Michelle Laverick - Explore's Head of Marketing - travelled to Jordan for the first time in October 2013. Jordan's most famous site is of course Petra - but would it live up to all the hype?
"Before my recent visit to Jordan, one of the questions I was frequently asked was, what are you looking forward to the most? For me it was having the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea and enjoy a real mud bath. The response I always had was, well what about Petra? I just though 'what about it?' It is an historical city and I have been to a few of those during my travels. Not only that, we have a photo of it on our living room wall from when my husband travelled there 18 years ago, but that still didn’t excite me. But little did I know what we were going to encounter…
On a beautifully sunny morning in October, with a slight nip in the air, we left our hotel and walked the 200m to the entrance to Petra. We’d been given a two-day pass and I was concerned about what I was going to do on day two – was there really going to be enough to see? We took a steady walk for about 1km, admiring the landscapes as we went. After a while we arrived at the entrance into the Siq, a narrow gorge which winds its way towards Petra’s most elaborate ruin, the Treasury. As you walk through the Siq the walls of the gorge tower high above your head and the colouration of the stone with the erosion causes the mind to wander ans see shapes formed in the rock - we were convinced we saw elephants, fish, camels and Casper the ghost!
The Siq is dotted with small groups learning about the history of the city, in a variety of languages, which makes you forget where you are. Just as your feet are starting to tingle from the walking, you turn a corner and, wow, what a sight. It may be one that I have been looking at for seven years on the living room wall, but I was not at all prepared for it in reality. The Treasury, in all its glory and glimmering in the morning sunlight was towering in front of us. It was mesmerising.
I had assumed that that was it, that is what we had come for and now it was time to go back. Yes, there are many tours where you just visit the Treasury, have a drink at the shop and then turn around and go back to your tour bus or to the hotel, but Petra is so much more than that.
After taking photos from every angle, we moved on to commence our tour of the rest of the City of Petra. It was then that I realised why we had a two-day pass – there was so much to see and explore. We wandered freely along the main street, admiring and discovering caves and tombs carved out of the rock and learning that, until recently, Petra was home to many Bedouins. No one could resist walking into the deserted tombs and calling out their name and listening as their voice echoed around the walls! Petra has been managed and adapted well to cater for visitors, making the most of the natural rock formations to house cafés and toilets. The scale of the site also allows visitors to disperse easily and it never feels crowded.
On the guided part of our tour we were advised about the High Place of Sacrifice (we were recommended to visit this on the second day of our tour) and the Monastery which was about a 45-minute walk, recommended for the afternoon, as it would mostly be in the shade on the walk up.
Walking up to the Monastery provides amazing views of Petra and the surrounding valleys. You don’t get to see the Monastery until the final moments of the walk and it is truly breathtaking. The afternoon sunlight beats down on the sandstone creating the most beautiful light – and you can’t resist the challenge to climb over the eight foot wall to get inside – which you are free to do! But don’t stop there; you can go a little higher for even better views! You also can’t miss the stone steps which have the most beautiful colourings which change as the sun moves during the day. All you have to remember to do is to keep an eye out for the donkeys. It is only once you come down from the Monastery that you realise how tired your legs are and how far you have walked.
In the evening it is possible to go back into Petra to see 'Petra at Nigh't and - as long as your legs can handle it - it is really worthwhile. It is a really surreal moment walking along the same routes you have taken during the day through the Siq – but this time by candlelight. You will then be able to enjoy some local music and singing in a tranquil setting in front of the Treasury.
The following morning was my most memorable moment in Petra, walking up to the High Places of Sacrifice. To this day I’m not sure why I loved it so much, but maybe it was the combination of climbing the 635 steps to the top, the tranquillity experienced at the top combined with the stunning views. Understanding about the beliefs and practices the Bedouin had enables you to really appreciate everything that Petra was and still is today. Spending time at the top to just take it all in is essential.
So next time someone asks me about what I enjoyed the most about Jordan, I'll also be telling them about the two days I spent exploring the City of Petra, making sure to highlight that it so much more than the famous view of the Treasury!"
See all our adventure holidays in Jordan
By Michelle Laverick