Petra

Ma’an

This is the principal town of central south Jordan, and is pretty well lacking in general interest for tourists – EXCEPT that there are very regular buses to and from Wadi Mousa/Petra which is some 30 kilometers away. So if you are unable to get a bus to Petra for any reason, or if you have just missed one, look for one for Ma’an – there is a bus from Aqaba for Ma’an, for instance, leaving at 6pm. You might be too late for a bus to Petra, but the standard taxi fare Ma’an-Petra is 6JD, which is a great improvement on taxi fares from most other places.

Please note that although at least one guidebook implies that there are buses from Ma’an to Wadi Rum, this is not so. The only buses going actually into Wadi Rum leave from Wadi Mousa or from Aqaba. The writer of this guidebook in saying “…there are regular connections to Aqaba, Amman and Wadi Rum” intended to say that you should take a bus going to Aqaba, leave it at the Rashidiya Intersection and hitch from there to Rum Village. I hope that this will be corrected in the next edition! The information is actually given correctly in the section on Ma’an in the guidebook, but fewer people read this than the section on Petra from where I take this quotation!

Petra


(You can see more photos of Petra on the “Photo Gallery” page)


One way of getting down to Petra


Photo Leon and Mirjam 

So much has been written about this site that I don’t quite know where to begin or how much to say about it.First of all, how to get there, and how to get away again! The centre of the village is the “Shaheed circle” The buses arrive and leave from here, but if you are leaving, ask your hotel to reserve you a place on a bus (not essential, by the way, but otherwise first come first served!), and usually the bus will come and pick you up. If you have luggage with you, obviously this helps. The easiest time to get a bus is fairly early in the morning, when several buses leave for each destination.

There are regular minibuses coming from the Wahedat bus station in Amman, leaving every two hours from 7am to 7pm, except on Fridays when they stop around midday. It takes something under 3 hours and the price of the trip is 3JD. The same minibuses return to Amman, from the Shaheed Circle.

To get to Aqaba, there are buses at about 6.20am, at 7am, at 8am and at 4.15pm. From Aqaba to Petra, there are in theory three buses a day, but sometimes there are more. If there is any schedule for this, then I don’t know it! The trip usually takes around three hours and costs 3JD. If there doesn’t seem to be a bus going to Petra around, then have a look for a service taxi, but I rather advise you NOT to accept any offers to drive you from private individuals unless you know them already (questions about insurance and general safety). The ferries from Egypt arrive after all the buses have stopped for the evening (to anywhere except Amman or Ma’an!), but there are a number of service taxis who meet the ferries; if you can join up with other passengers going to the same destination, you will be in a stronger position for bargaining! If you want to go to Petra, note that there is a bus from Aqaba bus station in the town to Ma’an leaving at 6pm, which might be an option, followed by a taxi from Ma’an to Petra later (usual price is 6JD). This is unlikely in the end to be cheaper than a service taxi, UNLESS the taxi has insufficient passengers and asks 10JD or more per passenger.

Wadi Rum : there is one direct bus a day, leaving Wadi Mousa in the early morning; ask your hotel to reserve your place (essential this time!) and the bus will pick you up. The same bus comes back from Wadi Rum to Petra, usually leaving between 8.30am and 9. If this time isn’t convenient for you, then get yourself from Rum Village to the Desert Highway, to the “Rashidiya Junction” which is 30kms from Rum (if you need to pay, then anything under about 5JD is fair, it is what a taxi would charge for that distance), and stop a bus going north (or south if you want to get to Aqaba). There are plenty of them during the day. If it isn’t the one you want, then either go to Ma’an (see above under Ma’an) or ask if there is a bus to Petra soon . Almost always the drivers know this sort of thing and will tell you at once. It is usually possible to hitch here as well – again you might well be asked to pay something.

If you need to go to Wadi Rum at any time other than early in the morning, then take a bus for Aqaba, ask to be put down at the Rashidiya Junction and look for a lift. People (mostly locals) doing this are so numerous that a shelter has been built against the sun, at the beginning of the road to Rum. You are unlikely to have trouble finding transport, but see note above about paying. See the Wadi Rum pages for more details about this.

