Overall Experience at Petra:
I feel as though traveling to Petra is a dream journey for many Westerners as a direct result of the final scene in the movie “Indiana Jones the Last Crusade” which prominently features the Treasury in all its mystical glory. In any case, that was my first introduction to the site. It was forever seared into my brain, along with the sense of adventure Petra seems to exuberate.
As a person who hates feelings, it’s difficult to describe the overwhelming emotions I felt exploring Petra. It holds such a sense of wonder, a connection to an ancient world, and fulfilling a dream I’ve held to physically stand here. What surprised me is that these emotions continue to well up every time I talk about it, look at pictures, or write about it. That’s the allure of this place, it stays with you forever.
We got picked up at our Amman hotel bright and early with a prearranged ride via Trip Masters. Our driver was a friendly Jordanian who swapped stories with us and helped us with proper Arabic pronunciation. It was a quick 3 hr drive south on the Desert Highway to get to Petra. I thought it would be a sandy, desolate ride but there are tons of little towns and rest stops along the way. We even saw a few wild camels resting on the crests of hills! Finally, right before you ride into town there are scenic view points where you can pull over and take in the picturesque town below.
I highly recommend spending at least two days in Petra. There truly is so much to see which is just as impressive as the famous Treasury. Our first day we got to the site around 2pm and stayed until about 6pm. The second day we got up at the crack of dawn and stayed until about 4pm. There are multiple places to get a packed lunch as well as along the main trails inside the site, so you won’t have to leave and come back when you are famished.
Movenpick Resort Petra
If you are seeking convenience then look no further than the Movenpick Resort as it is located directly across the street from the entrance to Petra. The hotel’s decor is absolutely stunning! The rooms are spacious and have comfortable beds. There is a rooftop restaurant and courtyard pool where you can cool off after a hot dusty hike. Additionally, the food is fantastic. We had excellent meals at the restaurants on site and especially loved the expansive breakfast buffet. Exactly what we needed to fuel up for a day of exploring.
A Very Brief Overview of Petra
Scholars believe the nomadic Nabataeans established Petra as their capital in the 4th century BC, solidifying it as an important trade center along critical routes to the Silk Road, Mediterranean, Egypt, and Arabia. It’s estimated as many as 30,000 people resided side by side with strangers from different lands in the cosmopolitan desert metropolis!
The Rose Red city was abandoned after a massive earthquake in 363 AD and as the trade routes began to change due to new sea ports. However, caves were still inhabited by the local Bedouin tribes throughout the centuries. It was introduced to the west after Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt visited in 1812. Petra was designated as a World Heritage Site in December 1985.
Siq and Treasury
Once you get your Jordan Pass stamped at the entrance, you’ll walk a little less than a mile to get to the beginning of the rocky Siq. They try to accommodate everyone so if that walk seems too long you can take a horse or a carriage.
We made our way through the Siq and marveled at the tight quarters, tall rock walls and faint carved murals along the way. The anticipation continues to build as you are getting closer and know that at any moment you will see the first glimpses of the Treasury.
Then you see it!
It surpassed every expectation. It was surreal to be up close to this building. You can’t go inside but even the exterior was enough to fulfill my wanderlust dreams. You can even still see some pock mock bullet holes from the times of the Arab revolt. You know, the one with Lawrencia of Arabia.
We had a few minutes to take it in and explore before the hustlers started asking us if we wanted to go for a camel ride or a hike to the top. At first we brushed them away but then I gave into a brief camel ride around the entrance which was wonderful! I’m absolutely enamoured with these beautiful animals.
Then we made the best decision of the trip and met our new best friend, Muhammad Ali. We gave him 20JD to take us on a 15 minute climb to the top. This is a legit full body strenuous hike but it is the quickest way to get the overview.
Muhammad is part of the local Bedouin tribes and might be the most interesting man in the world. He spoke at least six languages, had traveled all over the world, living in both his favorite place Argentina and Ukraine. He even told us how he once won a marathon in Eastern Europe, as he finished his third cigarete. He took us to the top of the cliff that overlooked the Treasury. There is a little camp set up and a rug where you can take some breathtaking shots. Muhammad was thrilled to take pictures for us and really got into his fourth life calling as a photographer.
I hope to cross paths with him again some day. I’m sure he’ll have even crazier stories to tell!
The Street of Facades and Theater
Continuing on from the Treasury, this main trail takes you past the “Street of Facades” a row of monumental Nabataean tombs carved into the cliff face. It’s thought that prominent senior officials are commemorated here.
The Roman influences are visibly apparent at the 6,000 seated theater, divided into three levels in a horseshoe shape with an orchestra area. It was carved into the mountain at the base of the High Place of sacrifice around 25 AD.
