The Jordan Desert: Going Back in Time at Petra + To Outer Space in Wadi Rum
Where we’re at: I’m sharing my journey in 2022, including this trip to Jordan in February.
With all due respect to Indiana… (come at me, Indianapolisians!) how much variety of things to do exists in The Hoosier State? I can’t say; I haven’t been. But my geographical curiosity recently led me to discover it’s roughly the same size as the Kingdom of Jordan, about 35,000 square miles.
Jordan may be a small country but, like many Middle Eastern countries I’ve been lucky enough to experience, it’s got a pretty wild diversity of landscapes and experiences. From the urban pulse of Amman to the tiny beachy sliver of Aqaba to the otherworldly Dead Sea and of course, the vast Jordanian desert, most travelers would tell you a week is barely enough to scratch the surface.
Your serve, Indiana!
Okay but seriously. With only a week for our Jordan Escape with Globus (I extended with some solo time on each end, making my own trip ten days), we had a lot to see and do — and still left plenty to come back for. Leaving Amman, we made our way towards the Wadi Rum desert, a pretty ubiquitously accepted must-see around these parts. Made famous as the base camp of Lawrence of Arabia in the early 1900s, the area is now popular with both travelers to Jordan looking for a unique experience and filmmakers looking for backdrops for intergalactic space scenes alike. The Martian, as well as pretty much any movie in which you’ve seen outer space, was filmed right here.
I’d struggled with the late February chill in Amman; as we stepped off the bus I sighed with a smile that here, it was perfect. Escape Tours are discounted 30-40% due to the low season, but in Wadi Rum in particular, it was hard to imagine a better month.
After lunch at one of the local Bedouin camps, we traded our comfortable air-conditioned coach for rough-and-tumble Jeeps and swept off into the Wadi. We stopped at a few notable historical inscriptions or viewpoints, took in incredible landscapes, met local bedouins and their cranky camels, had the option to ride said camels, and drank, of course, copious amounts of tea.
For me, the highlight of the day was stopping to visit with a local Bedouin family, mom and kids included, who baked a warm flat bread with za’atar and spices that I dream of to this day. You can often clock how special something really is by following the excitement levels of your guide, and I noted with a smile Osama’s enthusiasm, even asking us to take a pictures of him with said bread to make all his city friends jealous.
If he sent me that photo now; it would work. Give me all the za’atar.
While ours was a day trip, the guests of my upcoming Wander Women Jordan are spending a night here — they say it’s the best stargazing you’ve ever seen — and after extensively researching every camp in the area, I was thrilled to tour my pick and confirm it’s the absolute most magical.
After this sweet first taste, it’s an area I can’t wait to return to someday. But we had more desert tracks to cover, first.
Why? One word: Petra.
Yes, Petra — the big one; the new World Wonder, the reason Jordan graces many a bucket list.
As an avid traveler of course Petra was on my own — but as with much of my first trip to Jordan, I didn’t know too much about it before Globus Travel invited me to join them.
Petra refers to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and ancient city believed to be built in the 5th century BC — I quickly learned it’s huge and they actually sell one, two and three day tickets because that’s how long it can take to see the whole thing. You can rack up 20,000 steps in a day just seeing the biggest sites like The Treasury and The Library.
But of course, we took it a step — or a couple thousand — further.
While the vast majority of travelers enter Petra through the famous Siq and see the iconic Treasury as their first glimpse, we did things in reverse. We took a special hike through the so-called “back door” to Petra, hiking many miles across gorgeous landscapes — our phones often clicking into service from nearby Israel — before even reaching Petra itself.
This gave us plenty of time to hear insights from our guide on everything from the wild saffron growing along the trail to the history of the Nabateans, a wealthy civilization who, I was fascinated to hear, never used slavery. Historians credit the fact that Petra, built in 312BC, is still standing to the fact that these skilled laborers were hired instead.
After hours of hiking — in my Toms no less, but no bother, I hiked the Inca Trail in old trainers! — that first glimpse of the Monastery is a travel moment I’ll never forget. We had it to ourselves, a moment that would later feel even more precious immersed in the crowds of the Treasury.
We took a short break here, and I even laid on the bench below at the tea stop and took a little snooze in the sun, blissfully unaware of how many more miles lay ahead.
The quiet back trails we’d started the morning with gave way to steep stairs, hopeful trinket vendors, bold donkey guides, and more hikers. Perhaps halfway between the Monastery and the Treasury, I finally started to absorb the enormous size of Petra — and imagined it coming to life as an ancient city on a lively trading route through early civilization.
By the time we made it to the Treasury, I was in sensory overload. Being the off-season on a weekday in the emergence from COVID, I can only imagine what it gets like in true peak times. Though my new photo-buddy Abi of The Travel Lab and I — the best part of a group trip for a solo traveler is making friends like these! — did our valiant best to snap Insta-worthy photos of each other, we eventually shrugged and sat and soaked up the lively chaos of it all instead.
While pretending to contemplate but not really at all considering adding a few hundred more steps to get the iconic “Petra from above” photo on the cliffs above, I instead regaled Abi with the one item of pre-trip research I had done (other than the whole Indiana thing, of course): The Petra Romance Scam. Doing our best to pick out which of the Jack Sparrow-lookalikes we thought might be most likely to try to charm us, we were practically offended when not a single one offered us a suspicious stargazing date!
Winding our way through the magical Siq was just the boost I needed for the final stretch.
Should you visit Petra without a tour like I did, I recommend my fellow Globus travelers Lina and David’s blog post about it — they have visited many times, and I enjoyed their frequent visitor insights throughout the day as well.
Though I had big plans to visit the small but modern Petra Museum, and recharge my tired body at one of the local hammams, I could manage nothing but showering and staring at the ceiling of my room at the beautiful Movenpick Petra Resort for a few hours while contemplating how, exactly, I’d get back up to return to Petra at Night — a thrice a week sounds and light show at The Treasury that I’d been promised wasn’t as cringe-y as it sounds.
The promise of a glass of Jordanian wine did the trick. After dinner I bolted to Cave Bar, allegedly among the oldest in the world, to meet up with my friend Kimm, who I met last year in Mexico and who happened to be traveling Jordan at the same time. Ain’t travel grand?
Made up of tiny little caves, the bar was a highlight, and I can’t imagine heading to Petra By Night any other way than this, slightly tipsy, a bit late, earbuds in and incredible stars above as I wandered solo down the dark and twisty Siq. This, I knew instantly, would be one of my magical Jordan memories.
Upon arrival, I quickly found my group, and the warm fuzzies continued as we listed to traditional music and the watched the twinkle of hundreds of candles in front of one of the truly well-deserved new wonders of the world.
We clocked more than twelve miles that day and while it was an untraditional way to experience Petra for the first time, I fell asleep sun-kissed, smiling, and dreaming of the days ahead at the Dead Sea. Stay tuned.
Is Petra on your bucket list?