The Amsterdam arrived in Aqabah, Jordan and was cleared to go ashore about 7:30, 30 minutes early. We were scheduled for a HAL tour (“Petra and Wadi Rum” for $309 per person) that had an 8:15 meeting time in the Queens Lounge. Temperatures were forecast to be in the high 80’s so we dressed for the heat and were ready with our bottles of water and sunscreen.
NOTE: Here is the official description of the tour from the HAL website
“Petra & Wadi Rum
Lost to the desert for centuries, Petra is one of the most spectacular sites of antiquity. A rose-hued city carved out of solid sandstone, Petra is the legacy of the Nabataeans — an industrious Arab people who settled in southern Jordan more than 2000 years ago. Admired then for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels, Petra is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, enchanting visitors from all corners of the globe. Explore on foot, with your guide, this marvelous city that was lost to all but nomadic Bedouins until 1812. Excavations of the site began in 1929 — today it’s your turn to unearth the extraordinary.
Continue exploring the bizarre and intriguing desert landscapes of Jordan, following in the footsteps of British adventurer T.E. Lawrence. The adventure begins with a one-hour drive to the famous Wadi Rum. This is the site of the 1920s Arab Revolt championed by Lawrence.
Meet up with a Bedouin family and hop into a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to forge your way into the Valley of the Moon, passing through some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. The bumps you encounter on your three-hour ride will be well rewarded with dramatic vistas of desert dunes, wind-sculpted hills and striking rock formations”
A complete description of this tour is available at the link HERE. For your information, a complete description of every excursion in the HAL “library” is also available on the HAL website (Under TAB – Plan – then Ports and Excursions).
Three of our table mates would be on the same tour and since we wanted to end up on the same pickup truck later, we needed to make sure we would be on the same bus initially. After we were all together in the Queens Lounge, we proceeded to the table where were received our Tour Dots together so we were sure not to be split up between busses.
- NOTE: There would be a total of 9 buses going to Petra, with 3 of those continuing on to Wadi Rum while the other 6 would come straight back to the ship. At least one of the busses was dedicated to crew as we saw many of them at Petra – but only the crew with schedules that don’t require working in port – Casino, Shops, some staff etc. Stewards and Waiters rarely, if ever, get an entire day off when the ship in in port.
The buses were very nice 40 passenger models and with only 28 people on our bus, it wasn’t too crowded. Best of all, the bus had free Wi-Fi (pretty fast) which would make the 2-hour drive to Petra go faster. I was able to update several programs on the phone and download a new audio book – (Downloading more than 10 MB on the ship is virtually impossible, even at 3 AM)
The port area was modern and well maintained and after we left the port, we were quickly on a main city street and soon on the highway to Petra. As soon as we left Aqabah, we stopped for a security check where the bus was inspected, but no one got on board to check any passengers or paperwork. I suspect they have profiles of suspicious vehicles and they check those over more closely.
Once we were out of the city, the terrain looked very similar to Death Valley, parts of Arizona, Southern Utah, you name it. Dry, desolate areas with rocky mountains absent much vegetation look similar anywhere in the world.
Signs were in English along with Arabic characters. We did get a chuckle out of a sign alerting us the possibility of camels in the area and sure enough, we spotted a couple right around the next turn.
Every few miles we would spot some Bedouin Tents off in the distance. Our guide informed us that the Bedouins camp out in these tents and usually move a couple times of year presumably to follow better weather, more water or areas with more vegetation where they can graze their herds of goats.
About 1 hour after we left we stopped at a rest area for a break to use the restrooms or buy some refreshments. There was a nice view from behind the rest stop overlooking the valley below. Dollars were accepted here and we learned later that dollars were accepted everywhere, but you do lose about 5% more or less on the “street” conversions. We converted about $50 into Dinars before we left, but if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t bother and simply use dollars.
After the rest area, we turned off the main road onto a narrower, two land road, that was quite winding in parts. We were on this road for about 30 minutes before we arrived in Wadi Musa, the town adjacent to Petra and spent a few minutes driving thru the city streets before we arrived in a large parking lot, made for buses, around 10:45.
