Despite our tiredness, we set off from the Dead Sea eager to see the ancient city of Petra.
I had read online that the roads in Jordan were terrible, so wasn’t expecting a pleasant drive. However, our driver had done some research, and noticed that the Al-Tafilah Highway had reopened. There had been a rock fall on the road the week earlier, but it was cleared in time for us to use it. We started our journey along the Jordan Valley Highway, snaking through banana plantations and small villages, and then ascended the mountains leading to Petra. The road was nearly empty, and we were treated to gorgeous views along the way. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see much of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, but we made it to Petra in record time – about three hours. Wael dropped us at the gates, and we were off.
On his advice, we opted not to take a guide. He noted that most of the guides will only stay with you for about an hour and half, and it can take up to 45 minutes to wander into Petra. Instead, Wael said for us to take our time, enjoy ourselves, and to text him when finished. We took a relaxed approach to wandering down the Valley and into the Siq, the famous cavernous entrance to Petra.
The walk itself is easy. The worst thing about it is the animals. Poor, beaten horses pull obese tourists down the gentle slope that leads to the Siq. Seriously, if you can’t walk that far, you shouldn’t be at Petra. It is not a place for animal lovers. Please, if you visit, don’t get a carriage or ride the horses. Also, be really careful, because as soon as you enter the Siq, it gets a bit chaotic. If you stand in the way, you will get taken out by a speeding pony. We saw a few horses trip on the rocks and formations in the Siq too, as their drivers pushed them too hard. Keep well out of the way, and stay alert.
Once you get through the Siq, though, the view is breathtaking. I imagine there is always a giant pile up at the far end of the Siq, where everyone scrambles to get the same photo.
You are then treated to a view of the Treasury. “That building from Indiana Jones“, it is the most famous at Petra, and the site that most people come to see. Known as al-Khazneh in Arabic and carved out of solid rock, the Treasury is one of the most elegant remains of the ancient world, and stands over 40 meters high.
The Treasury was probably constructed in the 1st century BC, but no one is quite sure. As its design has no precedent in Petra, it is thought that it was carved by Near-Eastern Hellenistic architects. As well as not having an exact age, historians aren’t quite sure of its purpose. One thing that is fairly certain. Ironically, it was never a treasury. In reality, the Treasury is generally believed to be a temple or a royal tomb, but neither conclusion is certain. These days, you can’t go inside to investigate, but it was named for the Bedouin belief that pirates hid ancient Pharaonic treasures inside.
Petra was lost to the Western world for hundreds of years. Once a busy trading center and the capital of the Nabataean empire, it sat in near ruin for centuries. Only in the early 1800s did a European traveler disguise himself in Bedouin costume and manage to find the famed lost city.
We were lucky that it was only about 25 degrees when we visited Petra, and therefore a pleasant day for a wander. After looking at the Treasury, we wandered along viewing the various temples and sites along the valley. One thing to note is that there are many, many children trying to selling you things in Petra. There are even people trying to sell rocks. The Jordanian Tourism Board recommends that you do not buy from these people – largely because many of them are chipping off stone from the carvings to try and sell. You will see Police wandering the premises, and while they don’t seem to move sellers along, I’m sure you could get their attention if you get too harassed. A polite la, shukraan (لا، شكرا) seemed to clear most people off.
The walk through Petra is an interesting one, although it does help if you have done a bit of research on the sights you will see. Amongst the sites were the Theatre, a 2000 year old arena which can seat over 3000 people, and the Royal Tombs. The Royal Tombs are a little walk uphill, but well worth it. We actually took a packed lunch (thanks Hilton Dead Sea!) and enjoyed it sitting in a cave, overlooking the valley. Not too shabby, really. I’d highly recommend taking your own food, because the only place that looks half decent inside is the expensive buffet restaurant near the Monastery. Water is freely available and pretty cheap, though.
