Can I give you some advice? If you offer to take a photo of a Tanzanian church group at Petra, you’re going to end up spending 20 minutes with your new friends. Just when you think you’re done, another mobile phone and/or camera will be thrust your way with a smile.
And then there’s the chat about Arsenal before they let you go. That’s another 10 minutes. I know I’m supposed to have a strong opinion about the manager, but right now I’m just trying to take in the nuances of this world-famous ancient site, not the ‘should he stay or should he go’ debate over Monsieur Wenger.
To be honest, time was on my side, as I was at Petra for three nights. Many people just visit for the day, sometimes by bus from as far afield as Egypt or Israel. They want to get a photo in front of the iconic Treasury building — built by the Nabateans some 2,200 years ago — then hit the road and carry on with their holiday. And I don’t blame them for making the effort: the place is stunning.
You reach the Treasury along a narrow ravine called the Siq (meaning ‘gorge’) which is just over a mile long. It twists and turns, and then at the end it teases you with a glimpse of the columns on the front of the building, until you step out into a courtyard and, wow, it’s right there. Magnificent.
There are several good reasons to stay a bit longer, too. One is price. If you’re here for one day only, the entry free for non-Jordanians is 50 dinars (at the moment, rather conveniently, one Jordanian dinar equals £1). Buy a two-day ticket, though, and it’s only five dinars more, and another five for three days.
Another thing the day-trippers miss is the ‘Petra By Night’ experience, when the Siq and the Treasury are lit by moonlight and thousands of candles. This is definitely worth experiencing. However, I’d recommend doing Petra in the daytime first, otherwise you won’t appreciate the gorge you’re walking through, as it’s too dark at night to see the spectacularly high walls that surround you.
A final reason to linger is simply that there’s much more to do at Petra than you could ever possibly fit into a one-day visit. Some people don’t even go past the Treasury, but did you know 75% of the ancient city still lies buried, waiting to be discovered? You can see some of it by wandering past the large amphitheatre, the Great Temple, the Temple of the Winged Lions and on the many, many, many steps to the Monastery.
At lunchtime I chatted to souvenir stallholder, Kara Cheshire — originally from Rugby, previously married to a local Jordanian, she’s been living here since 2009 — about some of her recommendations for visiting.
“Try and get a three-day pass, at least,” she advised. “Once you’ve done the obvious sites, do the back route to the Monastery from Little Petra, which is a beautiful hike, and on another day, try the walk to the High Place of Sacrifice, too.”
The latter is exactly what I and my guide, Mamoun Farajat, set out to do early the next morning. It’s a six-hour walk, with some steep ups and downs, and even a section that requires a bit of scrambling over boulders, but it’s not terribly difficult if you’re adventurous and reasonably fit. On the way down we went via Wadi al-Farasa, where I passed several impressive tombs and where a Nabatean fountain was clearly carved into the rock in the shape of a lion. In places, shards of two-millennia-old pottery lay beside the path in the sand.
The pay-off is the stupendous views. You can look out for miles over the sandstone mountains, and in several places, down to Petra itself, way below. In the distance I saw the holy site of Jabal Haroun, a mountaintop tomb that’s of importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians. But that was for the future, for another visit, of which there surely will be one.
Read more from our Digital Nomad in Aqaba here.