As the jinking Siq passageway yawns open, its towering sandstone walls slowly peel back to reveal the majestic façade of Petra’s Treasury. It is only then that you realise you are in the presence of one of the world’s great wonders. But with greatness comes crowds, all eager for a first glimpse of the rose- red city. Just as well, then, that there’s more to Petra than those sights found on the main tourist trail… Four or five days is recommended to see all this ancient city has to offer, but many only make a day trip out of the experience. Staying longer gives you ample opportunity to escape the crowds – before they arrive, for example – and discover behind-the-scenes delights, many of which you can enjoy all by yourself.
The road less travelled – You can begin to unlock Petra’s lesser- seen charms before you even reach the city. Hike the primeval landscape that encases this Nabataean (the ancient people who built Petra) masterpiece on a multi- day trek from the Dana Biosphere Reserve, a rocky, patchwork terrain where Syrian wolves, spiny-tailed lizaids and sand cats roam. From there, traverse mountainous plateaus to the Araba Valley, where labyrinthine hills and canyons contort to beguile and enchant your every step.
And if the trail’s landscapes aren’t enough to impress, the sprinklings of Feynan ruins, ancient copper mines and cooling waterfalls found en route more than entice. Even before reaching Petra, you can spy Nabataean handiwork in ‘Little Petra’ (Siq al-Barid), which boasts fine sandstone-carved buildings, albeit on a smaller scale. Once the main city is in view, dodge the tourist beeline by entering through its backdoor, via the mighty Monastery, Petra’s largest monument and the perfect end to a dramatic hike.
Secret marvels – The ancient city hides more treats among its outer-lying sites. Circle the mountain on which the Monastery is perched, traversing a knee-knocking ledge to gaze at the endless dunes of Wadi Araba. After, descend the flight of rock-cut steps to spy the amphitheatre carved into the valley below, while obelisks, temples and tombs all puncture the stony horizon, beckoning you to explore further. Alternatively, few make it up the staircase to the High Place of Sacrifice, where another amazing panorama awaits.
And once you finally decide to leave, Petra still has one last trick up its sleeve. Take the Wadi al Mudhlim route to gaze at the multitude of magnificent façade along the parade of Royal Tombs, before winding through mazy slot canyons, across rivers and through the Bedouin village of B’dul to explore the rugged vista beyond. So, take a detour from Petra’s main tourist trail to discover rocky treasures that few witness – the beginnings of an #extraJORDANary adventure to cherish.