Ma’an : there are buses to and from Petra/Wadi Mousa to Ma’an almost every hour during the day until about 2 or 3pm. As I have said, Ma’an is the local transport centre and you can get to anywhere in Jordan fairly easily from here. Ma’an is 30kms or so from Wadi Mousa, fare is probably about 1 or 1 1/2JD. There are no direct buses from Ma’an to Wadi Rum, take a bus to Aqaba, get down at the Rashidiya Junction, sometimes called the Rum Intersection, and look for a lift as above.


NOW FOR PETRA ITSELF AND WHERE TO STAY NEARBY
Photo F. Baldocchino

For a number of years , the principal complaint has been the price of entry to Petra – 20JD, increased earlier this year to 21JD. Even if there are reduced prices for two and three day tickets, this broke quite a lot of backpacker budgets. I must say, however, that just about everybody agreed that in spite of everything, Petra was worth it.

Now since November 2001, the entrance prices have been reduced by 50%, with a further 50% given to those possessing ISIC cards. This means that tourists are getting something of a bargain – 11JD for one day, 13JD for two days and 16JD for three days, with the fourth day free. Take full advantage of this – the measure has been extended until the end of 2002, but then it might come back to the original rather expensive entry prices. Note that children enter for half price. There is also a further 50% reduction for those with ISIC cards.

The entrance to Petra is something less than a mile from the village of Wadi Mousa where most of the cheaper hotels are to be found. Close to the entrance, the only remotely cheap hotels are the Sunset and perhaps the Petra Moon. The Sunset is the more primitive of the two, it is one of the earliest hotels built after the explosion of tourism in Petra in 1995. Otherwise for a good hotel near to the gate to Petra, you have the Petra Palace (ppwnwm@go.com.jo), a comfortable three-star hotel with a bar and a swimming pool. There is also a large selection of souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants around here. You might like to look at the page on “Souvenirs” which talks about a few of the shops.

Higher up in the village of Wadi Mousa, the best cheap hotel at the moment is probably the Alanbat Two, but the Cleopetra a bit higher up the hill is also worth looking at. There are two good hotels a mile or so further up, the Alanbat One and the Mousa Spring, which are the oldest hotels in the valley. The Alanbat One in particular has a beautiful view and is very good when it is hot. It also offers a site for campers with a private kitchen and balcony. In fact the Alanbat One would unquestionably be my top pick if it weren’t so far from the village. The Alanbat Hotels have a website at http://www.alanbat.artshost.com, email (info@alanbat.jo). Mousa Spring is mostly a backpacker’s hotel, but if you keep that in mind it offers good value for money. Both Alanbat One (and Alanbat Two) and Mousa Spring offer free transport to and from Petra, but if you would like to wander around the village in the evening (shops and coffee shops) you will do better further down. You are pretty well isolated if you stay up there. If you are staying at the Alanbat Two, then have a look at the great arch behind it. You can read about this arch in the Wadi Mousa page.

Petra itself : well I think I must tell you to look at your guide book when visiting it, there is too much to say. There are a great many walks and scrambles off the main tracks, down in the site. You might think that it is full of tourists……


Photo Leon and Mirjam

…but in fact, if you leave the valley bottom it is very easy to find yourself alone.


Photo Leon and Mirjam

DO NOT WANDER TOO FAR, AND RESPECT THE ADVICE NOT TO PASS CERTAIN POINTS WITHOUT AN OFFICIAL GUIDE. You can often substitute one of the Bedouin children or young men for an official guide (they know the terrain very well indeed and are much cheaper!), but all too often helicopters have had to be called out to find tourists who have been a bit too intrepid. It is truly very easy indeed to get lost around here. One would think that with Jebel Haroun on the horizon it is impossible, but believe me, it’s not! For the same reason, if you are visiting Petra alone and have ideas about wandering off the beaten track, it is a good idea to make sure that somebody has at least a vague idea of where you are planning to go.

Those visiting Petra in the winter should know that in rain or snow, access to Petra is not allowed. There have been a number of flash floods lately, so far there have been no more tourist deaths, but the authorities still remember 1963 [when a group of French tourists was swept away by a flash flood in the Siq, and 23 of them were drowned], and prefer to play safe. If you are in Amman or somewhere, and are planning to come to Petra when the rain starts, get your hotel to call the Visitors’ Centre (03.215.7433) to check the position. I can’t tell you just how likely it is that you will be caught out like this, it depends entirely on the weather, and as I have already said elsewhere, years differ considerably. It is difficult for the authorities, since it doesn’t actually need to be raining in Wadi Mousa before a flash flood descends. In April 2001, there was a very nasty one that came down in two separate waves from El Hai in the mountains, while at that moment in Wadi Mousa there was only a light drizzle. During 2001 a great deal of work was done in the mountains, erecting coffer dams, and we shall hope that this problem will become rare.


