Petra Jordan wasn’t voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the world for nothing! It really is one of those places that lives up to the hype. Petra Jordan is one of the most magnificent ancient cities on earth. We had the chance to visit it both at night and during the day and it definitely lived up to the hype. While many people only pop into Petra for a short visit on a day tour, we suggest spending a couple of days at the ruins.
Things to do in Petra, Jordan
Table of Contents
We had two days to explore and we feel that we could have used even more time. The Petra Archaeological Park is 65 acres and there is a lot to cover when you start your tour through the entrance of the siq.
Dave and I had a private guide take us through the city and it was an excellent way to stay one step ahead of the crowd and to easily find the best vantage points to see all the beautiful rock cut facades.
1. The Siq of Petra
The Siq is a 1.2 km long passage slicing through rocks reaching 80 meters into the air. The Siq (another name for a gorge) did its job well, hiding this mysterious wonder. Nobody knew where the entrance was. Today it is the main entrance to the extraordinary ruins where visitors can either walk down or take a horse and buggy.
2. Bab el Siq
Bab el Siq is the Gate of the Siq. It is the modern entrance to Petra and the beginning of the walkway taking you from the visitor’s center to the Treasury.
Be sure to take your time and stop at the Obelisk Tomb. It is impressive being the first tomb that you see. It’s sort of a smaller, rougher version of the Treasury and is a really cool thing to see before we get into the ancient city center.
3. Djin Blocks
The Djinn Blocks are one of the first monuments you’ll see along your journey. They were built in the 1st century AD by the Nabataeans. Very little is known about the three-block tombs, but it is believed to be funerary monuments.
4. Petra at Night
Our first introduction to Petra was actually Petra by night. We arrived the day before our tour of the ruins to enter the Treasury after dark.
We walked along the Siq following a candlelit path on the original stones dating back to 1000 BC. It was a beautiful and ethereal experience seeing the walls of the siq rising in the dark. It led us to the Treasury lit with thousands of candles where we watched a traditional Bedouin performance takes place.
While the actual performance was less than stellar, the walk through the Siq at night was awe-inspiring. If you can do Petra at Night before visiting the city by day, we highly recommend it.
About Petra at Night
- Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday so time your trip around those days.
- The performance lasts 2-hours.
- Hot tip: Don’t spend too long walking through the Siq, try to get to the front of the crowd for the best views of the performance.
- And be sure to stay after the crowds leave to photograph the Treasury free from shadows and heads.
- Dress warm. Petra is set in a desert environment, so once the sun goes down it gets cold quickly.
6. Take a Horse and Carriage to Petra
After our evening the night before, we were excited to see it again in the sunlight. We awoke bright and early to beat the crowds for our leisurely walk along the siq. While walking up the path, we saw horses run past us.
- Later that day, we were told that a horse ride was included in our entrance fee.
Horses and buggies take you from the visitor’s center to the entrance of the Siq or return. I think that would have been the coolest experience to take a horse and carriage through the siq just as the ancient bedouins must have done for hundreds of years.
7. The Treasury
We spent quite a while at the Treasury as there are so many vantage points to see Petra’s star attraction. We feel that the treasury is the most impressive site in Petra, for one, it is the first really intact facade.
It was believed that the Treasury held many treasures within it and you can still see bullet holes on the outside from when Bedouin tribesmen tried to storm the building and steal the treasures within. While Dave explored taking photographs, I sat with our guide Ali as he told me the history of the Nabataeans.
8. Street of Facades
As we venture from the Treasury, the Siq opens up to a wide opening known as the Outer Siq. It is lined with Nabataean Tombs. The facades are impressive false faces on the front of the tombs. It’s an incredible sight to see the different stages of erosion causing the sand to look like smooth waves in the desert.
9. High Palace Sacrifice
The high palace of the sacrifice is a half-hour climb to the summit of Attuf Ridge. It is a great spot to walk up upon the cliffs for a better vantage point of the ruins. Plus, these are one of the best-preserved sacrifice places of any of the ancient cities on earth.
