Petra, Jordan – via Back Door Mountain Route (24.01.19)

The ‘Back Door Route’ into Petra, starting at Little Petra, traverses some spectacular desert and mountain landscapes. Without the crowds, it is one of the Jordan Trail’s most thrilling hikes with the mother of bygone treats at the end.

Entering the ancient site via this route you fully appreciate the invisibility of Petra. Nestled out of sight, discreetly hidden amid the crazy-paving maze of crags that form the Jabel-Al-Madbah mountain region, Petra managed to remain unknown to the outside world from the early Islamic era (8th century) until 1812.

From high above the escarpment plateau on the eastern flank of the Arabah (Jordan) Valley, Petra is quite frankly invisible and unimaginable. Although they are located only a few kilometres away, the huge and sprawling variety of sites that make up Petra are totally indistinguishable to the naked eye.

Indeed, the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (who revealed the capital of Arabia Petraea to the outside world) described his first journey through the better known ‘Front Door’ Siq, which ends up at the magnificent Treasury, as ‘half an hour of gloomy and almost subterraneous passage’.

This is in complete contrast to the Back Door approach, which is a real favourite of mine. Spectacular, scarily steep and historically sacred, it comes with my heartfelt recommendation.

Apart from some phenomenal views, you can also enjoy imagining what it must have been like for ancient visitors, as they crossed over such inhospitable mountain desert terrain to the ‘rose red city, half as old as time’.

It is no wonder that Johann Ludwig Burckhardt did not find the ancient city by way of the Back Door high-level mountain route. Although he would have eventually come across the equally awe-inspiring Monastery, I am sure he would have given up well before his arrival at the discreetly positioned 47m wide, 48.3m high colossi columned construction.

The start of the pathway is insignificant in its ‘desert-meets-rocky-mountain-outcrop’ beginning. Then almost impassable as you wind your way above the gaping Negev desert valley, while hugging the enormous Arabah Valley mountain outcrops. Passing ancient fossilised footsteps, swirling rose-red rock patterns and end-of-the-world views it is a quite magical way to arrive.

You don’t need to walk the whole way from Little Petra if you want to allow more time and energy to explore the main sites of Petra. A shorter one or two hour hike will still allow you to enjoy the impressive scenery surrounding the Back Door entrance.

You will need at the very least a long day to do the visit justice. I recommend starting in the morning with early light Back Door views, and then finishing the day with the main Theatre and Street of Tombs, High Place of Sacrifice and Treasury.

Finally exiting via the Siq, you will have built up a Nabatean thirst to match any of the previous Roman, Byzantine or Syria-Phoenician caravan travellers.

Photos in chronological order: from the road to Little Petra, to walking the Back Door Route the Monastery.