Entrance fees to the 7 Wonders of the World: how much is too much?

Taj Mahal, IndiaHave you ever stood outside a world famous monument or historic site and questioned whether you can justify spending the money on the entrance ticket? The chances are that you’ve only thought about it briefly before accepting your lot and paying up for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, you’re not likely to return to that part of the world so this will be your only chance to see whatever it is you’ve come to see.

Yet the admission prices of the world’s best known sites vary widely and seem to bear little correlation to anything other than the opportunism of the local tourism authorities. Consider for example the costs of accessing the 7 Wonders of the World.

Admission Fees for 7 Wonders of the World

The list below shows the admission price in British Pounds (converted at today’s rates) for an adult foreigner. It is worth noting that some of these sites offer discounted rates to domestic citizens, children and students.

Christ Redeemer Statue: Free if you walk up, £13.50 if you take the return tram ride to/from the base of the statue.

Great Wall of China (Badaling): £4.30

Chitchen Itza: £8.70

Taj Mahal: £10.50

Colosseum: £11.90

Machu Picchu: £28

Petra: £44 (£79 if visiting on a day trip to Jordan); a three day pass is £53

Chichen Itza, MexicoAs a further comparison, admission fees to other very popular sites of note include:

Angkor Wat: £12.50

Alhambra: £10.50

Stonehenge: £6.90

Neuschwanstein Castle: £10.50

This is not intended as a definitive list of the world’s most unmissable attractions, but it does illustrate how the prices vary so greatly between the different places. There is not even a correlation between the cost of living (or touring) in a country and the price of its no.1 tourist attractions.

Premium priced Petra

And so to Petra. Without doubt a worthy inclusion in the 7 Wonders list as anyone who has been fortunate to visit can confirm. The walk along the Siq is punctuated with curious carvings and friezes, all the while building up to that climax: the first sighting of the Treasury. Most visitors will have seen the building in the famous Indiana Jones scene, but the initial view invariably leaves them momentarily staring in awe (before reaching for the camera and reeling off several hundred pictures). The rest of the huge site offers many more impressive experiences and is worthy of at least two and possibly three days in order to see it comprehensively.

The Treasury, PetraYet the admission fee set by the Petra park authorities is so far in excess of the other sites that it deserves some scrutiny. Is it because the site is so large? It is not as large as Angkor Wat and yet a three day pass there will cost a mere £25.

Is it because of the unique nature of the site? Each of the other places listed above can claim to be equally unique. Petra is special, but so is Angkor Wat, the Mayan sites of Central America, the Taj Mahal, etc etc.

Taken for a ride

Defending the steep fees, Visit Jordan argued (via their Twitter feed) that the fee to Petra is justified as it includes a horse ride and a map. The map is free at almost any site, while the decision to make the horse ride a compulsory purchase seems to be little more than a collusion with the horse owners that in my view is deeply damaging to the tourist experience. The horses we saw on the trail in 2009 looked less than healthy, and at the entrance to the Siq we witnessed tourists arguing with the horse owners about the tip that was expected from them for the short ride for which they already had paid 7JD (£6). Is that the image that Jordan Tourism wants to promote? Can we realistically expect this hassle to change with the new fee structure?

Putting these points aside, many people have no interest in taking a horse when the easy 15 minute walk is a preferable option. By denying this choice to tourists are the Petra Park authorities cynically exploiting the fact that people will pay whatever they’re told to pay having travelled so far to reach Petra?

‘The funds are going to improve the service to future visitors’ is another defence. But why should today’s visitors pay such a high price for those coming in five or ten year’s time? And what evidence or accountability will there be in how these extra funds are actually channelled to improve the visitor experience? The visitor experience was hardly great in 2009 (thank goodness that Petra is so impressive that it does itself justice) and the fees were already high then. What hope now for the visitors of 2013 to see some benefits of the recent price hike?

