Why You Should Avoid Petra As A Solo Female Traveler
Standing way too close for comfort, he screamed in my face, "I'm just angry because people treat us like slaves."
I looked at Jennifer, both of us bemused, irritated, and overheating. I replied to him, "Don't take that out on us" and walked away as quickly as my tired feet would let me.
And that is how I first experienced the Treasury at Petra.
But let's rewind a bit. The Treasury at Petra? One of the new world wonders! Sounds exciting, right? It was, and I started out so happy to be there.
Let's go back to the beginning of the story.
Last year, my number one travel friend, Jen, reached out to me and said: "Come with me to Jordan." She had already planned on a longer trip in the region, and I was roaming around on my adult gap year, so she had dates, hotels, and flights already booked. Me, I was blowing along like a fallen leaf, landing wherever fate took me. We made a perfect pairing for this trip.
Through our hotel (Amman Marriott), we arranged a driver to take us the 3+ hours from Amman to Petra. It would have been cheaper to take an Uber there, but we were both unsure about the availability of cars on the way back. (As we learned on another day when we went to the Dead Sea, many drivers in the area use Uber but demand additional money on top of the Uber rates. We had that happen four out of five times at the Dead Sea.)
The ride was smooth, even though the driver stopped along the way at a tourist trap to convince us to purchase skincare items and other doodads made from Dead Sea salt. #nothanks
When we got to Petra, he parked on the road and told us to WhatsApp him when we were ready to leave, and he would be right back there where he dropped us off (fortunately he was).
So far, so good!
Going into the Treasury complex, there aren't a lot of directions. There's a brochure, but that wasn't very helpful. There weren't any signs, you just started walking in the same direction as the other people arriving.
As we walked, I looked in the faces of the people walking back. I saw hints of defeat, traces of exhaustion, and slight signs of dehydration. Did I mention that this is in the desert? Very Important Fact!
We are talking about smack dab in the middle of the Middle East, and it's hot. We went in October, and it was HOT. I don't know when it's not hot, but if you can't take the heat, get out of the Petra.
And here we encounter our first Bedouins. Well, maybe. They claim to be locals, and the locals are Bedouins, but how would I ever know the difference? So for this story, we’ll call them Bedouins.
These guys had horses and informed us that our tickets included a free horse ride to the gates. Y'all already know I was skeptical, but I checked the back of the ticket, and it did. Jen is not a horse person, so she wasn't into it, but the guys insisted, and I mentioned it was hot, so if riding the horses got us closer quicker, I'm all for it.
We get on the horses, and I look back at Jen, and she hates every moment of it. She hates the guide, she hates the horse, I think she hates me. But we press on…for like 4 more minutes. Because just like that our ride is over. Shortest horse ride, in the history of horse rides.
We weren't at any gates, we could have walked further faster than the whole process took, and now I'm confused and irritated.
But wait, it gets worse.
The minute our feet touched the ground, the guys were in our face, hovering over us, for the tip we "need to give them."
The horse guys start demanding money from us. Remember how they insisted we get on because it was included in our tickets. Now they were in our faces demanding the tip we "owed them."
I am not going to tip you, buy from you, patronize any of your offerings if your sales pitch/method of collection is intimidation, anger, or any kind of abuse. So while I try to be a good tipper (I believe in giving gracefully), this immediately shut me down. Nope, not tip. I don't care if it's customary, I don't care if it's expected, you gotta get out of my face. So we walk away, and they follow us. And they send a third guy after us, and they curse us out. Still not gonna get these coins, Champ.
And so begins our long walk to the Treasury. Feels like we should be there already, right?
Nope, bear with me. The walk to the Treasury is absolutely breathtaking, but it's also a tad bit dangerous and annoying.
Dangerous : there are horse-drawn carriages you can take to get you to the opening of the Treasury. We opted out of those so that we could walk and see more. There are beautiful caves along the way, and honestly, we should have gotten a guided tour, we would have learned much more.
If I ever get a chance to go again, I would do things so differently.
But we walked, and these horse-drawn carriages barreled past us through narrow openings, creating near misses.
Warning: If you're walking through Petra and you hear horses, hug the wall, get out of the way because these carriages aren't slowing down to ensure they don't hit you, the carriages speed through, and if you're in the way, you'll be a casualty.
