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Aerial view of Petra, Jordan
Radek Sturgolewski | Adobe Stock

Finding Moments of Stillness in Petra

SmarterTravel

Editor’s note: The writer of this story was hosted by Exodus Travels on its Desert to Dead Sea Jordan trip.

Despite all its architectural wonder, on first impression, ancient Petra feels like a theme park. Crowds of tourists spill off of buses and you become absorbed into the hoards as you funnel down the city’s one main path through the narrow slot canyons. Bursting out at Petra’s iconic Treasury, you’re greeted by braying camels, pleading hawkers, and garish souvenir stands competing for your attention, leaving the stunning sandstone carvings to blend into the background as you take it all in.

With hundreds of others packed in around you, a moment of stillness to appreciate what’s before you feels elusive. Around every famous vista, someone steps into your view to snap the perfect photo, breaking the moment, or a vendor clamors for your attention and pulls you out of your reverie. 

Al Khazneh treasury at Petra, Jordan
Anton Petrus | Adobe Stock

Sensing my overstimulation, Mekhled, my Exodus Travels’ tour guide, handed me a map and a tip: take the Wadi Farasa trail, a winding path that leads up to the High Place of Sacrifice, to find some solitude. An inconspicuous brown sign some distance off the main tourist track to the Monastery pointed the way. Far above me, a lone flag whipped in the wind, marking the High Place of Sacrifice which seemed intimidatingly far away—a good deterrent to weary tourists. 

The meandering Wadi Farasa trail is the longer of two paths to reach the one of the tallest points in Petra, and thus attracts far fewer travelers.

I double-checked my map and set off down the dusty trail. Within just a few minutes, the crowds and the noise from the main path disappeared into the distance, and as soon as I rounded the second bend, there wasn’t another soul in sight. 

The desert sun beat down as I ascended, and suddenly the trail opened up into a hidden complex, revealing intricate structures carved out of sandstone. These chiseled monuments were just as impressive as the famous Treasury, but there were no crowds to compete with for this vista.

Sitting in the shade of the towering structures, the air was utterly still and quiet. It was a silence I never hear at home in a city, where life makes its presence known at all hours. Although thousands of people were less than a mile away, from where I sat I couldn’t hear or see another living thing. Staring up at the remains of this abandoned civilization I felt as though I was the last person on Earth.

Eventually, another solo traveler wandered up and I took that as my cue to carry on. Climbing up stairs carved into sandstone cliffs thousands of years ago, I moved at my own pace with no crowds to rush or restrain me. Every turn unearthed more intricately detailed work and felt like a walk back into history. After some time, the lack of people became almost unnerving as I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn on the barely-marked trail and wandered off-track into the punishing heat of the desert. 

Panorama view of architecture and surrounding nature at Petra, Jordan
Caroline Morse-Teel

Just as I ran out of water and needed civilization, I emerged from the top of a strenuous climb to find a woman camped out at the top selling ice cold drinks to thirsty travelers.

After much-needed hydration and a long chat, the High Place of Sacrifice awaited. I climbed a few rock-cut steps to the top to this long-ago place of worship and was rewarded with the same views of the red rose city below that  the Nabateans had gazed upon centuries before. Even here, I encountered  just a few other travelers who were making their way back down, leaving me again, all alone atop one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

How to Go

Exodus Travels’ Desert to Dead Sea Jordan trip offers a comprehensive overview of the country for those looking to maximize limited vacation time. This nine day trip features a full day in Petra that combines a guided tour with plenty of free time to find moments of stillness on your own. Trip prices start at $2,699 and can be booked on Exodus’ website.

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