Each of places listed above is a special site and worthy of being listed as one of the world’s wonders. But despite the unforgettable experiences they offer (maybe because of them) they should not be priced beyond the reach of the ordinary traveller. I would be interested to hear from others if they think Petra, with its new pricing, is still within that reach.

Special thanks for this post to Matthew Teller for providing some useful insights into the relationship between Petra authorities and tourism; and to Matthew and Matt Long for providing the inspiration to write this post following a discussion on Twitter. All photos are my own.

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32 Responses to “Entrance fees to the 7 Wonders of the World: how much is too much?”

  1. Just a tip… when going to these overprized wonders of the world, always take a direct relative. They usually just HAVE to go in and see it, and don’t mind paying for your ticket too :D That’s how I did Macchu Picchu. Alhambra I did on my own, and I thought the price was “OK”, but going to the Blue Mosque kindda hurt me.
    Oh, another thing that pisses me off about these prices: where are the student discounts? or the discounts for being just “young” (as is done in Europe)? You’d think they would want to promote culture and make it accessible to the younger generations…

    March 30, 2011 at 9:59 am
  2. A couple more comparison points…

    Uluru – A$25 (£15.60) national park entry fee, but with the real rip-off being the accommodation monopoly. Unpowered campsites start at approx £10.60 per person, rooms without en-suite bathrooms at a staggering $198 (£123.75).

    Great Barrier Reef – a day trip from Cairns will cost from around £70 per person. That includes various park management charges (the exact cost of which I can’t seem to find). Of course, this isn’t a particularly fair comparison – you do need a boat/ tour to get out there.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:05 am
  3. Nice tip Carla, providing you have the right type of relative :-)

    Some sites do offer discounts for students, but certainly not all.

    David, it’s a good point re: access to the sites. As you say, the Great Barrier Reef required a boat trip but given it’s a full day on the boat the £70 is probably reasonable. I remember the same with Uluru in 2000 – hideously expensive prices for very basic accommodation in the only available park-run hotels. But I guess at least there is the camping option which can make it affordable.

    Others (Machu Picchu springs to mind) cost considerably more to get to than the cost of the actual entry fee. Adding these variable would have made this exercise far too complex.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:32 am
  4. Uluru is definitely crazy expensive and teeters on the, not worth visiting list because of the price gauging. You truly are trapped there.

    A trip to Victoria Falls, however, is still a bit pricey when you add up VISA fees for Zambia and Zimbabwe and admission to both the Zim and Zambian National Parks to see the falls. But, the experience is worth every penny.

    March 30, 2011 at 11:40 am
  5. not to defend or justify the steep pricing but Jordan is an almost impoverished country. and as a developing nation it needs the funds to provide all the facilities needed to insure a memorable and enjoyable experience for visitors to its tourist sites.
    that said i do agree being forced to pay for an additional service, value added or not, is rather obstructive to the tourist experience. I would humbly suggest offering everyone, tourist and locals alike, the option to donate to the Petra tourism authority to help ease the fiscal pressures.

    March 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm
  6. Robert Budzul #

    Sometimes I think that… once you have to pay at a turnstile… and you’ve got hordes of tourists running around… you’re better off looking the site up on wikipedia and looking at a pic on the net. Is it really any better seeing it for real, if it’s overrun with tourists in t-shirts and locals all trying to peddle something… in English?

    March 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm
  7. Petra has adopted an aggressive plan to improve the quality of services within the park and enrich the visitor experience. The plan will also significantly contribute to conserving and safeguarding this precious site, as well as improving the livelihoods of local communities.

    The key difference between Petra and other sites is the sheer size of the place. It is a huge city that was the base of the Nabatean kingdom some 3,000 years ago. It is not a monument, it is a huge expanse of 264,000 square meters with Nabatean, Byzantine and Roman monuments and artifacts.

    While the remains of Petra that you can see today are impressive, only a fraction of the ancient Nabataean city and its suburbs has been unearthed. This makes the investment required to conserve the archaeology of Petra and oversee research and new discoveries to its protection is vast. Without proper funding, Petra will not be sustained for future generations and be managed according to UNESCO and international charters.

