Petra is an ancient Nabatean city and has some of the most incredible, memorable and breathtaking architecture you will see in you life. In the middle of the desert, the sun bakes down, but over the centuries the rare rain has slowly been eroding the carvings, despite the overhangs and rain gutters the Nabatean's caved and the local archeological teams keep in working order.
Hotels & Town
A long winding road, lit by coloured poles, leads from the entrance of Petra all the way up a hill with hotels and shops on either side, all offering access to Petra. The entire town is built around convenient access to this World Heritage site. It is strangely reminiscent of the clusters of hotels around Disney World’s gates.
The hotels are of varied quality and cost, offering accommodation for the most frugal of traveller to those looking fo more luxury.
The entrance to Petra has souvenir shops, restaurants and bathrooms and was deserted when we arrived as we were amongst the first to pass the gate into the canyon leading to Petra. During the return trip, it was full of people, the cafes and restaurants are pricy, as you’d expect, but the service is good.
The primary way to Petra’s main area, if you don’t take the overland route from Little Petra (skipping the gateways but risking getting lost in a desert) is along the Canyon walk or the Siq. Initially through a fairly open rocky area, with caves cut into the freestanding rocks and hills, it was dark during this walk in the morning and sunlight slowly came up as we walked along the roadway. Later in the day, donkeys and carts would be going back and towards carrying tourists along the road to save them the walk.
After a while, you come to the canyon itself, leading to Petra. The walls rise up on either side with sunlight coming down from only a small break at the roof. On either side of the canyon, deeply cut runnels exist one running water that was used for irrigation and one that’s used for drinking water.
From time to time you will see carvings in the rocks, of Nabateans and of their gods. Weathered, as the rock is soft and easily worn away, it is remarkable that they have remained at all.
Al Khazneh, the Treasury is the iconic building and image. It is not, in fact, the most impressive building you will see during an exploration of Petra, but it is the first and it is one seen through the eye of the slot canyon before it opens out into the clearing. Ancient visitors would also be presented with this view when the first visited, no doubt as amazed as we were.
If you want a clear photo of the building, get there early. As early as you can, before the toilets and cafes open as it will fill up fast with tourists, bedouins offering private tours (A warning here, rape of single women who follow some of these men into the cafes of private routes is not uncommon, see :Bedouin Love Scam) and camels.
An entire other layer of the Treasury had previously been excavated by the archaeologist we were fortunate enough to listen to, and returned to its previous state to preserve their history and treasures for a future generation.
Far past the treasury, and up and long tall canyon that you must climb in single file is El Deir, the Monastery, larger and even more impressive than Treasury.
It takes a long while to walk here, up a very winding route past any number of people selling souvenirs, almost all the same, and almost all the same price. About two thirds of the way there is a cafe and bathroom for tourists and a small ‘village’ and as well as a view point over the terrain, but not into Petra.
When you finally reach the summit, unlike the Treasury, you don’t see the building directly but it is on the right hand side as you peak the summit. On the left there is a large cafe offering drinks and some food to refuel.
The monastery sees less tourists due to the challenges getting there, though you are able to take a donkey up and down if you have challenges climbing.
Two raised areas offer additional views over the Monastery, the first is directly behind the cafe.
The second requires another climb up a rocky outcropping, a spire in the desert.
End of the World
Past the monastery there are trails taking you out past the monastery and to ‘the end of the world’ There are two things to see here. Both are a bit of a walk, over rough terrain. Each gives different views (and claims to be the end of the world). The cafe at the point towards the right is closed down and falling apart, though an adorable ginger kitten had made his home there.
This view looks out into the deep black stone far below, with hills rising up around it.
The second, left hand view point has an operating cafe, where you can recline on rugs and cushions by the edge and look out over a similar view.
The Great Temple of Petra
There is a limited amount you can see here, but what exists is impressive. The bones remain of the Great Temple, and archeologists are confident it had a red and white colour causing it to stand out against Petra’s famous rose colours.
The Hadrian Gate
Past the Great temple and before the large climb up to the Monastery is the Hadrian Gate, one of the main gates into and out of the ancient city. Dressed up bedouins as roman guards stand by the entrance looking to offer their services for photographs.
The Royal Tombs stand together between the Treasury and the Hadrian Gate, tall and impressively carved they are one of the few places you are able to enter in Petra, rather than looking outside only. There is little to see of course as it is a stone cave, but it is haunting to stand there, seeing the patches of soot remaining on the roof from centuries and more ago.
Overlook of the Treasury
If you take the trail that runs behind the Royal Tombs you will, after a long climb, reach the overlook. Again, a cafe has sprung up here and they attempt charge you if you don’t buy a drink to take photos. By the time you’ve climbed the hills, walked along the broken terrain and made it to the view point you will likely appreciate a cold drink.
The view is off centre, but still well worth the climb.
Petra at Night
I have deeply mixed feelings about Petra at Night, and our guide had warned us that it may not meet our expectations. The Siq walk is lined wit candles (LED ones for safety) in bags to give an eerie glow, but the ongoing loud chatter and constant phone lights really spoil the ambiance.
When you get to the Treasury, which is lit up by flood lights, you are lined up on the sand and offered hot chocolate whilst a bedouin storyteller tells a story. At the end disco lights from the 80’s are used to splash vibrant colours on the Treasury. The experience was cliche and touristy and not something I would recommend.
However, I ignored everything that was going on, had setup my tripod on a low setting whilst lying on the sand and shot upwards at the break in the canyon walls and at the Treasury, getting some of the best images of the trip.