Once upon a time before the internet, travel blogs, and social media that showcased breathtaking destinations- a generation of movie goers had our first glimpse of Petra by watching “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.
For myself and others who watched Harrison Ford and Sean Connery riding horseback towards a sandstone temple in the middle of a desert, we thought “Where is this place? Is it created by Hollywood? I want an adventure like that!” We eventually found out that this intricate sandstone palace that held The Holy Grail was an honest to goodness real place.
Then we found out it was in Jordan, which seemed like light years away. Many of us dropped the notion of ever seeing it because Jordan is in the Middle East. While others vowed to have their our own Indiana Jones like adventures in Petra. Those who vowed personal adventure, and found their way to Petra did not ride on horseback with Sean Connery to The Treasury, or find The Holy Grail. What we did find was that the Treasury was just the beginning of a wonderous Ancient City that Indy did not show us.
Petra is the most famous site when visiting Jordan and pulls in approximately 500,000 visitors per year. You can easily see Petra in a day but I spoke with others who spread it out over a few days. There is so much to see and explore in Petra that you can easily create your own personal adventure sans Indiana Jones.
The walk from the Visitor Center is almost a mile and depending on how fast you walk it can take about 20 minutes. The journey into Petra is astounding and stopping every 10 feet for photos is not uncommon. The further you walk through the Siiq, the narrower the red sandstone walls that surround you become. Eventually you will approach a narrower crevice, the Siq, with a glimpse of the beloved Treasury. Thank you Indiana Jones!
For those looking for the Holy Grail, sorry that part of the movie was Hollywood created because there is no access into The Treasury. Just to look at the structure, and marvel at how people in the First Century AD carved it into the sandstone rock face was an incredible experience.
To view The Treasury without too many tourists in your photo, you will need to arrive at the Visitor’s Center before it opens, so you can be one of the first ones in. Arriving into Petra early not only gets you into the Ancient City earlier, it will be a cooler time of the day.
Beyond the Treasury is where your adventure begins. You can take it as far as you want to by exploring the Roman ‘Petra Road’, all the way to taking strenuous hikes to the cliff tops to see the Treasury from above. As for myself and our group we trekked through the city, and climbed up sand stone steps to view many tombs. We were greeted by Bedouins who lived within the caves, and my friend lost her can of Pringles to a Bedouin child who asked for it. We trekked through a valley with our backpacks holding our lunches (sans the can of Pringles), and crossed a metal bridge until we reached the base of the Monastery.
Even if you are fit, climbing the 850 carved sandstone steps to reach the Monastery can be quite the journey. For a month, I got on the Stairmaster at the gym doing 900 steps just to be sure. When I got to Petra, and started the 850 step climb I realized that I was not as fit as I thought!
Then my friend whose feet were blistered decided to ride a donkey up to the top. I was as stubborn as the donkey she rode on, and wanted to push myself to the top. Yes, and push myself I did.
Different tombs inside the ancient city
I made a few mistakes while climbing to the top that I hope you do not do. For one, I wore layers of a tank top, long sleeve shirt, cargo pants, and a hat. Half way up, I tied my hat to my backpack and rolled up my pants. I became very hot due to the shirt layers, and I would not drink my water. Like I said, stubborn as that donkey! Drinking water on a hike is something that you naturally do, and our guide kept insisting that I drink my water. My crazy post-menopausal response was “No, I am over 40, and I will need to pee!”. The idea of ducking into a cave, and secretly peeing inside a Bedouin’s home was not part of my personal adventure.
I figured that since I was in the Middle East I would have to dress modestly, and cover my arms but in Petra it is understandable to wear sleeveless shirts or short sleeves especially if you are a tourist. Also, no matter what please drink your water because becoming dehydrated on the trek up is no bueno.
Take your time, everyone will tell you and that is what I did. All my friends had already ventured forward, and my friend on the donkey was long gone, so I took my time. After awhile I thought “Screw it! I don’t care who I offend!” I stripped down to my tank top in front of a Bedouin woman selling jewelry, and drank my water. Sure enough the water and the lack of clothes felt euphoric, and I got my second wind.