    A note on horses. Much has changed since your 2009 visit. The US National Park service has been working with the local Petra authority and the horse owners to improve health, hygiene and welfare of horses. There is a marked improvement in the health of the horses and their treatment by their guides during and after hours. Further, to reduce potential for hassling tourists by some horse guides, all cash transactions are now removed from the park. A horse ride comes in a coupon handed to he horse guide, thus no pay is required. Prices fir camel rides and carriage rides are now fixed and can only be purchased through coupons from the visitor center.

    Yes, Petra is more expensive than other sites, however it requires a proper level of maintenance and upkeep to ensure it will sustainably continue to leave visitors with wow and awe it does now.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:16 pm
    • Saule #

      It’s quite funny to read this comment but I have to say that few days ago it did NOT look like described from Ibrahim.
      On the very expensive entry ticket is specifically written that horse ride is NOT included in the ticket but the horse owners says it is. So if you take the ride they want to have a tip from the tourists and there are no coupons. For donkey, camel or what so ever ride you pay CASH.
      Jordan was a very nice country to visit but in every single sight one have to pay ridiculously high entry prices.

      September 5, 2012 at 11:10 am
  8. Ibrahim, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this issue. It’s great to get the perspective from those working on the development project itself. (I assume you are from the weblink).
    I’m also pleased to hear that the welfare of the horses is being addressed as well as the introduction of cash-free transactions. These appear to be positive steps in what must be an enormous project. I hope to get the chance to revisit the site and experience these improvements for myself.
    I am yet to be convinced of the justification for the entry fee however. I suspect that Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Palenque and the Great Barrier Reef could claim similar costs for maintenance, preservation, restoration and repair yet do not punish the tourist so heavily for the privilege of visiting. There must surely be a better balance here in funding arrangements that doesn’t deter the less wealthy from seeing this special site.
    Thanks again for sharing your insights – much appreciated.

    March 31, 2011 at 8:30 am
  9. Yes , some truly wonderful charges being levied here. Stonehenge is a snip, but in terms of visual appeal, it’s not in the same league as many of these – do they maintain the stones or just the path and access (I’ve never seen any scaffolding go up).

    I think the underlying question here is : Do we, in some way, already own these places? Are they inherited and if so, should locals have free access? Yes they need looking after, but as with public utilities, we will always baulk at any excessive profits.

    And Robert, please: If you think Wikipedia and a webcam is a travel experience, you need to get out more…

    March 31, 2011 at 9:56 am
  10. I visited Chichen Itza last year during the spring equinox, most definitely worth the entrance fee. Decided to pay for a local guide, got lucky as was probably one of the best tours I’ve had. Also, the fee includes the evening light and sound show (with audio guide) so if you arrive late, you can see the show and use the same ticket to enter the main site the next day – few people at our hotel thought you might have to pay twice. Show’s a bit cheesy but it’s worth it to see the El Castillo pyramid at night.

    March 31, 2011 at 10:58 am
  11. Elizabeth #

    RE Mark Pawlak’s comments – residents/citizens of Jordan and students at the University do get a £20 discount…
    RE Robert Budzul – why ever leave the couch – some things, like Petra etc, can never be truly captured on film

    March 31, 2011 at 4:03 pm
  12. I was just in Jordan last July. I paid (stupidly) for the horse ride, it was NOT included in the price of admission, nor was that stated anywhere. The horses appeared to be in decent shape, but not all the animals were in equal condition. I felt kind of bad for all the donkeys, horses and camels being abused by their owners to get them to move faster or not go in a certain direction. I also agreed on the price before, then the guy didn’t have change for my bill. (Surprise!) I found the pressure and number of people trying to get my money a complete turn off.