The Royal Tombs
The Royal Tombs are extraordinary in their architectural detail, consisting of the most vibrant and marbled sandstone colors. The Royal Tombs are made up of the Urn Tomb (which was later converted into a church), the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the Palace Tomb.
It’s rumored that the Urn Tomb held the remains of Nabataean King Malchus II who died in 70 AD. As you enter the carved facades, you’ll notice the stunning construction and the graves and faded inscriptions carved into the walls.
The Great Temple
The Great Temple is still an active archeological dig site producing discoveries and new understandings of Petra. Recently, excavations beside the Great Temple using ground penetrating radar revealed what used to be a public pool and surrounding gardens! Incredible artifacts have been found at the site indicating the high level of skill and organization that must have been required to construct this building in the 1st century AD.
The ancient builders blended the different cultures with their decor using elephant heads, frescos, elegantly carved pilasters and capitals. It’s fascinating and a little eerie to walk amongst the ruined columns across the plazas and explore the empty quarters. It can take some time to thoroughly see the Great Temple as it is truly massive.
Temple of the Winged Lions
Built on a prominent overlook of the city, this temple was constructed in the 1st century AD and dedicated to the supreme Goddess of Petra, al-Uzza known as the goddess of might, protection, and love. It featured a massive staircase and columns which were capped with winged lions. You can still get a sense of its former glory as you look over Petra from the temple ruins.
The Monastery (Ad-Dayr)
On our second morning at Petra, we rose before the sun and started the 6.6 mile hike up to the Monastery. We followed the main trail through the sites of Petra along the colonnaded street and then started on the steps up to the largest monument here. If hiking isn’t your thing or time isn’t on your side, they have adorable donkey transport at a negotiated price.
We made a pit stop on a side trail at the Lion Triclinium, named after the lions carved into the base of the facade.
Continuing on, we passed little shops selling trinkets and scarves. I found the best prices up here for scarves at 5 JD. We reached the open sandy area and there carved into the mountain was the towering Monastery.
Based on an inscription discovered inside, it’s believed to be dedicated to Obodas I, who was a Nabatean King in the late 90s BC. He defeated an army with a camel Calvary and was revered as a god after his death.
The are two well signed viewpoints past the Monastery and I highly recommend hiking to these spots so you really get an idea of the vastness of the site. You’ll also get an opportunity to see the desert and mountains that have hidden Petra so well over the years. It’s truly breathtaking.
Finally, after all of that hard work, there was a Bedouin open air cafe on the site where we took a break in the shade and sipped on a cold pomegranate!
The High Place of Sacrifice
After our fresh juice refuel at the Monastery, we headed back down the steps and hiked towards the High Place of Sacrifice. This route is thought to be where pilgrimages were made and sacrificial rituals would be performed at the top. However, scholars still don’t know what exact rituals were performed or the purpose, but they know it was an important spot for Petra’s ancient residents.
The hike is scenic, hot and dusty but so worthwhile! There are two routes which both go uphill; one by the theater and the second past the Great Temple called the Wadi Al-Farasa. On the way, there is an old mile marker indicating the route to Egypt and prominent tombs, including the Soldier’s Tomb and Renaissance Tomb. Additionally, on the right side of the path there are quite a few large tombs carved into the cliffside dotting the landscape and providing an even more impressive view of this massive site.
As we made our way on the windy path, the same one Petra’s residents and pilgrims walked thousands of years before, we had a friendly donkey follow us, surprising us with his dexterity to manage the tiny steps. We also encountered the Blue Sinai Agama, which is a small bright blue lizard, hanging out on some rocks.
At the summit of the Attuf Ridge, there are remnants of two alters where it’s believed the blood from animal sacrifices would run down the mountain. The reward of this hike is the stunning views of Petra, especially the overview of the Royal Tombs. We sat at the top and drank some tea with the Bedouin who regaled us with stories of President Obama’s visit in 2013, telling us there were more helicopters in the sky than birds and how friendly he was to everyone.
Museum at Petra
- Get the Jordan Pass before you arrive! It makes it quick and easy to get into Petra.
- If you want a quiet moment alone in Petra, you’ll have to wake up early and get moving. I promise it’s worth it.
- Bring some cash for souveniers! They are so many great knick knacks and jewelry at reasonable prices.
- There are lots of little lizards, cats, dogs, horses, donkeys, camels, goats and sheep throughout the site. Most of which don’t seem to be afraid of people and like pets!
- Meeting the Bedouin people was a highlight of Petra. They are very friendly and had so many entertaining stories. I really enjoyed talking with them during our visit.
- Don’t forget to check out the Cave Bar! It’s located directly outside the Petra site and has some cavernous seating areas to enjoy a local beer.