Jordan: The Petra Harrison Ford Didn't See

On a recent trip to Jordan, our Money MD stayed at Wadi Musa -- the village where the legendary Petra is located. Petra's majestic "Treasury" site was used a location for filming "Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade."

Shortly after we entered Wadi Musa, the village where the legendary Petra is located, I said to myself, “Where are the women?”

Our driver was a man, as was our guide, and all the people in the streets -- yes, the same. It was as though we had entered the single-sex kingdom. Welcome to Jordan, at least outside Amman. The indigenous female gender is scarce to nonexistent in the streets. It’s eerie. On the rare occasion I did see a female, the woman was covered head-to-foot and sometimes even her eyes were draped.

Just outside Petra in the city of Wadi Musa, the women on the street are tourists, not natives.What Wadi Musa was lacking in visible indigenous women, however, it makes up in tourists -- of both sexes. This pilgrimage to the centuries-old sandstone formations each day is a tribute to the Nabatean feat over nature. The Nabateans were a nomadic tribe from Western Arabia who settled in the area in the sixth century before Jesus Christ. They controlled and taxed trade that went through this region until just after the time of Christ. The revenue was considerable as they were on the trade route of incense and spices shipped from the south.

With the wealth, the Nabateans carved Petra out of iron red sandstone. The city was abandoned after a series of earthquakes. Then, it stood known only to local peoples until 1812, when Ibrahim Burckhardt from Switzerland sought it out after being told of its existence while traveling in the region.

Petra was so full of tourists that it was difficult to enjoy its majesty.

Jordan now has about 500,000 so-called “package tour tourists” each year, and that number doesn’t include foreigners who prefer to explore on their own. Every package tour goes to Petra, the main attraction. Conservatively, at least 1,300 tourists enter the park each day. When we visited, it seemed to be many more -- the site was swarming with visitors. That, unfortunately, meant the beauty and sanctity of the site just couldn’t be appreciated.

To avoid this situation, visit during non-peak hours: Either very early in the morning, off-season when weather conditions may not be the best, or during an evening tour when crowds tend to be thinner. The government itself is working toward restricting numbers in a different way -- soon the cost of visiting the park will increase from 33 Jordanian dinars (JD) to 50 dinars for the day. One dinar is worth $1.41 American dollars, a set exchange rate.

The Treasury, the major tomb in Petra, peeking through the long, narrow rock entrance to the site called the Siq.

For armchair travelers, there are many good ways to see Petra that don’t involve travel. One is to enjoy it by touring the website of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Another is to watch this haunting video of the archaeological site:

If you choose to catch a magic carpet, Go2Petra.com offers tips, maps and useful travel information. You should also visit the websites of the Jordan Tourism Board and Jordan Jubilee.

    

The Tombs at Petra.We stayed in the Movenpick Hotel in Wadi Musa, which is handily located just outside the park. My husband and I found it comfortable. Unfortunately, our friends had a less-than-stellar experience. The air conditioner didn’t work and it wasn’t fixed until the third night of our visit. (The hotel did give them some compensation for their inconvenience.)

The luxurious interior of the Movenpick Hotel in Petra.Petra is so unique that it was used as a location for filming “Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade,” starring Harrison Ford in 1989. My guess is that he didn’t see any local women while he was there either.

Shirley M. Mueller is a physician turned financial consultant who writes for Physician's Money Digest each week on her blog, "My Money MD."