The primary reason for going to Jordan was to visit Petra, the more than 2,000-year-old city carved out of the mountains by the Nabateans, a culture that prospered by its location on spice trade routes in the years before and after the birth of Christ. We visited Petra on a crisp, but largely clear January day with temperatures that topped out around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Prime season starts closer to March so we were very fortunate to catch such good weather while the crowds were fairly light.
Most people were probably exposed to Petra by the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which used its rose-red facades as a backdrop for the hero’s derring-do. It is always a concern that a place might be overhyped, but we think Petra more than delivered and is absolutely worth a visit.
Seeing the site does require a good chunk of time and the energy to walk the minimum of approximately five miles it takes to get in and out of the city. The route includes passing through narrow slot-tunnels and a broad boulevard paved by the Romans. You can hire a golf cart to take you in and out of the city, but portions of the road are quite rough and that ride can’t be terribly comfortable from what we observed.
There are also a number of side trails you can take to other parts of the city. The steepest and longest is a climb up to what is known as the Monastery. It’s about a one-mile climb up from the base of the park via a series of steps, some 900 in all. Pat and I did it along with one of our tour mates. Others opted for easier side trips. Those of us who opted for the Monastery side trip walked a total of about 10 miles.
Weirdly, a ride on horseback that takes you part of the way into the park from the visitor center is included in the entry fee. You could also hire a donkey to take you to the Monastery. No thanks, I’d rather walk. The other thing you need to be prepared for is the large number of vendors with stands throughout the entire park, including on high mountain trails.
Our guide, Hisham, warned us to be wary of the vendors, who aren’t above some gamesmanship. It’s fine to buy from them if you want, but most of what they are offering, such as scarves, headdresses and jewelry, is mass-produced junk that largely comes from China or Pakistan, not Jordan. Most of the vendors thankfully aren’t particularly aggressive and are easy enough to ignore if you walk with blinders on. (I call it my old NYC stare.)
One other tip for any future visitors. There is a good lunch place deep inside the park that is operated by the the Crowne Plaza hotel chain. It is a buffet, but there is a wide selection that includes some good salads, something that was welcome after our otherwise protein-heavy diet of the last few days.
It was an exhausting day, but luckily our hotel was just steps from the visitor center, and we were able to enjoy a local beer (yes, it is available in Arab/Muslim countries) at the end of our trek. Little did we know at the time that our day was far from over, but more on that in the next post.