Petra and its surroundings

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

Petra is, without a doubt, Jordan’s great tourist attraction. And not by chance. Also called the ‘Pink City’, its extraordinary originality makes it a unique place in the world, which has fascinated travellers of all periods. It can boast of having two top-level distinctions, which act as an unbeatable letter of introduction: it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

For this reason, for Jordan Exclusiva it occupies a central place: all our tours to Jordan dedicate one or more days to its discovery, with the help of the best professionals. And on this page we tell you everything you need to know before you get to Petra: what to see, what is the weather, how to get here, what activities to do, etc.

Table of Contents

Where is Petra and what is its climate

Petra is located in south-central Jordan and is part of Ma’an Governorate. It is located about 150 km from the Dead Sea and about 230 km from the capital, Amman. A little closer are other points of interest located to the south: it is about 90 km from the Wadi Rum nature reserve and about 130 km from the Red Sea city of Aqaba.

The ancient city of Petra, as it has survived to the present day, is a protected monumental and historical space, but no one lives in it anymore. On the other hand, the nearest town is Wadi Musa, a small town that currently lives ‘by and for’ Petra (
what to see
in Wadi Musa): here are concentrated restaurants, hotels, shops and other places that serve visitors to the ‘Pink 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 the desert. The nights are cool in summer and really cold in winter, to which we must add the ‘microclimate’ that occurs in the parts of the rocky canyon never exposed to the sun, which contributes to maintaining relatively low temperatures. Instead, the days are extremely warm in the months of July and August, especially in areas of great sunshine. The best months to visit this tourist destination are March, April and May, where some wadis even bloom, as well as in the autumn months of October and November.

In any case, Petra receives visitors throughout the year, including the winter and summer months, even though the cold and rain (winter) and extreme heat (summer) can make travel difficult. If that is the time planned for your trip, you will need to adapt your clothes and care to those weather conditions so that they do not prevent you from enjoying your visit.

How to get to Petra

A bit of history

Petra is inextricably linked to the Nabataeans and the Romans, but before them this area was already inhabited. Specifically, in Neolithic times: the settlement of Beidha, about 10 km to the north, is dated around 7000 BC and represents one of the first Neolithic communities in the Near East (which, in turn, is the ‘cradle’ of these populations that revolutionized the life of man and his relationship with the environment).

But it was the Nabataean tribes that truly made it possible for Petra to become the spectacular city that every traveler has today. What to see. In Petra they settled around the sixth century BC, where they constituted a kind of ‘warehouse city’ that they called Raqmu, very well positioned geographically: through here passed the routes that connected Syria, Egypt and Arabia.

The Nabataeans were mainly skilled and very well organized merchants, who knew how to use their profits to beautify this city. But they also had good scribes (the Nabataean language is considered a precursor of Arabic) and hydraulic engineers who built dams and canals to provide water to Petra. A water that, by the way, came from Ain Musa, a source that according to Jewish and Christian belief emerged in the thirteenth century BC following a miraculous rod blow of the prophet Moses, which is currently in neighboring Wadi Musa.

The city once had about 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 first centuries B.C. and A.D. At that time, Nabataea reached its maximum territorial extent, including the conquest of Damascus and other areas of present-day Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Architecturally, the Nabataeans assumed a style of their own, strongly inspired by Hellenistic, Phoenician and Mesopotamian forms.

However, around 105 AD the Roman Empire, a rising power in the area, ended up annexing Nabataea, in a moment of weakness after seeing how Palmyra (present-day Syria) took away its strategic role in the area’s trade routes. However, the Romans promoted a restructuring of Petra, erecting new constructions and making it the capital of the province Palaestrina Tertia.

Things began to go seriously wrong after the earthquake of 363, as the city was seriously damaged. In the fifth century, however, the Byzantines, ‘heirs’ of Rome, continued to build some structures, such as the church, or reuse others, such as the Al Deir monastery.

The final decline came with a new earthquake in the sixth century: the devastation caused was no longer reversed and Petra was left as a lost city only used by the Bedouins, who jealously guarded its secret for centuries.

A secret that was discovered in 1812 by the Swiss Jean Louis Burckhardt, in a period of real exploratory fever in the Middle East: dressed as a Bedouin, he arrived at this place and made it known to his contemporaries and successors: fortune hunters first and archaeologists later.

In fact, the 20th century was a period of great archaeological discoveries, which still continue today (justlook at the Petra Museum to realize it). In addition, the place was opened to tourism, boosted by the ‘priceless’ promotion that was the film of
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
, which forever immortalized the Treasury as a temple of the Grail.

In 1985 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and that forced some people (the last ones) who lived or dwelt here to move to the nearby town of um Seyhoun, built largely to house these semi-nomadic Bedouins.

What is Petra like?