10. View of Petra Al-Khubtha Trail
The best part of exploring Petra is to find pathways for better viewpoints. This view is from the Al-Khubtha Trail and a side view where kids act as guides to take you to the top are great vantage points for seeing the Treasury.
11. Columns of the Great Temple
The Great Temple is a complex covering 7,560 square meters. Walking through this complex lets you experience great examples of architecture, facades, and frescoes from the Nabatean period.
12. Royal Tombs
The walk to the Royal Tombs involves scrambling up rocks, ducking through caves and getting lost in passageways. This route takes us to the top of a stone mountain overlooking the complex.
It is here that we see the paths to both the high sacrifice and the Monastery. We can also look down at the Petra Theatre. There are different tombs to see such as the Palace Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, Silk and Urn Tombs. The Urn Tomb dates back to 70 AD and it was converted into a church in 447 AD.
13. Petra Monastery
To us, The Monastery is the most impressive building of the entire complex. Reaching 50 meters into the air, The Petra Monastery also the largest in all of Petra. Dating back to the 1st century B.C. it is worth the 45-minute hike to the top.
Not only will you be treated to this majestic structure, but you will also view magnificent panoramic views of the valleys and rocky landscape of the area of Wadi Araba.
Tips to seeing the Petra Monastery
Don’t waste time upon your arrival at Petra. You will be tempted to slowly wander around the ruins after witnessing the first and most famous building The Treasury. Instead, head directly to the Monastery right after you have thoroughly explored the Treasury. You will want to get there early before the tour groups arrive. And by 10 am the place is packed.
People will tell you to wait until later in the afternoon to see the Petra Monastery, but by then it will be too late. The crowds will have already amassed and you won’t have a chance to see anything in peace and quiet. Instead, go to the Monastery before noon and you will be able to capture this treasure free and clear. Contrary to popular belief, we found the conditions to be perfect for photography.
Once you have checked out the remarkable vistas and viewpoints near the Monastery, you will then be free and clear to enjoy the rest of Petra at your leisure for the rest of the day.
- Tip: You can also hire a donkey to take you up to the Monastery if the climb is too much for you.
14. Petra Theatre
This 3000 seat amphitheater looks to be Roman architecture but was actually build by the Nabateans in the 1st century. There are countless monuments and it is hard to believe that much of Petra was destroyed during a massive earthquake hundreds of years ago. Imagine what this great city looked like in its prime?
15. Rock Tombs and Caves
Imagine what this great city looked like in its prime? Each one of these caves was filled with life and laughter.
16. View at the End of the World
Following the trail from the Petra Monastery, we came upon a sign stating The View of the End of the World. I’ve always wondered what the end of the world looked like, so we marched on. This is what the ancient people must have thought was a view of the end of the world. It doesn’t look like an inviting landscape I would want to explore. But it is certainly beautiful.
17. Views of Petra
There seemed to be nothing beyond the borders of Petra. One would think that people would see no reason to leave the safety of this secluded city that was once the crown jewel of the Middle East. Gazing towards the horizon I could almost imagine a camel caravan descending upon the city.
Petra would be a welcoming sight after a long journey through the arid landscape and as I stood atop the mountain, I had visions of the generations who came before me. What did they think as they stood in this exact location gazing over the desert while admiring the beauty of the monastery below?
18. People of Petra
One of the most popular people in the entire complex is a dashing man who sits in front of the Treasury. He’s a local Bedouin who lives in the nearby caves. He is pestered all day long by tourists wanting a photo with him or his camels. Looking at him, I can understand why. He is the epitome of what a person thinks of when traveling to an exotic place like Jordan.
His striking eyes peer playfully from behind his keffiyeh (traditional headscarf) as he sits in his long robes beside his decorated camel. We learn that many people still live in the surrounding villages and that the families who work in Petra are granted permission to stay there.
People no longer live in Petra Caves
But people don’t live in the caves anymore. After some investigation, we found out that people are no longer allowed to live in the caves and have been moved to a nearby village by the Jordanian government.
