I sighed and handed over my 55 Dinar ($77USD) to the man at the ticket counter; a hefty sum for an otherwise budget friendly country to travel through. This fee would buy me two days in the ancient city of Petra. He asked me to type my name in the computer and then handed me a ticket. I waited for more, but there was nothing more; not even a map. I walked away and thought “Geez, even at Disneyworld they give you a map!”
Luckily I had a little Jordan guide book which provided me some sort of map and I had plotted out my Petra walking plan the night before based on the guide book and some advice of people at the hotel I was staying in. It all looked rather simple. First I would go through the Siq, see the famous Treasury, then I would go to the High place of Sacrifice and down the other side to see Lion Monument, the Roman and Soldier Tomb. Next I would go through the Upper Market and head towards the Monastery, then the church, amphitheatre, and other tombs along the East cliff. That would pretty much cover Petra…a simple plan for the day.
It was my plan until I descended through the mile long Siq and stood staring in awe of the famous Treasury Building; then I knew I needed a plan B. I felt dwarfed by the rock formations that towered above me; the place was much larger than my little guide book map appeared. I should have paid more attention to the scale of the map. This was an ancient hiking playground; trails leading in every direction and all of them leading upwards. I was starting to sweat just looking at them. This was going to be a much more active day than I originally thought.
The buildings carved into the rocks were gigantic, ornate, and were the color of orange sherbet. The light was streaming through the rock formations providing an ethereal feel to the city. Tourists groups huddled around their guides listening intently as I tried my best to avoid them. But it was next to impossible, they streamed from the Sik and into the Treasury area as if it were a giant slide depositing them all at the bottom giddy from the wild ride. Vendors were immediately at your side selling you camel and donkey rides. Men were hawking jewelry and young kids raced up to you to show you’re their postcards. I wasn’t very fond of the masses of people; but it served me right for sleeping in. I looked around at all of the out of shape tourists and I decided to stick to my original plan and start climbing to the High Place of Sacrifice. I knew I could lose them as the steep flight of stairs would weed out the old and out of shape.
The High Place of Sacrifice was worth the climb; not only did I shake the tour groups, but it offered staggering views over Wadi Musa. It was a perfect place to sit down, have a snack and breathe in the fresh, crisp air. There were few tourists up here, a welcome reward after the challenging climb. After a short rest I continued down the other side of the mountain completely alone. I found myself surrounded by ancient tombs and absolutely nothing or no-one else. No merchants, no donkeys, no tourists…just me; I felt like Petra belonged only to me…and the occasional cat. I climbed around the tombs, inside them and generally stood in awe of my solitary experience in such a touristed location as much as I was in awe of the tombs themselves.
It didn’t take me long to get back to the throngs of tourists as I came around the back side and towards the Upper Market. Everyone was heading towards the Monastery, the largest tomb façade in Petra. I had another big climb ahead of me, and this time it was like a super highway of hiking; everyone was trying to make it up to the top to catch the afternoon sun and the colorful view. I couldn’t shake the tourists, but I was able to shake the vendors. Between deep breathes I mumbled ‘”No” to each jewelry and donkey offer and kept plodding away up the steps. By the time I got to the top I was sweating and exhausted.
The Monastery view point was one of my favorites; despite all of the people. They had set up couches and had a tea house at the top; allowing you to relax after your exercise and take in the view. However, be warned, if you go at the end of the day, you’ll have to make your way all the way back to the Siq and another mile to the entrance. It was about 2 hours to get all the way back to the ticket booth – and all uphill.
I had severely underestimated the size of Petra and really was only able to see a couple of the sites in depth on day 1; I knew I had to go back the next day. That night I was sore and exhausted, but set my alarm for 6AM as I had a mission to beat the crowds the next day and attempt to get some tourist-less photography.
As I walked down the Siq the second day, the rocks were grey and drab as the sun hadn’t made it’s way into the narrow canyon yet to turn the color on. However the tourists also hadn’t made their way into the Siq yet and I only saw 4 other people as I walked downwards towards the Treasury.
