I recently had the pleasure of scouting out the amazing ancient city of Petra on behalf of Erez and Milestones Israel. Now before you say anything, I realize that this site is in Jordan, not Israel but it is still very much worth the visit!
We didn’t have much time so we opted for a one day tour led by one of our partners, ‘Ahalan Tours‘. In preparation, we drove down to Eilat on Thursday night after work. It’s about a 4.5 hour drive from the center (we came from Kfar Saba, just north of Tel Aviv), but buses and flying are always an option as well. Our reservations were for a resort hotel, The Orchid, that is fashioned after a Thai village and boy did they do a great job! Since the focus of this blog is Petra, I’ll just give you a link to read more about this hotel on your own.
A driver from the tour company picked us up bright and early on Friday morning. After a couple more hotel stops and 7 passengers total, we were driven to the border crossing. A representative from the tour company assisted us with border control and walked us through as far as he could. It was a chilly February morning as we walked across the border, to be greeted by pictures of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. On the Jordanian side, we were greeted by another tour leader, this time from Al Jawad tours (Ahalan tours sister company) who took our passports and handled all the beurocratic stuff as we enjoyed the sun and tried to guess where all the tourists were from. I’m pretty sure there was a Texan Oil Mogul…just a hunch.
Once our passports were returned, fresh with a stamp from Jordan, we loaded into a small van and drove two hours into the beautiful Jordanian desert towards our destination. The mountains on this side of the boarder seemed a bit craggier than in Israel, the colors were beautiful and we were definitely higher. We saw patches of snow from a storm the week before. Having only ever lived in California and Israel, snow is very much a novelty for me. My friend from New York was convinced I didn’t know what I was looking at! I enjoyed giving him a nice solid “I told you so” when our guide confirmed what the white stuff was.
We arrived in Petra, greeted by a few tourist shops selling ‘antiquities’. I have trouble believing that anyone would by a plastic camel from the Indiana Jones shop and believe it came from the Nabateans but the bustle excited us for what was coming. We entered the site and our tour guide gave us a brief introduction. The company was hosting two tours that day, one in Russian and ours in English.
Young Jordanian boys hang out around the entrance selling 5$ horse, camel and donkey rides. We opted to walk and enjoy the amazing scenery. Immediately you can see the extravagant mausoleums and shelters carved into the sand stone. After approximately 700 meters, we arrived at the entrance to the canyon. There is only one way in and out of Petra and it is through this spectacular piece of natural beauty. For an hour we walked, staring at the walls of this natural canyon, patterns carved into the rocks from centuries of wind and rain. Pictures can’t capture the beauty…but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try!
After about an hour, the treasury (made famous from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – at least in my mind) slowly begins to appear at the end of the canyon walls. It is every bit of stunning and romantic as the movies make it out to be. It took 100 men 20 years to carve the treasury out of the sandstone cliffs with clear inspiration from the Nabateans, Greeks and Romans. It is no wonder this spot was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
A little farther along past the treasury and the cliffs are peppered with mausoleums. Some more elaborate than others but all with their own charm. It is fascinating to me that people inhabited this site until 1983, when the Jordanian government relocated them to create this tourist destination.
We were given free time to walk back on our own and had more time for pictures and general silliness. Back at the entrance, exhausted, our driver from the morning picked us up and drove us to a nearby restaurant for a buffet lunch. We scarfed down some traditional Jordanian food (lunch was included with the tour) and climbed back into the van for the drive back to the border.
It was a long day, but one I will always remember. AND we were back in Israel and at our hotel in time to enjoy a lovely Shabbat dinner and relax in the lounge for a bit. If you’ve been to Israel a few times and are looking for something new to see, I highly recommend visiting Petra. Talk to Erez and he’ll set you up!