It's not until you spend the day at Petra that you appreciate its scale. As the sun goes down and the shadows from the cliffs stretch out across the sand, you are faced with the realisation that, no matter how much you've managed to fit in, there's still so much more to see.
It's the Treasury that's become the icon of Petra and, in turn, one of the most recognisable images of Jordan. The Treasury is actually a misnomer because it was an ancient tomb, nothing to do with treasure, and got the name centuries later from local legends.
But there is a reason it's considered the jewel of Petra. After walking two kilometres from the entrance, through the canyon known as the Siq, it's a dramatic moment when the steep walls on either side open out to reveal the Treasury's intricate facade carved into the deep-red rock face.
But walk a bit further and the narrow pathway opens up even more to unveil the remains of an enormous ancient city built by the Nabataean Kingdom between the 3rd century BC and 5th century AD which, at its peak, would've been home to tens of thousands of people.
Just as Petra itself was hidden for centuries until a Swiss explorer in the early 1800s tricked the locals into showing it to him, the stories of the Nabataeans also seem to have been lost from mainstream history lessons. But it was a wealthy civilisation that benefited from being at the crossroads of continents, and established Petra as the administrative centre of its vast trading network.
Inside the cavernous tombs of Petra, you get a sense of how opulent life must have been for the Nabataean rulers. Exploring further, you discover the large theatre with space for 8000 spectators and the Great Temple where they worshipped multiple gods we would not recognise today. And a 45-minute hike up a path cut into the hillside will lead you to my favourite spot - The Monastery, another tomb with a 50-metre-wide facade cut into the rock.
The orange and red hues of Petra are part of what defines the site, but they are also the colours that accompany you on a broader trip through Jordan. And nowhere are they more vibrant than at the desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, another of the country's jewels.
The dramatic desert, crafted by nature, could easily have come from the mind of a Hollywood set designer. So, it's no surprise to find it was used for much of the filming of the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia and, more recently, The Martian with Matt Damon.
I experience Wadi Rum by jeep, the most common way for tourists to see the different landscapes. On the back of the truck, bumping along the sandy roads, I see the huge rock formations change shape and colour as we drive past. Some jagged, some smooth. Some long, some tall. They rise up from the sand, orange or red or purple, and guide our way.
People have been travelling through here and using the formations for navigation for millennia, and we stop at one point to see some ancient carvings on the rock. There are more than 25,000 of them here in Wadi Rum, narrating the evolution of humans as they spread out from the nearby Cradle of Civilisation.
Travelling through Jordan, there are constant reminders of how historically important this region has been. It's not just the nomads and the Nabataeans - it's some of the most foundational stories of the world's major religions.
It's said that Jordan is where Abraham arrived in the Holy Land, God protected Lot while destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Prophet Muhammad made his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. Atop Mt Nebo, still an important pilgrimage site, I stand at the same spot where Moses is said to have surveyed the "Promised Land" before he died. Down by the Jordan River, I see the archaeological remains of the site where John the Baptist is said to have baptised Jesus.
Images of Petra, used almost exclusively to promote Jordan, don't properly tell the textured story of the country. There's also the capital, Amman, a cosmopolitan city with a reputation for excellent modern Middle Eastern food. Not far from Amman are the remains of Jerash, the largest Roman city outside of Italy, with amazingly preserved theatres and temples. There's the Dead Sea, where you can float in the salt-rich water and cover yourself in the therapeutic mud; the Red Sea which is increasing in popularity as a diving and snorkelling destination; and the ancient desert castles that you can explore with virtually no other tourists to disturb you.
It's not until you spend a week in Jordan that you appreciate its scale. As you prepare to leave, you are faced with the realisation that, no matter how much you've managed to fit in, there's still so much more to see.
TRIP NOTES: You can fly to Amman from Australia with a stop in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. A budget hotel costs about $60 a night, and a 5-star hotel is about $250. A week-long tour costs about $1500.
- Michael Turtle is a journalist who has been travelling the world full-time for eight years. He travelled to Jordan in association with G Adventures. Follow his travel adventures at timetravelturtle.com