Dangers & Annoyances
Petra has a few specific issues related to its geography and the large volume of visitors received each year.
- From September to March, dangerous flash floods (walls of water that pulse along the narrow defiles) can catch hikers unaware. Checking the forecast is essential.
- Traders and animal handlers (including children) can be over-persistent in the competitive high season, sometimes overcharging and employing hard-sell techniques. The best antidote is to engage them in conversation.
- Women are especially vulnerable to unwanted romantic advances in remote parts of Petra. A firm 'no thank you' is generally a sufficient deterrent.
Treatment of Animals in the Ancient City of Petra
If there's one area of complaint that understandably upsets visitors more than others in the Ancient City, it's the mistreatment of animals. Indeed, many visitors are now quick to admonish any incidents of animal mishandling, particularly from the younger boys, some of whom mete out the kind of treatment to animals that a harsh environment often delivers to them. This, of course, is no excuse, and the local community, together with the Petra administration, have come together over recent years to try to improve the welfare of the animals who form an essential part of the Bedouin family livelihood and whose presence helps to greatly enhance the pleasure of the site for visitors. These efforts are beginning to bear fruit, and animals appear generally in better condition, are better nourished and are on the whole better treated than in former times. While most owners take responsibility for their animals very seriously, incidents of ill treatment still occur. Some visitors have suggested a ban on animal use, but this is more likely to encourage neglect of the family assets as Bedouin incomes are extremely limited and don't stretch to supporting a redundant 'family member'. And in all likelihood, this would lead to the dispiriting prospect of a Petra without the people and animals who have been minding this valley for centuries, replaced by technological alternatives, such as golf buggies and electric carts.
While some Bedouin animal handlers resent tourists interfering in the way they treat their animals, most are now sensitive to the fact that their actions are under scrutiny. A word of encouragement to the animal handler about an alternative way of cajoling their charges into action is appreciated more than a diatribe against animal cruelty. All ill treatment should be reported to the tourist police at the Petra Visitor Centre, preferably with photographic or video evidence. This approach is already having a positive impact, and the attitudes of handlers towards the various animals at work in Petra are slowly changing.
If you do decide that you'd like to ride a horse, ensure that you find a provider who offers animals that are capable of carrying their mount. You should also pay the appropriate fare (as given at the Petra Visitor Centre) for the services you commission. It is largely as a result of cut-price fares that handlers feel pressured to return more quickly to base (thereby putting their animals at risk) to recoup the loss with an additional fare.
Tourist Police Station Within the Petra Visitor Centre complex. This is the place to register complaints about misconduct on behalf of guides (an unlikely occurrence) or mistreatment of animals by their handlers.
Solo Women Travellers
Some solo women travellers have reported being hoodwinked into relationships with local Bedouin men that turn out to be nothing more than an opportunity for free sex and the chance of making money through hard luck stories that come later, communicated through social media. While something of a common phenomenon in this part of the world, some local men have honed the art of deception to perfection, and women may need to be more alert to emotional blackmail than usual here.
The best advice is to treat offers of hospitality from attractive men, declarations of undying love and promises of platonic nights under the stars with scepticism if not caution. Dressing modestly is not only more culturally sensitive; it will also help keep unwanted attention to a minimum. Instances of physical harassment are rare and generally a good-natured but determined 'thanks but no thanks' is enough to ward off potential scammers. In the unusual circumstance where this is not the case, however, the incident should be reported to the tourist police within the Petra Visitor Centre complex.
Signposting is steadily improving within the Ancient City, but a map and guidebook remain essential to identifying and interpreting sights.
The best map for hiking without a guide is the Royal Jordanian Geographic Centre’s contoured 1:5000 Map of Petra (2005; JD5), available at bookshops in Wadi Musa.
A free Petra map published by the Petra Development & Tourism Region Authority is given on purchasing tickets and includes a few photographs that help identify certain monuments. There's also a plan of hiking trails on the wall of the Petra Visitor Centre, a photograph of which may make a useful, portable supplement to other available maps.