Alone in Petra at sunrise

A lot of travelers aim to be in a particular spot for the sunset. If you ask me, sunrise is better. You get equally great photographs (thanks to that “Golden Hour” lighting that occurs twice daily—shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset) but your pictures aren’t spoiled by hordes of tourists.

Petra caves

Sunrise is also the best time to watch the locals doing their thing—waking up in the rickshaws they slept in; heeding the mosque’s morning call to prayer; practicing their tai chi on the waterfront; setting up their stalls at the fish market; dropping their children off at school. At sunrise I’ve managed to be alone with the fishermen and feluccas on the banks of the Nile, as well as with saffron-robed monks amid the ruins of Angkor Wat.

Petra, Jordan

My favorite sunrise ever, though, was in Jordan, at the ancient rock-hewn city of Petra, one of the new seven wonders of the world. The site officially opens at 6:00 a.m., but Tim and I found the gate wide open at 5:30 a.m. and walked right in. For one priceless hour—till the first tourists caught up with us—we were the only people there and felt like archaeologists who had discovered a lost world. The light at sunrise so intensified the colors in the sandstone that it quickly became clear how Petra got its nickname “The Rose City.”

By 11 a.m. the site was swarming with day trippers from cruise ships. But I’ll always have the memory—and photos—of my own private Petra.

Petra Jordan

As it turns out, I’m not the only person who thinks Petra is home to one of the world’s best sunrises. I’d love to know: Where in the world is your favorite? And, so you can savor a sunrise on your next trip, here’s a handy-dandy tool for sussing out the exact time of sunrise wherever you are in the world.