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Exploring Petra From Dusk Till Dawn

When night falls, Jordan’s magnificent ancient city is bathed in candlelight.

Seeing something for the first time at night creates a totally different first impression. In big cities, arriving at night lets you see how everyone acts once they let their hair down. But with historic monuments like Petra, which I visited with G Adventures, wandering at night feels like a clandestine experience.

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In order to enter the city of Petra, you need to travel through a narrow canyon a mile long, known as the Siq. At night, the narrow passageway is lit by candle-filled luminaries and if you look up, you can clearly see the stars. Petra is remote, and the town of Wadi Musa is small enough that there isn’t much light pollution—there isn’t much light at all, actually.

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Although the pathway is lit, it’s still difficult to see. All you can hear are the sounds of footsteps echoing from wall to wall. The Siq is longer than you’d expect, and just when you start to question where it’s taking you, a moonlit wall appears through the narrow canyon in the distance.

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As you exit the Siq, the canyon walls pull away and before you stands the 2,000-year-old Treasury, or Al-Khazneh, the iconic structure of Petra. Luminaires are laid all over the ground, and the glow of the candles casts a warm, soft light on the ancient architecture. A Bedouin man hands out tea as another begins playing a flute.

INSIDER TIPThe Treasury is called the Treasury because that’s what archaeologists thought it was. Recently, they found out it’s actually a tomb.

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While you can view Al-Khazneh at night, a thorough exploration of Petra has to wait until the morning. At sunrise, the Siq is bathed in a soft light and you can see all of the detail in the rock formation. The Siq was actually formed by a fault, but running water has smoothed the walls of the passage.

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Arriving at the Treasury, Al-Khazneh during the daytime, you’re able to get a much better sense of its scale.

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From Al-Khazneh, it’s a steep trek (or donkey ride) 850 steps up to the next stop, Ad-Deir.

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While hiking up the path to Ad-Deir, beware of donkeys under the command of tourists. They’re unpredictable, and you may find yourself on the side of a cliff, cornered by a jackass.

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At the top of the trail, there’s one last passage before the Monastery of Ad-Deir reveals itself.

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Further up the mountain is a Bedouin campsite with unbelievably kind and welcoming hosts.

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After hiking up a mountain, being asked to sit and relax with tea is a welcome change of pace. You may even be offered some hash.

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In the heat of Jordan, a keffiyeh, or black and white checkered scarf worn on the neck or head, is an absolute necessity—especially for the next part of the adventure, since there’s still one more peak to climb.

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From the Bedouin tent, you’ll walk back across the valley and circle around the backside of a different mountain. It’s 600 steep steps, but fortunately, there’s another Bedouin camp along the way.

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This time, there’s a puppy. The dog’s name is “Whiskey” during the day, and “Tequila” at night, for some reason.

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After leaving the Bedouin camp, the trail takes you to a rocky outcropping overlooking one of the most outstanding views in the Middle East: a bird’s eye view of Al-Khazneh.

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