It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
John Burgon – Petra (1846)
Now, those words may not mean anything to you, but that last line is etched in my memory and no small part of the reason I was delighted to find myself booking flights to Jordan earlier this year. Not only that, but it is one of the most beautifully evocative pieces of poetry I’ve read and enough to make any traveller’s mind wander.
Few places conjure up such strong images for me as the ancient Nabatean city of Petra. It’s one of a few places, that I can’t really remember not having been aware of, up there with the Pyramids of Giza. And yet, for some reason, I had never given any serious thought to how to get there. Then, last October, I found out a friend had been recently and done it both easily and cheaply. Suddenly it seemed both possible and affordable.
A small group was assembled, all of a similar mind and we set about it. I have to give all credit for organising it to Mr. Neil Barnes of Backpacks and Bunkbeds. His planning skills are second to none. Soon the flights were booked and the countdown began. Now, a few basics of planning a trip to Jordan; there are two main carries that fly there I’m aware of – British Airways and Royal Jordanian. Easyjet did fly until recently, but have not stopped sadly. Nonetheless, return flights to Amman run from about £270pp I believe.
There are a wealth of tour companies that will take you on excellent tours of varying lengths and my favourite, G Adventures (full disclosure and all that – I am not affiliated with G Adventures at all) have what I am sure are some excellent options. Or, alternatively, you can do what we did and book your first night’s accommodation and then use local taxis as organised by your hotels. They all provide this service and split between four of us it made it very affordable. The journey from Wadi Rum to Amman, for example, came to 90 dinar (somewhere in the region of £75-80 for six hours’ driving).
After a night and morning in Madaba and seeing its highlight – the mosaic map in St. George’s Cathedral, we headed south to Petra and arrived just in time to do Petra by Night. This takes places on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night and for 12 dinar is well worth it. The atmosphere is fantastic and it is perhaps the best introduction one can get to the site. It is less crowded, less hot and if anything the walk through the Siq (the narrow slot canyon that leads to the site) is even more evocative. Arriving in front of the Treasury to see it lit only by candles and with some gentle Bedouin music playing to set the mood is something I shall never forget.
Entry to the site during the day is 50 dinar for one day and 55 for two. Depending on how much time you have I would recommend the two day pass as the site is vast and best absorbed at a leisurely pace. We spent an entire day exploring it, getting as far as the Monastery at the far side of the site and returning by way of the many tombs carved in the cliffs. Suffice to say it exceeded my expectations, but I strongly suggest you get there for as early in the day as possible. This will help you beat the crowds and the temperatures, depending on the time of year.
After a full day in Petra and a good night’s sleep, we headed on to Wadi Rum and the vast expanse of rocky desert that played host to Lawrence of Arabia, among others and spent a brilliant day on a jeep safari exploring the slot canyons, massive sand dunes and sweeping spaces between enormous rock outcrops. The feel of the place is desolate and beautiful, all at the same time. Finally, arriving at our Bedouin encampment we were treated to a feast and plenty of Bedouin whiskey (tea – Jordan is largely dry, although alcohol is available in bars) before settling down to a night in a tent under the starry sky. The peace in the desert really is something that everyone should experience. I found it hugely refreshing compared with the continual noise of city living.
Finally, heading back to Amman, we spent three days here recovering and also visiting the sites of Jerash, Mount Nebo, Bethany and the Dead Sea, which with the exception of Bethany, I would definitely urge you to visit if you have time. Jerash, particularly, is a real hidden gem, being a massive, well excavated and extremely well preserved Roman site just to the north of Amman.
Overall I cannot be more positive about Jordan, the food is delicious, the people are extremely welcoming, it is very safe in my experience and overall felt like a secure and peaceful country, despite its turbulent history. I have really barely scratched the surface of either our time there or this fantastic little country, I urge you to go and visit for yourselves.
By Peter Churchill
Photo Credits: Peter Churchill