Petra: Exploring a World Wonder

A world-wonder to rival all others, the sunset-hued stones and facades of Petra are, and I think always will be, one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. There are plenty of reasons to go to Jordan: the food, the wide desert expanses, the Red Sea treasures and the people to name just a few, but Petra is the reason for most people’s visit and yet it still manages to blow all expectations out of the water.

Bedouins and their donkeys

The Siq and The Treasury

We started our day bright and early, breakfasting in our hotel just before sunrise. By the time the sun began to peek over the mountains of Wadi Musa we were walking through the visitor centre of Petra. Even the two kilometre walk down towards the Siq is impressive; cave homes sit in the rock alongside the long walkway, while Bedouins ride their stunning Arab horses and hardy mules alongside the march of tourists heading into the ancient city.

The Treasury peeking through the Siq

The Siq came into view; the gateway to the enigmatic Treasury. We meandered through the canyon, which is itself wildly beautiful, walls curving backwards and forwards like waves with the morning light shining through the gap in the canyon high above us. I spent the next two kilometres waiting for the end of the Siq, and when it did end, a slice of column in all its carved glory gave us our first taste of the Treasury. But not even that first glimpse prepared me for the sight of it towering in front of me; no picture in the world can do justice to the unbelievably ornate carvings in person, nor do justice to climbing the rose-coloured rock opposite the Treasury to view it from above. We spent 40 minutes or so admiring it from all angles, taking photos and just sitting and gazing, before moving on towards the basin.

Gazing out at The Treasury

Petra’s Hillsides and Tombs

Even the unexpected in Petra is incredible: the caves on the hillsides, the ancient carved theatre, the Bedouins selling spices and offering donkey rides in all their mendeleed, kholed beauty (I may or may not have fallen in love with like 12 Bedouin men over the course of the day, despite not being attracted to men in the slightest). We stopped at a few stalls on our route, but the best by far was Raami’s stall, the son of a New Zealand woman who fell in love with a Bedouin man in 1978 and left her western life behind to live in Petra with him. Raami grew up in a cave just a stone’s throw from his stall, and though he has spent most of his life in Sydney, he returns to Petra to sell his mother’s book, Married to a Bedouin, which I bought and have since ferociously consumed, fascinated by her story. After meeting him we climbed up the hillside to visit the Palace Tomb, which affords incredible views across the valley and shows off the natural beauty of the rock which the Nabateans and their ancestors carved and lived within for thousands of years.

The view from the Palace Tomb

We continued into the basin along the scenic route, bypassing the usual tourist path and walking along the hillside before cutting down to the restaurant below for a drink and a rest before our next challenge. We’d already walked about six kilometres and my feet were killing me, but an 800-step climb up to the Monastery was still ahead of us. It is possible to take a donkey ride up there, but we worried about how the donkeys were treated and didn’t think we’d have the same sense of achievement if we didn’t make the climb ourselves.

The Monastery

The path up through the rugged canyon is sandwiched between Bedouin stalls full of souvenirs with steps of varying sizes and lengths, footholds trodden in by years of tourists and donkey hooves. It’s not an easy climb (especially in 35-degree heat), but boy was it worth it. The Monastery is larger than the Treasury, and its remoteness up above the rest of Petra gives it a sense of other-worldlyness, dampened only by the restaurant awaiting you on arrival. We were glad for the cold drinks and sandwiches though, and the comfortable, Monastery-view sofas to rest our legs on. After refuelling we climbed to a viewpoint further up, which was quiet and separated from the rest of the tourists, and gave incredible views not only of the sight we’d come to see, but of the whole Petra Valley and beyond.

The Monastery from afar

There’s another hike that many people venture on when here, to the High Place of Sacrifice, about 1000 steps upwards out of the other side of the basin. But by the time we trekked down from the Monastery, stopping en route for fridge-cooled Fanta, we were too exhausted to even consider climbing another 1000 steps. I wish we’d had a second day, because I can imagine the views from the High Place are spectacular.

And Back to Wadi Musa

The six-kilometre slog back to Wadi Musa was hard work, but we stopped for a rest and a last admire of the Treasury en route. It was much busier in the afternoon (so hot tip: be sure to go early in the morning), but still no less incredible, and the afternoon sunlight flowing through the canyon lit it up an absolutely unforgettable shade of bright amber. It would be impossible for Petra not to be classed a world wonder; it truly is an incredible sight to behold, especially considering that it was carved by hand out of the rock as long ago as the 4th century BC. It’s amazing to imagine Petra as it once was: a city. Once upon a time, merchants would arrive from far and wide to sell their wares at this trading post, which then became the home of the Bedouins for 170 years, until 1985 when they were removed from Petra after its UNESCO certification. I can barely fathom the fact that people once called this monumental valley home, but I feel privileged to have been able to experience it.

A last glimpse of The Treasury

Spending some time in Amman before your visit? Read my guide on two days in Amman here, or check out this post to read about Wadi Rum.

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