Petra, Jordan

"The red-rose city half as old as time", described in the poem by John William Burgon needs no introduction: enough has already been written. It is, simply, Petra.

The way in

The first time you visit Petra you should approach via the Siq, the narrow winding canyon cut by thousands of years of seasonal rain through sandstone rocks of every shade of red. Virtually everyone comes this way and once you have, you will understand why.

The way out

But when you are ready to leave Petra, don't turn around to head back through the Siq, keep walking. There is another exit. It might not be as spectacular, but it has its own rewards as there are fewer tourists the further into Petra you go. At the lower gate there is a road that climbs a hill to the village of Umm Sayhoon.

The Bedouin

This is where the Bedouin community lives. For generations, many Bedouin families lived in the caves of Petra, but in the early '80s they were moved to the houses built by the government at Umm Sayhoon.

If you are leaving at the end of the afternoon you will probably find yourself walking with the Bedouin people who have been selling crafts, horse rides and refreshments all day. Don't be surprised if you strike up conversations; as very few tourists ever leave by this exit, you will be a curiosity. You may even be invited home for tea.

The village

Provided you're respectful, feel free to explore Umm Sayhoon. It's a real community, very different from the commercial town of Wadi Musa where most visitors to Petra stay. A taxi back to Wadi Musa won't be expensive.


For a fascinating insight into the Bedouin's last years living in Petra, read Marguerite van Geldermalsen's moving and beautifully-written book "Married to a Bedouin". The author is still in Petra and sells jewellery handmade by local women.


Petra is mystical, beguiling and romantic. Walking through the narrow canyon of the Siq, its towering water-cut, pink rock walls cut off all but a sliver of sky, enclosing you in silence and beauty, enchanting and leading you towards that one, magical spot where the incomparable majesty of the Treasury reveals itself.
If it is your first visit to Petra or one of many, this sight never fails to stun you with its grandeur and grace. The only thing that can possibly improve on this experience is to see it at night when the Siq and the Treasury are lit by the flickering flames of more than 2,000 candles. Their warm lights seems to make the rose rock glow from within.
Travel Team
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The Bedouin call Wadi Rum "The Valley of the Moon". Its austere beauty of huge, razor-toothed mountains, wind-sculpted rocks and expansive plains do make it appear like a scene from another world.

Protected area

The name Wadi Rum is often used to describe a general area of desert in Southern Jordan, yet the true area is a 720 square kilometre protected park of unspoiled nature. Access is via a park gate and a road that leads to the Bedouin village of Wadi Rum, the last outpost of modernity before the untamed wilderness, the sheer scale of which is both daunting and captivating.
Mzied Atieg
Bedouin guide Mzied Atieg on how much he loves Wadi Rum...

"If I am just lying down in the sand it is better than a big castle in another place" [0:12]
Mzied Atieg
Bedouin guide Mzied Atieg on why tradition is so important...

"I love it because I was born here and it has something that not let you to run away from it" [2:44]

The Bedouin

It may seem harsh and unforgiving, devoid of the necessities for human life, yet people have lived in this land for millennia. To the Bedouin this is still home, and in many ways their lifestyle has not changed. Of course, tourism is now an essential part of the local economy, yet they still pitch their goat-hair tents far out in the desert for their herds of sheep, goats and camels to for forage for food. Not as a tourist spectacle, but simply because they are Bedouin.

Inside or out?

There are tourist camps outside the boundaries of the park where facilities tend to be more modern and luxurious than those within the reserve.

This is because tourism development inside Wadi Rum is controlled and camps must abide by rules to ensure they are discrete. However, this means that in the park you are assured of an experience closer to that lived by countless generations of Bedouin. It is an ideal place for family vacations.

You can learn more about two of Jordanís most unmissable sights with our Petra and Wadi Rum travel guide.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Pocholo Calapre] [Petra Intro: Alex Vasey] [The Bedouin 1: Alex Azabache] [Petra by candlelight: Susanahajer] [Wadi Rum: Dylan Shaw] [The Bedouin 2: Jumilla]