Petra is famous for its horses, donkeys and mules which are stabled alongside the gate. These 700-odd animals generate an income for more than 1200 families in Wadi Musa. As you walk past you’ll be targeted by the handlers, proposing a horse-ride from the gate down to the dam at the entrance to the Siq – a walk of about 800m. Bizarrely, you’ve already paid for this: it’s unavoidably wrapped into the cost of your entrance ticket. However, the owners (who get the financial benefit) are almost without exception not the people holding the reins. The only income gained by the handlers is in tips. If you agree to a ride, expect to hear a sob story on the way down, and then a request for money – sometimes respectful, sometimes not – before you’re allowed to dismount.
It’s forbidden to ride horses through the Siq, but a horse-and-carriage seating two can be taken all the way through the Siq to the Treasury, for JD20 return. For the return leg, there are always plenty of carriages at the Treasury waiting for business from tired sightseers as the afternoon draws on, but if you arrange with a particular carriage-driver to be at the Treasury at a set time for your return ride, he will turn up: his fee depends on it. Resist the temptation to copy the many weary visitors who just get into the first carriage they see; this a breach of honour, and also leads to underhand competition between carriage-drivers to muscle in on each other’s business. Ugly arguments over cash between two stalled carriages in the Siq are a feature of Petra afternoons. You can also take a carriage right through from the gate to the Basin Restaurant (JD40 return): this must be booked in advance at the Visitor Centre.
Despite some improvements in animal welfare, thanks in part to the work of British charity, Brooke, the sight of horses and donkeys being mistreated (overloading, the use of whips and nose chains) is still common at Petra. If you see a horse or donkey being mistreated report it to the the Park Rangers or the Tourist Police on site or at the Visitors Centre. Also consider walking rather than riding – aside from the danger to animals, the fragile paths around Petra are prone to damage from horses and carriages. For more advice visit the Care for Petra campaign.