It was a short walk to the Visitors Center that is on one side of a circular area, with shops on the other side, all surrounding a fountain in the center that is flush to the ground. When the fountain is not operating, it appears to be nothing more than a round, decorative concrete area, with about a dozen holes in a circular pattern. When the fountain is on, water from the holes’ arcs about 10 feet thru the air converging the center part of the circle. This is the kind of fountain than you see in city parks where children enjoy running thru the splashing water. Sometimes these fountains are timed to music, but this one was fairly straightforward, a circle of simple water arcs.
Our group paused near the Visitor Center to allow guests to use the restrooms and once we are all back together we headed off toward the entrance. As we passed thru the entry gate, an attendant handed us our tickets, which we may have to produce for inspection at any point, as entry into Petra is on the honor system.
- NOTE: Our tour allocated 4.5 hours to tour Petra from leaving the Visitor Center to return. Other tours only allocated 3.5 hours and the people we spoke with felt rushed. I would suggest a minimum of 4.5 hours and longer if possible. Ideally you would make this a 2-day trip and see Petra at night in addition to daytime. On the 2017 HAL World Cruise, Al ‘Aqabah, Jordan is an overnight port. Arranging an independent overnight here is highly recommended and is low risk and not very complicated to arrange.
- Immediately past the entry gate are horse stables where you are faced with your first decision about whether to walk or ride to the Treasury – your first stop. At this point you can either:
- Walk all the way (which is what we did)
- Ride a horse about ½ mile to the starting point of the narrow sandstone canyon called As Siq and then walk the last mile (price is about $10-$15 for the mandatory tip)
- Ride in a horse carriage all the way. Price is about $40 -$45 (including tip) and includes a return trip at a time of your choosing.
- Since the walk to Treasury is all downhill and relatively cool in the canyon I would recommend walking down and taking a horse carriage back. This will also keep you with your guide so you can hear his commentary along the way.
- If you are pressed for time, consider taking the horse carriage both ways. The scenery in As Siq is lower priority than the other sights past the Treasury and you will see it twice while riding the carriage anyway. However, it will be impossible to take pictures from the carriage or really absorb what you are seeing, but if you have to make a tradeoff, skip the As Siq and spend more time elsewhere.
As noted above, we chose to walk both ways as did everyone else on our tour. After we started down the path a few people in our group sped ahead by themselves to try and see more than we would be able to by staying with the guide. The only rule was – be back at the Hotel for a late lunch by 3:30 or back on the bus by 4:30.
Our group took 1 hour and 15 minutes to walk the mile down the Siq to the Treasury with 4 or 5 stops along the way for extended commentary. There was one spot that was popular for weddings and our guide held a humorous mock wedding with the first couple who was nearby whether or not they were actually married. He joked afterwards, the later on down the Siq was an area for divorces should that prove necessary.
As we continued down As Siq toward the Treasury we never really knew how close we were getting or when it would come into view. We were constantly being asked to stand off to one side – either to stay in the shade, avoid a horse carriage barreling back toward the visitor center, or view some artifact from a special perspective. So we didn’t think much of his request to move off to the side and look backwards towards so Greek lettering carved in the rock behind us. We all turned around to look for the lettering and then he asked us to move to the other side of the path to get a better view. As we stared at the rock looking for the lettering, the guide finally confessed that there wasn’t any lettering after all and we should turn around. Once we turned around we saw our first glimpse of the Treasury through a natural tunnel. The dark tunnel provided an amazing contrast with the brightly lit Treasury sill only partially visible. It was amazing to see the Treasury for the first time partially obscured but with amazing detail for what we could see.
We continued down the path and more and more became visible until we cleared the tunnel and the complete Treasury was on full display in all its glory – simply amazing. The Treasury is crowned by a large urn which, according to local legend, contained a Pharaohs fortune, hence the name: Treasury. The atmosphere surrounding this magnificent architecture reminded me of a bustling county fair, with camels, horses and mules giving rides, street vendors pushing their wares and a building off to the side selling snacks and souvenirs. The only thing missing from this street fair were jugglers and mimes.
There were offering brief camel rides in a small circle or longer rides if you wanted to go to the Royal Tomb or further. The Monastery is about 2.5 miles further down the path from the Treasury and if you wanted to get their faster, take a mule instead of a camel or walking. We learned that it cost $50 for a mule and a guide for 2 hours that took our friend to one of the Monastery viewpoints. Camels may be more fun, but they are slower and can’t climb up to the Monastery so you would have to walk the 800 steps unassisted or transfer to a mule at the base of the steps.
