Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, was one of the most impressive and scariest places I have been to. The old Nabatean city carved into rocks will leave you in awe – but what’s happening to visiting girls and women in Petra will leave you absolutely shocked. So, is Petra safe? Let me tell you my experience as a solo female traveler in Petra, because it’s important for girls to be extra careful.
Arriving in Wadi Musa
Arriving by bus from Amman, I checked in to my hotel in Wadi Musa in the early afternoon. Since the entry fee for Petra is pretty expensive ($50 for one day, $55 for two days), I decided to spend the evening on the rooftop of my hotel, taking photos and timelapse videos of the beautiful sunset in this scenic town between the impressive Petra mountains.
My first day in Petra
The next morning, the hotel manager warned me not to trust the Bedouins inside Petra, but didn’t explain why. I didn’t take it very serious, as I thought they would probably just try to charge me more than usual. Oh boy, was I wrong.
The Siq in Petra
I got a taxi to the entrance gate of Petra, fully prepared with my DSLR, lenses and Actioncam and started wandering to the Siq, friendly denying any offers for horse and camel rides. Because I went in October, the heat was not too bad and it was a nice walk, especially through the 2km long Siq that surprises with new beautiful rock formations and colors every minute. The scenic walk ended at the Treasury, the monument that became Petra’s symbol and postcard motive.
Jack Sparrow in Jordan?
As I was snacking on my banana, admiring this huge impressive world wonder, a young “Jack Sparrow” started talking to me. Yes, he looked like the pirate from the Hollywood movie with his dark eyeliner – khol, as I learned later. They make this eyeliner by collecting the ashes of a burnt tree and mixing these ashes with olive oil.
I was on defense as it gets pretty annoying after a while to turn down all the people who try to sell you something, but he wasn’t trying to sell anything. He told me he was part of one of the few Bedouin families that lived in the caves in Petra for decades. In the early 80’s they were moved to houses built by the government at Umm Sayhoon.
He got me interested, as I haven’t read anything about Petra before I got here and always prefer to see a place from a local’s perspective. I have never really had a bad experience by trusting locals, the worst thing that happened maybe were some men who got a little upset because I didn’t want more than a conversation. That’s why I was happy to take him up on his offer to see Petra from a different perspective.
Petra from above
We climbed up the mountains to the left of the Treasury, where tourists usually aren’t supposed to go as it is very easy to get lost if you don’t know the place. Looking down on the Treasury was definitely one of the most spectacular views in Petra. Watching the crowds down there and the huge mountains around you makes you feel so small.
The entire day we climbed and walked off the beaten path and barely saw any other tourists. I heard many stories about life in Petra and I was really happy to be able to see this touristy site from a locals’ perspective.
Married to a Bedouin
Ok, he did flirt with me, but he didn’t get aggressive or anything that seemed dangerous to me. We stopped by his uncle’s restaurant, I met some of his family members and they all invited me for a Bedouin barbeque in the desert. I didn’t get suspicious, as older family members invited me as well and everyone in Jordan so far has been very welcoming and hospitable.
I was surprised that they all looked like Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and many of them were married to European women. They told me stories about their trips to Thailand and other exotic destinations. It’s not often you hear that from locals in “poor” countries.
Another story I heard was about a woman from New Zealand, Marguerite van Geldermalsen, who got married to a Bedouin and lived in a cave with him. She wrote a popular book „Married to a Bedouin“, which gives fascinating insights into the Bedouins’ last years living in Petra. She still lives in Petra and sells handmade jewelry by local women.
”The sky is my blanket, the earth is my bed, the Bedouins are strong as the desert, move as the wind, soft as the sand, forever free .” – A phrase you hear from all Bedouins in Petra
Kissing Jack Sparrow?
When the sun started to set, we stopped at a cave where he made some more tea and tried to lay down with me and kiss me, which I refused. This was the first time I felt uncomfortable and asked if we could leave, which we did. We left the site at a small gate that leads to the Bedouin village, and they drove me to my hotel. We arranged a time for them to pick me up the next day and I went to bed, exhausted but happy about all the beautiful views I got to take in that day.
My second day in Petra
The next morning, they picked me up and we walked to the UNSECO world heritage site from their village, not passing any gates. I had bought a 2-day pass the day before, which I didn’t need to show to anyone. A herd of goats passed by, and I soaked in the atmosphere and I was grateful and happy that I met those people.
They all went to work when we arrived, selling juices or souvenirs or camel/donkey rides. I climbed the 850 steps up the monastery, sweating like a pig. I was determined to make it up there without being carried by a donkey, after all I’m just 26 years old and healthy, right? Let me tell you, it was sooo worth it!
Especially the panoramic view on the top was absolutely amazing. I’ve been sitting on the edge of it for about 30mins when someone approached me and asked if he could take a photo of me. Turns out, he had been taking photos of me from below, which he wanted to email me. He also had a 360 camera and we took a photo of course. That’s when I knew I would have to get a 360 camera as well.
