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Travel: Exploring Petra

Petra stands as one of the New Wonders of the World and a must-see on the list of anyone visiting the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  You can dedicate days of your itinerary to exploring the intricate maze of archeological wonders–but surprisingly you can also get in some pretty serious hiking. Although the traditional Siq (Arabic for canyon) approach is a memorable way to first lay eyes on the rose-colored Treasury façade (an image immortalized in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, even better is a bird’s eye view that you will likely have all to yourself. So grab a small daypack and plenty of water, pick up a guide or contoured map of Petra from one of the stalls near the entrance gate (very little is sign-posted, so a map is essential), and get ready for some Harrison Ford-worthy tomb exploration.


The Bedoul Bedouin are Petra’s traditional guardians. Up until the site gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1985, the Bedoul made their homes in caves scattered amongst the ancient ruins. Today, Petra’s vast network of “secret” trails are remnant not only from Nabataean times, but more recent decades when Bedoul herded their goats and sheep in and around the rocky cliffs that frame the monuments.

There are lots of secret entrances into Petra, but one of the best takes you high above the canyon for a bird’s eye view. Leaving the main tourist trail almost immediately, you clamber over red sandstone boulders and precariously teeter along cliff edges.  If you weren’t winded after this 1.5-mile hike up the back way into Petra, then the Hellenistic Treasury facade shining in the morning sun 256 feet below will take your breath away. Continue your morning hike past the High Place of Sacrifice, with expansive views across to the Amphitheatre and Royal Tombs, then down along the Lion Monument and multi-colored tombs of Wadi Farasa that beckon you to explore inside and escape the midday sun’s blaring rays.


After a brief break for some lunch and cold drinks, don’t miss the more than 800-step hike up an ancient path cut into the mountainside, which leads to the Monastery. It’s worth dodging donkeys laden with cases of bottled water and endless sales pitches from the small stall owners hawking jewelry and camel sculptures. Similar in design to the Treasury but far bigger, the majestic Monastery facade is best enjoyed sipping tea or a cold mint lemonade at the cave stall across the vast courtyard. If you can swing it, follow the “Best View” signs to one of several lookouts to watch the sun set behind Jebel Haroun and join the debate about which view is actually the best (don’t worry–there are no real losers). Hike back down to catch Petra by Night, where thousands of candles arranged in paper bags light up the Treasury, and you’re transcended by traditional Arabic music to a place that feels as timeless as the surrounding landscape.


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