“A rose red city half as old as time” – John William Burgon
Hidden from the sands of time but not forgotten, the Ancient City of Petra is tucked away in the red-sandstone mountains of southern Jordan. Hike deep into this wind-blown landscape to reveal the famous tomb and monastery that feels like something out of Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, or perhaps even a long lost Jedi temple. The allure of Petra can't be denied and seeing this natural wonder un-shrouded by sand will truly transport you to a time of caravans, traders, and influences from almost all the major ancient civilizations.
The allure of Petra can't be denied and even though neighbouring countries are going through own upheaval, now is one of the best times to go because of the smaller crowds, and great prices. Jordan tours are easy to organize as the routes are quite established now and I'd say the best Petra tours start from Amman which is where you'll undoubtedly fly or transit into. So as you're thinking about planning this epic trip, what does a tour through this region look like and what can you expect to see?
Best Petra tours start from Amman
Almost all Jordan tours start off in the capital city of Jordan. For logistic reasons, this makes sense because this is where the international airport is located, it's where most companies operate from, and it's also a smart way to get situated after a long journey over and get a first taste of the country.
Amman is dynamic contrast of the old and the new with markets, traditional coffee shops, and artisans mingling with modern architecture, smart restaurants, hotels, and hip galleries. The city is built over 19 hills called “Jabal” and there is much to explore.
The downtown area features a beautiful view of the magisterial Citadel and its magnificent Roman ruins, museum, mosques, coffee shops, and souqs. It's the heart of the city and as such gives you a true feeling of what Jordanian life is like.
Spread outwards and you'll find the tree-lined residential districts that are somewhat quieter with their malls, bars, cafes, and galleries. You'll also notice the uniform white houses which is in accordance to municipal law, which states that all exteriors have to be constructed of local stone.
Amman is one of the easiest cities in which to enjoy the Middle East experience and the perfect place to based out of. You'll notice that many tours of Jordan make Amman the home base and you'll take day tours each day before returning to your 4 to 5-star hotel. For those doing deeper tours into Petra, you'll start and end off your trip here.
The road to Petra
There are many tour companies to choose from but there's none better than Memphis Tours. In fact, I travelled with them while I was in Egypt for the Nile Cruise and Luxor and only have great things to say about them. They offer reasonably priced tours to Petra that show you all the highlights of Jordan and others that go into a deeper focus on Petra and the surrounding region itself.
The ideal way to see Petra is to do it across two days. Here's what it would look like
Day 1: Desert Adventure in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum is the quintessential dessert: it's sandy; it's hot during the day; it drops in temperature after dark; it's moody; it's got carved gorges; and it's home to the Beduoin. What makes it a must-do is that it's one of the easiest ways to get a glimpse into life in a desert while doing it in a safe way.
Here's you'll get a chance to see how the Bedouins live in what can be an inhospitable region and get a better understanding of the traditional way of life stripped down to the bare essentials.
An experience through Wadi Rum is best done with a 4×4 Jeep tour as you blaze through its canyons (known as siqs), sand dunes, desert villages, and rock inscriptions left by the skilled traders known as the Nabataean.
Get a good night's rest just outside Petra because you don't want to miss a beat for the next day that's to come.
Day 2: Step Into The Ancient City of Petra
You've undoubtedly seen many pictures of what was voted to be one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” but until you've stepped in, you haven't truly experienced it. Petra is truly a special place and has stories in carved into the rock walls that echo through the snaking labyrinth as you make your way into the hidden city.
Petra was established around 6th century B.C. by a nomadic tribe of traders, the Nabataean. Laying down their roots in this area, they slowly built a large commercial empire that extended all the way up to Syria. Eventually the Romans took over in the year 106, followed by the Byzantine empire. As time passed, the city became a forgotten land as earthquakes and sand storms shrouded it from memory. It wasn't until 1812 when Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt rediscovered Petra and huge excavation works began.
Today, Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is set deep within a gorge of enormous terracotta-coloured rock walls that glow a “rose red”. You make your way in by hiking through a kilometre chasm which is the same path that you see in the final sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Petra's most famous monument is the Treasury located at the end of the siq (canyon). This monolithic facade is merely the first of many wonders to be explored in Petra. Known as Al-Khazneh, this 30 metre wide and 43 metre tall tomb was carved (not built) in the early 1st century for an important Nabataean king. As you gaze up in awe, you'll start to understand the engineering genius of this kingdom.
Beyond the Treasury there are hundreds of carvings, and elaborate rock-cut tombs that have survived the test of time that you'll find in various sites such as the Urn Tomb and Royal Tombs.
Not to be missed is also the Roman Theatre which seats up to 3,000 people, obelisks, additional temples, sacrificial altars, and ornate colonnades.
If you look high up, 800 steps will take you up to to the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery (Hilltop Monastery) which you will be able to visit as well.
Lastly, there's more to learn through the Petra Archaeological Museum and the Petra Nabataean Museum that cover the excavation, discovery, and the fascinating history.
As you can tell, there is a lot to explore and your guide will make sure you make the most out of your day before heading back to Amman.
Is Jordan safe?
A common question that people have when planning a trip to Jordan is whether the country is safe. With all the strife, war, and conflict in the neighbouring countries of the Middle East, is there any cause for concern?
The short answer is yes. Like my time in Egypt, the media blows things out of proportion when it comes to the Middle East. While conflict still exists in Syria, the Kingdom of Jordan remains one of the safest places in the region.
This can be attributed to Jordan's progressive culture and focus on keeping their country stable and tourist friendly. Many travellers talk about being surprised that they weren't harassed while they were there and the friendliness of locals that truly made their trip memorable.
What it comes down to is travel smarts, respecting the local culture, and travelling in a group. Solo travel is possible in Jordan but when you're with a local guide, you'll benefit from having an expert ensure there are no bumps along the way and navigating through customs that you might not be familiar with.
Book with a reputable locally-run company and save 5% off
I have personal experience with Memphis Tours during my time in Egypt and would recommend them to any travellers planning a trip to Jordan. Their communication, service, and quality, and not to mention price are top notch. They offer quite a number of different packages for Petra depending on your interests so take a look and see what might fit your itinerary.
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