October 31, 2014

Jebel Haroun, the Nabataeans and Indiana Jones: Petra, Jordan Brings Movie Magic and History to the Middle East Travel Experience

One of the New Seven Wonders, the rose-red city of Petra, Jordan has hosted the filming of Indiana Jones, countless tourists and a number of notable international celebrities. Founded by the Nabataeans as part of the ancient trade route, the lost city of Petra has since been rediscovered by modern-day tourists. Radically different from the ancient Roman city of Jerash in northern Jordan, Petra makes a great companion destination to both Wadi Rum and Madaba. My husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend nearly a week there exploring the sights, trails and local culture. These are our top tips for having the classic Petra experience.

Purchase the three-day pass.

Available at the Petra Visitor Center, this multi-day pass allowed us a couple of extra free days on the end of our visit, bringing the per-day cost down significantly. They also provided a fifty percent discount for anyone with an international student card. While itís possible to have a decent Petra experience in the standard one-two days, youíll be able to see so much more if you make the time to stay a bit longer. We made friends with the locals, took an entire afternoon for a picnic, hiked up to some of the high places to have tea with our guideís grandmother and bonded with numerous donkeys, goats and camels. Also, if youíre there for the photo ops as much as the experience, managing multiple days on site is key.

Book a room close to the siq.

The Petra siq will look familiar to anyone who saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Itís the long, cleft in the rock where you enter the ancient city of Petra on foot that ends in front of the building made famous by that same movie, the Petra Treasury. Otherwise known as Al Kazneh, this building was filmed as the entrance to the location where the proverbial Holy Grail was stored. Itís actually more faÁade than building, with a depth more appropriate for a large room. That being said, the siq makes for a meditative stroll and a magical first-time entrance the rose city. We stayed quite affordably at the Petra Moon Hotel.

Itís located directly behind the Movenpick, and rooms are available for a fraction of the cost. Breakfast was included, and it was extremely convenient not to have to make our way to the entrance from Wadi Musa every morning like most of the other tourists. It gave us first crack at unobscured photo ops, and faster access to our room so we could rest our heads after hours on our feet each day. Breakfast was included and the rooms were clean enough with a private bath. If youíre traveling during the cooler months, be advised that this establishmentís definition of heat is decidedly European.

For the classic Petra experience, a picnic is in order.

This takes some planning, as youíll have to find some items in Wadi Musa to pack in with you. Also, when we visited, the only place we could find to purchase wine was at the Cave Bar (see below). That was fine with us, but we did need to plan ahead the night before because the supplies were in two separate locations, and the Cave Bar wasnít open in the morning when we headed out through the siq. We asked one of the locals we had befriended during our time there to recommend a great lookout spot, and he didnít disappoint. We climbed up to a flat area just past Ė and across from Ė the Petra theater and spent our last afternoon there enjoying the view and reflecting upon the experience.

The Cave Bar is worth an evening or two of your time.

Experience sheesha and wine sipping at the Cave Bar near the entrance to Petra proper. The bar is literally in a cave, and loaded with atmosphere. Itís a true treat at the end of a day on your feet exploring the ages-old home of the Nabataeans. If the picnic idea mentioned above appeals to you, then be sure to pick up an extra bottle of wine to add to your meal supplies.

Jebel Haroun, known to English speakers as the Tomb of Aaron, is a great overnight camping journey.

Local guides will load up their camels with all of the supplies necessary to transport you on an overnight campout to Jebel Haroun, where Aaron Ė brother to Moses Ė is believed to be buried. Itís a great reason to climb on a camel and experience a bit of Bedouin culture while visiting what for many is a spiritual pilgrimage site.

Making your way to the Petra Monastery, AKA Al Deir means expansive views . . .and living on the edge.

While the building known as the Petra Monastery is in essence a larger version of Al Khezneh, the Treasury, many people make the journey up for the expansive nearby view and the architectural photo op. Whether you make the entire climb on foot, or opt for partial relief in the form of a donkey ride, youíll be hugging the edge of more than one cliff a you do so. Getting distracted and reaching out too far for that coveted souvenir photograph is definitely NOT recommended. That being said, itís an unforgettable way to spend an afternoon, and youíll pass by many friendly people having tea and hanging out with their livestock.

The location known as the High Place of Sacrifice is a moving experience.

Itíll take you a while to climb up there, but youíll see other cool ruins along the way, such as a giant lion carved in the rock and an Egyptian-style obelisk. The main star of the show however, is the altar at the high place of sacrifice. While much of the detail has been eroded over the centuries, the view of the ancient city and surrounding areas will have you feeling like you are standing on the Middle Eastís equivalent of the temple in Mel Gibsonís Apocolypto. The experience is strangely primal and spiritual at the same time, and a bit difficult to describe. And the view? Out of this world.

Also of note is the Petra theater.

With a seating capacity of roughly 7,000, the weathered Petra theater provides a sense of the thriving cultural scene that was present when the Nabateans themselves still resided in the rose-colored sandstone structures. Cultural theater demonstrations are still routinely held at the Petra theater, similarly to the modern-day operas held at the arena in Verona, Italy.

The local Bedouin people are extremely comfortable with having their photos taken.

Having spent time in other parts of the region where snapping photos of individuals isnít necessarily appreciated, this was a pleasant surprise. Travel photos are some of my favorite souvenirs, and I love photographing the people who live in the places we travel to. We came home with some phenomenal pictures of Petra and its people, including a precious one of a young boy hugging his goat.

Traveling to Petra from Amman, Jordan is relatively easy by bus and affordable enough via private driver, particularly if you share the fare with a fellow traveler. Spend a full five or six days if you have the time. Itís the experience of a lifetime, and one you definitely donít want to shortchange.


Photo Credits: These images of Petra were photographed by the people here at Trek Hound. If you would like to use these and other pictures of Jordan on your website, you can do so through a creative commons arrangement with our sister site, Pictures of Travel Places.