PETRA is one of the seven Wonders of the World and thus not to be missed. Going through the siq and passing the Treasury, Theatre, and the 800 steps up to the Monastary (and many other sites on the main route) are on everyone’s list and an easy day. But there are many days of walking in the area. Access will be limited by the length of your Petra Pass (1 day=50JD, 2 days=55JD and 3 days=60JD). Realize that in September 2015, Jordan introduced the Jordan Pass that covers the 40JD visa, Petra and 40 other sites in the country (one of the great travel deals in the world).
1. WADI MUTHLIM. This adventurous scramble is an exciting alternative route into Petra if you’ve already taken the main path through the Siq. The hike is not difficult or strenuous, but there are several places where you’ll need to lower yourself down pour-offs. Don’t attempt the hike if it has been raining or is likely to rain. As there was a fatality on this route, a guide is now required and the police sometimes stop you from entering from the top. I wasn’t stopped and entered from the top. The trail starts at the dam just to the right of the entrance to the Siq. You almost immediately go through a short tunnel (Nabataean Tunnel). Simply walk down the rocky creek bed. There are some spots with stupendous sandstone – dark red layers alternating with tan-coloured rock. And the lower end slots up with some nice narrow, twisty bits. The canyon ends about a kilometre from the Royal Tombs but on the walk back, you pass many rock-cut tombs. A good trail runs just along the south side of the wadi. If the police don’t allow you to walk down the wadi, plan on coming back out of Petra this way. It is well worth it.
2. AL-KHUBTHA TRAIL. Before you reach the Royal Tombs coming from Wadi Muthlim, this “trail” goes up a side canyon to the south. It is a long steep climb up a gorgeous (mostly) rock-cut stairway cut into the cliff face. The first view point gives a hint of the incredible views up ahead. Before the last short bit of stairs is a bench perched right at the edge of a 1000 foot drop. The view is of the entire centre of Petra with the theatre to the left and good views down toward the Great Temple and the start of the trail to the Monastery. Those last stairs bring you to the top of cliffs above the Royal Tombs. Walk in front of a small “house” rock-cut into a rock bump right at the top, descend a small cliff and walk south along a dirt trail. This eventually leads to a Bedouin home perched on the edge of the cliff immediately above the Treasury. The views are unbelievably nice. Return the way you came as there is no way down the vertical cliffs. There were a lot of goats at the top. Don’t miss this one.
If planning on doing the Mount Aaron hike, take the time at the top of the Al-Khubtha viewpoints to follow the road that is the first part of the route there.
3. JEBAL HARUN (Mount Aaron 1270m). Aaron was Moses’ brother and his tomb is in a sanctuary right at the top of this mountain.
Walk a few hundred meters past the Theatre and take a rocky trail to the left. This eventually hits a dirt road that passes just above the Great Temple and that is followed for the majority of the hike. The first landmark is ‘Amud Fir’awn or the Pharaoh’s Column. This is the solitary column remaining of a ruined sanctuary (and apparently on the route to Egypt via Naqa al-Rubai). Just after the column, take the right fork that crosses through a large wadi (Wadi Ras Suleiman) and continues past several rock-cut tombs and many Bedouin homes climbing up to reach a shoulder where you get the first view of your destination, Jebal Harun with the white tomb of Aaron on top. Scan the south flank of the mountain to see the faint white zig-zagging trail. Cross two tributaries of the headwaters of another large wadi. Just at the high point after the first tributary, leave this main road and take a faint track heading west. Scan ahead to the right of the wadi to see the beginning of the trail that winds along the bottom of a hill. Cross the upper end of the wadi, pass in front of a small block building and head up aiming for the start of the trail. The trail is easy to follow to the top of the mountain. Most is slick rock cleared of all rocks. When on top of the cliff below the summit block, walk along the west side to the stairway on the north side of the mountain that ascends the cliff face.
The views are huge: back to Wadi Musa and for hundreds of miles to the west and north. Climb the narrow stairs on the NW of the tomb to get onto the roof. Descend the way you came.