    Since no one has put it into perspective yet, for a mere $80 USD a year, one can purchase a US National Parks Pass (http://www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm) good for up to four adults in a vehicle, and gets you into 58 National Parks around the US. While some parks are far from each other, one could go to Utah and visit 4 national parks larger in size combined than Petra FOR THE SAME PRICE. And, arguably, these national parks are just as beautiful, amazing and wonderful as Petra. Oh, and I don’t need to cross international lines to see them.

    I think the high fees to get into Petra are going to backfire on the Jordanian government and I hope it happens soon. When my friends find out I went to Petra they ask me if they should go or not. I tell them no, it’s too expensive. Am I glad I went? Yes. Would I go again? Nope. I’m planning a tour group to Israel next year and was thinking of doing a side trip to Jordan and Petra and decided against it. It’s too much money.

    The arguments made by the Jordanians on here are the same ones I heard when I was there in July, before they raised the rates in October. Only they were using some lovely buzz words like “eco-friendly toilets”, “sustainable”, and more. You really want to make Petra a place that will last for generations? Then get rid of the restaurant at the end of the trail, get rid of all the places selling souvenirs and snacks, get rid of all the people offering donkey, camel, horse, chariot rides and make it a permit-only entrance, with a lottery each year like they do in many pristine natural areas of the US to restrict access and damage by humans.

    April 2, 2011 at 10:41 pm
  13. I didn’t know Petra was so expensive, maybe because Jordan’s currency is quite strong.. Also Machu Picchu is not exactly cheap, I believe they have high costs for maintenance, protection and these things.
    The Taj Mahal I know it’s 750 Indian rupees, pretty expensive compared to the other monuments in India, I guess they also have maintenance costs, but they do make a lot of money, it’s packed every day…

    April 5, 2011 at 2:02 pm
  14. I’m still so disappointed that they wouldn’t let me into Chitchen Itza because I had my camera bag on me. After over an hour of waiting to talk to some one in charge, they still refused to let me in. They also kept the admission I had paid, for 3 people that were with me who also did not get in.
    Unbelievable.

    April 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm
  15. As long as these prices are going towards the upkeep of the ancient sites and to bettering the country’s economy (for the poorer countries), I think it’s fine to charge slightly expensive fees. The only time I get bitter about paying fees is when it comes for paid toilets – especially the dirty ones!

    April 7, 2011 at 9:01 am
  16. I’ve often thought about this, and recently discussed it for a minute with my brother. It both staggers and confuses me that people find it necessary, or rather, appropriate to block off national monuments or great pieces of architecture in their cities and charge fellow explorers to pay their ways in. Doing this always seemed incredibly ironic to me, as one might figure that these great buildings and temples and such were built and doted over so much in the first place because they were to be USED for the public, or at least for SOMETHING. What does it mean to block off all of this hard labor and effort so that we can charge people just to walk around and take pictures of something with so much higher of a meaning? We are completely transforming the purposes of these ‘wonders’ into money making machines as opposed to what their role should still be, in use, in the world today.

    April 8, 2011 at 5:49 am
  17. An interesting article Andy. We’ve just booked a trip to Jordan. Its all independent travel rather than with an agency and overall, its really good value. I hadn’t realised the cost of getting into Petra was so expensive and its nothing to do with exchange rates.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:35 am
  18. Aren’t the Giza Pyramids from the 7 wonders of the world?

    May 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm
  19. Hem manohar gupta #

    Why “Ajanta and Ellora caves”[India] aren’t in the Seven Wonders of the world ? What are the norms for the entry in the Seven Wonders of the world ?

    May 23, 2011 at 7:10 am
  20. Lyndall Osborne #

    Indeed the Giza pyramids (well the Great Pyramid) are the only remaining one of the original 7 wonders of the world and deserve their place in the world wonders list. For interest the entrance fee is 60 Egyptian pounds or GBP6.30. Students, if they provide appropriate ID, are half price. Locals are admitted at a hugely reduced entrance fee.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:34 pm
  21. Thanks for the comments. There is a new list of 7 Wonders – not sure myself why the Pyramids are not on it – would make most people’s list. Can’t comment on the Ellora caves as they are still on my wish list. Thanks especially to Lyndall for the information on entrance prices to Giza.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm
    • Stéphane #

      The answer about the “new list” of the seven wonders and the “Pyramid of Giza little dispute”

      “Egyptians were not happy that the only surviving original wonder, the Great Pyramid of Giza, would have to compete with the likes of the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Opera House, and other landmarks, calling the project absurd. In response, Giza was named an honorary Candidate.”

