“It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.”
– Petra by John Burgon
I want to go back. Very few places have had me as mesmerised and enthralled as this eternal city carved in rock. I’d seen it in movies, in photographs and read about it, but nothing, not even Indiana Jones finding the Holy Grail here, had prepared me for the sheer magnificence and vastness of this place. I wish I could express more eloquently exactly what I felt in Petra, but for once I’m quite speechless. This city of the Nabateans inspired poets like John Burgon, filmmakers like Steven Speilberg and; it inspired me. If it weren’t for Petra, this blog probably wouldn’t exist. Here’s my guide to this magical place:
1. Al Siq: The famed gorge through which one enters the city of Petra. The natural beauty of the gorge is breathtaking in itself but; there is a lot more to see here including remains of temple shrines and an ancient water conduit system.
2. Al Khazaneh: Al Khazaneh or The Treasury is the most recognisable monument of this ancient city. The Bedouins of Petra believed that it was the king’s treasury but it is actually a royal tomb.
3. The Roman Theatre and the Collonaded Street: After looking at Khazaneh, walk along the collonaded street to the Great Temple and the Nympaheum. On the way, stop to marvel at the Roman Theatre of Petra which is the oldest theatre in the world to be carved out of rock. Also, don’t miss the many tombs along this path.
4. Ad Deir: The Monastery or Ad Deir is quite a climb from the Great Temple but its more than worth the effort. The monument itself is stunning and a little extra climbing has extremely rewarding views of the Great Rift Valley. Also, you can have mint tea and cardamom coffee at a small restaurant right opposite Ad Deir!
5. The Lion Triclinium: A short detour on the path to Ad Deir will get you to the Lion Triclinium. Don’t miss the head of Medusa which is carved on the corners of its doorway.
6. The Royal Tombs: There are five royal tombs together: The Urn Tomb, The Palace Tomb, The Corinthian Tomb, The Tomb of Sextius Florentinus and The Silk Tomb (known for the colours of the rock into which it is carved). These can be visited on the way back from the Monastery.
7. The Columbarium: A room with small niches carved into the walls. It is believed that the niches were for cinerary urns.
8. The Al Khubta Trail: A trail with spectacular views of the amphitheater and Al Khazaneh.
9. High Place of Sacrifice: Also called Al Madhbah, this is one of the highest accessible points in Petra and has, needless to say, amazing views. You can walk down via Wadi Farasa and see monuments like the Garden Triclinium.
10. The Museums: Stop by on the way to Ad Deir, they’re worth a visit.
11. The Djinn Blocks: There are many tombs between the visitors centre and The Siq before one enters Petra. This is where you’d find the Djinn Blocks which are some of the oldest Nabatean tombs.
1. Wear shoes which are comfortable for walking and climbing.
2. Wear sunscreen. Lots of it. I didn’t and; as a result, came back with terrible sunburns and a spotty, unevenly tanned face.
3. Carry water and portable high calorie food like chocolate bars. There is one restaurant run by Crowne Plaza at the base of the trail to Ad Deir (near the museum) which serves buffet lunches. However, I didn’t think it advisable to stuff myself when I had a lot of hiking to do.
4. Talk to the local bedouins. They’re very friendly, extremely fluent in English and will tell you all kinds of interesting stories about Petra and their culture. They know the place inside out.
5. Stop and have tea with the bedouins. They’re very hospitable and always invite people for tea. I made friends with Abdullah who had a shop near the Monastery overlooking the Great Rift Valley. Five Years Time by Noah and the Whale was playing on his radio!
6. Try to resist buying souvenirs such as heavy stone necklaces. Carrying them around the mountains can be painful.
7. Make a pile of stones near the views of the Great Rift Valley. The locals call this “stone-up-stone”, it is supposed to bring good fortune.
8. Notice the donkeys. “You want a donkey?” is the most frequently asked question in Petra. For people who don’t want to hike, the Bedouin’s donkeys are an excellent means of transport. Sadly, not all the donkeys are well treated so, keep that in mind before you hire one.
When to Visit:
September to April. Summers in Jordan are very hot and to see Petra one needs to walk for hours in the sun. Starting September the weather starts becoming cooler and is very pleasant by October.
Its best to drive down from Amman to Wadi Musa, which is the town closest to Petra. There are three possible routes that one can take: The Desert Highway (the most direct route, takes about 2.5 hours), The Dead Sea Route (along the Dead Sea) and the King’s Highway. The King’s Highway is the longest route but it is incredibly rewarding. It goes to Petra via Madaba, Mount Nebo, the Dead Sea and has some amazing views.
Where to Stay:
Wadi Musa, there are hotels to suit every budget. The Petra Visitors Centre is here.
50 JD (Jordanian Dinars) for one day, 55 JD for 2 days and 60 JD for 3 days (as of October 2013). One day is not enough to see all of Petra, I would recommend giving it at least 2 days.