It took me 2 1/2 hours from just past the Theatre to the summit. On the flank of the mountain, i met a young bedouin couple with a baby on donkeys. He offered a donkey for 20JD for the remaining hour to the top. I was only interested in walking. As the “keeper of the keys” to the tomb, he then offered use of the key to enter the tomb for 10JD. He discounted the view as being of any importance. We were miles apart on price.
4. Other Hikes. There are numerous hikes into the hills and siqs around Petra. You need a guide for any hikes requiring overnight stops (it’s not permitted to camp within Petra itself), but there are many other smaller trails that can be easily hiked alone.
a. UMM AL-BIYARA. This is a steep hike up the imposing mountain whose sheer cliffs dominate Petra to the west. The steep, exciting route climbs 300m to 1160m at the top. Start as for Jebel Harun to Pharaoh’s Column and cross the wadi. About 100m after crossing the wadi, go right 50m left of some stone tombs. Pass through a rocky defile into a little basin surrounded by caves, up diagonally past more caves then zigzag left and right to enter the gully at a new wall. Ascend the gully on ramps and reach steps, ledges and more steps to the top. On top is an Edomite settlement and Nabataean sites and cisterns.
5. PETRA THROUGH the BACK DOOR – Dana Reserve to Petra
Length: 50 miles, 3 – 7 days .
The Trip: Go with many tour companies. To enter the Nabataean city of Petra in a small party at the conclusion of 3-5 days in the rugged wilds of the Kingdom of Jordan is a far more satisfying arrival than pulling into the parking lot with its idling tour buses ten miles away. That’s what makes the weeklong trek unique.
From the ancient city of Dana, the route leads down to the Feynan Eco-Lodge before crossing the vast arid expanse of Wadi Araba before climbing into the Sharah Mountains past iconic oasis and Bedouin camps toward Petra itself. The off-trail travel through the deserts and mountains can be grueling, exacerbated by the heat. At the top of an ancient stairway carved into the red rock, the narrow defile leads around a sharp bend, and suddenly you are stopped cold. There stands the exquisite carved façade of Al Deir, better known as the Monastery, perhaps Petra’s grandest monument. And you have it to yourself. Besides the iconic sites of the Siq, the Treasury and the Monastery are mystical venues, as are the Place of High Sacrifice and the Great Temple.
When to Go: October through April, when desert temperatures relent—a little.
DANA BIOSPHERE RESERVE
This is one of Jordan’s hidden gems and its most impressive ecotourism project. The gateway to the reserve is the charming 15th-century stone village of Dana, which clings to a precipice overlooking the valley and commands exceptional views. It’s a great place to spend a few days hiking and relaxing. Most of the reserve is accessible only on foot.
The reserve is the largest in Jordan and includes a variety of terrain – from sandstone cliffs over 1500m high near Dana to a low point of 50m below sea level in Wadi Araba. Sheltered within the red-rock escarpments are protected valleys that are home to a surprisingly diverse ecosystem. About 600 species of plants (ranging from citrus trees and juniper, to desert acacias and date palms), 180 species of birds, and over 45 species of mammals (of which 25 are endangered) – including ibexes, mountain gazelles, sand cats, red foxes and wolves– thrive in the reserve.
Dana is also home to almost 100 archaeological sites, including the 6000-year-old copper mines of Khirbet Feynan.
The visitor center in the Dana Guest House complex includes a museum, craft shop, nature exhibits and a food-drying center for making organic food.
Most trails require a guide with a cost depending on time and number of people. One route is the unguided Wadi Dana Trail, a 14km trail that switchbacks steeply down into the gorge to Feynan Lodge (a vehicle back costs 45JD). This is the first day of most treks on the 3-5 day “back door to Petra”.
Getting There. Minibuses run every hour between Tafila and Qadsiyya with the turn-off to Dana village 1km north of Qadsiyya. Get dropped off at the crossroads and walk or hitchhike down the 2.8kms to the village.