May 14, 2016
To make the most of the afternoon light we wanted to first go to the Monastery and then make our way to the Royal Tombs and out the front entrance. Both sights are reportedly better lit in the afternoon. Lonely Planet talks about a second entrance in Um Sayhoun which is a shorter route to the Monastery and is shown at the top of the map but isn’t really mentioned in the Petra information pamphlets.
We took a taxi to this entrance for 6 JOD, too expensive for the 10 minute drive, but Don did talk him down from 10. The entrance is at the very end of town where there is a gate and then a long road down to the museum area. Note that no tickets are sold at this back entrance.
We started around 2:40PM, still way too hot with the landscape hazy and washed out. However, we needed plenty of time to get to the Monastery and then back through the complex to the main entrance before sunset.
In hindsight they seemed to be pretty loose about people needing to be out of the complex before sunset –we saw a few people heading in as we were heading out– and you would probably be OK if you were on your way out before it got dark.
The Monastery trail starts by the museums and is marked. If you can’t find it, any mule boy can tell you where it is, adding that it will take much longer than it actually does. For an average hiker it takes about 40 minutes, just over an hour all the way in from the entrance at Um Sayhoun.
It’s a hard uphill slog when the weather is hot and the sun is beating down, but the Monastery really is better when fully lit in the late afternoon light. I didn’t notice how pretty the winding staircase through the rock hills really was until we were on our way down and the light was a little lower.
The Monastery itself looks a lot like the Treasury, just much larger and not as intricate. The scale is the most impressive aspect.
After a short rest in the shade of a nearby rock face we made our way back down and over to the Royal Tombs along the marble road that connects museum area to the main road. We passed the Great Temple and Market Area along the way.
Before heading over to the tombs themselves we climbed the opposite hillside to get a better view of the entire complex. Later in the day would have been better but just after 5PM the light was low enough that their beautiful color and pattern was emerging from the harsh hazy day.
We then explored the tombs up close which is the only way you can really appreciate the scale of the structures and the beauty of the stone.
First the Urn Tomb with the iconic urn on top, then the Silk Tomb named for the intricacy of the swirl pattern in the stone and then finally the Palace Tomb.
Exhausted from the long day we meandered back along the main road and out. By this time it was much cooler, mostly in the shade, with a well appreciated light breeze blowing through the siq.
All in all fabulous day. Carry lots of water.