Would it be crazy to skip Jerusalem for Petra?
March 9, 2014 1:29 AM   Subscribe

We've got 5 days in Israel. Is it crazy to squeeze in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and a day trip to Petra? Would it be crazy to sacrifice the time in Jerusalem to go to Petra?

We arrive in Tel Aviv very early Wednesday morning (we're staying with a friend there) and depart from Tel Aviv after midnight on Sunday night. The vague plan now is to spend Friday/Saturday in Jerusalem and the rest of the time in Tel Aviv.

But we've both wanted to go to Petra for a long time. It seems like it would be pretty hectic to squeeze in a trip to Petra on Thursday. Would it be crazy to skip Jerusalem for Petra?

We're not particularly religious, so while the sights in Jerusalem will be interesting to us on a few levels, this isn't a pilgrimage of any kind.
posted by benbenson to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Are you planning to fly? It is not that close- you will take a total of 1-2 days to travel depending on if you drive, fly, or take public ground transportation. The border is easy but may be time consuming. Save it for another time. Tel Aviv is a lovely and somewhat bohemian city. Jerusalem is worth it, and there are a lot of important things to see, even if you are not religious (I am not either). Personally, I think 5 days is a perfect amount of time to see a bit of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Combine Jordan with Egypt at a later date when you have more time.
posted by maya at 1:57 AM on March 9, 2014

When I was a tour leader in Jordan and Egypt I used to see groups at Petra all the time who were doing 'day trips' from Jerusalem. They'd get to Petra in the afternoon, and basically had enough time to walk the 'suq' which is the entrance, and to see the Treasury before turning around and going back.

Petra is amazing and huge. If you know with certainty that this is the only time you will ever, ever be in this part of the world then I maybe might consider it. Otherwise, leave it for another trip when you can actually see the site properly (as well as all the other cool places in Jordan).
posted by scrute at 3:09 AM on March 9, 2014

There's an organized day trip from Petra, leaving Tel Aviv at 6:45am and getting back around 10pm. scrute, that's the kind of sense I need talked into me!
posted by benbenson at 3:28 AM on March 9, 2014

I absolutely had no comprehension of the size of Petra, it is so much bigger than I expected. I was on a work trip to Jordan and had only a few hours where I could squeeze it in, so I did because I am not sure when I will get to Jordan again and all I was giving up was a few more hours in the hotel business center.

But I was effectively driving past anyway. Colleagues who went to/from Israel told me horror stories of border crossings taking a tedious amount of time, where every single item they were carrying was inspected.

Watch Ottolenghi's Jerusalem on a Plate (track it down somewhere if you can't watch it here) and it will convince you to stay the day there just to eat.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:00 AM on March 9, 2014

I think it would be crazy to skip Jerusalem altogether to see Petra. I've never been to Petra and hope someday to be able to go there, but Jerusalem is gorgeous and fascinating and also unlike anyplace else on earth. Tel Aviv is the city I'd do my best to skip, though I get that that's trickier logistically if it's where your friends live. It's a fun city, but architecturally/culturally there's nothing you'd miss there you'd outright regret not having seen if you never make it back. Might be worth springing for a hotel room in Jerusalem and staying there with your friends, rather than missing it, just so you can go to Petra (especially as it's on your way anyhow).
posted by Mchelly at 5:09 AM on March 9, 2014

Petra is amazing, but save it for another trip. We spent almost two days exploring it, and I could have done a third - the local Bedouin told us about other sites that took a half day to walk to.

I can't imagine doing it as a day trip from Israel. You'd spend more time on the road than on site, you'd probably only see the entrance, and with only five days that's a major chunk of your vacation.
posted by kanewai at 5:09 AM on March 9, 2014

Although you did not ask about it, spending Friday / Saturday in Jerusalem is not ideal. It's a pretty religious city, a lot of things will be shutdown starting on Friday 4-5pm. You don't want to drive through religious neighborhoods on Shabbath. Friday / Saturday are great for partying in Tel Aviv, go to Jerusalem on a weekday (Sunday - Thursday). (Said as an Israeli who hates Jerusalem in general, and would not be caught dead there on the weekend). If you insist on going there on the weekend, rent a car (no public transport on the weekend) and drive to the Dead Sea or Ein Parat.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 5:45 AM on March 9, 2014

