Petra by Mule, or That Time I Shrieked for 6 Hours

Petra was history and mystery and intrigue and Indiana Jones and Wikipedia all day long, but there were also misadventures – and if I know you like I think I do, that’s what you’re really here for!

This photo barely conveys the vastness that is Petra

My time at Petra was absolutely brilliant, but it had its emotional and physical downsides, too. I found my day touring the ancient city bittersweet, in that it was a rare moment when I wished I wasn’t on my own. I kept thinking how much my brother & sister would’ve shared my amazement and would’ve been all for off-road adventures. On my own, I wasn’t quite as motivated!

Most of the time, solo travel is great. Sometimes, it just stinks.

One of the best views in Petra

Like I said, there were misadventures to be had, even for the solo traveler. I, being of lazy disposition and still smarting from the overnight Mt. Sinai hike in Egypt months earlier, was not, under any circumstance, going to climb anything that day at Petra.

How unlucky for me, then, that some of the most magnificent and unmissable sites in the Rose Red City are thousands of steps up, up, up.

En route to the Treasury vantage point

The minimum mileage for an average, easy day at Petra, without ascending any hills, is about 5 miles, so let’s just agree that I was taking good care of my rickety old knees by looking for alternate transportation methods. After all, I wanted to see everything I could in a limited time, and I knew that would be impossible without a little assistance and more Advil than is wise to ingest. I was hoping against hope for a cable car or some apparatus that might whisk me to the photogenic cliff above the Treasury but in Petra, there’s only one apparatus available for the ascent.

It’s called a mule.

I’m only smiling for the photo

There is a problem with that solution: I don’t like riding animals.

If I’ve learned anything in my 18 months of world gallivanting it’s that riding camels in Egypt, dolphins in the Bahamas, elephants in Thailand and donkeys in Greece is not my cup of tea. It’s altogether too jarring, what with the jerky back-and-forth movements, the feeling that at any moment you could tumble onto your face or the knowledge that your animal might buck you and stomp you to death on a whim.


The climb was not easy, even with mule assistance

However, in Petra, I had but two options for reaching the cliff above the Treasury and its spectacular vantage point.

1. I could get off my lazy bum and walk up (let’s be honest – that was never going to happen) or…

2. I could hire a sturdy mule to cart my diva self luxuriously to the summit.

Peeking over a cliff from atop a mule? Just another day in Petra.

The decision seemed easy enough – walk far and hurt bad, or pay around $20-$30 USD to leisurely trot to-and-fro from the back of a trusty steed.

A map of the most visited sites in Petra – no easy task!

My guide Ibrahim introduced me to his friend Solomon, a Bedouin who lives in a cave nearby, and his mule, for the journey. (I think it was Solomon, but it might have been Saruman, also known as one of the scariest bad guys from Lord of the Rings. So yeah, since I was about to spend an entire day trekking through a desert wilderness not totally unlike Mordor, I decided he would henceforth be known as Wise Old King Solomon. Good decision.)

Giving the hyperventilating a rest to pose & smile

To me, there’s almost nothing worse than the combination of steep cliffs + lack of control, and that’s precisely what I signed up for with Wise Old King Solomon (WOKS) and his mule. In our six hours together, I just knew I was going to get flung off a cliff at any moment, so I alternated shrieking, squealing, holding my breath and squinting my eyes shut.

Oh, and death gripping the metal harness in front of me.

No pain, no gain. How about this view of the Treasury?!

As you’ll see in the video, WOKS lead his mule up and down the Rose Red City without a hint of fatigue, while I tensed every muscle in my body and breathed deeply, desperate not to fall off. Going up, up, up uneven, crumbling 5,000-year-old stairs made me feel like I was going to slide off the back, and coming down I had to throw all my weight backward and try not to face plant off the front.

I fully own that I looked like a complete jackass, and that’s saying a lot since I was essentially perched atop an actual jackass.

A vista well-worth the walk (or mule rental!)

WOKS was so encouraging throughout the experience. Every time we’d come too close to the edge and I’d start to shriek, he’d stop the mule and say, “Solomon is here. Don’t worry!” I’m sure I was never in any real danger, I’m just not used to the feeling of tightrope walking while riding a mule.

Altogether, I must’ve covered more than 10 miles by foot and by mule that day in Petra, from the viewpoint over the Treasury to the Monastery and everything in between. By the time I was past the point of exhaustion and ready for it all to be over, we still had another hour-long, bone-crunching GALLOP (in which Wise Old King Solomon and I then shared the mule – oy) over some rough rocky ridges before I was deposited back with my guides Ibrahim and Rami.

