Some experiences are hard to even put into words, because they were so visceral that only a picture can really communicate what it was like to be there.
Visiting the Lost City of Petra has been at the top of my bucket list since I was a teenager and was #1 on my 2017 places I’m dying to visit list. It fired my imagination first through stories, then once I started seeing pictures (thank you, internet!) I was completely hooked. And then I saw my first picture of the Petra by Night experience. I thought, there’s no way that actually being there will measure up.
So, how can you not start with this picture??
Because I’ve looked forward to this for so long, I was nervous about the nighttime photography. I’d been stoked to try it the night before in Wadi Rum to capture the stars, but it had been a spectacular fail and I was worried that this would be the same. But I was incredibly happy with how these turned out, and in addition to the beautiful photos I’ll share some tips for making the most of a night in Petra. And at the end of the post I’ll share a secret itinerary tip that I wish I’d known beforehand—it would have made this experience even more special!
After an afternoon trekking through Petra and trying to see as much as possible, my dad and I came back to the hotel to scarf down an absolutely amazing traditional Jordanian meal (this delicious boiled chicken, saffron rice, toasted nuts, fresh herbs, and creamy white sauce). Then I loaded back up with my pack and my tripod, and our hotel owner drove me and a few others back to Petra for the nighttime experience.
One of the pieces of advice I had read beforehand and really tried to follow was this: if you actually want to take beautiful nighttime photos of the site, you need to hang back and be literally the last person to walk through.
This is way harder than it sounds, because I thought I was at the back of the pack but new waves of people kept coming and walking through my long-exposure pictures (they look like ghosts!). I kept hanging back and taking long photos though, fiddling with settings, and by the time I reached the treasury I was seriously the last person. Those last few pictures of the Siq are my best ones.
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You’ll start by walking down the steep dirt path, which has been lined with lanterns. This isn’t super special yet, but is a good chance to get some of the settings right on your camera.
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As I walked through the Siq, the narrow canyon above gave me a glimpse of the mostly-full moon as it peeked in and out of clouds, and some super bright stars. The fullness of the moon made it hard to capture (too much light!) but it added such a cool atmosphere to the whole thing.
Finally, I rounded the bend and got my first glimpse of the Treasury lit with dozens of lanterns. They were just getting the program started, so I hadn’t missed anything. I turned right once I got there and then set up on the back-right of the crowd, standing up, and tried to grab a couple long-exposure pics.
The program itself is fairly short, they do some traditional bedouin music and talk about the history of the site a little.
As they were playing the music, a local guy named Ali came up to me and offered to show me a better vantage point for taking photos, up on the cliff behind where we were standing. He helped me get up there—it was pitch black on the trail, and quite dicey balance-wise. True to form, on my last step up to the viewing platform, I twisted my ankle really badly. It wasn’t completely debilitating, so I kept my shoe on and kept some weight on it to make sure it didn’t get too stiff or swollen. But YOW.
As soon as I got up there, the tour organizers turned out some garish colored lights so that people without good photo equipment could take pictures of their own. This lasted like 20 minutes, and I just waited it out.
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In the meantime I played around with my star photography, since I’d failed so miserably in Wadi Rum. Still not perfect, but definitely getting better!
Once they turned the lights off, I nabbed one picture and then (carefully) scrambled back down the cliff, this time without Ali being there to help me, and now with a bum ankle. I was in a rush because I knew I needed to meet our hotel owner at a certain time, and also that they were going to kick us out of the site soon. But my waiting paid off, because I was able to grab a couple awesome shots without all the people in them.
Even if this had been my only shot, the entire experience would have been worth it. This was truly a bucket list item for me, and I was worried my expectations were unrealistic. People on the TripAdvisor forums had warned me away, saying it’s too touristy, more like being herded like cattle. Sure, it was touristy, but personally, I tuned that out and loved it, and would recommend it if you’re wanting to get real, quality photos (with the right equipment). It was completely mesmerizing.
What you need to know about Petra by Night
- Here’s the secret tip we wished we’d known: if you’re already visiting Petra that afternoon, they will let you stay inside the park while they set up for the nighttime experience. You can sit, have a bite to eat, get a behind-the-scenes look, and get beautiful pics before all the people get there! I KNOW.
- We really wished we’d known this, because our hotel owner was purchasing our tickets for us to get from him later (we would have double-paid if we’d stayed). If you want to do this, either get your tickets ahead and bring them with you, or just wait and they’ll let you purchase them in the park.
- They only do Petra by Night three days a week (currently Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday); make sure you check the website to make sure it hasn’t changed
- Tickets are 17 JOD per person (kids 10 and under free), and you can buy them from Visitor Centre shops, local tour agencies, or your hotel front desk. Any of them is a good option, they cost the same no matter what.
- One thing you should be aware of is that it is VERY dark when you’re walking down the path and through the Siq. Don’t be fooled by these pictures, these were exposed anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes exposure to grab this much light. The path is quite uneven and many people tripped and fell. One woman at our hotel fell and banged up her knee pretty badly. So if you have some mobility issues or are prone to injury, take that into consideration. And wear study shoes.
Have you always wanted to experience Petra by Night? Hopefully this article helped give some tips and inspire you, but please let me know in the comments if you have other questions!!
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