Waking up on our first morning in Petra I felt the same as I did on the morning we went to Machu Pichu…a sense of suspense and excitement about seeing and experiencing something that I'd dreamt about for years. It was the buzz of knowing that we were about to tick something off our bucket list, and hoping that it would live up to all of our expectations.
Tickets to the site are available from the Visitors Center just above the entry gates - a modern building surrounded by shops selling souvenirs, drinks and snacks, the place is well set up to deal with tourists and keep queuing times to a minimum. Tickets are 50 dinars per person for a day pass, and the longer you chose to spend at the site, the more you "save" - a two day pass is only an additional 5 dinars. What everyone neglects to tell you is that to buy a multi-day pass you need ID so don’t forget to bring your drivers license or passport! If you need cash there is an ATM at the Movenpick hotel across the road.
Having purchased our tickets we wandered down to the main gate and onto the path which leads to the entrance to the Siq and the famous Treasury. As you walk through the gates, modern civilization falls away behind you and all of a sudden you're enveloped by the desert mountains and a magic that seems to seep out of the sandstone rock. Many people tried to tempt us with a horse ride down through the Bab el Siq (a ten minute brisk walk) which is actually included in the price of the ticket, but we chose to stay on our own two feet which gave us time to take in the tombs and sculptures which litter the sides of the valley as a prelude to Petra and the intriguing examples of Nabataean life.
We kept walking down the narrow canyon which twists and turns between the cliffs for just over 1km, sometimes widening to let in the sunlight, in eager anticipation of our first glimpse of this:
Nothing can prepare you the moment you round the corner, the rock faces open up and there it is, glimmering in the morning sun’s rays. It’s easy to think that all there is to see in Petra is the Treasury and many people come just for a couple of hours to see it, take a picture and leave. But Petra is SO much more than just the Treasury. You could easily spend a week walking around the whole city and still not see all of it.
We began our exploration with one of the most popular routes along the Outer Siq, past the Theatre and Royal Tombs, down through the City of Petra towards the Monastery, getting a glimpse of Bedouin life on the way.
If you don’t want to walk you can grab a ride in a desert limo...
One of the most popular trails is the climb to the Monastery - its a fairly arduous but well worthwhile climb to one of Petra's most awe-inspiring and well preserved facades. The hike takes approximately 1 hour along a path which is paved in parts and takes you up 800 steps in the rock - many people chose to go by donkey which frankly is not for the feint hearted!
A short detour off the main trail about 1/4 of the way up takes you to the Lion Trinclinium where you can pretend you're Lara Croft.
The path continues to wind its way upwards from there until it finally cuts between two boulders and drops into a wide opening at the top with the colossal Monastery to the right. Dedicated to King Obodas nearly 100 years BC it is known as the Monastery because of the many crosses carved on it's walls.
There's a cafe directly in front of the Monastery where you can relax with a fresh juice, take in the view and watch the Bedouins climb the facade and put on a circus show at the top.
We kept walking a little further to 2 view points - one looking back into the valley of Petra and one looking further out into the Wadi Rum.
Coming back down from the Monastery, the sun was starting to dip behind the mountains so we meandered our way back towards the Treasury and the Siq, stopping at the Church with a gorgeous mosaic on the way, and taking a better look at the Royal Tombs.
Legs burning, it was time to call it a day and rest up for another big day of hiking on day 2. We'd learnt so much on our first day - and not just about the Nabataens. There's a few things people dont tell you about visiting Petra:
- There is water available throughout the site so dont carry unnecessary weight - A large bottle will set you back just 1 dinar.
- Toilets - clean ones, with toilet paper, are available in multiple places.
- Food is scarce - The Basin restaurant serves a buffet but we neither fancied or had time for it so I'd recommend making sandwiches at breakfast and taking a picnic. You can buy juices and snacks like crisps and chocolate bars at the site. Most of these restaurants have free wifi. Wifi is EVERYWHERE in Jordan. We even had it in our car!
- Dress appropriately - it may seem obvious but this isn’t a Disney attraction. The ground is uneven and loose so a pair of trainers is a must - I couldn't believe how many people we saw in heels and suits! Loose, quick dry cotton clothing is a good idea if you’re considering the hikes as you’re bound to work up a sweat.
- Petra is in the mountains and in the mountains, the weather can change in the blink of an eye. Take layers and wet weather gear in a backpack and don’t get caught out. It’s at least a 20 minute walk back to base if it starts raining and all you have is a t-shirt and as the cliffs do a good jobs of blocking out the sun so it can get cold very quickly.
- If you want to hike, looking up routes in advance is a good idea - many are well marked but can be confusing if you haven't done a bit of research. Guides aren't really necessary as long as you've got a map and good sense of direction. Maps are available at the shops by the visitors centre and in the book shop by the Theatre in Petra itself.
Day 1 in Petra had exceeded our expectations and we couldn't wait to get up in the morning to see it again. More hiking trails in my next post!