Annoying: Tourism appears to be the economic driver of this region, so like many similar places, people are trying to sell you trinkets and crap you don't need. If you've ever been to the Great Pyramid of Giza, or the Eiffel Tower, imagine that but times 100. Every 25 seconds a boy was running up to us trying to sell us the same shit the last boy tried to sell. "No Thank You" rang out again and again until we were parched, tired, and frankly annoyed.
But we made it, we made it through the long, narrow path into the area that opens up with the Treasury right in front of you. And now the boys were switched for out men, and the sales pitches got amped up. Within less than a minute of trying to take in this wondrous site, we were offered at least 4 different rides to the top of the mountain that would get us a different view of the Treasury. Again we went through the chorus of "No Thank you," and one by one, these salesmen moved on to pitch his services to the tourists pouring in behind us.
But not the last guy, nope, he was FED UP.
Warning: I mentioned it's hot here, and I don't know if that is the contributing cause, but 98% of the people we interacted with here were really aggressive. Extremely aggressive. I don't know how much of this had to do with the fact that we were two women traveling alone, because I can't imagine them yelling in men's faces like they did to us.
Back to fed up guy. He offers, we say "no thanks," and he GOES THE F' OFF.
He's screaming about how rude we are and starts making a huge scene.
Color me confused.
We ask him how we were rude, and he takes a breath and tells us how tourists here treat him like a slave. Let's pause again - you're speaking to two Black American women about being treated like a slave (not a good starting point), and secondly, you offered us a paid service and we politely declined, why are you so comfortable yelling at us, and not those people who were actually rude to you, or were trying to drag you into slavery. All we were trying to do was to stand here and look at this old ass world wonder.
Now I'm fed up, and I cut the conversation off. It's too hot for this shit. You can't be yelling at me about your feelings, because frankly, I don't care. I'm not your therapist, I'm not your family, and I'm not your friend. I am a visitor in your land, yes, but your problem is not with me, it's not about your interaction with me, it's about what I represent. I understand how someone could work in tourism and still have a problem with tourism and tourists. But screaming at unsuspecting guests is not the way to resolve that issue.
But now, the whole tone at the Treasury changes, as other Bedouins are staring at the scene with displeasure on their faces. Did I mention that we walked at least sixty minutes in 1000 degree heat to get to this moment, only for it to be quickly ruined by this nonsense?
But we walk away, determine to enjoy the moments we have left here. We got a few more offers of rides or guides up to the top, but at this point we were both over it. We walked a little further until we got to the The Theater and once we got out of the area directly in front of the Treasury we were pretty much left alone.
But now we had to walk back through all of the shenanigans we went through before. Sigh… More boys trying to sell their stuff. More boys ignoring our "Nos" to continue their sales pitches. One of them grabbed me in a way that made me uncomfortable. As a reminder, it's blazing sun and super hot.
So...that's what didn't work - about 90% of our experience. If you visit Petra, and you really should, here's my advice about how to do it right.
1. Hire a driver from your hotel and have them wait for you.
2. Get a tour guide at the entrance to Petra and have them explain the history of the area to you.
3. The tour guide should be able to stop you from getting harassed by salesmen and boys. (Sidebar - the only women I saw in the area were tourists)
4. Take the carriage ride back to the entrance.
5. Bring water with you.
6. Don't go in the midday heat. Please don't.
7. If you can stand the heat, take the guided horse ride up to the top where you can look down on the Treasury. It's beautiful up there, and you can hike up as well, but save your strength if you can.
8. Following up on the point above... Plan on paying for rides up hills and through pathways. This is a huge tourist zone, so I'm sure the prices are unreasonable, but there's a lot of ground to cover, and the convenience is worth it.
9. Lastly, I believe that the reason people were so aggressive with us was because we were two women traveling alone. I'm never one to tell women not to travel on their own, or they need to have a man with them, but you should be aware of the treatment you will receive.
PS: Mr. Fed Up apologized to us when he saw us again, but his apology was more of an explanation of why it was okay that he yelled at us, and it was obviously a forced apology because he was being closely watched by some of the other Bedouins.