Premium-priced Petra

It’s been a(nother) phenomenally busy time. After a string of writing deadlines, which filled the Christmas/New Year break, I’ve just got back from ten days in Lebanon and Jordan to discover that work lined up for Jan and Feb which would have paid almost £3,500 has fallen through – and then today I’ve also had to turn down offers of more work from two major publishers totalling around £15,000, simply because of lack of time this year (several prior commitments)… So you’ll excuse me if I’m not in the best of moods right now.

The Treasury, Petra

While I was in Jordan last week, I made an incognito visit to Petra. This has always been by far the priciest of Jordan’s tourist attractions: where most other sites cost a few dinars to get in, Petra cost 21 JD (£18/$30) for a one-day ticket, 26 JD (£23/$37) for two days, 31 JD (£27/$44) for three or more days. That’s only for ‘foreigners’: Jordanians, expat residents and Arab nationals pay 1 JD a day. Debating the rights and wrongs of that is for another time and place.

Some people, of course, like to take a guide – you could drop into the Visitor Centre at the entrance gate and book a guide on the spot: 20 JD for a straightforward trot through the main sights of Petra (2.5 hours) or 50 JD for a full-day tour.

As you walk into the site, there are also local people offering horses to ride. In the old days you could ride a horse all the way through the Siq canyon into the heart of the ancient city – that was great, a really exciting, memorable experience. But it also, of course, degrades the site’s terrain to have hundreds of people galloping horses around every day, and so, back in the 90s, it was decreed that tourists could only ride horses for the 700m or so from the ticket gate down to the Siq entrance, where everybody had to dismount. If you still wanted to do this short ride, the fee was fixed recently at 7 JD – but then you had to run the gauntlet of the handlers (who were hardly ever the horse-owners) trying to wheedle extra tips out of you.

Astronomic price rises

Now USAID has been brought in as consultants to reorganize how tourists experience Petra. What I discovered last week amounts not only to astronomic price rises, but a shockingly corrupt system of backhanders being written into law.

As of 1st January this year, the Petra authorities are forcing everybody who enters Petra to pay a compulsory surcharge covering the cost of a guide and a horse-ride, regardless of whether they use those services or not.

In addition they are splitting tourist visitors into two classes. Regular tourists – defined as those who stay overnight in Jordan – now pay 33 JD (£29/$47) admission for one day, JD38 (£33/$54) for two days, JD43 (£37/$61) for three or more days.

From 1st November 2010 those prices rise again, to JD50 (£43/$71), JD55 (£48/$78) and JD60 (£52/$85). That’s a heck of a lot of money: a family of four wanting to visit Petra for a couple of days now faces a bill of almost £200 for the entry ticket alone.

“Day Visitors” (presumably defined as those tourists who do not stay overnight in Jordan) are hit even harder. They must pay JD40 (£35/$56) until end-Feb, JD60 (£52/$85) from March till October, and then from November onwards a staggering JD90 (£78/$127) per person simply to get a one-day ticket to enter Petra. A family of four who have booked a holiday in Egypt and who choose to make a daytrip to Petra now face a staggering £312 fee simply to get into the ancient site.

The authorities have clearly decided that people who want to see Petra will be willing to pay any price to do so. That’s quite a gamble.

And how are the staff at the Petra ticket desk going to differentiate between a “Day Visitor” and someone who has a hotel booked (in Amman, say) for that night?

More to the point, why should I be forced to subsidise the horse-owners and tour-guides of Petra when I do not wish to avail myself of their services?

This is a country whose average salary is under $7000 a year and which is – let’s face it – only very modestly equipped in terms of tourist infrastructure, though it makes great play of its hospitable welcome to visitors. With these changes Jordan is now, quite overtly, setting out to screw as much money out of its tourists – instead of, for instance, concentrating on developing a decent range of attractions and fostering local private-sector investment in tourism to offer a broader, more mature national product.

Petra needs an overhaul, sure. Daytrippers who visit Petra from Egypt or Israel, then go back across the border the same day, spending virtually nothing in Jordan, are a problem. But will punitive entry prices solve it? Why not make Jordan more attractive, to entice people to stay longer?

Proposals for more toilets on-site, better interpretation and new transport services in & out are welcome. But why such a massive price-hike to fund them? Petra had more than 800,000 visitors in 2008, who brought more than $21 million in ticket receipts for this one site, in one year alone, in a developing-world country. $21m buys a lot of portaloos. Where has that money gone?

