Visit Petra the Jewel of Jordan

Petra went onto my bucket list when I saw pictures of the amazing facade of the Treasury cut into the rock face.  My parents had visited some years ago and said it was a place I had to visit. The site is one of the seven modern wonders of the world. It is also recognised as a world heritage site by UNESCO. When the time was right I started planning my visit to Jordan.

My journey to Petra started with a flight to Amman. There are other routes such as flying to Aqaba which is slightly closer to Petra, or even to fly into Israel. The simplest and most economical way is a return flight to Amman. This option avoids connecting fights and border crossings with worries about visas. Later I discovered that crossing the border is unlikely to be much of a problem so long as you use the crossings in the south or north of Amman.

It would have been a simple matter to hire a car and drive to Petra from Amman or even to use the express coach. However I don’t much like driving and the bus left very early so I took a taxi south on the King’s Highway. This gave me the opportunity to stop at the interesting places on the way. The route is described in another blog post. If you take your time it is a days journey from Amman to Petra.  The town of Wadi Musa is very close to the entrance to the site. There are plenty of hotels although like everything else in Jordan expect to pay European prices. I checked in for a night’s rest before heading to Petra early the next day.

I decided to get up early so that I could arrive at the site early and avoid the crowds.  Arriving by taxi I was so surprised to find that I was the only tourist! The only people I could see were stall holders sitting and enjoying an early morning coffee. I bought a ticket at the ticket office and they said I could also pay for a guide. I thought having a guide would add to the experience, so I paid my money. You can have a guide just for a limited time to show you in and around the first areas, it  is not so cheap but then Jordan is not a cheap country. I was ushered away by a man who then phoned for an English speaking guide. I didn’t want to be rude so I sat and joined a small group of friendly Jordanians and shared a coffee. Turkish coffee is about the strongest form of coffee know to man. Gritty and dark. A million miles from Starbucks. I sipped then planned where to tip the residue.  I waited …. and waited. I was anxious to get in to avoid the crowds. But there were no crowds, just a very slow trickle of one or two tourists..

After about an hour a guide appeared. Rushing is not the way of life here. The guide sat and enjoyed his morning coffee and finally we set off. I asked where all the tourists were. He told me that the troubles in the Middle East had decimated the number of tourists in Jordan. This is despite the country being one of the safest in a troubled region.

The path gradually narrows as you walk into the  gorge known as the Siq. The guide told me some of the history of the site. He pointed out the channels and damns which were important to manage the water in this barren landscape. The city was an important place for people on the trade routes to rest and take water.

We passed some interesting rock formations on the way including this pair of elephants. The remains of the channels to carry water are just visible at the bottom of the feature.

rocks shaped like a pair of elephants at Petra

My parents had told me that I would have to be careful of the crowds and the donkeys, carts and camels carrying tourist. However times have changed and the path was almost empty. I enjoyed the peace but it is difficult for the locals working in tourism.

I expect most of you have seen pictures of the of the Treasury . The Treasury looks like the front of a huge greek temple carved into a rock face. Walking through the narrow gorge it is such a surprise to see the facade of the Treasury suddenly appear before you. Just a tiny glimpse to begin. You continue and the gorge opens out into a large space like a cauldron with steep sides of rock around and the Treasury immediately in front.

approach to the treasury from the siq

The Treasury is not the only grand facade is not the only one the site. It is also not the largest. But you just don’t expect to find it. The impact of the surprise  as well as the size and detail makes it very special. The treasury is thought to be a mausoleum and was built by the Nabateans. You can look into the rooms beneath the facade which form a crypt.

I read about visiting Petra before I left home. Some say you could make a visit in a day. It is true you can walk along the siq and admire the Treasury within a couple of hours. But there is so much more on the site than the Treasury. I didn’t want to be rushed and having travelled so far it made sense to me to take two days to explore. I was pleased in the end that I did take that time. You can only see the best views like the one below if you are prepared to climb.

the treasury at Petra from above

If you look closely at the photo you can see that there are seats to the bottom left of the photo. In fact the area in front of the treasury has a number of small shops and stalls selling souvenirs and refreshments. It is a strange combination of commercialism and history. Actually it works quite well as the area is large and you can sit and admire the facade while enjoying a coffee. I could even get a European coffee with milk!

Looking back from half way up to the viewpoint you can that you have to climb many steps.

stairs up to the viewpoint

Continuing on past the treasury you emerge from the narrow gorge through the mountains onto a much flatter area. You can see many royal tombs with grand facades to the right.

facades of the royal tombs at Petra

On the left is an amphitheater carved into the hillside. Although it looks very Roman it was built before they took over in 106. The amphitheatre is shown in the picture below.

the amphitheatre at Petra

The time with my guide was limited and we didn’t pass much further beyond the amphitheatre together. With the aid of a map he was able to point out the places to explore and the routes I should follow. It was well worth having a guide to help plan the rest of my time. To visit the best sights you need to be prepared to follow the trails and to climb. I was pleased that I had a couple of days to explore as the site is large.

The path to the view point where you can look down on the Treasury is past the royal tombs. It is a steady climb up steps to begin with then you reach a flat area where the route is not well marked. It is a bit precarious on the top so you need to take care. Like most of the viewpoints there is a tent where you can take a rest and a tea.

Near the climb to the viewpoint is the start of a second gorge which runs parallel to the siq and leads to the same place. I asked one of the guys with a donkey to show me the route. You would not want to pass that way if there is any danger of flash floods. You can see from the rock lodged in the gorge how strong the water must be during a flood. It is possible that the path might be blocked by debris from the last floods so you might be forced to re-trace your steps. I found it made it an interesting route having passed along the siq a few times during my visit.

rock shaped like a head lodged in a gorge

A colonnaded Roman road runs through the rest of the site. Some way long the road you find the remains of a large temple on the left.  The remains of an early church are on the right. The temple was only discovered in 1992 and excavated since then. You can see the many columns on two levels in the photo below.

columns at the ruins of the great temple at Petra

At the end of the Roman road you are faced with a climb to the Monastery. Although it is a long climb it is well worth it to see the facade which is even larger than that of the treasury. Many visitors will not make it up here so you will feel privileged to see it.

the monastery at Petra

I little way further and you can reach the summit and rest in another tent and take more tea. Helpfully there is a sign showing you that there is a view. You can look from here towards Israel in the distance.

view point and tea tent at Petra

I hope you have enjoyed hearing about my visit to Petra. If you get the chance it is certainly worth the effort to go. The Treasury is amazing but there is even more beyond.