Jordan was an interesting few days; to be honest I didn’t have the best time there and was considering not writing about it, however I feel there might be value in sharing my experience so others can learn from it.

After weeks of uninvited attention in Turkey and Egypt I finally picked up a realistic wedding band to wear before arriving in Jordan; I’d heard that this can be a deterrent to potential male harassment and figured it could help me escape uncomfortable conversations or situations. I’d naively believed after seeing consistent media coverage of both Queen Rania and Queen Noor over the years that Jordan was a progressively female-friendly country. Unfortunately my short time here led me to believe otherwise. I was harassed everywhere I went by male passerbys. Except while within the Petra tourist zone, I was always careful to wear long pants, cover my shoulders and don a scarf to minimize attention drawn to me; these efforts proved futile as I received excessive whistles, cat calls, inappropriate invitations and stares everywhere I went. Coincidentally, by the end of my first day I’d noticed the complete absence of women in public: all business owners, taxi drivers, restaurant workers and pedestrians were male. By the end of my second day I’d realized there wasn’t anything I could do to deter the unwanted solicitations and, when I wasn’t visiting Petra, was hiding in my hotel room. At least I had the below view to gaze upon…

The town of Wadi Musa where I stayed is a three hour drive south of the nation’s capital, Amman. The city itself is fairly small, and has only sprung up in the last few decades in response to the demand for tourist accommodation while visiting the site of Petra nearby. After one horrible night at the Rocky Mountain Hotel (which I do not recommend, rooms are dark, dirty, hot and reek of cigarettes) I moved to the clean and bright Tetra Tree Hotel, which I can highly recommend.

After dreaming of visiting Petra for years, it was a little surreal to walk up to its entry gate and see it modernized into just another tourist site. Beyond its entrance is a new and informative Visitor Center, which provides excellent information on the sites within the park. I recommend visiting this as it provides the most comprehensive information about the site including a helpful map. Once you go further into Petra there can be little to no information provided and it’s basically every man for himself!

Once you leave the Visitor Center you’re immediately accosted by touts. Get used to it. They’re everywhere within Petra and extremely persistent. While they claim to be native Boudin people displaced by the existence of the park, local Jordanians will tell you they’re actually migratory gypsy folk who live within the caves of the site illegally. Regardless of their roots they will hassle you to buy their wares and ride their camels, horses, or buggy during your stay.

As you walk further into the park the scenery turns from desert to rock, from yellow to red. The colors and patterns within the rock are out-of-this-world beautiful. Cliffs rise on both sides around you, closing in as you walk further towards the famous Siq, a natural sandstone gorge that winds towards the ancient city of Petra for over a mile. In its day, Petra was a busy city with constant travelers and visitors passing through this very way every day.

Finally, you’re greeted with a glimpse of the view below:

Finally setting eyes on the magnificent Treasury of Petra (pictured above) was the most convoluted moment of my trip to date. September is still considered low season for tourism in Jordan, with traffic not picking up until October; as a result the touts around were more desperate and aggressive than ever, many just young children. They can surround the area so that it’s near impossible to get a private shot, all the while aggressively offering ‘camel?!’ ‘donkey?!’ ‘taxi?!’ rides from all sides so you can’t get a moment’s peace to just appreciate the beauty before you. They won’t take no for an answer, so your only option is to eventually leave the scene altogether. To make matters worse, their animals are horribly treated, so while my visual memory of the Petra Treasury will forever remember the hazy afternoon light illuminating warm sandstone, my auditory memory will echo with the sound of donkeys and horses crying out while being whipped. It is a horrible system and one only made worse by the support of tourist dollars.

Following the advice of my hotel manager, I hiked up into the hills to escape the touts below and gain a better vantage point of the area.

The history of Petra is absolutely fascinating; established by the Nabataeans around 300 BC, the ancient city of Petra was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom and strategically located along major ancient trade routes. The Nabataeans were excellent traders who grew wealthy by gaining control of the incense trade in their time. As frankincense and myrrh were used regularly in burial, embalming, and sacrificial rituals and ceremonies, incense was in exceptionally high demand and the Nabataeans were able to establish a solid trade route from southern Arabia all the way to Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Unfortunatly there were limited options for joining a tour the day I visited, so still following the directions provided by my hotel’s manager, I was able to spend a few hours hiking through the park without being bothered. Though the paths can seem remote at times (you are afterall wandering through a desert unguided), there are signposts throughout providing some information on the surrounding sites and where you are within the park. Just a warning, in order to really see the tombs hidden away within the mountain enclaves you must be prepared to do some serious climbing and get a little dirty!

Burial tomb facades pictured above and below.

After years of investigation, archaeologists believe they now know the tombs were constructed by cutting into steep rock faces, beginning from the top and working downwards. Monuments were carved and built from extremely precise plans, with contracts drawn up between the tomb owner and the building contractor. Ingeniously above each monument was added a water channel to divert flow and minimize water damage over time.

Shots of the Street of Facades shown above and below. Notice the Tourism Police SUV for context of the sheer size of the facades!

After spending a day exploring the park, a dust storm that had been brewing since morning overtook the park completely and on my third day in Jordan I woke up to the below view.

Located on the far west side of Petra stands the Monastery, the park’s largest monument and one of its most beautiful offering amazing views of the surrounding area. Unfortunately due to the health concerns of breathing the dust (and of course the issue of visibility), my visit to the Monastery had to be canceled. 🙁

Please learn from my experience and prepare yourself more appropriately for your trip to Petra. If you’re a solo woman do not go alone but instead arrange for a private guide beforehand. (Bonus points if your guide helps to discourage touts though, to be fair, there’s only so much they can do.) Plan to spend at least two days within the park first hiking the hidden tombs, then visiting the Monastery. Try to avoid a dust storm and, most importantly, be prepared with a thicker skin than I was so that the constant harassment doesn’t get to you!

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie