Al Deir (Monastery) Circuit
Key information: Al Deir (Monastery) Circuit
- Perched on a ridge high above Petra, ancient trade settlement carved from towering sandstone cliffs and a World Heritage Site, is one of its greatest monuments, Al Deir, the Monastery.
- Climb Nabataean steps to this marvellous site, then circuit the mountain on a thrilling ledge with superb views out over Wadi Araba, returning to the Petra basin along a typical rocky canyon.
- Canyons are vulnerable to flash-flooding. Be absolutely certain of the weather (both recent and approaching) before entering.
- Walkopedia rating96
- Natural interest17
- Human interest16
- Negative points3
- Total rating96
- Note: Negs: Crowds first half
- Length: 2-4 hours
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
We leave the deep shade of the cafe at the lower end of Petra city, and somewhat reluctantly address ourselves to the task ahead. We have already been walking for 2 hours, and it is a mid-May midday, and roasting hot.
We head off up a sandy canyon bed, past Nabataean tombs in varying states of disrepair, one of them harbouring an incongruous car.
And then the steps begin, up a steep and crazed lesser canyon. This kilometer-long (it feels like more) processional route of over 800 steps was carved by the Nabataeans and passes tombs, including the lovely, simple faade of the Lion Tomb up a gulley to the left. It underpasses a leaning rock and clambers onto a ridge, gradually getting nearer the domes of the mountain top and leaving the last vestiges of the Petra basin behind: the grand views shrink until they are just visible in a chink between the cliffs.
We are not alone. A motley array of tourists in varying degrees of unsuitable clothing and footwear are slogging painfully upward. The many stalls and postcard-selling children do not enhance the atmosphere of the place.
We pant and swill water in shady patches, then press on, taking pathetic pride in looking better in these adverse conditions than a group of Americans teetering on ancient little donkeys.
Up a final rock ramp beside a deep cleft, and through a narrow gap in the final ridge, and we are in the weird, enclosed platform which provides a suitable setting for the grandeur of the Monastery. We gasp. This 3rd century BC tomb resembles the famous Treasury with its two storeys topped by a doubly broken pediment and a vast urn, but is a lot higher and wider. Like the rest of Petra, it hewn from the living rock. Health and Safety have sadly closed the path to its left that used to lead to its shallow-dish dome, and there is a Bedu teashop here, but this place is nonetheless mesmerizing and majestic.
We sit in the teashop by the cave that once formed the proprietors' home, across the plateaulet from the vast faade, and thirstily imbibe this magnificent spectacle, mixed with refreshing bitter lemon. From the ridge behind, we gaze down to the barren, blazing expanse of Wadi Araba to the west, and the black gulf of Wadi Sijagh, with the landmark peak of Jebel Haroun, with its white 14th Century shrine over the putative tomb of Aaron, Moses' brother, to the south-west. Marvellous.
Instead of returning down the steps, we head north across a broken little plain and circle the sheer side of the seemingly nameless mountain. A steep slog gets us to a platform that is separated from the wide ledge that our path is to follow by a queasy little scramble (crawl in my case) where the path almost disappears, the thousand-foot cliff below not bearing consideration.
Now it is truly fantastic walking, an easy path meandering with the contours of our oversize ledge, all the while enjoying huge views across to the black rocks on the far side of Wadi Siyagh and beyond to Wadi Araba.
We gradually swing round above a new gorge, behind it the scrubby little plains and shattered rock of the highlands. At a junction under another huge cliff, we turn right, prospecting our way over a low ridge of smoothed stone domes (this seems trackless and requires care but if you keep central and head for the riverbed you will pick up the path) into the wild Wadi Muaysra al Charbiyya, now round behind the mountain from the Monastery.
This is a lovely ravine turning into a canyon, at places thick with flowering oleander bushes in its sandy bed, surrounded by orange sandstone walls and towers. It steadily deepens, becoming increasingly dramatic, then the tombs begin mainly simple doorways in the rock, but including more elaborate faades as the canyon widens and nears Petra proper. Fantastic and you will truly deserve your lunch, rather than think you do as normal, when you finally trudge out into the broiling Petra basin.
Walking to the Monastery and back will take up to 2 hours. The full circuit is around 4 hours.
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Books and Maps
Jordan: Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs and Canyons– Cicerone, by Di Taylor and Tony Howard. You must have this book.
Petra: A Traveller’s Guide– by Rosalyn Magsood
Jordan - Lonely Planet, by Hugh Finlay
The Rough Guide to Jordan– by Matthew Teller
Jordan Insight Guide – by APA Publications
Travels in Syria and the Holy Land – J.L. Burckhardt: detailed account of the travels of the 19th century “rediscoverer” of Petra.
Married to a Bedouin – by Marguerite Geldermalsen
Jordan Jubilee – Ruth Caswell; in various shops in-country
A good large-scale map can be brought locally.
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk.An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Spring (late January to mid May) and Autumn (October and November) are best: generally clear, sunny days and moderate temperatures make them the best times to visit. To avoid tour-bus crowds, early morning and late afternoon are best.
During November to April there can be rain and even snow. Summers see very hot temperatures and should be avoided. Beware rain: though not a problem in itself (unless torrential, when Petra can be closed), even a small fall can render gorges vulnerable to flash floods.
Royal Jordanian, the national airline, flies to Amman from numerous destinations worldwide. British Airways, BMI, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa also operate routes to the capital.
A visa is needed to enter Jordan: you can obtain single entry visas – valid forone month from any port of entry (except the King Hussein Bridge at the Jordan/Israel border), costing about ten Jordanian Dinars (around £7, €9 or $14).
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from arranged departure points, usually Amman airport.
Many visitors hire a car and driver, which is still (as of 2010) a surprisingly cheap option. You can get to Petra by bus.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: some of these walks are not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Canyon dangers: canyons can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods. Assess and prepare for all risks on those walks involving canyons or potentially wet siqs. In particular, check the weather carefully and don’t go after rain or if it is possible.
- Dangerous animals, including snakes and scorpions. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is remote country: help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Health risks: you may not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere should you become ill.Potential problems include insect born diseases – and water-born, a problem because of a lack of safe drinking water.Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
- Stability: as of 2010, Jordon has been safe and stable for years. But the region is inherently unstable, so check the current position.
Guided or independent?
The first question is: how do you plan to get about, generally? Public buses cover many places, but don’t go to Wadi Rum or out-of-the-way sites. Many people hire taxis or cars, or cars with drivers, still a relatively good value option and one which can add huge benefits in local know-how.
- Explore! - www.explore.co.uk - reputable and experienced organisers.
You can do most of these walks independently, but come prepared.
There is a surfeit of hotels available, though even these may become full quickly during peak times.
Hostelbookersusually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Other information and tips
Tipping: a delicate subject. Guides, drivers etc do not necessarily earn high wages as they are expected to get good tips. So, if you get decent service, you should err on the side of generosity. Regard it as a cost to plan for.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
Other things to do in the area
Endless other wonderful walks in Petra.
Wadi Rum; Lawrence of Arabia’s refuge and a desert of wondrous multi-hued rock formations and barren, rugged terrain.
100km guided walks to Rum, or 150km to Aqaba, afford spectacular vistas across desert and terrain so bizarre and barren that it is easy to understand how Petra managed to get entirely lost to the outside world for the best part of 400 years.
Jordon has a huge variety of great walks: there is likely to be a good walk within range, where ever you may be. The Cicerone book has a multitude of ideas. Have a look at Dana, Wadi Mujib and Ajloun areas.
Various street festivals are organised throughout Jordan in the summer months. The festival celebrating the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, is a particularly special occasion.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
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Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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