We began our hike under the 2pm sun from Dana Guesthouse, at about 4,300 feet (1300 meters) above sea level. The beating sun shone down on us intensified by the absence of shade and starkness of our rocky surroundings. Fortunately the hike descended down the side of the rugged mountains until we reached the canyon wash. The three of us were the only ones here – perhaps we were slightly nutty considering really very few people make this 6-day trek to Petra in the peak of the summer heat. It was early August and we were certainly sweltering in temps around 40 degree C.
After less then an hour, we took our first break in the shade of wild pistachio trees. We had already consumed nearly half of our water for this 5 hour trek. At this stop we waited longer then normal – with the plan to resume our hike a bit later in the afternoon – hoping the temperatures would start to drop. The temperture was noticeably cooler in the shade.
Before we reached the Feynan Ecolodge (our final destination of the day) we were all completely out of water. And I quickly re-hydrated. This little oasis makes a wonderful stop after a dusty day of hiking. Spotting the metal water tanks on top of the roof I knew it was going to be a warm shower. At times the water was scalding – at other times, it was just warm. Certainly not a surprise and not my first experience with this – as I had prior camping in Furnace Creek in Death Valley in July. During those crazy trips I found the water so hot from the faucets one could not use it for more then a few seconds at a time.
Some of us slept on the roof, some of us tried to sleep in the rooms. But ultimately I think most people ended up outdoors one way or another to escape the stifling heat and humidity inside the rooms. The highlight of the evening was looking through a high powered telescope at the craters on the moon. This telescope magically made an appearance after the sun set and was an unexpected surprise in such a remote location.
The day dawned cool but warmed rapidly. We drove from the guest lodge to the start of Wadi Al Nakheel. We have seen very few tourists on the trails this time of year due to the heat but were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon three trekkers from Holland.
This wadi experience is one not to miss when visiting Jordan. Deep canyons, vertical walls and at times refreshing clear pools made for a comfortable hike with an abundance of cold water and shade to keep us cool during the heat of the afternoon.
He hiked up the hot hillsides to a higher elevation. Bedouin hosts had already setup a large tent (hand crafted from the hair of goats) for us at a place called Al Bustan. Settling in we enjoyed a beautiful sunset followed by tasty BBQ chicken they cooked in front of our tent.
We are in Shobak country – named for the Bedouin tribes who live here. The hike passes through through several wadis – one with fig and pomegranate trees growing. We eat as many of these as we can take before moving on. We see several abandoned villages with old stone houses built into the sides of the mountain. We also stumble across a number of Bedouin camps – the men call out as we pass – we always stop for a chat and a drink of their sweet tea.
Our goal for the day was the Montreal (Crusader castle) – an impressive set of stone ruins on the top of a hill which date from the year 1115. Fortunately we reached the nearby Montreal Hotel before the castle. Sometimes you need the underpinnings of some luxury and a stop here midway through the trek was a welcome respite to clean up and take a break from the rigors of trekking this time of year. Great wifi, friendly staff, a beautiful silence and some downtime from constant movement on the trails felt wonderful.
The day started out easy with a short hike to the nearby Montreal (Crusader castle). The highlight of a visit here is the impressive earthen tunnel that reaches deep into the mountain – starting at the castle and descending straight through the earth and rock until it reaches the lower reaches leading up to the castle. This tunnel was historically used to ferry supplies including water and food to those in the castle. Today it is a dark, cool (in both senses of this word) and steep (featuring some nearly 400 steps, many of which have been worn down). For those fit, this is a very fun unexpected activity that can be a part of a visit here. Be sure to bring a flashlight – there is absolutely no light inside.
Resuming the hike we head in the direction of Little Petra – on dirt roads with no one around. The gentle breeze, the views far below and the silence are what I take with me from today’s trek. We reach the camp in late afternoon in the Ras Al Faid area and enjoy more of the cooling breezes that continuously blow at this elevation – with the Rift Valley far below us.
Today we continue hiking on dirt roads – at one point passing through a small oasis of olive, grape and fig trees all perched on the sides of the dry hillsides. The source of water is a small spring that has been diverted for the fruit trees, sustaining this small farm. The grapes are just ripening, the figs are already ripe and a number of them have been picked – lining Styrofoam boxes underneath the shade of their branches.
In the late afternoon the landscape changes dramatically – we leave the wide open rocky and treeless landscape and abruptly find ourselves hiking through unique ‘sculpted’ landscape featuring rocks in the shape of mushrooms and other unique forms. We also are now hiking through a number of Juniper trees which adds a nice contrast to the landscape that was missing earlier in the day.
We spot our tent far in the distance – the Bedouins send a driver to carry us the remainder of the hike and we spend the night near Little Petra at a place called Gbour Alwhaidat.
Today is arguably the highlight of our trek – and worth the rigors of the previous 5 days of warm temperatures and hiking over rocky dry terrain. Today we hike from Little Petra to Petra. We arrive at Little Petra early – before anyone else, in fact the gatekeeper needs to unlock the gate to let us in. The highlight of Little Petra (aside from being able to enjoy this remarkable place without anyone else) is the Painted Biclinium – a cave accessed via a rock-cut staircase. Once inside, in the dimly lit light looking up we are treated to what once was very detailed Nabataen (nomadic Arabs) paintings of grapes, flowers and birds – as well as depictions of Roman gods.
Then we begin our hike – gentle at first but soon we start climbing up narrow rocky pathways surrounded by an otherworldly landscape of giant rocks – showing various shades of orange, grey and lighter colors. We climb up until we have excellent views overlooking this rugged landscape – and then by early afternoon around a rocky corner in the trail we arrive at one of Petra’s most impressive buildings, the Monastery (also Petra’s largest monument dating from the 1st century BC). It is remarkably well preserved – last time I was here, one could walk into the building – this time it was closed.
Continuing down the trail we pass numerous other visually stunning parts of Petra (each of which would be a much visited attraction in its own right) including the old columns of the Great Temple, Royal Tombs, the Theatre and ultimately arriving at what is probably the most impressive combination of both the natural element and the human one I’ve ever seen on the planet – The Treasury. Most visitor’s do not arrive at the Treasury from this direction – rather they enter via a narrow Siq, a narrow canyon surrounded by steep rocky reddish walls. At times horse drawn carriages race back and forth carrying visitors.
Petra is not a quick in and out destination to visit – one should take at least 2 full days to explore and absorb it’s natural beauty and historical attractions. There are also numerous hiking trails, some leading to excellent viewpoints. The Treasury can also be visited during certain nights.
In order to help plan your trip – be sure to visit the go to resource on Petra and everything Jordan related – the Jordan Tourism Board: www.visitjordan.com
And there is no other place you want to stay near Petra, then the Movenpick Resort Petra – regardless of whether you have finished a long trek or not. This luxury hotel is conveniently located within a short walk of the main entrance to Petra. It features a spa, an outdoor pool (great place to meet people from around the world) and the Al Saraya restaurant on the main floor (excellent buffet breakfast and dinner). For more information and to make a reservation, visit: www.movenpick.com/en/middle-east/jordan/petra/resort-petra/overview.