      Source : Wikipedia

      October 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm
  22. Great post! I agree, the tourist boards really have to come up with better arguments for their prices. The € 50,- for Petra is extremely high, but I guess that everybody pays it, as Petra is one of the main reasons why travelers visit Jordan.

    The same with the Uluru… We came from the West via the Great Central Road & didn’t pay the first day, as we were already in the park. But as we wanted to stay longer & we had to leave the park to get to the resort, we had to pay at the 2nd day their fee.

    Ken’s example with the camera is nice. The tourist boards or the one in charge really are way behind what is happening in tourism. If Ken is allowed to take his camera, they will get amazing & free exposure. In the end, they should be happy, if they don’t have to pay him. ;-)

    December 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm
  23. I love Petra, but as I wrote at the beginning of this year, you can go to overpriced Disney World for less than it will cost you to get into that site. Insane!
    http://travel.booklocker.com/2011/01/28/petra-now-more-expensive-than-disney-world/

    I don’t get the whole horse thing either. Why can’t able-bodied people just walk it like they used to—and hire a horse if they really can’t manage?

    December 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm
  24. Thanks again for the latest comments. Tim, I don’t see how the horse thing can ever be justified as anything other than naked exploitation and a tourism tax on visitors who have already spent enough to get in. Local politics played out at the expense of visitors…

    December 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm
  25. Ola #

    Hi,

    I think the Christo Redeemar is no more for free when you go up. There is a special gate (where is the end of the train) and when you come on foot you have to pay an enterance fee.

    April 17, 2012 at 6:13 pm
    • Thanks for the information Ola – appreciate the update.

      April 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm
  26. This list is comical leaving off the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Great Wall listed above specifically mentions Badaling and everyone knows it is much better at Mutianyu, and the statue should NOT have been considered against the Ankor Wat complex that had a million residents, the temples that Marco Polo described in Bagan (Burma), or the Rice terraces of the Philippines, which are over 2k years old, took nearly 2k years to build, and required a larger labor force than the Great Wall and the Pyramids combined. We love to visit them all though, check out our favorites at http://travellerdane.blogspot.com/

    Cheers

    June 1, 2012 at 6:33 am
  27. That justification from Visit Jordan is weak. I’ve never heard of a forced horse ride before?! And since when did you pay more than a pound or two at most for a map of a popular location??

    I understand why places to charge – ancient sites do require upkeep and heavy tourist traffic does take its toll. However there does need to be a limit. Maybe for Petra, there should be differing levels? Cheaper if you don’t want the horse ride, more expensive if you do – but still not 49 pounds. If the entrance to the site would be, say, 20 pounds, how could they justify an almost 30 pound horse ride??

    Anyhow, this is an interesting piece. I certainly don’t mind paying entry for sites, but I do find myself weighing it up – I didn’t pay to go into the Aya Sofya in Istanbul due to huge queues and extensive restoration work at the time. Instead, I went over to the Blue Mosque and hung around there for free.

    July 10, 2012 at 6:11 am
  28. The thing I always have the biggest issue with is the extreme dual pricing at some of the attractions. The best example is probably the Taj Mahal: for Indians it costs 20 Rupees, for foreigners it’s 750. That, to me, is ridiculous. Although they justify it by saying rich tourists can afford the high cost, not all tourists come from rich countries.

    July 10, 2012 at 7:42 am
  29. Holy Guacamole. Up to 79 pounds for Petra, that’s insane! It would be great to see but I’m not sure its worth that much.

    December 16, 2012 at 10:37 am