How Petra is distributed

Find out what to see in Petra and how to organize the visit, it is useful to know how this tourist site is distributed. Broadly speaking, we can speak of the following nuclei or spaces:

  • Urban core of Wadi Musa. It is the closest town to Petra. On the outskirts (5 minutes walk from the center), you will 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), it is an 800-meter path that leads to the canyon itself (Siq), of tectonic origin and through which you access the ‘hidden city’ of Petra. It can only be done on foot or in one of the animals authorized for this journey. In total, about 2 km away, where some of its great attractions already arise what to see in Petra, especially the Treasury, where the Siq ends
  • Calle de las Fachadas: it is named for the numerous tombs with façade that overlook this space. It is a much wider space, which opens after passing the Treasury. There are large and representative spaces, such as the Theater or the Royal Tombs
  • The center of the ancient city: it is arranged around the Columnada Street, where other fundamental buildings for Nabataean life in Petra were located, such as the Great Temple or the Royal Palace
  • Area of the basin and the ‘periphery’ of Petra: beyond the center of the ancient city there are other places of interest, to reach if you have the strength to do so. In particular, Al Deir Monastery
What to see in Petra

What to see in Petra

Scattered throughout the aforementioned towns, you can draw up a very extensive list of monuments and places to see in Petra. There are about 800 different structures or constructions, of which about 500 would be only tombs. Some of these structures are spectacular for their good state of conservation, while others have come down to us only in the form of ruins or archaeological remains.

But knowing them all or mostly will allow you to get an overview of what really was that great city that its inhabitants called Raqmu and the Romans, Petra.

  • Blocks of the Djinn: also known as ‘blocks of God, on the way to Siq’. Small monuments dating from the first century BC and their meaning remains unknown
  • Tomb of the Obelisks: also on the way to Siq. From the first century BC, it could accommodate five characters buried there
  • Siq: This rocky canyon, which we referred to above, is an attraction in itself. Traveling its nearly 1.5 km is a very suggestive experience. Its walls reach 200 meters high in some points and was not formed by the effect of water erosion, but has a tectonic origin. The channels excavated in the rock that function as an aqueduct to bring water to the city are striking. In addition to serving as access to Petra, it may have had a sacred or processional character. And in fact, there are many niches located on the walls, which perhaps housed effigies of Nabataean gods
  • Treasure: also called Al Khazneh. It appears majestically at the end of the route of the Siq. Its original function was to serve as a tomb for the Nabataean king Aretas III (first century BC). Its name, on the other hand, derives from a popular legend that says that inside was hidden the treasure of some Egyptian pharaoh
  • Altar of the Sacrifices: already in the street of the Façades. It is one of the so-called ‘High Places’, with a panoramic viewpoint from the what to see Petra. Here animals were sacrificed in honor of the gods and therefore there are even drains for spilled blood. It has monumental obelisks over 6 meters high. Although more accessible than other High Places, the climb is demanding and can take more than 30 minutes.
  • Theater: it is one of the symbols of the splendor of the Nabataean city of Raqmu… Because the theater was not originally Roman, as is often thought (although the Romans expanded it, yes). It had a capacity of more than 8,000 people
  • Royal Tombs: They are among the most spectacular in the complex, especially when they are bathed in golden light. Highlights include the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the Palace Tomb. It is unclear who were the kings buried in them.
  • Columned street: it is the heart of the Roman extension of the city from 105 AD. Although there are hardly a few columns of the
    (hence its name), you can distinguish some very representative spaces of that city: the nymphaeum, the Royal Palace, the Temenos, the baths and a large temple
  • Qasr Al Bint: is one of the few surviving constructions that are not carved into the rock. It is dated to the third century A.D. Although according to Bedouin belief its name evokes a fortress, it was actually a religious temple for the Nabataeans, with an altar for sacrifices.
  • Temple of the Winged Lions: built in the I AD, perhaps dedicated to the goddess Atargatis, of fertility.
  • Church of Petra: the highlight is its mosaics, authentic hallmark of Byzantine art, as it was built in the fifth century
  • Al Habis: small hill with another of the most recommended viewpoints from which to see Petra. It preserves the Crusader Fort which, although in ruins, is a good example that the Christian warriors of Baldwin I also passed through here, and left their stamp at the beginning of the twelfth century
  • Al Deir Monastery: plays against its distance and elevation with respect to the core of the old city (about 40 minutes on foot, with 800 steps), but its beauty is comparable to that of the Treasury, because in fact it has a very similar design. The road, of course, is also worth it for the fantastic viewpoints from the to see Petra and, above all, the entire territory of Wadi Araba, including Israel and the Palestinian Territories

To all these monuments to see in Petra we add one more place, fundamental to better interpret this spectacular historical enclosure: the Petra Museum, recently built. It is located in Wadi Musa, next to the visitor center, so you can
visit that page of our website
for more information.

