Jordan wasn’t on our original trip itinerary except as a fly over between Dubai and Israel. But with Egypt still working through its growing pains, we decided to spend some time on the ground in this Middle Eastern neighbor. Besides as we traveled, we met more and more people who told us how wonderful and worthwhile Petra is as a destination.
Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. The city came to prominence in the last century BC, serving as a center for caravan trade with critical routes through much of the region.
But beyond its ancient purpose, Petra is known for its unbelievably-detailed, Hellenistic-style building facades carved into towering rocks. It is perhaps most recognized by the building known as the Treasury, a landmark used in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
Many visitors spend only a day exploring Petra. We spent two and probably could have spent at least one more. There are very few off-limits places on the site. Yes, you can’t go into the Treasury and the entrance to the Roman theater is blocked off but they really give you the run of the place, allowing you to pretend you are a real explorer.
As an American, I’m always astonished by the lack of limits that much of the world has. There’s no idiot-proofing in Petra. If you want to walk so close to the edge of the cliff that you fall off, go for it.
And even when there are boundaries, they are usually just “suggested” like at the Roman theater. The first day we were in Petra, we hiked up to the High Place of Sacrifice to see the site from above and discover some of the less visited architecture.
On our way back down, we got impossibly lost, ending up high above the city’s main drag with no clear way down the cliff side. A local boy who seemed to be doing some rock scaling of his own (I assumed his parents worked in Petra) saw us struggling and offered to help us find the route down.
We followed him down the side of the hill right to the top and down through the Roman theater. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here.” I told Nellu. But we got down and out from behind the fenced-off theater and no one seemed to notice or care.
The boy whose name we never got was an interesting character. He spoke English quite well. As he led us down his path, Nellu got a short distance ahead of me and the boy kept telling him, “You should wait for her.”
He also had a familiar confidence about him acting like it was his job to help stranded tourists. Nellu tried to give him a tip for his guide services but he just returned the coins, saying, “I don’t like this.” He clearly expected nothing in return.
There were many times we found ourselves alone wandering around Petra, which is unusual at such a well-known tourist attraction. There are paths but like the one down from the High Place of Sacrifice, they are not always well marked. But this forgotten detail only adds to the illusion that you have discovered the site’s treasures all by yourself.
The climb to the spot which overlooks the Treasury from above is strenuous. We only saw a handful of people along the way and that fact combined with the remarkable view made it all the more worth it.
There are allegedly 800 steps to climb to Petra’s other extraordinary building, the Monastery, but that route is well-traveled and a piece of cake compared to much of the other hiking we did over the two days we were there.
Here’s a little music montage of footage I took from Petra:
One more thing to note: Jordan is extremely close to Israel. Because of our airline ticket we ended up flying between the countries when taking a bus would have saved us time and money. A common route that many travelers take is through the Red Sea coastal town Eilat, Israel up through to Wadi Musa, Jordan, the town outside of Petra. Not including the border crossing, this route takes just a couple of hours. Many tours also package trips to Egypt with Petra because the distances are so close.