Hiking to the Monastery was the unexpected highlight of my trip to Jordan

written by Liisa Ladouceur April 30, 2024
a sandstone coloured building carved into mountain rock

I almost missed out seeing one of Petra’s most impressive monuments, but the allure of adventure and the encouragement of my friend and Intrepid group pushed me to take on the challenge.

In the months leading up to our Explore Jordan trip, my friend Carolyn and I exchanged a lot of messages about Petra. Jordan’s ancient city is what had inspired us to book a visit to this country in the first place, and with every stunning photo shared the countdown got even more exciting. 

One day she texted me a link labelled Hiking the Monastery

Don’t you mean the Treasury? I thought, picturing Petra’s most famous monument. No, this was another, even bigger temple we could visit at Petra.  

‘Let’s do it!’ she enthused. When I read one must climb up 800 uneven steps to see it, I wasn’t sure. I love to hike, but I’m also aware of my physical limitations – I’m slow, and tire easier than most – and I knew our two days in Petra were already going to involve hours of walking. I put the optional trek in my trip’s “maybe” column. But I’m so glad it didn’t stay there. 

Hiking to the Monastery was all the talk among our group. 

Hiking to the Monastery at Petra became a highlight of my whole trip. It’s also something I would never have experienced if I wasn’t on a group tour. I now hope to inspire others who don’t yet know about the Monastery hike or are on the fence to give it a shot. 

What is the Monastery? 

The Monastery is the largest monument in Petra Archeological Park. 

One of many impressive buildings carved right out of the sandstone by the Nabateans, it dates back to between the first and second centuries and was most likely used for religious purposes. Its ornate facade is 45 metres high by 50 metres wide – almost twice as wide as the more famous and more easily accessed Treasury. But you could be forgiven for spending all day at Petra and missing it. It’s high in the hills and the trailhead is hidden at the very end of a four-kilometre walk from Petra’s entrance. 

Still, hiking to the Monastery was all the talk among our group. 

After arriving at Petra, our group of 12 had spent a truly incredible afternoon visiting the site with our local leader, Yazan, who gave us tips on all the other things to do after marvelling at the Treasury during our free day.  

I had selected Explore Jordan from the many Intrepid tours of this country because of that extra free day at Petra to choose your own adventure and was especially keen to return for the candlelit Petra by Night experience the next evening.  

So, after a delicious dinner at a traditional Jordanian restaurant (where we watched chefs prepare the sweet treat knafa, a very cool bonus) the group discussed our individual plans for that next day. 

I was the only one not planning on trekking to the Monastery.  

After walking 20,000 steps that day, I already felt tapped out. Did I really want to get up early to hike a trail requiring the most effort? Especially now that I knew at my pace it would be at least an hour walk just to make my way back through the grounds to the trailhead? Plus, knowing that I planned to return later for Petra by Night? I know that if I’d been alone, I would have bowed out, happy to sleep in and spend my afternoon in the shade drinking tea and writing postcards at the cafe in front of the Treasury. 

Carolyn was more than happy to hike on her own. Still, now I had second thoughts. We came to experience the wonders of Petra together. And while I wouldn’t say I felt peer pressure, at all, I did get plenty of encouragement from the group. Would I regret being at tomorrow night’s dinner hearing about what a wonderful experience I missed out on?  

I decided to give it try. ‘I will simply start walking, and when I get too tired or uncomfortable, I will turn back.’ 

Slow and steady 

Carolyn was insistent we get a very early start, to hit the entrance just as doors opened. In our travels together I’ve come to know her as a most excellent planner, and this was no exception.  

The air was cool and fresh, and as we made our way down along the winding stone path between the narrow gorge known as The Siq, I couldn’t believe we had the place to ourselves. Where throngs of visitors had meandered yesterday, we were the only ones taking in this scenery.  

True to my plan, I kept walking. Past the treasured Treasury. Past the Royal Tombs, the amphitheatre and Byzantine-era church. We ran into another member of our group who was hiking solo and now we were three on the Monastery trail, starting to climb. 

The steps were indeed uneven, but also quite beautiful. Like so much at Petra, they’re an ancient wonder – undulating waves of red, yellow, orange, brown and purple. I seemed to recall someone saying the Monastery hike would take 40 minutes. Hauling myself up I doubted that. But I felt good. The scenery and excellent company (not to mention the regular appearance of cat escorts) made the time passed quickly and pleasantly. Soon I realised I was likely more than halfway. So, I guess I would be climbing to the Monastery now. 

A reunion with a view 

I was about to mutter my first ‘are we there yet?’ into the void when we turned a corner and spotted several more members of our group.  

It seems they had gotten an even earlier start. As we neared the top, they were on their way down. We cheered to our good life choices and celebrated our unexpected meet-up with a group photo. Sweaty, red-faced, out of breath, I didn’t care. I wanted to mark the moment, with the people who had inspired me to be here.  

Sweaty, red-faced, out of breath, I didn’t care. I wanted to mark the moment, with the people who had inspired me to be here.  

Around the next corner was the main attraction. The trek had taken about an hour from the trailhead – though in that moment I wasn’t counting at all. I was just in awe. 

The Monastery was as postcard perfect as, well, the postcards. The three of us wandered around to appreciate it from many angles. For such an amazing place, it did not feel crowded. Just us, a few dozen visitors, and some frolicking goats.  

While my friends followed the signs to various “best views in the world” I sat down to rest at the little cafe, where I ordered hot tea prepared the Jordanian way, with cardamom. There, I ran into two more tripmates. They were surprised to see me, since I’d told them I wasn’t doing this hike. I had to admit I did feel pretty proud of myself.  

I didn’t even worry that I now had to walk for another couple hours to get back. There was a new spring in my steps. All in, that day I did over 30,000 steps, which might be a personal record. 

That night at dinner, instead of envy, I had a story to tell, of how I said I would walk until I needed to stop, but I didn’t stop. Of how I learned Petra is so much more than the Treasury. That an incredible architectural wonder of the ancient world awaits at the top of 800 steps. And that with the right companions, when you get there, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.  

Follow in Liisa’s footsteps and find a small group adventure in Jordan.

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