A Bedouin’s trail through Petra
The backdoor route to the Monastery
Their power base may have been secreted within Petra’s high canyon walls, but by the 2nd Century BC the Nabataeans had built an incense-trading network that stretched across the Middle East. Their influence ranged from what is now Yemen, up into Syria and out to the Mediterranean ports of Antioch (modern Antakya in Turkey), Tyre (Lebanon) and Gaza (in the Palestinian Territories).
Petra's impressive Monastery monument is usually reached by hiking up the well-worn staircase which wraps around the cliff face at the end of the main tourist route. Choosing to walk the alternative backdoor route to the Monastery, however, gives a sense of the trading tentacles that were the very reason for the city's existence and prosperity.
About 10km from Petra’s main entrance are the ruins of Al-Barid (also known as Little Petra), thought to have been a resting stop for the mammoth camel-caravans bringing spice and incense to and from the city. From here a trail snakes it way across the sandy plateau, passing Bedouin encampments and camel herds, to a stone staircase that spirals its way through the cliff edge to Petra. Local guides can be hired at the Al-Barid car park for those unsure of finding the trail. Vertigo-inducing views plunge down to the deep chasm of the gully on the staircase's edge, while the other side is blocked by sheer cliff face.
Hike across the exposed rock balcony that juts out of the sandstone mountain and the mammoth urn, which tops the facade of the Monastery, will come into sight, poking above the nearby rocks. It is only a short scramble up to the plateau where the mammoth bulk of the Monastery is carved out of the towering cliffs.
Like all the back road routes in Petra, you will be lucky to encounter more than a handful of other people along the way. The archaeological park's vast area means that those willing to step off the connect-the-dots trail of the main monument road will be rewarded by getting Petra's spellbinding natural landscapes and half-forgotten ruins all to themselves.
Even as regional insecurity continues to affect neighbouring nations, Jordan remains a safe and stable destination, perfect for travellers who want to dip their toes in the Middle East.
Entry to Petra costs 50 Jordanian Dinars for one day, 55 JOD for two days, and 60 JOD for three days. If you are planning on a full day hiking in the site, wear sensible walking shoes and carry plenty of water and food. Although there are plenty of Bedouin-run shacks on the main tourist route selling soft drinks, water and snacks, once you are on the back roads supplies are difficult to come by.