Travel Icons… by the Back Door
Petra – Wadi Musa, Jordan
Visitors per year: Around 400,000
Part built, part carved into sandstone rock, the third-century BC city of Petra is one of the world’s great sites, all too often reduced to a quick camel ride and an even swifter departure. But there is so much more to the ancient capital of the Nabataeans…
Front door: Most people visit on flying bus tours from Amman and beyond. Others stay overnight in nearby Wadi Musa, with trails leading from the edge of the town into Petra itself. Entry costs from 50JOD (£49), with many approaching (à la Indiana Jones) via the 1.2km trail that weaves through the rocky gorge of the Siq, opening on to Petra’s famed Treasury.
Back door: During winter (Dec & Jan particularly), you’ll see fewer crowds. The bus tours also don’t start arriving at the site until 9.30am, so go early and avoid them. Petra is crisscrossed with lots of Bedouin back roads that most visitors never bother with (see ‘The expert’). Alternatively, walk the Siq on a night tour – these are usually a bit crowded, but if you linger to the back it can feel a little bit special.
“Away from the main tourist route, you’ll have Petra’s trails to yourself. Keen hikers can enter through the ‘backdoor route’, which traverses a barren wadi near ‘Little Petra’ (Siq al-Barid), then up a Nabataean stairway hewn into the side of the cliff to end at the Monastery. Along the way are panoramic views of craggy mountains, and if you see Petra back-to-front, you tend to avoid the crowds until much later in the visit.
“Another alternative route into Petra is the Wadi Muthlim trail, which follows the path of the wadi, to the right of the Siq entry, and ends with you entering the site on the ridge of the Royal Tombs. It’s a fun, crowd free route with plenty of boulder scrambling along the way.
“Within the site there are empty trails aplenty. Many visitors hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice (Jebel al Madhbah), but only a tiny few continue along the Wadi Farasa back road, which has a clutch of interesting, lonely monuments on the trail, or climb the Nabataean staircases that wind up Jebel al-Khubtha (behind the Royal Tombs), which have great views of the Treasury from above.”