Petra: what to see, what to do, and more information about this unparalleled destination Petra is undoubtedly the major tourist attraction of Jordan. And not by chance. Also known as the ‘Rose City’, its extraordinary originality makes it a unique place in the world that has fascinated travelers from all periods. It can boast of having two top-level distinctions that act as an unbeatable introduction: it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
That’s why Petra holds a central place for Exclusive Jordan: all our tours dedicate one or more days to its discovery, guided by the best professionals. And on this page, we will tell you everything you need to know before arriving at Petra: what to see, what the climate is like, how to get here, what activities to do, etc.
Petra is located in central-southern Jordan and is part of the Ma’an Governorate. It is about 150 km from the Dead Sea and about 230 km from the capital, Amman. Other points of interest located to the south are a bit closer: it is about 90 km from the Wadi Rum nature reserve and about 130 km from the city of Aqaba, on the Red Sea.
The ancient city of Petra, as it has come down to us, is a protected monumental and historical site, but no one lives there anymore. Instead, the nearest population is Wadi Musa, a small town that currently lives “for and by” Petra (what to see in Wadi Musa): here you will find restaurants, hotels, shops, and other establishments that serve the visitors of the “Rose City”. Therefore, your visit to Petra will inevitably pass through Wadi Musa.
Petra is located in an extremely arid area, so its climate is that of a desert. Nights are cool in summer and very cold in winter, and there is also a “microclimate” in the parts of the rocky canyon that are never exposed to the sun, which helps keep temperatures relatively low. On the other hand, days are extremely hot in the months of July and August, especially in areas with high sun exposure. The best months to visit this tourist destination are March, April, and May, when some wadis even bloom, as well as the autumn months of October and November.
In any case, Petra receives visitors throughout the year, including the winter and summer months, although the cold and rain (in winter) and extreme heat (in summer) can make the trip challenging. If that is the planned time for your trip, you will need to adapt your clothing and care to these weather conditions so that they do not hinder you from enjoying your visit.
Petra is indissolubly linked to the Nabateans and the Romans, but before them, this area was already inhabited. Specifically, during the Neolithic period: the settlement of Beidha, about 10 km to the north, is dated around 7000 BC and represents one of the earliest Neolithic communities in the Near East (which, in turn, is the ‘cradle’ of these populations that revolutionized human life and its relationship with the environment).
But it was the Nabatean tribes that truly made it possible for Petra to become the spectacular city that every traveler must see today. The Nabateans settled in Petra around the 6th century BC, where they established a kind of ‘city-warehouse’ called Raqmu, strategically positioned geographically: major trade routes connecting Syria, Egypt, and Arabia passed through here.
The Nabateans were primarily skilled and well-organized traders who used their profits to beautify this city. They also had proficient scribes (the Nabatean language is considered a precursor of Arabic) and hydraulic engineers who built dams and canals to provide water to Petra. The water, by the way, came from Ain Musa, a spring that according to Jewish and Christian belief, emerged in the 13th century BC as a result of a miraculous strike of Moses’ staff, which is now located in the neighboring Wadi Musa.
The city grew to have around 30,000 inhabitants, and some of its kings have gone down in history for their great leadership, such as Aretas III and Aretas IV in the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. At that time, Nabatea reached its maximum territorial extent, including the conquest of Damascus and other areas of present-day Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Architecturally, the Nabateans developed their own style, strongly influenced by Hellenistic, Phoenician, and Mesopotamian forms.
However, around 105 AD, the Roman Empire, a rising power in the region, annexed Nabatea, at a time of weakness after seeing Palmyra (present-day Syria) take away its strategic role in the commercial routes of the area. Nevertheless, the Romans promoted a restructuring of Petra, erecting new constructions and making it the capital of the province of Palaestrina Tertia.
Things began to seriously decline after the earthquake of 363, as the city was severely damaged. In the 5th century, however, the Byzantines, the ‘heirs’ of Rome, continued to build some structures, such as the church, or reuse others, such as the Monastery Al-Deir.
The definitive decline came with a new earthquake in the 6th century: the devastation caused was not reversed, and Petra became a lost city only used by the Bedouins, who carefully guarded its secret for centuries.
This secret was discovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt, during a period of true exploration fever in the Near East: dressed as a Bedouin, he arrived at this place and made it known to his contemporaries and successors, first treasure hunters and later archaeologists.
