A day trip to Petra? You betcha

"Pony-drawn solid-axle carriages were shaking less-active tourists in all directions as we approached the site.

"But the pain is soon forgotten when you pass under what remains of the triumphant arch left by the Romans and enter an astonishing, soft-pink world carved out of sandstone.

"The 'road to Petra', which is called a 'siq', is a wonder on its own.

"It is a canal through the rock, presumably carved by water over the ages, and the soaring canyon walls are stained in shades of salmon and terracotta.

"There are statues carved into the rock and our guide was pointing out tombs, shrines, peep holes cut into the rock for archers and channels to bring water to the city.

"You can't help [but] share the wonder and excitement experienced by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt 200 years ago, as he strolled along disguised as a sheikh. In those days it looked more like a riverbed littered with silt and large rocks; it wasn't until 1963 that the floor was properly cleared, the water was re-diverted and sections of Roman paving were discovered more than two metres below.

"It takes about 40 minutes to walk down to where you see the first columns of al-Khazneh, the Treasury building, and that is a sight I will never forget.

"Its massive facade, 30 metres wide and 43 metres tall, was somehow carved out of the dusty, pink rock face, and the carvings have been very well preserved.

"The next stage took us past a Roman-style amphitheatre, big enough to seat 3000 people, to a much wider area where the city proper once flourished.

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"Petra was a wealthy city and an important crossroads, where the silk and spice routes met.

"Earthquakes and time have erased most of the city but there is still plenty to see, including obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars, colonnaded streets and the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery, which is reached by climbing 800 rock-cut steps."

Value for money?

Ian paid $150 for his day trip to Petra, through Royal Caribbean.

He says the coaches were new, the guide was experienced and the price included a "splendid smorgasbord" lunch.

"The experts say you need three or four days to really explore the site, so time was our enemy, but we were very happy with our tour," he says.

Ian warns that it is a long, hot walk back up the hill and older or less-mobile travellers may struggle.

WHO Ian McIntosh, of Adelaide, on his 20th cruise.

WHAT Day trip to the ancient Middle Eastern city of Petra, which is a World Heritage site and the most-visited attraction in Jordan.

WHERE Petra is in western Jordan, about 240 kilometres south of the capital, Amman. Ian visited via the port of Aqaba.

THE SHIP Ian cruised with his wife Fiona on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas (www.royalcaribbean.com.au). They cruised for 15 nights, from Barcelona to Dubai.

Have you done an interesting shore excursion? Drop us a line at travelshd@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

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