19. Wadi Musa
Wadi Musa is the town at Petra and jumping-off point for visiting the ancient city. It is a shame to miss exploring the town if you are in the area. We took a traditional cooking class when visiting Wadi Musa and it’s an excellent way to get to know the Jordanian cuisine.
Wadi Musa is home to the world’s oldest bar that is located in a rock tomb dating back 2000 years. Make sure to have a drink at the Cave Bar. Petra has long been a popular spot on the backpacker trail, so there are plenty of guesthouses, bars, and shops to spend your time exploring the town.
20. Little Petra
Little Petra is better known as Siq al Barid and is often visited in conjunction with a tour of Petra. It is much smaller than Petra (hence the name) but it is also reached by walking through a siq and it is believed to have been the suburbs of Petra.
The main attraction here is the Frescoes and the fact that it is much quieter and less busy than Petra making for a quiet escape.
Tips for Visiting Petra Jordan
Check the time for sunrise and plan your arrival for a little bit after that.
Don’t walk too quickly to the Treasury and instead, take time to explore the Siq along the way if you entered at the time of opening. It turned out, we needed the extra time to walk along the Siq because we arrived at the Treasury too early. We had to wait for the sun to make its way over the high cliffs. So it gave us extra time to explore the Siq and its monuments along the way.
Be sure to look on the ground to find the water canals along the route used for drainage.
The crowd was sparse at this time of the day so we managed to really get the chance to explore it free from too many bodies.
A Petra History Lesson
Petra was built by the Nabataeans over 2000 years ago when it was an important stop on the Silk Route to China and India. Petra was a flurry of activity with camel caravans stopping frequently en route to the Far East. It remained under the Nabataean rule until 100 AD when the Romans invaded.
An earthquake struck Petra in 363 AD and devastated the city. It was slowly abandoned over time until it was finally conquered in 663. It deteriorated over time as its importance on the trade route became less important and it was eventually lost by the 12th century.
Bedouins had used this place since the 3rd century BC, but it lay hidden to outsiders until a mere 200 years ago. Surprisingly, the Ancient City of Petra was unknown to the Western world. It wasn’t until 1812 that it was “discovered” by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Since then, it has become the country’s premier tourist attraction attracting visitors seeking a glimpse of the lost city.
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Petra Jordan was given the honor of one of the new 7 Wonders of the World!
Most History of Petra is Speculation
Ali told me that much of what we know about Petra is speculation. The Treasury was named so because it was believed to have treasures hidden inside. They say, the Bedouins used to shoot at the facade because they thought that Pharaoh put his gold and treasures there. The official from Petra Jordan tourism told Dave that even his father used to shoot at it. You can still see the bullet holes on its facade today.
Petra in the Movies
In 1989, Hollywood chose Petra as a film location for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Most recently we have seen Petra featured in Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.
Other movies that used Petra for a location are The Mummy Returns, Queen of the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Samsara, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Ricky Gervais’ Idiot Abroad stopped in at Petra Jordan too!
Facts About Petra, Jordan
The area of Petra was believed to be inhabited as early as the 9th century BC but the city is believed to be built sometime in the 3rd Century BC.
The Nabataeans built Petra by carving palaces, tombs and monasteries into the stone cliffs in the 3rd century BC.
Petra is located in the country of Jordan beside the town of Wadi Musa some 250 km south of Amman – the country’s capital.
And that is everything we did and saw at Petra Jordan. If you have the chance to visit this ancient city, take it. It was one of the most impressive ruins we have ever visited.
Book Your Petra Tours
Get Your Guide is a great company offering tours and discounts – check out these tours to Petra.
From Amman, Full Day tour – This tour leaves from Amman for a full-day tour of Petra. It includes the 800-meter horse ride that we missed and entrance fees to Petra.
Petra 2 Day Overnight Tour – This overnight tour from Amman gives you a four-hour guide at Petra, transportation from Amman and overnight accommodation. This is a great choice for those wanting more time at Petra to possibly explore Petra by night.
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For more information on Travel to Jordan visit our Jordan Travel Guide. Our trip to Petra was in partnership with Visit Jordan.
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