Matt and I wanted to climb the 800 or so steps to the Monastery, but didn’t think the trip would be much fun for mum. Armed with a Sprite, with left her at the aforementioned restaurant for some people watching and made our way up the hill. Despite Petra being camel city, most of them have thinned out by the time you reach the Monastery. The camels are the best looked after animals in Petra. Camels are notoriously stubborn, and the keepers have to keep them on side to make sure they will take guests! However, the Monastery is the realm is the donkey. These poor little donkeys are the worst off. You could almost see them sighing as some hippo traveller decided to climb on board, their knees buckling as they climbed the steps. It’s like the walk into Petra… if you can’t walk, you shouldn’t force it on a donkey. Neither the donkeys or the riders looked like they were having much fun. They’re a bit of a hazard for walkers, too. The keepers don’t have very good control of them, whacking them with reeds, and the donkeys understandably just want to get up (or down) as fast as possible. Some of them are looked after by children. You also have to watch out for rogue wild donkeys that decide to follow the pack.
The walk up actually wasn’t half as bad as I expected. However, you are going to get hot and sweaty. There is no way around it. It’s also a bit deceptive. When you round each corner, it feels like you are near the top.. but you probably aren’t. It took us about 45 minutes to walk up, but only 15 to go down. We didn’t take any cash, but you can buy food and drink on the way up. If you are craving candy, there is even a guy that suggests you have a break, have a kitkat! You have to laugh. I kind of wanted one. Once you reach the top, you are able to enjoy the views of the Monastery. Similar in design to the Treasury but larger, it was built in the 3rd century BC as a Nabataean tomb. Thankfully, there are rows of seats for you to collapse into at the top, and a small snack bar.
You will enjoy the views a lot more on the way down, where you exert less effort gasping for breath. Just make sure you stick to the hill-side, lest any angry donkeys knock you off a cliff. You’re also likely to encounter some friendly wild goats. Once we reached the bottom, we re-collected mum and headed back towards the Siq slowly. By the afternoon, the crowds had died down a little, but it was still a game of carriage dodgeball getting through the Siq.
The ride back to the Dead Sea was uneventful, though a little boring along the Kings Highway. After helping ourselves to a generous serving of Executive Lounge treats for dinner, we fell into bed after a long but worthwhile day. Thankfully, no one had booked any more raging Baptism parties.
The next day was finally Dead Sea time! It was also Mum’s birthday, and we thought it was a pretty fabulous way to spend your birthday. We got up early and wandered down to the lake. It is the lowest body of water on the surface of Earth. Due to diversion and commercial activities, the Dead Sea has seen a precipitous drop in its water level. It continues to drop about a metre every ten years, and the declining water level makes it even saltier. You have to walk a long way down to get to the sea, including via an elevator, but the Hilton has a lovely sea-side area. Lots of the other resorts in the area didn’t look quite so nice.
Just quickly, everyone tells you not to shave your legs before you go into the Dead Sea. I ignored them. Don’t ignore them. It is very, very salty. Ouch.
After my rather quick dip and requisite floating, I wanted to avail the mud treatment available. Those treatments are expensive in Dubai. At the resort, there were giant pots of Dead Sea mud that you could slather all over you, and then bake in the sun. I also had great fun throwing mud at mum and Matt. You feel a bit self-conscious waiting for it all to dry, though. I slapped it on too thick, and it really didn’t want to set. There are little wooden benches to sit on, but you still feel a bit awkward, trying not to get mud everyone. After about 15 minutes, you hop into the water. It was surprisingly hard to get off, but scrubbing it off with the salt left my skin very nice – even worth the sting!
The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool and enjoying the remains of Mum’s ‘Barthday Cake’, before our transfer to the airport later in the day.
Jordan was not what I expected. To be fair, I’m not really sure what I expected. It certainly felt like a very safe destination, and the history there is incredible. There is so much to learn about the Hashemites, and I’ll enjoy reading more about the history of this fascinating land over time. And Petra is certainly one of those once in a lifetime must visit locations. I would love to return, particularly to see Wadi Rum. I hope to be able to share my future adventures with you!
Hotel: Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa, Dead Sea Road، Sweimeh. From 460AED per night.
Transport and Guide: Jordan Day Trips and Tours
Visit: Petra, 50JD (provided you are staying in Jordan overnight) or the Jordan Pass is 70JD. Ours included our visa and made our stay a lot cheaper.