The worst is that the authorities have decided to line the pockets of Petra’s horse-owners with gold. These people – and the handlers who hold the reins – provide a dreadful introduction to Petra. The horses are hardly prime physical specimens. The stables beside the path stink. As of last week the handlers were still demanding “tips” from tourists, despite now being paid directly from ticket receipts.

Petra – though the most impressive ancient site in Jordan – is my least favourite Jordanian experience. It’s a hustle, and it just got worse.


  1. alexander

    I love Petra, hate the touts. Best visit ever was as the USA was invading Iraq – we had the entire place entirely to ourselves.

    It is a gamble, isn’t it? I can’t really see it paying off either – I do hope this isn’t part of a wider reform of tourist sites that will see prices hiked in the Citadel, Jerash, Umm Qeis etc.

    I agree totally about the infrastructure, too. It’s also something I think the chaps here in the UAE could work on to protect the many little-known and often unprotected heritage sites around the country.

    But in Jordan, particularly in rural areas like Petra, you’ve got old man wasta to contend with. And we all know how very pernicious he can be…

  2. thelocalguide

    I also wonder what they do with the money.

  3. ynotoman

    Jordan has a lot of competition just over the border in Egypt & Syria (Syria I found far more interesting than Jordan from Busra onwards) and, apart from that – what a time to hike charges – being ripped of is irritating even in boom times – but in a slump a rip-off often means a walk away.

  4. Hal

    I read this with interest since visiting Petra and Jordan has always been a dream of mine, however after reading your account I think I’ll confine myself to watching re-runs of the original “Indiana Jones” and enjoying it by armchair. But seriously, I think this gouge-fest of the visiting public masquerading as “reform” for visitor facilities is probably another example of national landmarks being ill-maintained during good times (long before 2008 too, when they could have actually been using the much higher visitor numbers to improve facilities, etc.) resulting in an even worse decision now during world-wide slumps in travel thanks to global recession to cover their shortfall in visitor numbers by doing exactly the wrong thing. You can’t get blood out of a stone…not even a Petra stone, sadly.

  5. Matthew Teller

    Thank you, everyone, for comments. I think @Alexander hit the nail on the head with ‘old man wasta’…

    I’ll keep everyone posted about developments; from the opinions I’m picking up, it’s possible that this policy may not last…

  6. Nathalie Choueiri

    I never understand the constant complaints from westerners visiting sites in other countries who complain about price hikes when their own museums which hold nothing compared to the history and vastness available in Petra charge sky high admission fees.

    Petra is a vast city that requires a minimum of 3 days to visit completely and I don’t believe that the prices for what are on offer are high at this open air museum

    1. Matthew Teller

      Thanks for your comment, Nathalie – but I’m a bit confused. Take the British Museum in London – I’m not sure that anyone would say it holds “nothing”, but it is free to enter. The Smithsonian Instituition in Washington DC – free. The Louvre in Paris – 13 dollars.

      Let’s look at other big sites in developing countries. The Taj Mahal in India – 16 dollars. The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt – 8 dollars. Machu Picchu in Peru – 45 dollars.

      But Petra – 70 dollars for one day. To see it for three days: almost 90 dollars.

      I don’t think that is justifiable, regardless of how good you think Petra is.

      It’s a pity you choose to see this as “complaints” – and even more of a pity that you add an ethnic dimension. Do you feel that this is about “us and them” – Westerners and ‘Others’? I see it as poorly conceived, poorly executed tourism management practice.

  7. Karen Tanboor

    I am an American living in Jordan right now. I have only been here for about 7 months but I will be here for 3 years.

    I have had the great privilege of traveling all over the world and I am currently working on my 7 Wonders of the World Tour.

    It is shocking to find out that Jordan’s GDP is 20% tourism. I have found most of the tourist sites lame. Our day at the dead sea was a strange combo package, too commercial at the pool and then the entrance into the sea was so under developed that I almost fell and broke body parts.

    This is not a country if you are not in good physical condition. The walks into sites are long, rough and at times dangerous. Even the rural parts of Morocco are more developed than many of the sites here. As I was standing at the Baptismal site of Jesus outside of Amman I remember thinking, this is it? I am a resident of Jordan thanks to my Jordanian husband so thankfully I don’t have to pay the high prices because it just won’t be worth it. Of course until we found out that ex-pats/residents don’t have to pay the high price they were glad to take the huge JD price tag that came with my USA passport.

