Visiting Petra – The Ethical Way

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Petra Jordan


This is a guest post by fellow travel blogger Tom Henty. Tom writes at tomhentystravel.co.uk

Jordan is home to many ancient treasures throughout its vast desert lands, and none more so than the ancient lost city, ‘Petra’.

The globally iconic natural wonder is a big draw for tourists visiting Jordan, and the many famous highlights on site will keep you entertained all day, as you search for answers through a time machine back to the 3rd Century BC, when there were once thriving Nabateans roaming the city.

As tourist numbers rise, it is important that visitors use an ethical approach to the archaeological site to ensure it is preserved long into the future!

This blog will provide you with all the information you need to enjoy one of the true wonders of the world in a way which helps to preserve its ancient beauty.

Petra Jordan

A brief history of Petra in Jordan

Petra is one of the oldest known cities in the world, dating back thousands of years. The lost city offers insights into the lives of the Nabatean people through rock carvings, tombs,  temples and a Roman amphitheatre, all of which are well preserved.

Following Petra’s inclusion in the ‘new seven wonders of the world’ in July 2007, its tourism has boomed with International tourists flocking to the Middle East to enjoy the ancient city.

The name Petra derives from the Greek word ‘petros’, which means rocks, so, it is no surprise that the iconic areas of the lost city are expertly carved into the rocks.

It is thought that only 15% of Petra has been explored by archaeologists so far, meaning that there are still many surprises to be uncovered. It is important that visitors continue to enjoy the wonder in an ethical way to ensure that projects are put in place to continue the excavation.

UNESCO made Petra a world heritage site back in 1985 due to the historical value it has provided.

The most iconic structures of the site are:

  • The Treasury.
  • The Monastery.
  • The Royal Tombs.
  • The Amphitheatre.
  • The Siq.

When Swiss explorer ‘Johann Ludwig Burckhardt’ first discovered the Lost City back in 1812, the archaeological landscape of Jordan changed forever. Petra has been a significant contributor to the tourism income of the small nation ever since, which is now worth billions in annual revenue.

Petra’s location, how to get there, how long is needed, what to expect

Petra is located in a narrow valley of ‘Wadi Musa’ (a small town), and is surrounded by tall sandstone cliffs.

Wadi Musa can be located by the famous ‘King’s highway’ from Amman, and other areas located at the opposite end of the country.

To enter Petra, you must walk around 1km through ‘the Siq’ walkway to find the main attractions. Alternatively, there are transport options, however, you have to be very careful with these options, as some of them include cruelty to animals. If you want a truly ethical and sustainable visit, then plan your trip in cooler temperatures, and allow yourself more time to walk.

It is recommended that you plan to spend all day at Petra, to make the most of it in the correct way. Once you have conquered the Siq, the majority of the main sites are within walking distance of each other.

The Monastery is a challenge for any fitness level,as it is over 800 steps away from the rest of the site. This needs some planning, especially in summer months.

Please don’t ride the donkeys up the stairs, as it is not fair on them!

Practical information for visiting Petra:

Opening times – Summer 6am – 6pm, Winter 6am – 4pm.

Entrance fees – One day 50 JD (£55), two days 55 JD (£61), three days 60 JD (£66).

Purchasing A Jordan Pass is the most efficient way of touring Jordan, as it also includes your Visa.

Why should you visit the Wonders of the World in a sustainable and ethical way?

Visiting the world’s wonders is like a hands-on history lesson, as we uncover important mysteries around ancient civilisations of yesteryear. The beautiful landmarks show us just how magnificent the populations of the past were, to create such wonderful landmarks with fewer resources.

It is important that we are mindful when visiting these sites, so we can preserve the beauty for generations to come, so they can enjoy them as we do now.

Some key benefits of visiting the wonders sustainably are:

  • Support local communities – making sure they get their fair share of the tourism income.
  • Minimising environmental impact – Mindfully choosing eco-friendly practices when travelling to help the planet.
  • Respecting local cultures – Being aware of cultural differences and accepting them helps to sustain the wonders.
  • Preserving courage heritage – Respecting the landmarks means that future generations can also feel the ancient history of past civilisations.

Petra Jordan

The locals in Petra – Donkeys, camels, horses, children

The culture of the locals is the essence of a Petra visit, from the moment you walk through the entrance gate, all the way up to the Monastery. Their local charm, and eccentric behaviour creates a unique vibe throughout the lost city.

Although this offers a lot of fun and enjoyment, they also undertake some questionable behaviours. So it is important to have a level of awareness, so you don’t partake in the actions with them, or encourage them.

The misuse of animals

You will see a mixture of animals throughout your visit to Petra, such as donkeys, horses, and camels. This adds to the unique character of the place, but there is a fine line between enjoying the presence of the animals, and exploiting them.

The locals advertise ‘donkey rides’ in all areas, however, when they are using the donkeys to carry heavy tourists up 800 stairs to the monastery in very hot temperatures, it is animal cruelty.

