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If you are a traveller of some sort you must have heard of Petra even if you haven’t heard of Jordan or even the Middle East. The image of the treasury building is world-famous and brings people to see this wonder of the world.
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I was doubtful when I thought about going to Petra and honestly, at some point, I decided to omit it from my trip because most overhyped destinations are actually disappointing but Petra is another story altogether.
Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, clothes and bring plenty of sunscreen for this trip, you will need it.
Who built Petra?
The city was built by Nabateans some 24 centuries ago and it is mind-bending the scale at which this place existed at that time. Nabateans got their money from frankincense trade but instead of using the money to show off on personal belongings, they built a city so grand it still impresses people in the age of skyscrapers.
This place has been inhabited for as far back as 9000 BC but it got its standing around 4th century BS when Nabateans started selling frankincense which was a very expensive and prized commodity. This fuelled the development of Petra. It was also on the intersection of trade routes which made it an important stop. The city fell to Roman rule around 106AD and after a century the city started to decline mainly because frankincense lost its value, earthquakes and change of trade routes with time.
How big is Petra?
Most people (including me before the visit) think of it as a few ruins you walk around and get done within a couple of hours but the full Petra Archaeological park is around 260 square kilometres. You will need months if you want to understand and know about this gorgeous place but you can see the highlights in a day. Yes, it will be a fraction of the whole site but with a good guide, you will be able to see a good few places.
Learn about all the ways you can use to explore a new city.
How long do I need to visit?
Ideally, a couple of days if you want to do things at a nice easy pace but I only had one day to see this massive city. If you stay the night here you can return next morning one hour earlier than the gates open to regular visitors and more importantly before the tourist buses arrive.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ARRIVE EARLY AROUND 7 AM. If you don’t, you will find hordes of tourists in groups with dust, heat and horrible photos (with sun on top of your head).
I arrived around 8am, parked my car in the free parking area and headed to the tourist centre.
Tip: Petra is located in a valley and the roads going up and down are quite steep, make sure to use the main road instead of small streets because they get packed quite easily and quickly.
One day entrance ticket is 50 JOD (2 days for 55 and 3 days for 60 JOD). Luckily a free tour had just started and I could join them.
Tip: Free tours in English start every hour and you can inquire about them at a separate window near the ticket booth.
The guide explained what we will be doing and a little bit of history of Petra and then we were on the way to explore this beautiful place. I will break it down in the areas as we went along to make it easy for you.
The trance to Petra’s Siq can be reached on horses which are included in your ticket price but the horse minders do expect extra money as a tip. I knew I needed to save energy for what was about to come so I hopped on a horse and a few minutes later we are at the entrance of Siq; the narrow passage between the canyon with the famous curved red rocks.
The first wonder was the redirection of the river done by Nabateans which must have taken them years but it saved the city from flooding and also provided fresh water to the city. This was done via two water channels that run parallel to you all the way to the city, look out for them.
I was already impressed even before setting foot inside.
The walk through the Siq is beautiful with lights changing direction and colour with the curves of mountains. We waked with our guide pointing at wonders big and small, caves and
tombs until we stopped. He sort of revealed the prize for the long walk and my heart raced at the sight of Treasury. The scale of this place is beyond belief. It took me a few seconds to appreciate the scale and beauty of this world-famous site that’s used as the poster for Jordan.
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The treasury is really impressive and what most people miss is the part of the building that’s underground. You need to get closer to see the underground part. You cannot go inside though.
Now you have seen photos of people from a higher platform but it is not obvious how to take one since the mountains are quite high and the climb very steep.
Tip: Standing with your back towards the door of treasury look to your left and you will see a small makeshift climbing path. Follow it and you will arrive at a flat area with a Bedouin with a few rugs and a kettle for some tea. Grab some tea and don’t forget to tip him).
The real grandeur of the tombs starts from here. There are many of them and line on both sides.
The Tombs of Kings
We kept walking until we got to the small Roman-era amphitheatre and from that point onwards on your right-hand side you climb up to see the Tombs of the kings. These are grand tombs with beautiful facades but honestly, it was already getting later and the place was filling in with people so I decided to skip the hike up and stuck to a photo.
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Here you will see the Roman theatre on the way as well but you can’t go inside and it is quite small.
The main avenue of the city has the entrance arch with the Grand temple on the left-hand side. On the right-hand side, there are some ruins of old homes.
Tip: Climb to the first level on the right-hand side to see the entire street as well as the palace of the princess. It was the best place to take photos and enjoy the view.
It was 5 km walk to the heart of the city and it was almost time to get some food and then head to the monastery.
Tip: Make sure you pack some light snacks with you, the stuff inside is eye wateringly expensive. This includes water as well.
There are two restaurants inside that work as buffets. The food was below average (as expected) and after some rest (and lack of green tea) I was refreshed enough for the hike up to the monastery.
The hike is roughly 1800 steps and some of it is a bit tricky without proper shoes. You can also do it on the back of a mule or donkey but I’d never forget myself for doing that to a poor animal.
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All I remember is there are plenty of Bedouin stalls to buy souvenirs, some sharp turns, some slippery stairs and beautiful views of the valley. Halfway through, I stopped for some rest and powering through I finally arrived at the monastery. It is just as impressive as the Treasury and it was also the tomb. If you are staying around Petra I’d highly recommend seeing the sunset here.
I was spending the evening in Wadi Rum so I headed back after some more admiration for this beautiful place.
Petra was an eye-opener, a crazy memory, a bucket list item ticked off, a sense of how time brings everyone to their knees but most importantly a sense of wonder how the Nabateans conquered rocks and turned them into a marvel we cannot create today. It is the epitome of human grace and also fall from it…
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