Back in October, I had the chance to visit the country of Jordan for the second time, finding it just as enchanting this go around as I did the first time out. But, much of my enjoyment from this particular trip came from the fact that I was traveling with an adventure travel company called Flash Pack. Based out of London, Flash Pack specializes in taking solo travelers off on some unforgettable adventures to the far-flung corners of the globe. They offer trips to a wide variety of places, with some great itineraries for just about every kind of traveler. I was well aware of the company before I traveled with them, having written about the organization on other outlets and even having the founder on The Adventure Podcast. But this was my first chance to observe them up close and personal, and I came away very impressed.
The trip I took is called Discover Jordan: From Petra to the Dead Sea. You can read the first part of my three-part series on this trip here. It contains a few more of my thoughts on Flash Pack itself, as well as sharing my experiences in the early days of the itinerary, which included canyoneering, hiking, and floating in the Dead Sea. Now, in part 2 of the series, I’ll offer some thoughts on what is without question the most iconic destination in all of Jordan — the Rose Red City of Petra.
For those who don’t know, Petra is an ancient city that was built more than 2500 years ago to serve as the capital city of the emerging Nabataean Kingdom. Prior to that, the Nabataeans were a mostly nomadic group, but as they became more entrenched in trade and commerce between Europe and Asia, they also began to create permanent communities to host traveling caravans. Petra was one of those cities, with a rich and storied history that transcends the scope of this story.
Most people recognize Petra from a host of movies, most notably Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The climax of that film was shot in Petra at its most famous site, a richly-detailed structure known as the Treasury, which is carved out of the sandstone that is prominent in that area. What most people don’t know is that Petra is so much more than just the Treasury, with so much more to see and explore. There is even another structure called the Monastery that is nearly on par with the Treasury itself in terms of craftsmanship, although to reach it you have to climb 850 steps up the side of a mountain to get to it.
Thankfully, my Flash Pack excursion allotted for a good amount of time in Petra, which remains one of my favorite places that I’ve visited on my travels. Having been to Egypt a few times over the year, and witnessing the wonders on display there, I can tell you that Petra is on par with pretty much all of them, offering some fantastic insights into the ancient past.
Our visit to Petra began with a nighttime excursion into the the lost city. When I was in Jordan a number of years back, there was a very special experience known as “Petra at Night” that involved hiking down the slot canyon to reach the Treasury after dark, only to find the pathway and the entry way into the city lit up by candles. Back then, this was such a special occasion that it was only offered once per month and I wasn’t around to do it. Now, Petra by Night takes place three times a week and we were lucky enough to be in attendance. To say I was looking forward to it would be an understatement, although as it turns out, it was both exhilarating and disappointing at the same time.
Whether you go to Petra during the day or the night, hiking the Siq — which is the name for the slot canyon — is a special affair. There is nothing quite like wandering down that 1.2 km (.75 mile) gorge, only to find an amazing ancient city waiting for you. At night, that feeling is even more amplified by the use of the glowing candles that light the way. And when you do arrive at the Treasury and find it lit up in a similar matter, you can’t help but feel that the place is special. With more than 2000 years of history surrounding you, it’s easy to get chills just standing in the place. For that reason alone, the atmosphere of Petra at Night does indeed make it a special experience.
However, the organizers of the event also put on a show that includes local music played on traditional instruments and a vocal spoken-word piece describing the importance and impact of Petra. The music itself was wonderful to listen to and sounded quite nice, although it did tend to go on a bit too long. The speech given by one of the locals was also inspiring, even though it was hard to hear at times as he didn’t have a microphone of any type. This was especially amplified by the fact that there were several thousand people in the entryway to the city that evening. Once the speech was complete, the “show” was over and it was time to walk back up the Siq to the parking lot. It was a fairly abrupt and surprising end to the experience, that left myself and my travel companions asking “is that it?” I think we expected the proceedings to go on longer and offer more insights, so when it ended so quickly we were left feeling a little underwhelmed. We did wait outside the treasury for another 20 minutes to allow the crowd to dissipate before walking back to the entrance, but generally speaking I think the mood was one where we thought our time could have been spent better elsewhere.
Thankfully, that wasn’t our only exposure to Petra on this trip. After calling it a night, we were up well before sunrise the following morning in order to head back to Petra for a second visit in as many days. This time out however, we wouldn’t be walking the tradition pathway of the Siq to reach the Treasury, but would instead walk the so-called “backroad” into the city. This was a hiking pat that is offered to those who want to escape the crowds and visit Petra in a different fashion and it is especially nice for anyone who has been there before.
Rather than heading to the front gate that we had used the night before, our driver took us out into the desert and dropped us off at a trailhead instead. Jordainian tourism officials were there to ensure that we had the proper permits before we got started, and later we’d have to pass through a second checkpoint en route. We’d also come across the occasional shop along the way, which were clearly set up to cater to the tourist crowd. These “shops” were essentially tents and a few chairs, with locals hawking their wears, selling snack and drinks, and greeting hikers as they passed. While it was a bit odd to find them in the middle of the desert, they weren’t overly touristy in nature and were actually quite fun to visit along the way.
The backroad into Petra is an easy to follow and hike path that includes signs to direct travelers and carved steps to make climbing and descending the rocky hills much easier. It took us roughly two-and-a-half hours to walk the entire route, but that included frequent stops to allow some of the group to rest and visit the shops along the way. A determined and experience hiker could probably knock the hike out in half that time if left to their own devices. Still, it was a beautiful hike that included some fantastic views overlooking the valley below, as the route itself wound its way around rocky bluffs and up and down gorges.
For those familiar with Petra, the backroad actually delivers you to the Monastery, which is a long way from the usual entrance. This gave everyone a very different perspective of the lost city, and rather than having to walk all of those stairs up to that point, we actually got to descent them instead. Since this was my second time to visit Petra, I actually really appreciated this different approach, plus the morning hike was great for stretching our legs.
Once we reached Petra, the tour was just getting stared. We then spent the next several hours wandering through the city, with our very-knowledgable guide pointing out the most important points of interest. That included a amphitheater, a public building that may or may not have been a library, countless tombs, and more. There are even some ancient residential buildings, but many of them have been destroyed over the centuries, most likely by earthquakes.
Eventually, we made our way back to the Treasury itself. But before we headed back up the Siq to leave the Rose Red City for good, we had one last special view to take in. You’ve no doubt seen photos of Petra that include shots of the Treasury from an angle that is above the site, but if you’ve been there you may have wondered how those photos were take. As it turns out, there is a slightly off the beaten path trail, that requires a bit of climbing, that visitors can take to get up to location that offers this bird’s eye view. It is perfect for those Instagram-worthy shots and for seeing the place from a different perspective. It was also a vantage point I hadn’t gone to on my first visit, which helped to make it special.
After that, it was a short hike back up the slot canyon to meet our waiting driver. It ended up being a very long, and hot, day in Petra, but a rewarding one. This is a place that I could probably visit a hundred times and not get bored and I appreciate that Flash Pack gave us an ample amount of time to explore everything that it has to offer.
I think most of us were sad to say goodbye to Petra, as it was a highlight that everyone was looking forward to. Still, there were plenty of other activities still on the agenda that were yet to come. The Rose Red City might be the crown jewel of Jordanian tourism, but it isn’t the only jewel that it has to offer.
More to come soon!
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