If you can find somebody who knows this area well, you are in luck. If not, and if you have the time (and the money!) it would be well worth employing a guide for the day to take you around here. It is not as spectacularly beautiful as Wadi Rum – at least not until you get to the edge of Wadi Araba, and can look down into the Rift Valley – but that still leaves plenty of scope for it to be beautiful anyway. Dedicated hikers would be in heaven here. There are many trails, all of them completely unmapped – and all of them unsignposted! The price of an official guide for a day’s hiking is 60JD but this can often be “negotiated” according to the season. Obviously, you would want to gather as large a group as you can, but 
PLEASE do not try to go off exploring without somebody who knows the area! (See note above about the possibility of a Bedouin guide). If you are interested, you might like to look at the page on “Trekking in Jordan” in the “Jordan out of doors” section.Close to Petra you have the beautiful semi-desert area of “Baïda” (“the white”). Many people visit “Little Petra” here, there is (or there was last November) usually a shuttle bus leaving from in front of the main mosque in the village. Little Petra, which I like to think of as a sort of suburb of Petra itself, is something that everybody enjoys, especially as the 10 mile or so drive to get there goes through spectacular country. While you are there, be sure to have a look at the Nabatean cisterns, which now store up the winter rains for the use of the Bedouin during the summer. It is most impressive to think that they are still being put to use. Nearby is also the Neolithic village, which is supposed to be the oldest site discovered where men actually cultivated the soil. It has been dated from 7000BC. A bit further away from the main road is a stone winepress! This shows just how fertile this region must have been two thousand years ago. By no means all of the drivers know of this winepress, and it is a fair way “in” from the main road anyway.

Guides : if you are just visiting Petra, there are many of them at the Visitors’ Centre, but if you want to get out “into the desert”, then try to find one of the following :

Sofian Amarat : phone/fax +962.3.215.4075, mobile +962.795.581.644;
email 
sufianamarat@yahoo.com
Mohammed Hassanat phone/fax +962.3.215.6567 mobile +962.795.603.114,
email 
explorer69@yahoo.com
Mehdi Hassanat phone/fax +962.3.215.7893 mobile +962.77.427.380,
email 
mhasanat18@hotmail.com website http://mahtours.tripod.com

These men are available to take tourists around Petra and are based in the Visitors’ Centre there, but are also specialist “desert guides”. Like all of the people I recommend these are “fun guys” as well as being very competent professionals.

Mehdi’s website is a very nice one indeed incidentally, with lots of great photos! With his permisson I am using a number of them here, you can see a page about a “company outing” in the “Meet the people” section. Thank you again Mehdi!

There are also a few people who, while not official guides and not qualified to accompany hikers, are nevertheless accustomed to taking tourists into the “wild places”, such as Baïda, Wadi Araba or Dana and to organising overnight bivouacs. While here again their charges should be negotiated, they would ask for less than would an official guide. Try looking for Ibrahim Asri Hamadeen at 03.215.6791 or Rebhi Hassanat at 0795.663.410. Either would hesitate before taking clients into Wadi Rum itself, although they are both well known there and they know the area very well. They would probably be willing to take you to Dissieh, though. The people in Wadi Rum do not really welcome “outsiders”!

Wadi Mousa

This is the village nearest to the site of Petra, and hence the official destination of buses and so forth going there. There was a movement a year or so ago to change the official name of the village to “Petra”, but this was quashed by the government. In many ways it would have simplified life for the visitor.

It has been pointed out that I haven’t mentioned any restaurants in Petra! Absolutely right, it never even occurred to me. To be honest, I so seldom eat in restaurants that I don’t really know many to recommend. However, the Red Cave, near to the entrance to Petra, is very nice, and the food is good. This is an upmarket restaurant for Wadi Mousa, and where I am very occasionally invited by Ibrahim Hassanat! The big hotel restaurants are mostly fairly bland and monotonous. The restaurants in the village seem quite acceptable, most of them serve the local dishes : mansaff, maglouba, galaya… [See the “Food” page when it’s ready!] The Alsham Flower Restaurant (03.215.6213) near to the lower Circle on the “up” road of the one way system, is certainly the best place for take-out food, they have a very good “Turkish chicken” where the chicken is jointed before being rolled in spices and grilled. The last time I ordered this, the price of one chicken was around 2 or 3JD – I will defnitely check the next chance I get! They also produce filafel sandwiches, fool and hommous to take away, and things like salad, boiled eggs and yoghurt (although this last is cheaper in the shops).

