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The iconic image of Petra. How did they carve this thing? How has it not eroded? It is more than 40 meters high!


Jordan is most famous for Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is more than two thousand years old. At 810 meters, Petra sits at a similar elevation to Amman. Amman’s relationship to Petra reminds me of that of Lima to Machu Picchu in that the metropolises are largely forgettable and may be used only as an entry point to these world wonders.

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The introductory road at Petra starts innocently and plainly enough. It builds the anticipation.



From Amman, I took a JETT (Jordan Express Tourist Transport) that cost US$28 round-trip, which is a reasonable price for a journey that takes 3 hours and 30 minutes to cover nearly 250 kilometers. The bus departs at 6:30 and returns at 16:00, providing nearly six hours on site for a day trip. I did a day trip only because of my limited time in Jordan. Ideally, I would do two days, especially because a day pass costs $71 and a two-day pass costs $78. A three-day pass is $99 so the marginal day pricing structure is similar to that of Disney World. Still, six hours was plenty of time to see the major sights and do easy hiking.

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The boulders and rock formations start to get bigger.



Once I entered the preserved area, I read a sign that suggests not to use the horses, donkeys, or camels, but within a minute, I was approached by several men and boys about such services! Petra is a brilliant site, although not as breathtaking as Machu Picchu. One will be familiar with the terrain and landscape if you have been to parks with canyons. My biggest gripe with Petra is the overbearing presence of tourist stands and people peddling animal rides. I had to refuse more than a dozen times. It became so annoying that I put in my earphones and listened to music so they would stop bothering me. Other lines I used to abridge the conversation quickly included “No money” and “I have no money. I’m a poor student.” I think insisting on a comically low offer would also drop their attention. The boys were the most aggressive, and they were also quite loud, making bizarre noises that would echo throughout some sections.

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The block is evidence of man-made work.



Aside from the touts, Petra is nearly perfect for tourism. I was surprised that there were not more tourists. There are almost no safeguards in place. I saw not a single handrail. I hiked in some areas where a misstep would have led to death. The views are spectacular. The hiking is easy enough that it can be done in jeans and tennis shoes, although I would not recommend climbing the more treacherous areas in such attire.

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The temperature high was only 7 °C, but I knew the constant hiking would make me feel warmer and sure enough, I had stripped down to a white t-shirt at one point. Petra can get brutally hot during the summer. When I visited, I could see plenty of snow in the distant valleys. At one point driving to Petra, I was in a total whiteout and was relieved to see the site was free of snow and rain.

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More than thousand years ago, Petra was a fully functioning city, with clay pipes to distribute water from aqueducts. You can see the clever placement of the pipes in some sections. The city has been deteriorated by war, earthquakes, rain, snow, and other natural and artificial calamities. Still, the city remains remarkably well preserved with no restoration. One question that I did not receive an answer to was how the city was built. It is not as if the citizens had cranes and computers to engineer these beautiful stone sculptures and carvings. The two biggest facade carvings out of the sandstone canyon wall are incredible. I sometimes wonder if civilization will look upon the Empire State Building a thousand years from now and think, “How did they build such a skyscraper with equipment they had?” Perhaps I am inured by the commonness of living in the present, but Petra seems more impressive, relative to the available technology.

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Too many tourist stands, although the over-supply kept prices down. A 250 ml can of cold soda was only $1.41, especially affordable after miles of hiking.



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The remnants of the Great Temple.



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I climbed 800 steps to reach the Monastery, the largest structure in Petra.



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Picture does not capture the depth and space of Petra.



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I am 1.75 meters tall. This structure is more than 50 meters tall. Again, how did they carve this thing and cut away the excess sandstone?!