The Bedouin lady looked at me, smiled and said “Almost there!” To myself I thought “That’s what everyone keeps telling me”. I didn’t believe her. I climbed a few more steps and saw it- The Monastery.
I was grateful to see the Monastery, but thought “Really?? I got my second wind for only a few more steps?” As you could guess, I was the last one up and I missed the speech of the history of the Monastery, but I made it. Reflecting back, I do not think it makes a difference if you are the first, last or whether you take a donkey up. You made the climb to the Monastery, and the final prize was more than viewing the magnificent sand stone temple.
Across The Monastery there is a café if you did not bring your lunch. If you do bring your lunch there are places to sit. Oh by the way, there is a porta-potty at the top but it was hidden around a mountain bend. The café owner has the key, and you can ask for it. I chose not to use it because I had no idea when it was last cleaned out.
The hike down the 850 steps may seem easier, but for me it compressed my back. Being of short stature, I found myself hopping down the tall steps. At one point another traveler put out his arms, and said that I should jump and he would catch me. Catch me? My response was “Then you better be prepared to go off the side because if I go down, you go down!”. I am no dummy, and I needed someone to cushion my fall!
If you need to, take it just as slow down as you did up. There is no rush, only that you are sharing walking space with others and donkeys. Speaking about donkeys, my friend who took the donkey up had everyone laughing when she was quickly riding down the steps with her eyes closed. At one point when I was walking down with a friend, I heard a shriek and I said “Oh my God. I know that shriek, it’s Nic!”
Riding a donkey up and down the 850 steps may not be as easy as walking!
I have heard that same shriek since we were seven years old. Sure enough when we all turned around, we saw Nic with shut eyes, shrieking as the donkey she was riding was moving rather quickly. The guide was trying to slow him down, but the donkey kept moving. I was convinced that the donkey was trying to get screaming Nic off his back. We later found out that the fast paced donkey was a retired RACE DONKEY! Right, because that makes more sense.
The hike down the 850 steps was the best part even with sore backs, aching knees, or blistered feet. If you take little breaks to just look up, you will see how majestic the sandstone narrows really are. We have a tendency to look down as we do not want to fall, but just look up once in awhile and take it all in.
Be prepared when you get to the bottom of the hike to feel it. My feet, ankles, and knees were fine but my back felt like it could slip at any moment. I was not prepared and did not bring any pain relievers or creams, which was my fault. Luckily enough, a fellow traveler from Canada whipped open a pill box and asked what I needed- Advil? Muscle Relaxers? I chose the Advil because Nic and I had already planned to hit the bar we saw on the way in.
Our guide gave us the option to take a more strenuous hike, and asked us who did not want to go. As fast as that race donkey, my friend and I raised our arms up like the Statue of Liberty. No way! That cocktail was calling my name, and no secondary hike was going to stop me.
After you make it down from the Monastery, you still have a long walk back into town and to your hotel. Take it easy, and drink a lot of water along the way back.
Not to be missed- Petra by night. This is a night time concert by candlelight in front of Petra’s Treasury. It is a time to relax after a long day at Petra, sitting on blankets and listening to live Bedouin music by candle light.
Never say that visiting Petra is beyond your reach or that you will not have sandstone temple adventures in your lifetime. If you are on your way or if you go next decade, you are going and that is the most important thing!
There are several ways to get to Petra from Amman – public bus, car rental, personal driver or tour busses. There is something for every budget and travel style.
Whether your pace is slow or fast, take a donkey or on a tour group your visit to The Lost City of Petra will be everything you thought it would be. As for me and my adventure into Petra, it was nothing like Indiana Jones’s but I am good with that!
We used the tour company GAdventures. Although I generally do not take full tours, I found GAdventures and our guide Ayman exceptional. The itinerary of the tour and the wonderful travelers that I met were incredible experiences. https://www.gadventures.com/
It’s not the years honey, its the mileage…– Indiana Jones
📸 All photos are mine, unless otherwise noted, and are my intellectual property