In fact, the 20th century was a period of great archaeological discoveries, which continue to this day (just visit the Petra Museum to realize this). Additionally, the site was opened to tourism, boosted by the invaluable promotion brought about by the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which immortalized the Treasury as the Temple of the Holy Grail.
In 1985, Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which forced the remaining people living or residing here to move to the nearby town of Umm Seyhoun, largely built to accommodate
To know what to see in Petra and how to organize your visit, it’s helpful to understand how this tourist site is laid out. In broad terms, the following nuclei or areas can be identified:
Spread across the aforementioned areas, there is a wide list of monuments and places to see in Petra. There are approximately 800 different structures or constructions, of which around 500 are just tombs. Some of these structures are spectacular due to their good state of preservation, while others have come down to us only in the form of ruins or archaeological remains.
But visiting all or most of them will allow you to get an overall idea of what this great city, called Raqmu by its inhabitants and Petra by the Romans, really was.
If in addition to all the monuments to see in Petra, you want to do some natural hiking routes in the surrounding areas, you have different possibilities. This is a proposal designed for travelers with good physical fitness and experience in hiking activities, as the distances can be long and the elevations demanding, given that the Petra area is full of wadis and rugged paths.
But the effort is worth it: the landscapes that can be seen, especially from the various natural viewpoints, are spectacular. Here are some proposals:
If you want to engage in activities beyond exploring the sights of Petra, you will find alternative options that showcase the “Rose City” and its surroundings in different ways. For example, there are horseback rides through the surrounding hills, mainly for those who are experienced riders. Night tours have also become very popular, as they showcase some of the main monuments illuminated at night, allowing you to enjoy the starry sky and the radiant moon that characterize Petra’s nights.
In Wadi Musa, there are other alternative proposals that are not directly related to Petra, perhaps to complement the experience or take a break from the visit, such as enjoying a Turkish bath, as there are several establishments of this kind. Wadi Musa is also where you can find most of the souvenir shops, hotels, and restaurants, some of which offer masterclasses in local cuisine.
In addition, there are various events held at certain times of the year. The performances of the Jordan Heritage Revival Company are particularly noteworthy, as they recreate the ancient Nabatean and Roman life in the city through theatrical shows. And for running enthusiasts, the Petra Desert Marathon offers a fantastic opportunity to explore this place and its surroundings in a unique way: by practicing their favorite sport.
And of course, you always have the option to visit Little Petra, as we explain on this other page.
As mentioned above, to visit Petra, you need to travel to Wadi Musa, which is the town that provides access to this tourist site. The King’s Highway, one of the major north-south arteries of the country, passes through here. Therefore, the option of a private vehicle is one of the simplest and most commonly used ways to get to Petra. Here are some distances, along with their respective durations, to give you an idea of the journey:
If you prefer public transportation, the JETT bus company has Petra as one of the prominent stops in its network. Buses from various locations, mainly from Amman (7th Circle and Abdali), but also from Wadi Rum and Aqaba, arrive here. Microbuses also depart daily from these two places, although they are less comfortable as the schedules are approximate and they only depart when they are full.
In Petra, due to its topography, it is impossible to use motorized vehicles for obvious reasons. Therefore, to get around here, you will need to do a lot of walking, so it is recommended to wear sturdy footwear and comfortable clothing (breathable or thermal, depending on the time of year).
There is also the option of using animals: from the visitor center to the Treasury and other points of interest, you can ride horses, donkeys, mules, or camels, whose reins are usually in the hands of local Bedouins, experts in this trade. These “means of transportation” are also concentrated in the so-called “back gate,” an area located near Qasr al Bint, with some local eateries, from where the routes to the Monastery depart and where Bedouin workers living in Uum Sayhoun access.
Although we explain what to see in Petra on this page, you may find it helpful to know about other sources of information for your visit. We suggest taking a stroll through the Visitor Center beforehand, where you can also find the ticket office to purchase entry tickets to the site. The exact address is Tourism St. In this center, you can obtain maps and other brochures that will be very useful.
Inside the Petra site, you will find some tea houses, restaurants, and souvenir shops, although not as varied as in Wadi Musa. You will also find public restrooms at various points, which are strongly recommended to use to avoid damaging the environment.
And if you encounter any major issues, you should know that there is a tourist police station at the Visitor Center complex, a hospital a few kilometers south of Petra (King’s Highway, direction Al Tayyibeh), and a pharmacy in the urban area of Wadi Musa.