Petra and Highlights of Jordan
Adventure Off The Beaten Trail
Jordan is one of the more under-rated destinations and perfect for anyone who likes a bit of adventure … and unlike Egypt they actually obey traffic laws. Sure I was nearly run off a cliff when a transport decided to pass another on a blind curve, nearly was turned into pizza when the brakes failed on the Land Rover as we threaded the needle between oncoming trucks and someone did throw some dynamite into a bar in Ma’an that I had just visited … but they do stop at red lights, even at night!
Essentials for the Visitor
If you want to do Jordan right here are the highlights, more or less in order:
1. Visit Petra
I cannot stress how amazing Petra is – without a doubt it is the highlight of Jordan. Do not miss it. You should book 2-3 days for your visit with perhaps additional days in between visit days to relax. More on this below,
2. Rent/hire a car
Driving in Jordan is easy and it’s reasonably safer than having a driver who might fall asleep on the highway (it happens a lot) or drive off a cliff (also happens more than it should). Drivers will use their signals/indicators to let you know if it is safe to pass (left signal means don’t pass, right means all clear), they use their lights at night (unlike Egyptians) and follow the rules reasonably better than some places in Europe. Don’t be bothered if the highways suddenly widens to become a landing strip (unless a plane is coming) and be prepared to pull over if there’s a big sand storm. You can cheaply cross the country by taxi as well, which isn’t bad if you get a good driver (I’ve been in a cab with two drivers who took turns when they were tired – very impressed). Coaches will not get you everywhere you want to go.
Wadi Rum lies in southern Jordan, not far from Aqaba. While I didn’t actually overnight there I did at least stay until nightfall. I relative of mine did overnight there and verifies that the sunrise is as impressive as the sunset. Instead I camped out in the ruins of a 2000 year old Nabatean bath house while doing archaeology elsewhere in Jordan and it was certainly a highlight. Do not go into Wadi Rum unless you have 4 wheel drive. Point of fact, an old Land Rover will hold about 13 people as long as some of you are willing to ride on the roof or hang off the sides/back – great to know if your other vehicle gets stuck.
Do a loop east of Amman to visit the black desert and Qasr Azraq, a Roman fort in eastern Jordan where T.E. Lawrence wintered before pushing on to Damascus. On the way you can stop and visit Qasr al-Kharrana, Um-al-Jamal.
You can also see Qasr Amra with possibly the oldest picture on the celestial sky in the round.
5. Tour the Roman City of Jerash
Visit the Roman city of Jerash in northern Jordan. An easy drive from Amman.
6.the Dead Sea & Crusader Castles
Drop by and visit the Dead Sea and stop at the crusader castles such as Shobek and Kerak.
A Quick Guide to Petra
Petra needs a mention on its own and it is worth the trip to Jordan just to see it. If you have only five places to visit in your lifetime then Petra should be one of them – I’ll let you choose the other four (though the temples at Siem Reap and a felucca ride from Aswan to Edfu could contend). You should plan to spend two days in Petra, with an optional day of rest in between. A third day would allow you to explore some of the less visited areas, but is not necessary.
Essentials for a Petra Visit
Petra is an adventure, not a cruise ship so dress and pack appropriately. You will be best off with very comfortable footwear, preferably hiking boots and socks that wick away sweat. Long sleeves and trousers are preferred both to risk offending the locals and to avoid sun burn, however this is one of the few areas in Jordan where shorts will be less likely to cause offense. Water and snacks would also be a good idea as the site is enormous and you may not be able to find a vendor when you want one. If you get off the beaten trail you will want to have a reserve. Also pack a map and a camera (you shouldn’t need a compass as the geography is fairly obvious).
All visits to Petra start with a walk through the narrow gorge called the Siq, on a slight downward grade and an uneven surface for about 1.2km. You will need to conserve enough energy to make it out as the slight grade is a killer if you tried to pack everything into a single day.
When you arrive at Al Khazneh (the Treasury) the path to the rest of Petra will continue to the right. Turn to the right as you emerge from the Siq and look for a way to climb up the cliff opposite the ruin. There is a way that isn’t too difficult if you’re careful and it gives you an excellent view from above.
After visiting Al Khazneh go to Ad Deir (the Monastery). Do not stop for anything else – if you have the energy you can visit other places on the way back (don’t be tempted by the Nabatean theatre). The first time I went to Petra I made the mistake of visiting the High Place and then Ad Deir and was too exhausted to appreciate it. Ad Deir is second to Al Khazneh in terms of sights you will see (and second only because it doesn’t have that famous view from the Siq). To arrive there you need to descend into the valley (remember, you will need to go back again), cross the valley with its temples and Roman colonnade, then climb up into the mountains on the other side. You can follow a path that is to the left when facing Ad Deir and climb to the top but be careful – this is one of the places that tourists have been reported falling to their death and it’s a good 50m to the bottom. Expect that rocks, scaffolding etc may break apart and stay away from edges anywhere high.
Other Highlights of Petra
If you are visiting for two days you can come back the way you came and visit some of the sights on the way out, and if you have the energy as you climb back out of the valley stop by the tombs to your left (Urn, Silk, Corinthian, Palace). If you are only at Petra one day then your first priority after Al Khazneh and Ad Deir, if you have enough energy, is the High Place of Sacrafice. In a one day visit you should head to the path near the Temple of the Roman Soldier and the Garden Temple, after returning to the valley from Ad Deir, and return via the path near the theatre. In a two day trip you should start with the path near the theatre and head to the High Place early and choose what else to visit based on your energy level.Don’t bother with the Crusader Castle at Petra – it’s really not worth the effort unless you are there for 3-4 days.
That’s it – I hope you get to experience this wonderful location. Oh yes, while you can get away shorts at Petra please be respectful of local sensitivities … modest attire and learning a couple of words of Arabic will work wonders in how you are received.
I had been thinking of doing an article “Egypt Done Right” as that’s a country with some amazing hidden gems, but unfortunately I’ll have to skip that considering circumstances. That being said you are more likely to die in a car accident in that country than be killed in a terror attack. I was in Egypt four months before the Hatshepsut massacre and in that time saw one tourist coach turned over after it crashed into three camels and another burned out at the side of the road after it had hit a transport whose driver was likely asleep.