    Jordan has missed the boat. They focus on 4 star hotels that are missing many of the amenities of 4 stars around the world when they should be developing and preserving their historical tourist sites because beyond that there is not much to do here.

    It is a lovely place but they need some help in developing into a world class destination.

  8. Jordan Tourism Board

    Thank you for your comment, Karen.

    It is unfortunate that this is your impression of Jordan. Although we do receive some comments regarding some issues at the touristic sites in the country, the positive feedback we receive far exceeds them. We do, however, welcome all comments, because we are constantly trying to improve and enhance the tourist experience.

    The national tourism strategy has a pillar dedicated to product development and the tourism sector in Jordan is giving much attention to it.

    As for the Baptism Site and Petra, the main goal is to maintain the sites to preserve their historical significance and impact. We want to provide an authentic, unblemished experience, rather than a manufactured one.

    As for the entry prices, they are not high considering the sites you are visiting. Petra is a city all to itself. It requires, if not a full day, then 2 to 3 days of exploration, and provides a one in a lifetime experience that no museum and no other site in the world can offer. And while you diminish the experience at the baptism site of Jesus Christ, others feel a tremendous sense of spirituality at this holy place, regardless of their religious orientation or beliefs.

  9. Matthew Teller

    Thank you Karen, and thank you JTB. Interesting to hear both sides. Karen, you raise a number of good points: you have to be in reasonable shape to get around Petra, Karak castle (or any of the castles, including Shobak, Ajloun, Hallabat), Dana, even the Amman citadel – but then again much of Jordan’s appeal is its lack of ‘prettification’: I’m not sure I’d like to see Petra with smooth paths and railings everywhere. (IMHO, the main Siq path is already too clean and ‘prepared’).

    Your point about hotels is well made. Visitors might overlook lower-grade facilities if there’s lots of character and atmosphere, and they may put up with blandness if the facilities and amenities are excellent. Jordan’s hotels, in general, satisfy neither.

    I’m afraid I don’t agree with the JTB’s assessment of Petra’s entry prices (as my original blog post said): I’m taken aback at your claim that 50JD – let alone 90JD – is “not high”. It is naked opportunistic exploitation, and it reflects very poorly on Jordan as a nation – as does the shabbiness of Wadi Musa, the scandalously poor quality of most of WM’s hotels, the hustle from the guides…

    However, JTB, I think you’re right about the atmosphere at the Baptism Site. Karen, I’m sorry your reaction was “Is this it?” – you’re, genuinely, the only person I know who’s been disappointed by their experience here. I love it, every time I go back.

  10. Jordan Tourism Board

    Thank you Matthew.
    Regarding the sites and the need for good physical shape to explore them, the sites are historical landmarks and cannot be “prettified,” as you said, for convenience. However, whenever possible, there are modern amenities to make it easier for some. For those that are not interested in physical activity, or are not capable, Jordan offers many relaxing experiences instead.

    The increase in entry visa fees is very reasonable, at only 20JDs ($30), compared to other destinations, like the UK, which charges 84JDs for 6 months, not to mention the high visa fees that Jordanians have to pay to enter other countries. And while you point out that Jordanians need tourists, tourists enjoy visiting our country and we give them their money’s worth and more.

    As for the increase in entry fees to Petra, it is one of the 7 World Wonders, and is an experience all to itself. It is highly sought after, and Jordan is completely justified in trying to harness Petra’s appeal to its benefit. The money is being put to good use to enhance the visitors’ experience by developing Petra and adding new facilities for visitors to the site, as well as improving signage…etc. Perhaps then, Karen, people that are not as physically able can enjoy the site more comfortably.

  11. Karen Tanboor


    I never expected such a response from this post.

    I agree that I like the un-commercialization of Jordan. There is a middle ground that has not been touched. As a photographer and designer I like rough and natural it is much more interesting. With that said there is a difference between rough and natural and dangerous. Going into the Dead Sea was dangerous.

    The baptismal site just didn’t impress me especially when I paid the higher non-Jordanian price. I have found sites around Jordan that have much more spiritual aspect than that particular site. My opinion. I am a Christian but I find the open mosque in Ballad to much more spiritual than the Baptismal site. I am glad that I did it and I recommended it to everyone that asks.