Wise Old King Solomon & mule walking down… it was too scary, so I opted out for that section!

When I woke the next morning with visible bruises across my palms and fingers from where I’d gripped the harness all day long, and could hardly move for the muscle pain, I realized I’d been bamboozled. Walking, hiking, heck – even vertical climbing – would’ve resulted in less trauma.

My advice after the mule experience? Just walk!

(But do look for Wise Old King Solomon! He knows everything about the history, geology and topography of the city, having grown up there, and can show you so much more than you’d find on your own. If you’re heading to Petra, shoot me a note and I’ll connect you with him!)

The ruins of the Great Temple

Up next… the Monastery!


Portions of my trip were sponsored by Visit Jordan. All opinions, stories and #firstworldproblems are my own.

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  • August 06, 2012

    ugh yes. step cliffs and donkeys don’t mix. im with you on being terrified of that.

  • August 06, 2012


  • August 06, 2012

    Okay, I am literally laughing my ass off! I opted to walk and climb up the steps to the Monastery despite many offers of Jordanian BMWs for precisely the reason of other travelers’ looks of sheer terror riding the donkeys.

    • August 09, 2012

      I’m so glad this post made you laugh =)

  • August 07, 2012

    Awh looks scary but you braved it!!! Animals are very unpredictable, especially at those heights. I had a similar experience in Santorini, Greece. Not as high, but just as jarring. And I thought I would look soooo cool on that donkey. Great post!

    • August 07, 2012

      I did it in Greece, too, and I have to say – I think Greece was scarier! At least my mule in Petra was pretty mellow. My donkey in Greece wanted me dead, I think. Thanks for your comment!

  • August 08, 2012

    I also do not like riding animals! My camel ride recently in Mongolia was like torture! 😉

  • August 09, 2012

    I’ve had quite a fear of riding animals since my first horseback riding experience in Mexico and my friends and I watched in stunned disbelief as another horse in our group literally threw this girl off its back. I did ride a camel in Egypt while viewing the pyramids and the whole process of mounting/dismounting was a bit torturous! Your photos are amazing though; makes up for you thinking you felt like a jackass!

    • August 14, 2012

      Haha, thank you! There is something very undignified about mounting & dismounting a camel… I’m sure there are some who can make it look legit, but I am not that someone. Glad we share this affinity 😉

  • August 09, 2012

    We’re doing this next month, so the just walk advice is much appreciated. Now, to find a good Stairmaster…

    • August 09, 2012

      Definitely look for Solomon when you go! He’s so knowledgeable and he’ll take you to all the secret spots!

  • August 11, 2012

    I always have had a fear of the same thing!!!!! Riding a horse in the Grand Canyon about did me in. You are so brave for the mule!

  • August 12, 2012

    I don’t like riding animals either! But sometimes you just have to do it to see what you want to see in a day.

  • August 13, 2012

    Gorgeous place, I would really love to go to Jordan, I was almost there this winter but in the end I got “re-directed” to Lebanon, which is beautiful too!

  • August 13, 2012

    Walk? Really? I think the mule looks quite cute – how could you suggest we offend it and take the stairs on our own?

  • August 13, 2012

    I cannot imagining galloping on a shared mule! You hid the discomfort well though – from the pictures you look like you’re actually enjoying yourself.

  • August 16, 2012

    Oh my gosh, I’m totally the same, *hate* riding animals. The camel I rode in Dahab, Egypt, was the worst, as the ground was so uneven and I was SURE I was going to slide right off the damn thing every time it took a step. I couldn’t stop shrieking, which was hilarious for both my husband and the guide. Sigh.

  • August 17, 2012

    haha i would definitely take the mule over stairs any day! I hate stairs!

  • August 19, 2012

    Ha, loving the title of this post! PS: It was worth it for the photos and the FOMO
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  • August 30, 2012

    We spent the entire day just walking through Petra and absolutely loved it! We were sore from all the climbing the next day but no bruises on our hands/palms!
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  • March 20, 2014
    Richard Taylor

    I just came back from Jordan and it’s really cool to see all your photos + compare them to what I took!

    The trek above the treasury was well worth it!

  • November 08, 2015

    I missed going up to the monastery – took but all the hiking I could take. 🙁 If I had seen this post before – I’d cintact WOKS before. Well, there will be ‘next time’ for me, Petra has grabed ny heart. Do you know the book written by Raami’s mother?

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