Would you like to enter Petra through the back door? Away from all the tourists, mule handlers and souvenir stall sellers? Our answer was yes, and it was one of the best things we did in Petra. The route will take you to the Monastery, equally as spectacular but far less visited than the Treasury.
If you're visiting Petra, then you'll quickly realise that most of the sights are quite far apart and require a lot of walking. The Monastery in particular is a long way from anything; hence why it has far less visitors.
If you choose to follow the most common trail from the visitor's centre, getting to the Monastery is roughly a three hour round trip. The last section is up a long and very steep set of stairs that seem to continue on for an eternity. In the heat, it is a pretty exhausting route!
This is what makes the track from Little Petra even more appealling. Not only do you get away from the tourists and the souvenir stands, but you also get to see some pretty wild landscape that you wouldn't otherwise get to experience.
Unfortunately the desert took out our Canon camera, so these shots were taken by iPhone! Painful for us as photography lovers but we did our best!
The Little Petra to Petra Walk
Distance: About 8km to the Monastery. An additional 4km if you go all the way back to the Visitors Centre.
Time: 1.5 -2 hours (3-4 hours if you walk back to Wadi Musa).
Difficulty: Easy - moderate. The path is in good condition all the way and the first half is flat. But it does get a little steeper towards the end. The exposed trail and heat in the summer months can make this track pretty tiring.
You don't actually need a guide for this walk, however we chose to hire one. Firstly, the start of the track isn't signposted (though you could easily ask someone) and there wasn't markers all the way through (though again I don't think you would get lost, more likely just take a slightly longer route).
Secondly, we felt it was good to support the Bedouin community in Petra, we hadn't hired a guide so far, so chose to do so for this walk.
Before the track, head into Little Petra to have a look at the caves and settlement remains. Some of the caves still have beautiful mosaics and carvings. We arrived at 8am and were the only ones there.
It isn't a very big site, but there's a few interesting spots to explore before the walk.
Starting the Little Petra to Petra Walk
The trail for the Little Petra to Petra Walk starts at the left of the car park, behind the souvenir shops (it really isn't obvious!). From here the track goes out into the desert following jeep tracks, and you pass by Bedouin tents, goats, camels and the occasional stray dog that loved menacingly barking at us.
Soon the trail passes through the mountains to a huge open plain. In the distance you can see Wadi Musa (the closest town to Petra), it's a beautiful sight. The landscape is timeless and so quiet, you wouldn't have a clue that you were only a few kilometres from Petra!
The obvious path seemed to go all the way round the plain, but our guide took us over a track that cut through the plain, crossing down a small valley and back up again to the other side. At this point we reached some huge mountains and the start of the uphill climb.
After about an hour the uphill starts! The track is really well defined and stairs have been built into the path. On all sides you see beautiful mountains with stunning patterns, carved out through thousands of years of rain and wind.
The views from the path are spectacular. It's how we imagine the Grand Canyon might look, there are so many epic ledges to stop and take photos. It is an amazing landscape and the views get better and better as you climb.
It is pretty tiring in the heat, but never too steep. If you have a cool day you will probably find this walk pretty easy.
The final stretch
At the top of the stairs is one of the best views of the track. By an empty stall (yes, at one point there was a drinks stand here... Dammit) there's a cliff top where you can see across the canyon and desert. It is a great place to have a breather and take in the scenery.
In the distance you can hear goats and sometimes you'll see one on an obscure ledge. Our guide told us that he sometimes has to strap on a harness to help his friends by getting the goats down from precarious ledges they get stuck on!
The stairs are over, but there's still a little more to go. After a couple of turns you'll get your first glimpse of the Monastery (see that little urn/spire in the photo above). I still have no idea why the Nabateans chose this location as it is tiring to get to from all directions, but it is certainly a gorgeous spot.
The path goes back onto gravel and you wind through a mountain pass before finally arriving at the Monastery.
We took 1.5 hours, but some people could do it 1 hour, others in 2 hours. We'd recommend pacing yourself as it is hot (even at sunrise) and why rush a beautiful trail like this?
Once you turn round the corner and see the Monastery, it really blows you away. Whilst the Treasury is incredible (especially because of the location within a confined canyon), the Monastery is grand and feels huge. As it is set in a very open area, you really feel the size and dominance of this incredible structure, carved out the side of the mountain.
You can choose to cool off with a ice cold drink in the shaded cafe set directly in front of it. We were lucky enough to be invited for tea with some bedouins who were working on a archaeological dig nearby.
Bedouin tea is made up of black tea, sage and a lot of sugar (the archaeologists on the site called it "Type 2" for its incredible sweetness). After a long walk though, this burst of sweetness was really refreshing. It is also really humbling to sit down with a complete stranger who has invited you to share their tea. This happened throughout Jordan, they are truly one of the most hospitable countries on earth, and will share even if they have very little.
Taking in the view
Ok, so there's a little more uphill, but it is worth it. You've come to the Monastery, why not take in the best view?! Follow the path away from the Monastery to a little hill with a flag on the shop on the top (of course there's a shop at the top!).
There's a small climb up and then the path flattens out. The first viewpoint was my favourite: really open and expansive. You can then go further up, but the view just seemed to be a little higher version of the first, but not as spacious.
The way back to Petra
So ok, the walk isn't really over yet. There's no road access to the Monastery, so you have a choice of going back the way you came, or walk all the way back to the visitor's centre in Wadi Musa.
Or there's a third choice of getting a donkey back, but it really doesn't look like a great prospect for the donkey. Even though it is part of the traditional way of life here, we didn't like what we saw of how they were treated. They were whipped hard and often, despite carrying heavy loads in the full heat of the day. We'd recommend the walk to Wadi Musa, as it doesn't require backtracking, and means you have seen a lot more of Petra.
The walk back isn't too bad. It is virtually all down hill and in the shade until you get to the Royal Tombs. Whilst it is a decent distance, it passes by quickly.
As you wind through more canyons (littered with souvenir shops), you eventually reach the bottom and come out to the Colonnaded Street and a great view of the Royal Tombs. From here, you're about 40 minutes from the visitors centre.
As you pass round the corner you'll reach the shade once more and get a glorious view of the Treasury. Can you ever grow sick of this view?
Depending on whether you have done a morning or afternoon hike, it will either be busy or dead quiet. By 5pm the camels, donkeys and carriages have all gone, and so have the selfie-stick waving tourists.
We loved this time of day here, it was actually even quieter than early morning.
After the Treasury it's time to walk through the beautiful Siq. Unfortunately in this direction it is 1.2 km of gradual uphill that really saps it out of you! Whilst it is never steep, it just chips away at you.
Once you're out the Siq, you're on the home run to Wadi Musa. It's just a short walk across the gravel until you get to the visitors centre and the end of the walk!
Surely you deserve a cold beer after all that effort?!
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Would you hike the length of Petra? Would you like to enter Petra by the back door? Let us know in the comments below!
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