Petra off the beaten track: the Al Madras trail

So you’ve been to Petra in Jordan and you’ve walked through the narrow Siq, petted the donkeys, admired the main sites and photographed the camels? Then it’s now time to escape the crowds and get off the beaten path, literally. The Al Madras hiking trail allows you to see Petra from a bird’s eye view. The highlight? The Treasury from above! 

When standing in the narrow passage to ancient city Petra and looking up at the 80 meter high sandstone cliffs on both sides, it’s hard to imagine there are actual trails high up there. The main motivation to go for one of these challenging hikes has got to be the magnificent views. And there are plenty, but what will probably stick with you the most is the bird’s eye view of the iconic Treasury. Different trails will take you there, like the Al Kubtha Trail, but our guide assured us that there’s another ‘secret’ path that’s less common but all the more worth it: the Al Madras Trail. You don’t need to be a mountaineer to conquer it, but what you do need though is a guide, because the trail isn’t clearly marked and it’s easy to get lost out there in this red desert of weirdly shaped rock formations.

Because our time was limited, our guide suggested we take a shortcut: a jeep took us from Wadi Musa into the Al Madras mountains, so we didn’t have to do the initial climb. It saved us about 1,5 hours of hiking.

At the end of the off rough dirt track we took by 4WD is a small rickety café along the edge of a cliff, with a first impressive view in the Siq below.

And then the hike starts! No time for gentle introductions to this rocky red forest, the path immediately requires your attention and energy to climb and descend. But it’s well worth it: whenever you look up, nature rewards you with awe-inspiring landscapes, constantly changing in shape and colour.

The Treasury from above

And then, after a 40 minute hike, we arrive at the highlight of the Al Madras trail: seeing the Treasury, the most famous monument in Petra, from high up above. It’s terrifying and mesmerizing all at once to stand on the edge of the cliff, looking down at this 40 meter high masterpiece in the sandstone rocks. There are two platforms to observe the Treasury from a bird’s eye view. One official, and another one that should not be reached without a guide: that’s the one we’re now standing on! To be honest, when I look at pictures of the official viewpoint it seems like it’s a little bit easier to make pictures of the overall scene from there. But at least we had this ‘secret’ viewpoint all to ourselves! We stayed out here for at least an hour, enjoying the view and a cup of herbal tea.

You can also see into the Siq. That’s the theatre in the back:

Our guides pouring a cup of tea on the edge of the viewing platform. Good to know no garbage is left behind: the empty bottles of water are given to the bedouins.

From here, we go back through the Al Madras mountains for another long and intensive but incredibly rewarding hike. Some of the highlights – apart from the generally magnificent views : the High Place of Sacrifice with the two obelisks, the Roman soldier’s tomb and the Renaissance Tomb.

The Obelisks are on the left – if you want you can get much closer to them via a different path.

In all, we crossed just a handful of other tourists. Plenty of uninterrupted time to appreciate and admire the peculiar landscapes around Petra.

The Renaissance tomb. My personal favourite view!
One of the rare encounters with a local along the route.
The soldier’s tomb from above

As soon as you see the row of tombs in the distance, you know you’ve arrived at the main street in old Petra. That’s end of the pathway! Just follow the final steps down to the outer Siq of old Petra, just behind the Qasr al-Bint palace.

In short:

  • Distance of the Al Madras trail: about 10 km
  • Start point: just before the Siq entrance. Instead of going through, you take a left turn and make your way up the rocks. This means you need to buy an entrance ticket first!
  • End point:  the outer Siq of old Petra, just behind the Qasr al-Bint palace
  • Estimated time: 7 to 8 hours. The shortened version took us 4,5 hours (at a very decent pace). Obviously you can do the walk at any pace, but just make sure you’re back at the main gate before closing time. (6.30pm or earlier depending on the season).
  • Highlights: The Treasury from above, the obelisks and the tombs
  • Opportunities to buy water: 3. Before the Siq, about 1,5 hour from the beginning of the hike and one about 1,5 hour from the end.
  • There are no signs and the path isn’t always very obvious, so hire a tour guide if you don’t want to get lost.
  • Better not wear slippers for this…
  • From Aqaba, it’s a less than a two hour drive to Petra. If you prefer staying closer to the site to start the hike early, the Mövenpick hotel is about as close as you can get! The main gate is across the street.
  • Where to hire a guide? The best and most secure option is to book a guide via the Petra Visitor Centre. That way you will be sure to have a registered and official guide.
  • is a guide really necessary? It all depends what your priority is. If you couldn’t care less about the hike (and the physical effort) and you just want to see the treasury from above, then you could leave the Al Madras Trail for what it. As I mention in the text, there is a second viewing platform at the Treasury that is easier to get to, via different paths. Two hikes take you to it:
  1. The Al-Khazneh trail, it starts on the far side of the Royal Tombs. It’s said to be a tough 35-45 minute climb and there should be a cardboard sign showing the way. No guide needed.
  2. Do the high place of place of sacrifice/wadi al-Farasa  trail. You then start from the back of the Al Madras trail, behind the Qasr al-Bint palace and go up to the high place of sacrifice. From there, a side road takes you to the Treasury view point. No guide needed either.

 

 

 

  • World Journeys

    magnificent views! I’d be fighting vertigo AND sunburn I’m sure!

    • Tine

      Haha, I have to admit the only way I saw the Treasury was by lying down on my stomach, I was too afraid to stand up near the edge! As for the sunburn, a hat and glasses will do, apart from the final mile or so there’s plenty of shade along the way.

    • Tine

      Haha! I have to admit the only way I could see the Treasury was by lying flat on my stomach, I was too afraid to stand up! As for the sunburn, a hat and sunglasses will do, apart from the final mile or so there’s plenty of shade along the way.

  • Impressive! I’m not sure if I’m fit enough to do the hike, but the views are definitely unbeatable!

    • A few of us did the walk on slippers 😀 So it’s definitely doable, you just have to get there before closing time…