The best part about going early was that you were able to watch Petra wake up and come alive. It’s a pleasant introduction to Petra without the harshness of guides and big groups of people huddling around. Not only was the light and the tourists absent, but so were the Bedouin vendors. The busy entrance was all yours.
I walked through the Treasury area and into the Street of Facades and enjoyed the peacefulness of Petra; a view not many people get. I arrived in Petra as the Bedouin families were showing up to ‘work’. I watched the women set up their shops and make tea. Men did their morning prayers and generally no one bothered you. I felt as if I was completely behind the scenes, everyone was getting their make-up done, and the curtain was about to open.
As I was taking photos two women in a off-the-beaten path jewelry stand invited me in for tea. They said it was or “fraw”
“Yes” they said. “Come have tea with us.”
I told them I would have tea but I would not buy anything. They were in agreement and I sat down for 10 minutes and drank tea with them. It was lovely. I asked them questions about their family and jewelry and they of course asked if I was married. It was a completely normal exchange and never once did they try to sell me anything. It was as if they weren’t ‘on the clock’ yet and I was a guest, not a dollar bill. The whole interaction felt like the most special moment I had in Petra, because it was genuine.
I continued to watch the sun rise over the hilltops and start to shine into Petra like a spotlight announcing the big show. The curtain was close to opening; so it was my time to leave.
By Laura February 1, 2011 - 8:08 am
This got me excited all over again! I enjoyed the views from the High Place of Sacrifice as well, but my favorites were the Monastery and trekking for an above view of the Treasury. It’s just stunning. And what a lovely exchange you must have had over tea! I’m just glad you didn’t stay the night in the cave with some of the men… I was surprised to meet multiple women who did that 😉
By Sheila February 1, 2011 - 12:51 pm
Wonderful post. It must have been one amazing experience to be in Petra.
By Megan February 1, 2011 - 4:42 pm
Great pictures! I have to say that Petra was one of the places that I expected to be disappointed by but surpassed expectations. I had a lot of alone time in the harder to reach areas and spent every afternoon of my 3-day pass climbing onto a perch, drawing, eating lunch and people watching. It was amazing. I wish more people would choose to go for more than just one day.
By Sherry February 3, 2011 - 11:04 am
I agree Megan – I really expected it to be overcorwded and annoying – however it was quite the opposite if you were willing to climb a bit. It turned out to be the perfect place for some alone time! Hope you are well and thanks for stopping by the site!! Enjoy your snow!
By Christy @ Technosyncratic February 1, 2011 - 5:05 pm
These photos are so gorgeous! I especially like the first one – absolutely stunning.
By Sherry February 3, 2011 - 11:05 am
Thanks so much – I had a great time shooting there!
By Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World February 1, 2011 - 7:52 pm
Weee, this renews my excitement about visiting this region. The photos are amazing!
By Erica February 2, 2011 - 6:03 am
Love the photos. It is refreshing to see other pictures of Petra besides the “one”. <3
By Mark H February 2, 2011 - 5:51 pm
Again remarkable photos and experiential writing. Petra sounds truly one of the travel wonders of the world…
By Rebecca February 10, 2011 - 4:20 am
Wow, so great it have it almost all to yourself! This is a good plan. So I take it you can visit without being on a tour of some kind? I think I expected that, like many places, you’d only be able to get in with a group.
By Sherry February 10, 2011 - 4:49 am
Yes – you can easily go by yourself! You might not learn as much – but you really get to take your time and explore. Go for more than one day if you can – you can get a guide one day and then explore the hiking the next! It’s huge!
By Amy February 10, 2011 - 7:06 am
I totally agree getting up early is the way to go – it cuts down on much of the tourists and the early morning light is fantastic once it gets going. Plus, it is much less hot in the early morning. The climbing things sounds like a good idea as well, minus the climbing part – I’m rather lazy!
Your tea experience sounds lovely – if only there could be more moments like those.
By Roy | cruisesurfingz April 15, 2011 - 8:56 pm
Wow, seemed a bit pricey but by the sounds of it it was worth it…
By Sherry April 16, 2011 - 12:53 am
It was definitely worth it. It was one of my favorite tourist sites in all of my travels. Mainly becuase it was about the history AND there was great hiking! I hope you can go one day!