience the last golden sun rays light up the mountainside. Petra is often referred to as the Rose City due to the peculiar colour of the rock, and it looks epic when bathed in the light of the setting sun.
- Have a peek into some of the old structures, but take care not to damage the fragile rock. It is already being damaged enough by the locals, other careless tourists and the salty breeze coming in from the sea.
- Go all the way to the Monastery in the back. It is a long hike up a s***load of stairs, and you might have to dodge a donkey or ten, but you will want to be able to have said that you have seen all of it. That way, you have no reason to come back ever again.
If any Jordanians are reading this post, please don’t take it personally. Petra is a beautiful place, and it is right up there with the rest of the proclaimed Wonders of the World in terms of impressiveness. Hopefully, you will be able to clean up the mess and start showcasing the site in the way it deserves. We have a few more blog posts in the pipeline from Jordan, which are of a more positive nature. We really loved our experiences at the Dead Sea, so all is not lost for the country!
We know this was a long rant and we are sorry to disappoint those of you who have Petra high up on your bucket list. As mentioned previously, if you are determined to visit, please don’t let us deter you. We might have been unlucky, or things might have improved since then! In fact, we are eager to hear from any of our readers that have also travelled to Jordan – Did you have the same experience in Petra? Throw us a comment below or get back to us on social media. We would be delighted to hear from you, even if you don’t agree with our “review”!