    I strongly disagree that the prices of Petra are reasonable. Petra is spectacular but at a ~$100USD price it is insulting. As for the argument that it is a city unto itself. I don’t remember an entrance fee to Paris, Barcelona or Marrakesh. I will have to check next month if there is an entrance fee to the pyramids.

    Again there needs to be a middle ground. I have many friends that want to travel here while I have a home here. Some of them would have a very hard time navigating the sites because of disabilities. There are no services to help with those circumstances. Even in Morocco, that is less developed than Jordan, had developed sites to allow easier access for those that have limitations. I am not suggesting commercialization or ruining a site with over development, but clever well designed access could maintain the natural beauty while opening the experience to many more travelers.

    All of these sites are amazing and something I think everyone on earth should experience at least once in their lifetime. As an avid traveler, there needs to be more if Amman and Jordan are going to become a world class destination. Historical sites alone do not make a destination.

  12. Matthew Teller

    Thank you, JTB (!) for coming back. I don’t want to bore everyone else with long replies, so I’ll try to be clear.

    Re. visa fees: yes, tourists enjoy visiting Jordan, but that’s not a reason to raise prices. There’s really no point comparing what Jordanians pay elsewhere – if the UK barred all Jordanians tomorrow, the British tourism industry would not suffer one iota. If Jordan barred Brits, the Jordanian economy would dip, businesses would fail and Jordanian bread-winners would find themselves out of work. Foreigners already pay 5JDs for the privilege of LEAVING Jordan (exit tax) – that’s bad enough! When Israel issues free visas, and Egypt charges US$15 (10JD), I am just very concerned that Jordan is pricing itself out of the market. I don’t want to see Jordan losing out.

    The same applies to the absurd Petra charges. One comparison from my own country: for £41 (=45JD) – less than the cost of a one-day ticket to Petra – I can have get into FIVE of London’s royal palaces – the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace – not once, but AS MANY TIMES AS I WANT for a full year.

    As for the ‘New7Wonders’ tag – this is what it costs to get into the other six:

    Machu Picchu, Peru: PEN126 (=32JD)
    Taj Mahal, India: INR970 (=15JD)
    Colosseum, Italy: EUR15.50 (=15JD)
    Christ Redeemer, Brazil: BRL36 (=15JD)
    Great Wall of China – most expensive part: CNY85 (=9JD)
    Chichen Itza, Mexico: MXN98 (=6JD)

    Petra is a city – you’re right – but to price it at almost double Machu Picchu is just wrong.

    There can be no question: Petra’s entry fees are too high. Charging today’s visitors for supposed improvements that might happen tomorrow does nothing except make people angry.

    Jordan has made a mistake, and should rectify it quickly.

    Finally, thank you Karen for coming back too. Interesting to hear your perspective. Can anyone else offer any further insight?

  13. Eddie Taylor

    I have to agree with Matthew here…

    Jordan is a place whose considerable charms are gradually being buried beneath short-term financial gain. Petra is the obvious example, and it’s made more galling by the primitive amenities that surround it… The site speaks for itself and deserves its accolade – however artificial the Seven Wonders are – but the Tourist Board appear to have done little to improve the experience of visiting it.

    There’s a limited number of viable public transport options for reaching Petra independently, the Visitor Centre looks more like a long-forgotten public library than the gateway to a historical treasure, the horses provide a wretched accompaniment to the walk to the Siq and, once you’re there, the only advancement to the refreshment options in the last decade has been in the price.

    There are other examples: visiting the Dead Sea in anything approaching 21st century comfort is impossible without shelling out 40JDs for a day-pass at a private hotel, and the same is increasingly true of Aqaba and Hammamet Ma’in.

    I notice the MoTA is now also charging to enter Mukawir – one of my favourite spots in Jordan. But there are still no maps, well-designed or presented histories, no viewing sites, etc. What’s the money going on?

    Jordan has so much to offer the visitor, but it’s either being unfulfilled or abused to the point of exploitation. It’s a country that has laid a lot of golden eggs, but I fear we’re slowly killing the goose that’s laid them.

  14. Shaney Hudson

    Great Post Matthew- you continue to raise good points.

