This weekend we visited Petra and the Red Sea town of Eilat, Israel. The main attraction for this trip was Petra and the easiest border crossing is in Eilat. It is quite expensive to find a hotel in Eilat but we found a great bed and breakfast for a reasonable price (around 90 dollars US – http://www.cactuseilat.com/). It was a 10 minute walk to the Eilat promenade and a 5-10 minute drive to the border crossing from our room.
Eilat is about a 3-3.5 hour drive from Kiryat Gat and we arrived early Thursday evening. We had plenty of daylight for a walk to the promenade and on the way I noticed how the mountains reminded me of Las Vegas. The promenade is a happening place. There are tons of stores and large vegas like hotels. We had a bite to eat at Aroma and headed back to our room.
On Friday’s the border crossing opens at 8 am (crossing hours and info) and we were advised to get there early to beat the tours. We arrived at 7 and we were at the front of the line. Unfortunately, arriving early did us little good. When they opened we had to stand in line to pay our exit fees while the people in the tours went directly to passport control. Fortunately, crossing the border went smoothly and we were soon out of Israel. Things were a bit more disorganized on the Jordan side but it didn’t take long. I think the entire crossing took about 20-30 minutes.
Our plan was to take a taxi to Petra and while exchanging money at the border (on the Jordanian side) a man gave us some advice on the taxi’s. He told us that they would attempt to take advantage of us and that it should only cost about 35 dinars to get to Petra. He recommended that we have them take us to the bus station (for 5 dinar) in Aqaba where we could catch a bus to Petra. His advice proved valuable. The drivers at the border first denied that there was a bus to Petra. Then they changed their story and told us there was a bus but it was not running because it was Friday. We had them take us to the bus station anyway and I believe that helped us get a fair rate. We never arrived at the station because the driver finally agreed to 35 dinars and he drove us to another taxi who drove us to Petra. The driver ended up waiting for us in Petra and he also drove us back for 35 dinars. We still don’t know if there is a bus from Aqaba to Petra.
Overall Petra was a bit disappointing for us (perhaps because we had such high expectations). The monuments are worth the trip but the environment of the park is not the greatest. I feel that if we had visited as part of a tour most of our negative experiences would have been reduced but we would not have been able to see the Monastery (as day tours don’t reach it). We probably won’t be back but we are glad we got to see Petra while it is still in reasonable shape! For a review of Petra you can read my Trip Advisor report.
When we got back to our room we were tired and got a quick dinner at a small supermarket. The next morning we drove to a nature preserve in Eilat to snorkel on the Red Sea. The temperature in Eilat is very hot (over 100 F) but the water in the Red Sea is cool (75 F). Rita got right in the water but it took me a long time (I hate cold water). It was well worth it! There are beautiful tropical fish all around the coral. We snorkeled for a few hours and then got on our way. The plan was to go to Timna National park (about 20-30 km north of Eilat). When we arrived at the park the person at the gate told us our national park pass did not work at Timna. It was too hot to hike so we decided to head home. Timna looked like a beautiful park and we will be back in the winter when it cools off to hike/camp.
Tips for the trip:
- Israeli Border – The border crossing in Eilat is called the Yitzak Rabin (formerly Arava) crossing. Visit the israeli website for more information on this crossing including hours and required fees. At the time of this writing the outbound fee (to leave Israel) is 15 US dollars (payable in NIS).
- Money Exchange – I recommend exchanging your money on the Jordanian side of the border. There is a well marked money exchange across from passport control. The reason I recommend this is that on the Israeli side you must exchange money when you pay your outbound fee. This can slow you up and allow others to get ahead of you at the border crossing. I am not sure what side offers the better exchange rate.
- Water – You will need water in Petra. I heard that you should not drink tap water in Jordan. So be prepared with bottled water. I recommend stopping in Aqaba (as there is no tax in Aqaba). You can get a large liter of bottle at a quick mart for a reasonable price (2 liters for one half a Dinar for us).
- Food and Water at the border – Crossing into Jordan with food or water is not allowed. We filled up several Nalgenes full of water and placed them in backpacks. When are bags were checked (put through a scanner) they did not find the water or ask us about it. I recommend at least trying to bring water — the worst they can do is make you dump it right?
- Taxi – Obviously, the price you pay will be based on the costs at the time of your trip. I would recommend targeting a price that is 25-35% off of the original price quoted. Also, the drivers on the border will most likely ask you if you have been to Petra before. As the Jordanian man on the border indicated — they are trying to see if they can take advantage of you. Tell the taxi drivers at the border that you have been to Petra before and that this time you may be interested in taking a bus. Use this as a starting point for your negotiations. Be tough and you can save a lot of money on the ride!
- Eilat – Spend a day relaxing in Eilat. Make sure to check out the coral preserve. Bring your snorkel!
Here is a video:
Here are the pictures: