Going from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in Israel to Petra, Jordan takes quite a bit of time but the destination is totally worth the journey. In Israel, there are several bus operators but the most common and easiest to use is the national operator Egged. The one big downside to Egged is that it doesn’t operate during the Shabbat, which is roughly from every Friday at sunset till Saturday at sunset. But if you’re flexible and do a bit of planning then this shouldn’t be too big of an inconvenience for you.
All roads lead to Eilat. From Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and pretty much anywhere else in the country going south will eventually bring you to Eilat. A bus from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to Eilat takes about 5 hours and costs around 80 shekels (appx US$20 as of Apr 2015). If the direct bus is full, you can take a bus to Be’er Sheva, then book another bus from here to Eilat. Be’er Sheva is more or less the halfway point between Eilat and Tel Aviv / Jerusalem. The total cost of splitting the bus journey in two is around 90 shekels.
When boarding the bus to Eilat, be sure to tell the driver that you want to get off the bus at the border. The border station is about 1km from the main road, so it’s an easy 10-15 min walk from where the bus stop is. Be sure to bring water because it can be very hot; it is the desert after all 🙂 There are big signs directing you where the border station is. And if you fancy it, you can do a bit of bird watching too.
On the Israeli side of the border, there are two things to remember:
– There is an exit fee of 106 shekels, payable in cash only. I recommend bringing at least 250 shekels if you plan on returning to Israel via this border crossing.
– If you don’t want them to stamp your passport, you must request them not to.
As far as security goes, expect a lot of questions, searches, and maybe even some pat-downs or more intrusive measures. The protocol can change at any time.
After exiting the Israeli side, take a very short stroll over to the Jordanian side of the border, also known as the Wadi Araba border crossing. For many nationalities, you can get a free visa on arrival with a validity of 2 weeks. With regards to the entry stamp, I opted to ask them to stamp an immigration card rather than my passport because a stamp at this border station would mean that I was in Israel, which might have consequences in the future if I decide to go to, for example, Saudi Arabia.
Once you’re done with the border formalities the next challenge is getting to Petra. If you’re a group of 4, it might be worth taking a taxi straight from the border to Petra. The “official” rate is 50 dinars for the whole taxi, not per person. Otherwise you can take a taxi to Aqaba for 12 dinars, then try to take a bus to Petra. The bus costs 5 dinars.
There are a couple of important things to note here:
– The taxi rank at the border is run by a “taxi mafia”. They will try to overcharge you. A good fare to Aqaba is 12 dinars. There is a big sign posted at the taxi rank which lists what the fares are, but they will try to screw you anyway. Be firm when negotiating. In a worst case scenario, you can call over one of the border guards to help you. Always set the fare before getting into the taxi. If you’re on your own and want to share a taxi, be sure to buddy up before reaching the Jordanian side of the border. The taxi mafia will keep you separated otherwise.
– There is a bus to Petra (Wadi Musa) that leaves early in the morning from Aqaba. It only leaves when full. There is sometimes an afternoon bus, but it also only leaves when full. Wadi Musa is the name of the city next to Petra.
If you’ve missed the afternoon bus and don’t want to take a taxi nor hire a car, then worry not. Simply stay the night in Aqaba, have some seafood, and take a bus early in the morning. I would recommend staying in central Aqaba if you plan on taking the early bus. There are some diving “hostels” in South Beach, but they are 10-15 km away which means you’d have to take a taxi very very early in the morning just to get to the bus station. Not to mention the additional cost of yet another taxi. In Aqaba, I stayed at the surprisingly nice Golden Rose Hotel (there are no true hostels in Aqaba) for 26 dinars a night. Best part is that it’s 1 block away from the bus station. The drive from Aqaba to Petra (Wadi Musa) takes about 2 to 2.5 hours.
So in summary,
1. Take a bus to Eilat, alight at the border. Follow the signs and walk 1km to the border station.
2. Bring at least 106 shekels in cash with you for the exit fee. Add another 80 if you plan on returning via this border.
3. Request border officials to not stamp your passport if you plan on going to a non-Israel friendly country in the future.
4. Go to Petra (Wadi Musa) by taxi, hire car, or public bus. Spending a night in Aqaba might be necessary.
Alternative Route There is another border crossing close to Amman called the Allenby – King Hussein border crossing. I would not advise using this crossing because you can’t get a Jordanian visa on arrival here. If you’ve pre-arranged a visa then by all means this border is a viable option. There is much heavier security and it’s also a much busier crossing so give yourself a LOT of time if you’re planning on going this way. The drive from Amman to Petra is about 3 hours on the desert highway or 5 on the more scenic kings highway.