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Petra by Night: A Beautiful, Hilarious Tourist Trap

You definitely need to experience Petra by Night. That doesn’t mean it’s good.

Writing my hot take on the popular question “is Petra by night worth it?” could be the shortest blog post I’ve ever written. The answer isn’t a hard “No” but it’s definitely a “Buyer beware.” It’s objectionably terrrrrible. But it’s also so bad it’s… hilarious?

Should you visit Jordan, in general, and Petra, specifically? Absolutely.

Petra is a true wonder of the ancient world. An archeological city carved into rose-coloured sandstone, surrounded by mountains, accessed through a winding narrow gorge called the Siq that opens up to reveal “The Treasury”—a monument as stunning as any pyramid or temple I know. Seeing the Treasury for the first time in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ignited my imagination as a youth. One of my favourite bands, The Sisters of Mercy, filmed a dramatic video for one of my favourite songs (“Dominion”) there, which I would 100% have recreated on my visit if I had a white linen suit and a horse. Having spent two full days there I can say without a doubt Petra is a marvel, a highlight, and a reason to fly around the world, if you can.

Who wouldn’t want to see Petra by night? The image of The Treasury, surrounded by a thousand candles, lit up in vibrant hues of blue and red, is on a million postcards and Instagram posts. There was no question that I’d be buying a ticket.

I should note here that I visited Petra on a small group tour. My friend and I joined the Explore Jordan seven-day tour from Intrepid Travel in part because it included so much time at Petra. Our first afternoon with a guide revealed an expansive site that is much more than just the famous Treasury, and so much fascinating history it boggles the mind that in the West we don’t know more about the Nabateans, who built this place. We also had a free day to meander at our leisure. What the tour didn’t have was admission to Petra by Night.

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That should have been our first red flag: our group tour, which included two days at Petra, did not include tickets to Petra by Night.

Our tour leader, ever diplomatic and an ambassador for his country, gave nothing away when he offered the option, then facilitated tickets for the majority of the group who wanted to go.

It never even occurred to me to read a Petra by night review. To ask our guide if Petra by Night was actually worth it. It was always a given. If you are reading this post, doing your own research, you are already wiser than I.

Is this where you wonder where exactly is the short review of Petra by Night I promised? Alright, I will try my best to put you there, in our dusty shoes, as we experienced it.

Walking through Petra by Night
Photo by gabor koszegi via Unsplash

What happens during Petra by Night

In their words: “a magical way to see part of the rock city by candlelight and explore the old city, which has become a world wonder, incomparable experience starts by walking the entire Siq to the Treasury, lit with over 1,500 candles to bring the major attraction due to the spectacular view it has.”

In my words: A 1km rushed walk on a crooked uneven path trying not to trip to secure a seat for a “show” that consists of bad music (in the dark), bizarre narration (ditto), some nice tea, and a few fleeting moments of the lit-up Treasury you’ve seen in photos, then a long walk back uphill. The end.

OK a few more words?

Maybe it’s me. I expected a “Son et Lumiere” type show with narration, music, sound effects. Cheezy, yes, but it can be majestic. I mean, this is the crown jewel of Jordan’s tourist attractions. Surely, they have a budget?

Reader, they do not have a budget.

They have one guy. The man I thought was The Usher. Trying desperately to maintain order, as we all scurried for chairs. (Bless my trip mates who ran on ahead of me, to get me a seat, since I thought this was going to be a long show…) There were plenty of seats, but The Usher wanted us to take them in a certain sequence, and definitely not to sit crossed legged on the ground in front. He would lose both battles.

At this point I was still excited, and filled with anticipation. The stars were out. The night air was fresh. We have a gorgeous view of the Treasury surrounded by candles, waiting for the Light Show.

Reader, there is no light show.

The Usher is actually the MC. I think. It’s very dark. But we can certainly hear him. He’s telling a story. It’s very emotional. It might be about his mother. No, wait, I think he’s implying Petra is his mother. Maybe?

This goes on for a while.

Sitting at the Treasury in Petra by night
Photo by alex azabache via Unsplash

Then there’s a solo musical act. A pan flute or recorder of some kind. It’s pleasant enough and sets a mood. There is a second guy standing up there, too, holding a microphone to the musician. A real live microphone stand. He’s also smoking. You can see the ember of his cigarette burning in the dark. This goes on for a while.

The MC returns. The story is still weird. We are not really learning anything about Petra.

Tea is served, row by row. It’s sweet and hot.

A second musical act appears, some kind of stringed instrument. Is it not in tune.

The Treasury remains in darkness.

This goes on for … a while.

And then finally… there is light! The Treasury is lit up. The crowd oooohs in unison.

I look at my friend. She looks at me. I know we are thinking the same thing. “I’ve ‘seen’ Petra by night,” she says.

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We decided to cut out early and enjoy a leisurely walk back, beating the crowds. Because the best part of this was the Siq pathway lit up by candles, but we kind of missed the romantic atmosphere on the way down.

Just as the thought hits us, the show is over. The walk down took longer.

Does this sound like fun?  Are you morbidly curious? Then by all means, spend the extra 17 Jordanian dinars ($32 CDN) on top of your daytime ticket, give up the dinner hour, and experience Petra by Night for yourself. And if you love it, I would really like to hear about it in the comments!

Despite my 1-star Petra by Night review I don’t exactly regret going. It was definitely memorable. But when we got into the van the next day, I asked the two members of our group who chose not to go, “Did you guys read Petra by Night reviews, per chance?” They simply smirked. They were smart enough to do their own research. And now so have you.

Photo by dylan shaw via Unsplash

Petra By Night Ticket Info

Petra By Night happens only three nights per week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday) at 8:30pm. No, you cannot just stay in the site and wait for it—it’s very dark after sunset.

Reservations are not available in advance or online, you buy them from the visitor centre/box office starting at 7:30pm. They are unlimited don’t worry about it selling out. Tickets cost 17 JD per person.

For some reason you must also have a Day Ticket for Petra, which is not a problem since of course you came here to see Petra by day also! You can buy those day tickets in advance, see the official site.

Note that you only get to walk the Siq and sit at the Treasury, the rest of the site is not open at night.

Accessibility note: there is no transportation (horse, donkey, golf cart, etc.) up or down at night. So be sure you can walk about 1.2 km both ways.

Most importantly, if you are expecting to see the Treasury lit up, it only happens for a few moments at the end. You will mostly be sitting in darkness. Now you know!

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