Every now and then we have the pleasure of experiencing a taste of luxury during our travels, but we are quite selective with such experiences. Ironically, we rarely indulge in high-end travel in the most obvious places. We prefer hiking to remote beach bungalows compared to lounging at fancy beach-side resorts, and we typically shy away from big city hotels, opting instead for more modest apartment accommodations for a better taste of the local culture. There are unique situations, however, where we think it makes sense to splurge, and our short stay in Aqaba, the jumping off point for our journey to Petra, is the perfect example!
Even more exciting than the idea of treating ourselves to a luxurious experience, was learning that ‘five stars’ are actually affordable! We were very pleased to discover that Jordanian luxury doesn’t have to break the budget, and we booked a room at the Kempinski Hotel Aqaba for a little pampering in-between Petra. These are the situations when luxury makes the most sense to us – when we’ve spent our days wandering in the heat of the desert and are in need of a welcoming oasis. It also helps when your $US goes really far in the local currency!
Our luxurious Jordan experience was not contained solely to the hotel, though this was the obvious incarnation of indulgence. Since we were not familiar with the country, we treated ourselves to a guided tour every step of the way, making our entire Petra adventure an elite experience of its own. We had just finished our ‘self-guided’ journey through Israel – a day of exploring the Red Sea and a long road trip from Jerusalem – but we were told that crossing the border from Eilat (Israel) into Aqaba (Jordan) can be a bit intimidating and involve some laborious paperwork. This nexus of the Middle East, where Egypt, Israel and Jordan are all a skipping stone’s throw away (across the glorious Red Sea) has some obvious tensions. While it is currently safe to cross the border, tourists making their way are required to have a visa and completed paperwork. You may also be asked many questions by border patrol agents ensuring your visit is indeed for tourism.
The more we learned about the process of the border crossing, the more we leaned toward hiring a tour company to assist with our journey. We are generally self-starters, and with some time and research it is certainly possible to cross the border without assistance; however, having an expert handle everything for you, expedite the process, and make sure your adventure is off to a good start is priceless when you’re on a once-in-a-lifetime journey. We worked with Abraham Tours to make the arrangements, a tour company in Israel specializing in private or group tours from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Nazareth. They were incredible, assisting with the organization of our private tour, handling all of the necessary paperwork, and arranging a private transfer from our hotel in Eilat to the Jordanian border where we were assisted with crossing.
Abraham Tours also arranged a private transfer for the two (plus) hour drive to Petra from Aqaba. Our guide took us through the Wadi Rum desert, stopping off at various lookout points along the way where were able to take in the vast landscapes surrounding us as far as the eye could see.
Following our drive, we were met by our private tour guide who lead us the rest of the way. Petra is a UNESCO world Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders Of The World – a place that I know I might never see again. Needless to say, I was in awe as our guide took us on a walk though the narrow gorge called Siq (the shaft) which was formed by a deep split in the sandstone and eventually served as a city waterway. He identified prominent formations and explained the fascinating water conduit system developed by the city’s ancient inhabitants, the Nabataens.
The ancient stone city is believed to have been established in 312 BCE, but it was not rediscovered by the West until 1812 and was not made pop-culture famous until Hollywood intervened and Indiana Jones embarked upon The Last Crusade. I felt goosebumps hit the back of my neck as we reached the end of the narrow canyon and approached Al Khazneh (The Treasury), which seemed to glow in the sun, making for quite a dramatic entrance. We sat briefly with our guide as he described the symbolism in each architectural element found on the face of The Treasury, which was marked by hundreds of bullet holes – a result of local tribes’ attempt in dislodging riches that were rumored to be hidden inside.
We explored an amphitheater that had been cut into the rocky hillside, as well as hundreds of cave-like structures that we learned were tombs, some of which included ornate details, indicating the resting place for royalty or those of higher social stature.
The highlight of our journey was our visit to The Monastery, Petra’s largest monument. It’s an hour-long hike, up rocky cliffs, to reach this phenomenal site (though you can opt to ride a mule instead). The difficulty of the journey makes the experience even more magical. As you might imagine, the easy-to-reach sites are flooded with tourists and vendors offering camel rides, but the Monastery was incredibly peaceful. There is even a small cafe adjacent – a perfect place to rest and refuel while you take in the uniqueness of your surroundings.
Our border crossing and Petra adventure was 12 hours long from start to finish – a day full of fascination and jaw-dropping experiences. We ended our journey in the comfort of our luxury hotel overlooking the Red Sea, with a view from Jordan into Israel and Egypt. What a dynamic way to end such a monumental experience!