Night life? Um… The Cave Bar of the Forum Guesthouse (right alongside the entrance to Petra) is just about the only place that is on occasion a hot spot. If there is a big group of tourists staying at the hotel, there is often dancing until midnight, sometimes even later! (My goodness!) If you check there, they have a “programme” which will tell you the nights that something is scheduled

For a quiet drink in the evening, I usually go to the Crown Plaza Hotel where the terrace beside the pool outside has a lovely view of the sunset over the Petra mountains and down to the beginning of the Siq (just visible if one knows exactly where to look). This is quite popular with the local tourist guides, who often congregate here in the evening and talk shop with each other or with visiting guides accompanying groups. If there is a “pool barbecue” the terrace is crowded and noisy and in that case I make for the Roof Garden Bar of the Mövenpick Hotel nearby. Few locals go there but it is very pleasant.

Beer and alcohol : there is no “liquor” shop in Wadi Mousa. The bigger hotels have bars, a few of the smaller ones and a couple of coffee shops serve beer and wine (but since they don’t always have a permit to do so, I am not naming them here!) You can buy beer, wine or alcohol from all of these hotels, usually at bar prices (!) – if you ask a few of the locals, you will be directed quickly to the non-licensed places where you can find what you want. Again I warn you that you will be charged more than in the specialised shops elsewhere. Incidentally, one of the best places to buy beer is the Mövenpick, you don’t always think of asking one of the most expensive hotels for take-away beer, but it’s noticeably cheaper there than in the small hotels in the village. However, it is much better if you stock up before you arrive in Wadi Mousa.

Swimming pools : the following hotels have swimming pools : the Crown Plaza, the Mövenpick, the Petra Palace and the Golden Lotus, which is a hotel pretty far from the village and above the Mousa Spring Hotel. Non-guests can use all of these for a fee. The Alanbat One Hotel is building a swimming pool but at the present time it is not yet finished. There is also a pool at Taibeh Zaman, but this is some distance from Petra.

While I am talking about the village, I must mention the Salome Turkish Bath, which is definitely something to visit, especially after a hot and exhausting day down in Petra. Last I heard the price was about 10 or 12JD, but believe me, it’s worth it, if only for the massage afterwards. It is very pleasant, most attractively decorated, and a delightful place to “chill out”, if you go in for chilling out. It is almost opposite the Alanbat Two Hotel in the centre of the village, but if you ask your hotel, Salome will send somebody to pick you up.

Internet in Wadi Mousa : my favourite place for Internet is the Petra Internet café near the Shaheed Circle, just opposite to the Rashid Hotel. It’s not the cheapest around, but gives by far the best service. I always find that I can do as much in 15 minutes there as in an hour in the cheaper ones, and without the same frustration! It also has a very attractive “lounging area”.

I don’t think there is much more to say than what I have already said about Petra. Besides hotels and restaurants/coffee shops, there are sufficient banks, drugstores and ATMs, to serve most people’s needs. There are also plenty of taxis, etc. For trips outside of “the Wadi”, as Wadi Mousa is generally known in Jordan, bargain hard. There are “official” prices, but since the price of petrol has been increased sharply twice since the official prices were set, almost nobody respects them – fairly understandably, actually.

If you want a driver who is cheaper than most taxis, you can try Mohamed Amarat (who usually drives me around when I need a driver). His mobile phone is 077.426.317 or his home 03.215.7341. You can also get in touch with him through his brother, Bassam Amarat, who is the bell captain at the Crown Plaza Hotel (formerly the “Forum Hotel”) tel. 03.215.6266. If you prefer a “real taxi” then call Maazen Hamadeen at his mobile number 0795.573.408. Both of these men speak good English, drive good cars and are completely reliable in every way. (These are yet more “good fun” guys! I seem to collect them...)

You can read more about the non-tourist aspects of Wadi Mousa on the page about it in the “Meet the People” section.