What pops into your head when you hear the word Petra? The “Rose-Red City?” Perhaps a certain building that was featured in “Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade?”
That’s the Treasury (also called Al-Khazneh), a jaw dropping sight. You get the first glimpses as you emerge from the seemingly never-ending Siq, a sort of canyon that forms the path into Petra. Yes, that is the most famous image (and the most stunningly preserved structure) but there’s so much more! Petra is a huge site and Jordan’s star attraction with good reason!
I really, really fell in love with the place during the 2 very full days I spent there. The sheer enormity of the site really makes it feel like you’re discovering the place for yourself. It is sooooo easy to step off the trail and wander off along the striking cliffs that run through the site, allowing you to find sheer solitude in this magical place.
I took every opportunity I could to get away from the crowds. The Bedouin who live at the site (and also sell their wares and tea) are an excellent resource for suggestions of ways to do this and they won’t even ask for baksheesh in return (like folks in Egypt will)!
Here were some of my favorite more “out there” places!
High Place of Sacrifice
It’s quite a few stone steps to get up to the High Place where the Nabateaans (the people who built Petra) would perform sacrificial rituals. Not only is it an invigorating hike up, it offers a nice view of the Street of Façades (second photo below). It ate a solitary breakfast up there, perched on the edge of a cliff on the first day I was there, sharing some peace and quiet with my friend for the day, someone I had shared a taxi with from the border the day before.
The walk down was just wonderful, taking us through a less-traversed back area. Passing carved classical-looking tombs along the way (that the Nabateaans were so famous for), it was impossible to not be gasping at the magnitude repeatedly!
Ending up at a handy directional column, a stop at the conveniently located tea shop is a great way to recharge after the hike.
[box type=”info”]Tip: To get there, take the stairs going up by the Theater.[/box]
Everyone will tell you to go to the Monastery, and with good reason! Second only to the Treasury in its grandeur and level of preservation, this high up site is a real gem! It’s a nice hike to get up there, but when you get there, don’t just hang around the Monastery like most folks do. Hike out to the various viewpoints, overlooking the vast valley below! It was on a precipice here that I had a picnic lunch on the first day!
Getting there is not hard. Follow the signs, the throngs of people and the folks offering up donkeys for the journey up.
Above the Treasury
There’s no doubt that the Treasury is cool. It’s even cooler when you have the whole place to yourself…
[box type=”info”]Tip: Entering the park at 6:00am when it opens is a great way to beat the crowds and have a solitary moment with the Treasury! I did this and didn’t see another person for 2.5 hours![/box]
But what if you could look down on it from above? Turns out, you can! This trip involves exciting off-trail hiking that gives you a vertigo-inducing look at the Treasury from the top of an opposing cliff. Your height makes the Treasury itself look rather tiny, but gives you a great opportunity to see a bit more about how wondrous the structure is! It’s a view you’ll never forget!
[box type=”info”]Tip: To get there, follow the path around the Royal Tombs. You’ll find a staircase that eventually dumps you on top of a cliff. Where you should just keep walking. When the cliff forks, take the one that goes downhill (I know, this is completely illogical since you want to go up). When you get to the end, you’re there! If you need directions, ask a Bedouin.[/box]
The Alternate Way In
I didn’t actually try this as it got to be too late in the day, but a tea shop owner pointed out to me that there’s an alternate way into Petra that doesn’t involve walking through that famous Siq (which gets kind of old after the 6th time you’ve walked it…).
If you’re coming into the site, you have to get off the trail leading to the Siq and veer into the ancient Nabateaan water tunnel (right before the path enters the Siq). That lets out on a path (sort of) which winds its over some boulders (which apparently involve climbing) and ends up behind the Royal Tombs. To exit that way, follow the path around the back left side of the Royal Tombs (same way you get above the Treasury) but keep going!
[box type=”info”]Tip: As the tea shop owner mentioned to me, do not attempt this path after 3:00pm. The sun has already sunk low enough in the sky to shroud the way in darkness, making it a somewhat treacherous journey.[/box]
It was day two and I was at a loss for what to do. I’d already knocked off just about everything on my to-do list and ended up at a tea shop (do you see a trend here?). When I asked the Bedouin owner for suggestions, he ran down a list of places asking me if I’d been. When I answered yes to all he said, “Well, you could go there,” pointing off to a mammoth mountain in the distance.
And so I set off for this place that he described as the highest point in Petra. With that height it was sure to be on heck of a view!
The trailhead is not easy to find. Go past a small Bedouin village (and ask for directions). Once you do, it’s a lengthy (and isolated) climb to the top as you traverse the seemingly endless stairs that have not been well maintained. You can tell from the lack of vendors that almost nobody comes this way.
The rather plateau’d summit is a stunning viewpoint. You can see the Royal Tombs, the Street of Façades, Little Petra (a separate site a little ways away, which has free admission by the way) and yes, even the Monastery. There are also some ruins from a separate civilization up there, though they are not terribly impressive.
The real selling point for me is that I was completely alone. I saw only one other person the entire time and it was a guy at the summit who was on his way down. It was pure bliss to lunch there on the rocks with the most incredible view ever! It’s moments like that which make you so very thankful to be experiencing, for the magic of the moment cannot be repeated!
That’s Not All…
These were some of my favorite Petra hikes, but there is a seemingly endless stream of possible ways to get away from it all in the “Rose-Red City.” If you feel insecure, ask a Bedouin. Not only do they offer directions, but some also run tours to some further out sites (like Little Petra), so if that interests you, just ask! Tea shops abound and they’re great places to work up a chat with the owner.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you, but please let me know where you’ve found that you can get away, for finding your own way around Petra was absolutely the best part for me!