If you’ve always wanted to go, just do it. You won’t be disappointed with a visit to Petra.
Traveling into and around Jordan is easier and smoother than you might expect.
Upon arrival, I grabbed a simcard for my phone at the airport I was ready to roll.
Once in country, I attended an archaeological conference (WAC-7) for the better part of a week, basing myself around Madaba and the Dead Sea.
I stayed at the cheap and cheerful Mariam Hotel in Madaba on the advice of a fellow archaeologist who’s worked in the region. Basic, no nonsense, affordable lodgings with a “rooftop” breakfast that is awesome. Think hummus and eggs!
Madaba is a great place to get up and running if you’ve just flown into Jordan. Cheaper than either Amman or the Dead Sea by a fair stretch, it’s a conveniently located (30 minute cab ride from airport) non-descript town that has a colorful history and several sites (the Madaba Map, to start) well worth checking out.
I used the time in Madaba to get my bearings. After that, I rented a car to get myself to Petra. The car seemed a bit worse for the wear but it never broke down. I arranged it through the hotel, where they dropped it off for me (with a near-empty tank). Their name? Reliable Rentals, but of course.
I drove from Madaba to Petra on the Dead Sea highway and back roads via Karak, and afterwards back to Madaba via the Desert Highway. I was stoked for the freedom my wheels afforded and felt safe traveling alone (although I didn’t stop or linger all that much between my destinations, but most certainly would have if only I had more time).
In Petra I stayed at the Petra Moon Hotel, which is one of the closest hotels to the entrance of the World Heritage site itself at just a few minutes walk.
It had a decent breakfast (that I mainly missed as I left too early) and a room that felt downright fancy after the Mariam in Madaba – but somehow less personal too.
Petra itself is huge. It really is a city – you could wander around for days. For a good look, head in there prepared to stick around.
Here are the essentials that I packed in every day:
- down vest
- rain jacket
- money in small bills (for trinkets, snacks, and last minute donkey rides)
I primarily relied on the map and route descriptions from my guidebook, the Rough Guide to Jordan to get around. This worked great as I was able to survey the options and make plans but also able to look up places as I came upon them to learn a little context.
I wore long pants with a wicking tee, and a long sleeved shirt that I took on and off depending on the conditions. Hot and cold with variable weather means it’s good to be able to cover up but also to keep cool. It’s a desert, with the according highs and lows.
Petra is truly a photographer’s mecca. If you’re a photographer with any weakness for history you will be simply overwhelmed. You should be spending at least a few days here, or more.
One thing I would have loved to have with me is Canon’s 24mm tilt-shift lens. Staring up at all these incredible carved faces of rock means that convergence is everywhere. Being able to take that out in the field would have been fantastic.
Another great mission would be going after epic time-lapses at Petra. Given the desert environment, the light, and the ruins, rich potential definitely exists.
One can obviously shoot a variety of lenses. As I wanted to travel light, my approach was to spend one day shooting a wide angle lens and another shooting a long lens. The first day I toted a tripod, the second I did not. It was interesting to “see” the place differently depending on what I had with me to shoot it.
Take your time. I could happily set up shop there for weeks. I’d be in with the camels!
Here’s an fascinating account of a 19th century photographer’s visit to Petra:
This is what I believe to be the official government site for Petra:
This is a fine account of a 4th of July softball game hosted by Brown archaeologists working at Petra:
Extensive scholarly bibliography on archaeology at Petra from Brown, and much more:
Good luck and safe travels!