I'd spend less time in Tel Aviv, but I imagine you have commitments.
posted by Segundus at 7:33 AM on March 9, 2014

If you are certain you will return to the area, I would maximize time in Jerusalem. However, if this is a once in a lifetime trip, I would not miss Petra. Petra is an overwhelming, numinous experience. Also, agree that if you have a choice, avoid Jerusalem on Friday/Saturday.
posted by hworth at 9:35 AM on March 9, 2014

I just visited Jerusalem/Tel Aviv/Petra this past October. Like others have said, you definitely need more time to see Petra than a day. However, I disagree about avoiding Jerusalem on Friday/Saturday if you are a tourist. While some stuff is obviously closed, there actually were a fair amount of interesting things open for tours and all the arab shops/areas are open. We found it much easier to entertain ourselves in Jerusalem on saturday than we did in Tel Aviv where literally everything was shut and no one was around.
posted by nanhey at 12:33 PM on March 9, 2014

Petra is really special and is worth the side-trip. We got there very early when it opened and got to do the walk down there on our own. So cool. One day there is enough though.
Sounds like that also leaves you quite a lot of time in Israel.
posted by w0mbat at 7:09 PM on March 9, 2014

I'm going to Israel next week, and we are including a trip to Petra. I've never been in Israel, but I have been to Petra, and it is just amazing. If this is once in a lifetime, you must go to Petra.

My daughter was in Israel for an internship recently, and spent time in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, still her day-trip to Petra is what she remembers. In other words, Petra is amazing.

Essentially: what everyone else is saying. Go to Petra if you are never going back to the ME. Wait, if you can see yourself spending time in the area later in life, because there is a lot to see and experience, more than one day can hold.
posted by mumimor at 3:27 PM on March 11, 2014

TL;DR: YES, it would be crazy to skip one for the other. Do both. Here's how I did it (after referencing my calendar)

I was in Israel for about 5 days with some friends, and we squeezed in a side-trip to Petra without too much bother. We arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon and took a night bus down to the southern tip of Israel (uncomfortable ride, but totally worth it). Wednesday morning, we checked into our hostel in Eilat for a few hours and then went to the border crossing when it opened. Protip: we left our luggage at the hostel, so we were just carrying a couple of day packs. Really cuts down on hassle when the border guards don't have much to check. Once in Jordan, we met up with our driver (arranged the previous week via phone and an online recommendation on a travel forum). We all piled into the car and he drove us to Petra (maybe 3 hours? We all fell asleep). We walked and explored pretty much the entire site (all the way up to the highest point and back), and met back up with him that afternoon. He took us back to Aqaba and the border, we waved at Egypt from the harbor, and we were back in Eilat that evening.

Thursday morning, we took the bus to Jerusalem. We drove past the Dead Sea, Jericho, and Masada, and passed through the West Bank. We spent that evening and Friday exploring Jerusalem. Walking the streets of old Jerusalem in the early morning, before the stalls open and the tourists descend, is magical. I'm not religious, but I still enjoyed all the churches and temples and little museums and shrines and whatnot. The Wailing Wall was pretty intense, as was the Church of the Sepulchre. We took a late bus back to Tel Aviv (got there just before sundown) and had Sabbath dinner with a friend and spent the night there.

Saturday, we borrowed a car and explored the north. Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, circling back to Acre (amazing old market, beautiful seascape, awesome view across the bay to the Gardens at Haifa). Back to Tel Aviv that evening for dinner and clubbing. We left Israel at oh-dark-hundred Sunday.

Whirlwind trip, wouldn't change it for the world. Amazing people. You can do a Petra side trip in 36 hours comfortably, 24 if you take the night bus to Eilat and back. The trick is not to leave Tel Aviv/Jerusalem in the morning, but to leave the night before, so that you're most of the way there by morning. I second not wanting to be in Jerusalem for Friday night/Saturday. It shuts down for the Sabbath. Since we added that tour of the north, you'd have time to hang out in Tel Aviv more. Plus, Jerusalem is a good candidate for a day trip from there.
posted by yggdrasil at 11:36 AM on March 14, 2014

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