Activities in Petra

Hiking Trails in Petra

Yes, in addition to everything there is to see in Petra On a monumental level, you want to take a natural route through its surroundings, you have different possibilities. This is a proposal designed for those travelers with greater physical background and experience in hiking activities, since the distances can be long and the slopes, demanding, since the environment of Petra is full of
and rugged roads.

But the effort is worth it: the landscapes that can be contemplated, especially from the various natural viewpoints, are spectacular. Here are some suggestions:

  • From Wadi Muthlim to the Royal Tombs, passing by the Eagle Monument, the house of Dorotheos and the Christian tombs of Moghar Al Nassara
  • From the Altar of Sacrifices to the center of Petra, passing by the Lion Monument and the Tomb of the Roman Soldier
  • Wadi Siyah, which runs along its dry bed, beyond the center of Petra
  • Viewpoints of the Treasury, to be able to see this construction from above. They are not long routes but they are of great unevenness
  • um Al Biyara: it is a hard route of approximately 6 hours, which leads to the top of this mountain, located at 1,178 meters above sea level
  • Jebel Haroun: with a duration and difficulty similar to the previous one, this mountain is climbed up to 1,350 meters above sea level. It has an important religious attraction: Jewish belief places here the tomb of Aaron, brother of Moses
  • Wadi Sabra: follow the path of old trade caravans. Although the route is about 5 hours, it can be organized with night camping (in Petra it is not allowed to do so)
Things to do in Petra

Things to do in Petra

If after all you have to see in Petra If you want to do a related activity, you will find proposals that show the ‘Pink City’ and its surroundings in other different ways. For example, there are horseback rides in the surrounding hills, aimed mainly at those who are proficient in horseback riding. Also very popular are the night circuits, which show some of the main monuments illuminated. In addition, it allows you to enjoy the mantle of stars and the radiant Moon that usually characterize the sky of Petra at night.

Already in Wadi Musa there are other alternative proposals that have nothing to do with Petra directly, perhaps to complement the experience or to rest from the visit, such as enjoying a Turkish bath, as there are several establishments of this type. It is in Wadi Musa that you will find most of the souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants, in some of which can be carried out Local cooking masterclasses.

In addition, different types of events are held at certain times of the year. Highlights include performances by the Jordan Heritage Revival Company, which dramatize ancient Nabataean and Roman life in the city. And for running lovers, the Petra Desert Marathon will be a great opportunity to discover this place and its surroundings in a different way: practicing their favorite sport.

And of course, you will always have the option to visit
Little Petra, as we explain on this other page.

How to get to Petra

As we said above, to visit Petra you must go to Wadi Musa, which is the town that gives access to this tourist site. The Kings Highway, one of the great north-south axes of the country, passes through here. For this reason, the private vehicle option is one of the simplest and most used to get to Petra. Here are some distances, with their respective durations, to give you an idea of the trip:

  • From Amman: 240 km, 3 hours
  • From Jerash: 280 km, 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • From the Dead Sea: 160 km, 2 and a half hours
  • From Karak: 150 km, 2 and a half hours
  • From Wadi Rum: 110 km, 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • From Aqaba: 130 km, 1 hour and 45 minutes

If you prefer public transport, the bus company JETT has Petra as one of the most outstanding stops in its network: buses arrive here from different places, mainly from Amman (7th Circle and Abdali), but also from Wadi Rum and from Aqaba. From these last two places there are also minibuses daily, although they are less comfortable because the schedules are indicative and depart only when they are full.

How to Get Around Petra

In Petra, for obvious reasons related to its orography, it is impossible to use motor vehicles. Therefore, to move around here you will have to walk a lot, so it is recommended to wear shoes with robust soles and comfortable clothing (breathable or thermal, depending on the time of year).

There is also the alternative of animals: from the visitor centre to the Treasury and the rest of the places of interest, you can go on the back of horses, donkeys, mules or camels, whose reins are usually in the hands of local Bedouins, experts in this work. These ‘means of transport’ are also concentrated in the so-called ‘back door’, a space located next to the Qasr al Bint, with some restaurants, from where the routes to the Monastery depart and where Bedouin workers living in Uum Sayhoun access.

Other information of interest in Petra

Although on this page we explain what to see in Petra, you’ll definitely want to know about other information resources for your visit. We suggest you take a walk before the Visitor Center where, in addition, there is the box office to get tickets to the site. The exact address is Tourism St. In this center you can get maps and other brochures that will be very useful.

Inside the Petra compound you will find some tea shops and restaurants, as well as some souvenir shops, although not with the variety of Wadi Musa. In them or at other points you will also find public toilets, which are strongly recommended to use so as not to deteriorate the environment.

And if you have any major setbacks, you should know that there is a tourist police station in the Visitor Center complex, a Hospital a few kilometers south of Petra (King’s Road, direction Al Tayyibeh) and pharmacy in the urban area of Wadi Musa.

Plan your trip to Petra

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