After spending about 20 minutes wandering around the Treasury, we gathered our group and headed off toward the Royal Tombs.
The path toward the Royal Tombs was rocky, sandy and uneven and it was difficult to walk very quickly as compared to the smooth concrete paths from the Visitor Center to the Treasury. Along the way we passed the Street of Facades and the Theatre.
Carved into rock, the Theatre consists of 3 rows of seats separated by passageways and could hold about 4000 people. After the Theatre there are two cafes (one with free Wi-Fi), restrooms and some gift shops. It took us about 1 hour to reach the base of the Royal Tombs, which sit above the main path. We had to climb 200 steps to get to the level with the Tombs which offered panoramic views of the area and the paths leading off toward the monastery.
We spent about 20 minutes exploring the Royal Tombs, before we headed back down to the main road and back toward the Treasury. The walk back took about 40 minutes.
As we returned to the hustle and bustle surrounding the Treasury, Judy was nearly clipped by a fast moving mule. You really need to stay alert, because the camels, mules and carriages move quickly and act if they have the right of way in all situations. As Judy jumped out of the way, she found herself in the middle of a group of Jordanian 8th grade girls who were absolutely thrilled to be talked with Judy. They laughed and carried on and finally proclaimed their love for one and all. They cheerfully posed for pictures and we were even able to have them join Judy in our trademark “Jazz Hands” shot.
It was at this point that we would have cheerfully climbed into a Horse carriage for the ride back, but none were readily available, as they were all booked earlier in the day. The 1.25 mile walk back to the Visitors Center took about 90 minutes and was uphill all the way. We took 2 or 3 rest stops and fortunately most of the path is in the shade and the temperature was probably in the low 80’s and quite pleasant.
Our late lunch was at very nice Hotel called MovenPick which was right across the street from the Visitors Center. If you are planning an overnight stay in Petra, this hotel is in an ideal location and appeared to be very nice. Lunch was served buffet style and included a variety of hot and cold dishes, along with our choice of beverage, including beer or wine. The food was surprisingly good for a hotel buffet and we enjoyed being off our feet after we spent the last 4.5 hours touring Petra.
It was a short walk back to the busses and we were soon on our way toward Wadi Rum – our next adventure.
About 2 hours later we arrived at the Wadi Rum Visitor Center. The Visitor Center was closed so we went to an open area behind the Visitors Center where we climbed into the open back of small pickup trucks, where they installed bench seats facing each other. There was 5 of us to each truck.
According to our guides this area was where the British Explorer T.E. Lawrence – AKA Lawrence of Arabia – operated back in the 1920’s.
After we were situated in these trucks, we started off across the desert at about 15 mph. Our heads were sitting above the roof of the cab, plus seat belts were unavailable, so it was good that we were going slow. Twenty minutes later we arrived at an open area near the 7 Pillars of Wisdom a few minutes before sunset. Sitting nearby was the advertised Bedouin Family who never really said much after they were introduced and they could have eliminated this from the tour without really missing anything.
The sunset was nice and we did see a green flash as it settled below the horizon, but it didn’t generate much color. It would be completely dark in about 30 minutes and we had to stop and see a few more carvings on our way to the Bedouin Camp where we would get some tea and refreshments before heading back to the ship.
We spent about 30 minutes at the Bedouin Camp where we enjoyed some tea and cookies. There was a large circle in the center of the camp where another group of Jordanian girls on a day trip was dancing and shrieking and having a wonderful time. A member of our tour joined in and she dazzled the crowd with her belly dancing moves.
Back on the bus, we headed back the ship and after about 90 minutes we arrived, and were able to park directly on the pier. It was now 9:15 pm almost 13 hours after were left – very accurate forecast, but very tiring.
While we were going thru security on the ship, they announced that the Lido would be open in 10 minutes – 9:30 pm instead of the normal time of 10:30 pm
We had a wonderful day in Petra – albeit of long one, but worth every minute. I would try to spend 2 days here if possible so I could see more. If you are on a one day tour, try and arrange a longer Petra visit and skip Wadi Rum. I hear they light up Petra at night…that would be amazing.
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