PETRA AND ITS SURROUNDINGS

Petra: what to see, what to do, and more information about this unparalleled destination

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.

Table of Contents

Where is Petra and what is its climate?

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.

Cómo llegar a Petra

A little bit of history

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

Cómo es Petra

How Petra is distributed

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:

  • Urban nucleus of Wadi Musa: This is the closest town to Petra. Just outside the town (a 5-minute walk from the center) you’ll find the visitor center, the Petra Museum, and the parking lot, from where the walking tour begins.
  • Rocky canyon: At the beginning (Bab as Siq), there is an 800-meter trail that leads to the actual canyon (Siq), of tectonic origin, which gives access to the “hidden city” of Petra. This can only be done on foot or on one of the authorized animals for this journey. In total, about 2 km of distance, where some of Petra’s major attractions, such as the Treasury, already emerge at the end of the Siq. Street of Facades: It’s called this because of the numerous tombs with facades that face this space. It’s a much wider area that opens up after passing the Treasury. Here you’ll find spacious and representative spaces, such as the Theater or the Royal Tombs.
  • Center of the ancient city: It’s arranged around the Colonnaded Street, where other fundamental buildings for Nabatean life in Petra were located, such as the Great Temple or the Royal Palace.
  • Basin area and the “periphery” of Petra: Beyond the center of the ancient city, there are other places of interest that you can reach if you have the energy for it. In particular, the Monastery (Al Deir).
que visitar en petra Petra and its surroundings

What to see in Petra

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.

  • Blocks of the Djinn: also known as ‘blocks of God, on the way to the Siq’. Small monuments dating back to the 1st century BC, and their meaning remains a mystery.
  • Tomb of the Obelisks: also on the way to the Siq. From the 1st century BC, it could have housed five individuals buried there.
  • Siq: this rocky canyon, mentioned above, is an attraction in itself. Walking its approximately 1.5 km is a very suggestive experience. Its walls reach 200 meters in height at some points and it was not formed by the erosion of water, but has a tectonic origin. The channels excavated in the rock that functioned as an aqueduct to bring water to the city are striking. In addition to serving as an entrance to Petra, it may have had a sacred or processional character. In fact, there are many niches located on the walls that may have housed effigies of Nabatean gods.
  • Treasury: also known as Al Khazneh. It appears majestically at the end of the Siq. Its original function was to serve as a tomb for the Nabatean king Aretas III (1st century BC). Its name, however, derives from a popular legend that says that inside it was hidden the treasure of some Egyptian pharaoh.
  • High Place of Sacrifice: located on the Street of Facades. It is one of the so-called ‘High Places’, with a panoramic viewpoint from which to see Petra. Animals were sacrificed here in honor of the gods, and there are even drains for the spilled blood. It has monumental obelisks over 6 meters in height. Although more accessible than other High Places, the ascent is demanding and can take more than 30 minutes.
  • Theater: it is one of the symbols of the splendor of the Nabatean city of Raqmu… because the theater was not originally Roman, as is often thought (although the Romans did expand it, indeed). It had a seating capacity of over 8,000 people.
  • Royal Tombs: among the most spectacular in the complex, especially when bathed in golden light. The Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, and the Palace Tomb are notable. It is not clear who the kings buried in them were.
  • Colonnaded Street: it is the heart of the Roman expansion of the city from 105 AD onwards. Although only a few columns of the decumanus (hence its name) are still standing, some very representative spaces of that city can be distinguished: the nymphaeum, the Royal Palace, the temenos, the baths, and a grand temple.
  • Qasr Al Bint: it is one of the few surviving structures that are not carved into the rock. It dates back to the 3rd century AD. Although according to Bedouin belief its name evokes a fortress, it was actually a religious temple for the Nabateans, with an altar for sacrifices.
  • Temple of the Winged Lions: built in the 1st century AD, perhaps dedicated to the fertility goddess Atargatis.
  • Petra Church: Its main highlight is its mosaics, which are an authentic hallmark of Byzantine art, as it was built in the 5th century. Al Habis: A small hill with another recommended viewpoint from which to see Petra. It preserves the Crusader’s Fort, which, although in ruins, is a good example that Christian warriors of Baldwin I also passed through here and left their mark in the early 12th century.
  • Monastery Al Deir: Its distance and elevation from the core of the ancient city (about a 40-minute walk with 800 steps) work against it, but its beauty is comparable to that of the Treasury, as it actually has a very similar design. The path, however, is also worth it for the fantastic viewpoints from which you can see Petra and, above all, the entire territory of Wadi Araba, including Israel and the Palestinian Territories. In addition to all these monuments to see in Petra, we add one more essential place to better understand this spectacular historical site: the Petra Museum, recently built. It is located in Wadi Musa, next to the visitor center, so you can visit our website for more information.

Hiking Routes in Petra

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:

  • From Wadi Muthlim to the Royal Tombs, passing through the Eagle Monument, Dorotheos’ House, and the Christian Tombs of Moghar Al Nassara.
  • From the Altar of Sacrifices to the center of Petra, passing through the Lion Monument and the Roman Soldier’s Tomb.
  • Wadi Siyah, which runs through its dry riverbed, beyond the center of Petra.
  • Treasury Viewpoints, to see this construction from above. These are not long routes but have significant elevation gains.
  • Umm Al Biyara: a challenging route of approximately 6 hours, leading to the summit of this mountain, located at 1,178 meters above sea level.
  • Jebel Haroun: with a similar duration and difficulty as the previous one, this mountain ascends to 1,350 meters above sea level. It has an important religious significance as Jewish belief locates the tomb of Aaron, Moses’ brother, here.
  • Wadi Sabra: follows the path of ancient trade caravans. Although the route takes about 5 hours, it can be organized with overnight camping (not allowed in Petra).
petra nocturna Petra and its surroundings

What to do in Petra

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.

How to get to Petra

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:

  • From Amman: 240 km (149 miles), 3 hours
  • From Jerash: 280 km (174 miles), 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • From the Dead Sea: 160 km (99 miles), 2.5 hours
  • From Karak: 150 km (93 miles), 2.5 hours
  • From Wadi Rum: 110 km (68 miles), 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • From Aqaba: 130 km (81 miles), 1 hour and 45 minutes

 

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.

How to get around Petra

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.

Other useful information about Petra

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.

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