Being mindful of the state that the donkeys are in is very important, as we saw some donkeys looking very healthy and happy, but then others that looked exhausted hiding in the rare spots of shade.

The same goes for the camels, especially at the main Treasury site. It was apparent when we were there that some of them were unsettled and not relaxed due to the amount of tourists around them, with some riding them for a photo opportunity.

It seems that if visitors are willing to pay, then the locals will use the animals, despite the conditions.

Using children to get tourists money

When you arrive at the Treasury, you will encounter children sellers for the first time. All trying to lure you up to the best viewpoints high up, or sell you souvenirs out of their pockets.

The kids don’t take no for an answer, so be prepared to say no many times, or if you accept their offers, you will likely overpay.

For example, the viewpoints are actually free for anyone to wander up and enjoy the full experience of the treasury in all its beauty, however, the children make it out as if it’s ‘pay them or miss out’.

It is good to support the locals, as Petra is their treasure, however, I have seen children collect money and have to hand it straight to the adults immediately, therefore, it is questionable whether the children actually get paid for their work in the boiling heat.

A little bit of forward planning can help to avoid getting scammed, as the excitement levels swirl around this magnificent part of the site.

Purchasing original rocks and coins

Another common problem which tourists can encounter are locals selling ‘original rocks’, or ‘roman coins’, claiming they can take some of Petra’s history home with them.

It is forbidden to take any rocks from the Petra site, and this can lead to severe punishment.

The Roman coins which are sold as ‘originals’ are also known to be fake also, and overpriced. So choose another souvenir which you know is legal and sustainable.

Waste ruining the natural beauty spots

Although most parts of the wonder are clean and full of beautiful nature, there are some instances of large waste levels, which questions the sustainability of the long term use of Petra.

Plastic cups are used in the shops and restaurants on site, along with plastic bags for souvenirs. There are bins overflowing in many areas, even in low season.

How can you enjoy an ethical visit to Petra?

There is a lot of poverty in Jordan, so it is understandable why some of the above practices are used to try to obtain as much cash as possible for the local communities, however, this doesn’t mean that tourists shouldn’t mindfully practise ethical travel.

Here are some actionable ways to promote sustainability at Petra.

Actively reduce litter

Petra is a very large site, so you can end up far away from the main tourist sites, especially if you enjoy exploring off the beaten track. This means that there may be no bins which are handy for your rubbish.

You can either stay close to the popular spots until you are ready to dispose of your litter, or keep hold of any rubbish in your bags etc until you pass a bin.

We noticed food rubbish inside caves at the Royal Tombs, which really ruined the moment in a beautiful natural spot.

Purchase local handmade souvenirs

You can find some wonderful souvenirs on site, which will help you remember your one-of-a-kind experience in the Lost City.

However, there are many imported cheap souvenirs which can be found everywhere in Jordan. It is highly unlikely that the local Bedouin communities will benefit from these sales.

By looking for handmade goods, from market sellers that will clearly gain the full benefit of the sales, you will be helping the locals make some income, while not encouraging the importing of goods from countries such as China.

Using cash as a payment method will also help the cash into the locals pockets.

Don’t ride the animals

Riding a camel in front of the treasury is an exciting prospect for many international visitors, however, you should consider whether it is really worth it.

You can ride a camel in a safer environment, where the locals treat them correctly and the animals aren’t stressed.

It goes without saying that you should never ride a donkey or horse up any steps on site, as it is such a burden on the animals. The locals do ride them, so by not entertaining this method of tourism, you are helping to reduce animal cruelty.

The best spots to visit in Petra/Best time to visit

A day trip to Petra is a very active and tiring day, so visiting at different times of the year will have an impact on your experience.

The spring months of March – May, along with autumn time in September – November offer a much cooler experience. This will make your day walking a lot more bearable, however, the crowds will be hectic, therefore, if you want to enjoy the Treasury to yourself, a summer visit may be better.

Without a doubt, the most popular photo spots are the Treasury and Monastery. They are iconic for good reason, as they are simply breathtaking, and it is hard to fathom how ancient civilisations could have constructed them.

You want to plan your Petra visit, so it includes both treasures!

Conclusion

There is a reason why Petra is the first addition to every visitor’s Jordan itinerary, as the ancient city has a beautiful awe about the place. Most visitors have no trouble and don’t witness unethical practices, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t occurring.

It is essential that we all play our part in promoting sustainability at the site, through mindful small actions, which will add up to help to preserve the beautiful landmark long into the future.

Planning in advance will always help with this, so it’s time to get your passport out and visit Petra in the right way, in an ethical way!

About the author: Tom Henty

Author’s Bio: Tom Henty is a travel blogger from the North East of England, who has a curiosity for all things travel. He has visited over 40 countries so far in his quest to visit 100. His favourite country is Thailand and favourite city is Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina. His mission is to help others experience the magic of travel through his articles and photos.

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