Exploring the secrets of... Petra

| July 2, 2009

Last year (2008) Cox & Kings Middle East Team Leader Thomas Saunders re-visited Jordan and in particular Petra with a small group of travel agents.

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Jordan has plenty to offer, and our week was packed with ancient sites and fantastic scenery, however it's Petra that really blows you away. A visit to Petra begins with the small unassuming town of Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is home to the assortment of hotels and restaurants that accommodate the modern tourist's visit to Petra. The actual site of Petra is hidden from view and was unknown to the outside world until 1812. Johan Ludvig Burckhardt was the first westerner to discover Petra, in 1812 as he pretended to be a Muslim pilgrim on his way to Haroun’s or Aaron’s tomb. While a disguise is no longer needed to visit Petra I enjoyed wearing my red and white Keffiyeh, the traditional chequered Arab headscarf, in the same colours as the Keffiyeh worn by King Hussain and the present King Abdullah.


Petra begins with a wide path and a horse track on your left. Bedu horsemen speed past you carrying tourists who are in a hurry. After 700 meters the path leads to the beginning of the Siq, a kilometre long crevice that was paved and has a water channel running down the right side. The path twists and turns while the rose-red rocks of Petra tower either side of you.

Finally the Siq opens to the iconic sight of the treasury, a huge burial portal carved in to the sheer cliff that towers above you. To the right the path continues past the ruined rose-red coloured amphitheatre and onwards. The rest of Petra opens out in a bowl-like shape with royal tombs to your right while numerous paths leading to Roman mosaics and Nabeatean temples head off in all directions. The beginning of over 900 steps to the High Place of Sacrifice lures you to your left. There is so much to see and so many paths to walk, some more taxing then others, that you cannot do it all in one day (2 or more days can be spent at Petra). Whatever path or route you chose to take it will reward you with ancient tombs and wild scenery, and everywhere the rocks of Petra form their own natural beauty.

After the Siq and Treasury most people head along the old roman path to the restaurants where you can refuel before tackling the 700 or so steps that lead to the far end of the site and the majestic Monastery. Throughout the site Bedouin men, women and children have set up souvenir stalls, tea and snack tents, or are offering donkey and camel rides. They are not persistent and walk around Petra with big smiles. Take time to have tea and chat with the local Bedu who are Petra’s keepers. They have lived in and among the ruins long before Burckhardt duped his way in.

Petra is a site that has everything, trekking trails spread up and down, left and right and all across the site. The local Bedu are as hospitable as their reputation suggests, and the ancient architecture of tombs and temples will keep your historical yearnings happy. I love wandering around Petra with a copy of David Roberts’ sketches that he made in the 19th Century. Look out for the differences that the passage of time is making such as the now-missing entrance arch at the beginning of the Siq that is depicted standing in Roberts’ sketches.

Finally can you make out the Camel and Camel driver now fading from view. This would have been a sculpture adorning the Siq and signifying the site's trading importance. It now reminds me of the delicate and fading nature that these grand historical sights have.

Cox & Kings offers a number of options to Petra, including the 7-night group tour Splendours of Jordan. Click here to view all our Jordan options, or call 020 7873 5000 to speak to a Middle East expert.

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