Lost in Jordan: Petra, The “Lost City”

Adventure Travel, Getting There, Hotels & Resorts, Jordan, Tours & Attractions — By on January 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Brittany Gowan, LG Foreign Correspondent

Petra is Jordan’s most famous historical site. It is an ancient city carved from rock, a breathtaking natural and man-made wonder. As you walk through this fascinating ancient city, you can imagine the original inhabitants living amidst its architectural artistry and sandstone beauty. Along with the amazing landscape, a visit to Petra can be physically challenging and entertaining, thanks to the fun of riding horses, donkeys and camels.

How to get there Petra is a 3-hour drive from Amman. If you are planning on making this a day-trip adventure, leave around 5 or 6 a.m.  It’s a beautiful morning ride, as the sun begins to peak over the distant mountains and lights up the small, scattered towns. When you head south along the King’s Highway, stop for coffee at one of the many little outposts. The charm of the outhouse-sized stands will make you feel like a local. Taxis should cost around $75 each way. Another option is the JETT bus service, which departs from the Abdali Station in Amman at 8 a.m. and returns at 6 p.m.  A round-trip ticket is around $55.

What to bring Sights at Petra provide little shade, so make sure to bring a hat and plenty of suntan lotion. Hiking boots or sturdy sneakers are needed to climb and explore. You can purchase food and drinks throughout Petra, but you can also bring in your own supplies. Because Petra can be very hot and strenuous, staying hydrated is important.

Costs and Hours Depending on the time of year, entrance fees vary. From Jan. through October, a one-day pass into Petra is about $50. From Nov. through December, the fare jumps to around $130. This UNESCO World Heritage site is definitely worth the time and money. However, budget travelers should avoid visiting Petra at the end of the year.  The Petra Archaeological Park is open during the winter from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and during the summer from 6 am to 6 pm. I visited Petra in mid-October and enjoyed modest entrance fees and pleasant weather in the upper 70’s.

Guided tours begin around $50 for 4 hours and can be booked ahead of time or when you arrive. If you are not one to roam in a group, or lack the time, you can get by without a tour. Make sure you stop by the visitor’s area to grab a map. It offers a detailed view of the site, explains a lot about what you are seeing, and suggests tour routes.

What to do You have the option of walking to the entrance of the site, al- Siq , or traveling by horse. I took a horse and really enjoyed the ride. Since Petra is a walking extravaganza, your feet will appreciate the break. Throughout Petra, people ask for tips. Tipping is a nice gesture but it is not necessary.

Dismounting from the horse, you then take a thirty-minute journey through al- Siq, which is a deep sandstone gorge. I marveled at the rock patterns that twist and turn in shades of pink, red, and beige, and climb 80m towards the blue skies.  Along the path, you are surrounded by sandstone rock formations, illuminated by the morning sun.

This narrow passage opens up to the Al Khanznek or Treasury, which is generally believed to have been a temple or royal tomb. An enormous structure, carved to a smooth surface out of the jagged cliff, the Treasury is adorned with intricate carvings.  The detail, craftsmanship, and shear time spent to create such a masterpiece is inspiring. The Treasury gained western notoriety when it was used as a backdrop in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusades.

At this location, you can have your picture taken on a camel in front of the treasury and then enjoy a 15-minute ride through the canyon. You will also ride past the Roman-style theatre and stop at the Qasr al-Bint (The Castle of Pharaoh’s Daughter). Camel owners will request around $70/per person. I was fortunate enough to have a Jordanian touring with me who was able to reduce the price to around $30 for both of us. I encourage you to bargain for a lower price.

For an adventure like Indiana Jones, Petra is an explorer’s paradise. The history, landscape, and civilization cut from stone quickly make you excited to climb the next step or peek into an abandoned cavern.

An industrious climb up the “800 steps of repentance” will lead you to the Monastery. This hike is quite industrious in the hot desert heat and takes about an hour. If you are overheated and tired, there are donkeys to hire for a ride up and back. A 20-minute ride costs around $12. There are also many little places along the way to rest and buy drinks. Halfway up is a covered tent with a seating area. Take a break and look back. The cavernous view gives the Grand Canyon stiff competition.

Besides the Treasury, the Monastery is what many travelers come to see.  It is less decorated than the Treasury but much larger. Its grand scale is better appreciated up close. Even the doorway is a few stories high.  From here, there are many dramatic lookout points, including “The End of the World”, where I enjoyed an incredible view of Wadi Araba to the West.

Where to stay Petra is best as a multiple day destination, which leaves visitors seeking overnight accommodations. After a long day of trekking through Petra’s sights, the Crown Plaza Resort is conveniently located to the right of the entrance. If you need to cool off or relax at day’s end, there are outdoor pools that provide panoramic views of the mountainous desert. Standard rooms begin at about $220/night.

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