    A note to JT- as a l travel writer who has been to four of the seven ‘new wonders’, I do find the prices for Petra greedy in comparison to the prices for other sites. I do find it cost prohibitive and off-putting as a traveller who likes to self-fund her own trips. Petra is something i would like to see, and Jordan somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit, but in general, I feel unwelcome and exploited when I visit a country that hikes the prices of its historic wonders in an attempt to fill the coffers.

    Just as an aside, I recently I visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which I would classify as a city unto itself. The cost there for a seven day pass is maximum $70USD. It is a steep price to pay and in IMHO, a bit much. However the price has remained steady and in the ten years since I last visited, I was able to see where the money has been spent on rehabilitating the site.

    Personally, I’d love to see Matthew head back to see if that extra money has actually been used to fix up the site and improve infrastructure over the last year.

  15. Jeremy Head

    I agree with Matthew.
    I’ve visited Jordan several times and it’s one of my favourite destinations as a travel writer. Wonderful people, amazing history (which I too appreciate for its ruggedness) and in my opinion good quality accommodation (particularly at the top end).
    But yes, I think it IS expensive. And compared to SE Asia or South America I think you really notice the difference in prices. Having said that other parts of the Middle East are not cheap either (Oman, Qatar etc).

    I’d question USAID and their involvement. If I was Jordanian I’d be asking ‘Why can’t we work out how to organise our tourism infrastructure and pricing?’ What do they know?’

    Will the Petra price hike have a negative impact on visitor numbers – probably not. I imagine that for the many people who visit on packages the cost will be hidden within the overall cost of the holiday.

    Will those who do have to cough up at the entrance resent it a bit and will it detract from their holiday – yes quite possibly.

    I think it’s long term v short term perspective and this feels short-termist. But hey… that’s tourism in a nutshell isn’t it? Milk ’em while you can as they probably won’t come back anyway.

  16. Jordan Tourism Board

    Dear Karen,
    I’m unsure of why you thought the Dead Sea was dangerous. If you visited the beach through an undeveloped area along the coast, then perhaps it wasn’t as safe as the areas accessible through the resorts, hotels, and the touristic beach. Those are heavily monitored and developed, and are not considered dangerous at all.

    As for the Baptism Site…to each their own. Not everyone can be expected to have a spiritual experience there, Christian or not, and that is their prerogative.

    Regarding entry fees at Petra, the fee is not $100 but $70. The $100 fee is for day visitors to Jordan for the specific purpose of visiting Petra then leaving. It is fair to overnight visitors to pay a somewhat lesser fee than same-day visitors to the country. Not to mention the fact that you get free entry to the museums, a tour guide and a horse with the price of the entry ticket.

    Petra is 262,000 square metres; it has 3,000 registered monuments, and 800 registered engraved facades, as well as 107 informational signs, and information booths. There is also the introduction of three new major trails.
    As for your claim that Paris and Barcelona do not charge entrance fees, Amman doesn’t either. Neither does Irbid, As-Salt, Karak or Ajlun and you are more than welcome to visit all of them. However, specific sites and landmarks all over the world, in every city, do charge entry fees and are justified.

    And to answer your question, there are entry fees to the pyramids.
    As for the development of accessible ramps and the like for people with disabilities at the Petra site, we agree and are trying to work on that. However, considering the limited resources available, we need to raise the money somewhere in order to enhance the tourist experience and add these necessary amenities. Please keep in mind that the price increase is there to help maintain the site.
    To add to that, all sightseeing requires some physical strength, regardless of the existence of the proper amenities.

    And it is agreed, historical sites alone do not make a destination, which is why Jordan offers so much more. We have 6 different experiences that we focus on – you can view them on our website, – to cater to every traveller’s needs.

    As for Matthew’s suggestion that Jordan would suffer if it barred Brits, we weren’t really arguing that point. And we spend a lot of effort promoting Jordan in the UK market, and always welcome visitors from that important source market. We are merely stressing that with the 20JD ($30 or 17 pounds) visa, you get to see a whole lot.

    We would like to thank all those that commented for caring about Jordan and its future, and we would never think of deterring individuals from visiting our country. We are merely trying to improve it the best way we can. Valid points will be taken into consideration and passed on to the proper authorities for deliberation.

  17. Matthew Teller

    Thank you everyone – lots of fascinating points here. I remain unconvinced by the JTB’s points, but I have a great deal of respect for their willingness to actively engage with the issues here (and on Twitter). It’s refreshing to have the official line expressed so clearly and eloquently.

    Thank you again.

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