An invitation for a Bedouin BBQ under the stars
At the end of this day, my Bedouin friends and me drove to their house and I had a small dinner with the Mom and sisters. We bought Arak, a typical Arabic aniseed brandy, some candles and barbecue supplies and drove to the desert, to Little Petra.
Little Petra is a small version of the big archaeological site which is nice for a half-day visit and much cheaper. We lit a fire and candles, prepared some veggies and played Arabic music. I had a glass of Arak as well (they mix it with water), so after a while I had to leave and find a place to pee.
Coming back, my cup was refilled with that sweet and tasty liquor and I had a few more sips. They were trying to teach me some Arabic, when all of a sudden the uncle was so drunk that he wasn’t able to speak or walk anymore. I was very surprised as we haven’t had much to drink, I’ve only had two cups. I didn’t think about it too much, we drove back to bring him home and they dropped me at my hotel.
An invitation to Wadi Rum
The next morning a friend of my Bedouin friend contacted me and told me he wanted to go to Wadi Rum with me, I wouldn’t have to pay, we could sleep under the stars, he liked me, etc. blabla. That’s when I got suspicious. Before they were all telling me what a great guy my friend is and now that I didn’t show any interest in him, his friend tries to hook up with me? Hmm…
The Bedouin Romance Scam
I started googling and was absolutely shocked when I found hundreds of warnings and articles about the “Bedouin romance scam”. Apparently, they pull off the same thing with all solo female travelers – show them off-the-beaten-path places, invite them for dinner under the stars in the desert and so on.
Now I understood why so many of them were married to Western women – many girls fall for these stories and actually marry them. After they get back to their home countries, the Bedouins tell them that their donkey died and they need to buy a new one so they can earn money, or their Mom got sick, or whatever story they can think of to get money from their “wives”. Wives, not wife – most of them have more than one. That’s why they can afford to travel to places like Thailand. What these girls get in return? Well, usually STD’s and a ton of sweet lies. The Bedouins in Petra belong to a tribe called Bedul – apparently a Gypsie tribe.
Sex tourism the other way around
We mostly hear about men going to Asia and paying for sex with young girls, but sex tourism can have a different shape as well – it’s very common in Kenya e.g., or Caribbean islands, that Western women fall in love with local guys, usually much younger, and get married to them, paying everything for them and their families – houses, cars and food.
Although lying and taking advantage is not a nice move, everyone needs to be smart enough and make their own decisions. I kind of feel sorry for these girls, but you don’t sell your house in Europe in order to buy one in Jordan (or any other country), with your name not even showing up on the papers. Chances are, he’s not in it because you have such a great character.
Rape in Petra
Rape is a completely different story though. The more I read, the more shocked I was. There is a book in one of the hotels where hundreds of girls wrote down their stories about how they got raped and scammed.
One of my fellow female travel blogger friends writes about the Bedouin Romance Scam on her blog as well, check out her story.
It’s always the same story – Bedouin dinner in the desert and then passing out. There were even cases where these guys would invite a couple, then drugged the boyfriend and raped the girl.
Suddenly I saw the night before with completely different eyes. What I am thinking now (I can’t prove it, it just makes sense) is that when I left to go pee, they put something in my drink but somehow mixed up the cups and the uncle got to drink the Arak that was supposed to be for me. Within a very short period of time he passed out so badly, it’s almost impossible that this was just Arak. I am thinking I was extremely lucky that I got out of this situation without any harm. Must have had some guardian angels.
I talked to the hotel owner and I now understand why they warned me. I was upset with him though because he didn’t tell me why I should be careful and that this is a serious problem in Wadi Musa. It wasn’t just a few cases, hundreds if not thousands of girls have been raped and robbed here. He told me a story where a guest of his hotel died, because the Bedouins took her and her friend out in the desert and drove back drunk – the car flipped and she got killed.
Escape from Petra and Jordan
I was absolutely in love with Wadi Musa and even considering staying there for a while because the hotel owner offered me a job. The neighbors and everyone I met were so hospitable – I had tea and/or dinner with so many of them. Not even this hospitality and the stunning Petra mountains could make up for the horrible experience. In the end, nothing happened, I got lucky. But I might as well have been robbed and raped in these beautiful mountains of Petra. I left Jordan the next day, not even going to the famous Wadi Rum desert anymore. I was extremely shocked, disappointed and done with Jordan.
My advice to solo female travelers in Petra
My advice to all you solo female travelers and everyone else: Please, don’t let this stop you from going to Petra! It is a stunning site and absolutely deserves to be called one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. The beauty of these vast desert mountains and the city carved into these rocks is overwhelming and should not be missed.
Just be cautious and don’t go far with anyone, even if they seem harmless and hospitable. Don’t take your chances. It’s not worth it. I’m usually not afraid when I am traveling and I refuse to be scared from now on and not experience local activities anymore. But this is a place where caution is necessary.
They will not harass you. If you tell them to leave you alone, they will. So just keep your distance and don’t go too far off the beaten track and you will be able to enjoy the magic of Petra without any incidences.
Have you been to Petra and made similar experiences? Or maybe even the exact opposite? Please share your story in the comments, I would love to hear from you!