Petra is an ancient archaeological city carved into pink sandstone cliffs in southern Jordan. Also known as The Rose City, it was founded around 312 BC by the Nabataean people and became an oasis of action, intrigue and vibrant city living in the Arabian desert.
Petra’s ingenious water collection system meant that the flash floods that regularly visited the area could be harnessed and used as a year-round water source. So although the city sits in the barren and baking desert, it was so lush that it made itself rich by selling its excess water to neighboring cities. Petra was a major trading hub and so it grew wealthy, and with its wealth came incredible feats of the building. Luckily for us, many of the city’s ancient megastructures are still standing, proud and ready to be admired to this very day.
Petra has bucket list written all over it! It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985 and was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007. You may also recognize it from a string of movies in which it’s been featured over the years, including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Arabian Nights and The Mummy Returns.
To make your visit to Petra as special as possible, have a look at our recommendations for what to see while you’re there and take note of your faves in your BUCKiTDREAM planner.
Walk ‘the Siq’ This narrow, 1.2 km cobblestone path lies in a canyon between two tall sandstone cliff faces and connects Petra with the outside world. Think of the Siq as an incredibly ancient version of the M1 motorway into London or the Lincoln Tunnel into midtown Manhattan. At one time, this passageway was highly decorated with ornate carvings and statues. Most have now faded but tantalizing outlines can still be seen. One can only imagine what sort of incredibly exotic travelers, caravans, and cargos these canyon walls have looked down upon? If (canyon) walls could talk…
Let Your Eyes Bask in Their First Sight of Petra Proper Having walked the Siq, the first building to greet you as you enter the city of Petra is The Treasury. This iconic building is carved into a massive pink cliff face and was built as a tomb for a Nabataean king. It gets its name from a legend that says the building contains hidden Egyptian treasure.
Marvel at Petra’s Huge Roman Theatre Petra has a whole host of incredible structures that you can enjoy on your trip. The Street of Facades, The Royal Tombs, and Little Petra are all not to be missed. The Roman Theatre stands out due to its sheer size. This amphitheater was a joint effort, as the Nabataeans built it but the Romans expanded it. It has been used as a venue for all kinds of performances (some rather bizarre and macabre by today’s standards no doubt!) for over 2,000 years, even up to the present day, as it still holds a few special events each year.
Chat to the Friendly Locals The Bedouins are the traditional people of Petra and Bedouin tents abound inside the city, providing welcome shade from the sun as well as refreshments, snacks and local crafts. The people are very friendly and eager to chat, so do not hesitate to strike up a conversation. Many local Bedouins speak good English and come from families that have lived in the area for many, many generations. These folks have some great stories!
Hike Petra’s High Trails Give your calves an even more intense workout by exploring some of the city’s numerous mountain trails. Following these trails will take you to some incredible vantage points from which to gaze down upon this ancient oasis, such as the High Place of Sacrifice. It’s also a great way to discover lesser-known sites in Petra – small, off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods that one imagines may have been Petra’s unfashionable suburbs back in the day. Stunning views of Petra and dreamlike rock formations make a hike well worth the effort.
All Aboard the Monastery Express! The Monastery is a real highlight of Petra and it is also located rather high up in the mountains. The hike up is tough, but the local donkeys seem to genuinely enjoy it! Donkeys are a main mode of transport in the area and a donkey up to The Monastery is a glute-pulping, sometimes scary but definitely memorable experience.
Learn to Cook Petra-style Petra Kitchen is located along the main road in Wadi Musa and they offer nighttime cooking classes with their talented chefs. Go shopping with the team in the local markets, get the inside scoop on where the best ingredients can be found and discover how to make the local delicacies. You will learn so much that your dinner parties will be the toast of your hometown forever more!
Soothe Your Aching Muscles in a Local Hammam Seeing Petra is physically taxing and there is no better way to relax and unwind than visiting a hammam and soaking in the hot steam of a Turkish bath. A one-hour oil massage will sooth even the sorest of muscles.
Petra’s nearest town, Wadi Musa, has accommodation ranging from five-star resorts to tented camps.
High-end Movenpick Resort Petra is located directly at the entrance to Petra, so it’s a perfect and luxurious base from which to explore the ancient city.
Medium Petra Moon Hotel proves that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The Petra Moon Hotel looks a little old-fashioned and kitsch from the outside but steps inside and you’ll discover that the place is truly beautiful, with comfortable rooms and great food.
Budget Sleep under the desert stars at the authentic Ammarin Bedouin Camp. This is a wonderful way to get the real feel for the Bedouin way of life.
Jordanian food is very tasty, with lots of soups, cold and hot mezze platters, some of the best hummus in the world, flavorsome salads and hearty meat dishes such as shawarmas, kebabs, and koftas.
Red Cave Restaurant is near the entrance to Petra and it specializes in Bedouin cuisine, which is mostly focused around hearty meat and bean stews.
There is a mixture of places to eat inside Petra: Bedouin tea stalls, cafes, kiosks and a buffet restaurant called The Basin. Most hotels will make you a packed lunch if you request one, and eating outdoors in this awesome location is a real treat.
Drinks and Nightlife
Wadi Musa nightlife is quiet and certainly not a party town. It has a few nice bars, most of which are quite expensive as there is a high tax on alcohol. The Cave Bar, attached to the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the entrance to Petra, is an atmospheric little bar that occupies a 2000-year-old Nabataean tomb. Perfect for sharing a toast with a ghost!
The Movenpick Resort bar is Moroccan themed and can get quite lively in high season.
Culture and Tips
Petra is baking hot in summer, so it’s best to go during spring or autumn when temperatures are pleasantly warm.
There is very little shade on the site, so be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, shades and comfortable shoes or good walking sandals. Prepare for lots of walking, as Petra spreads over a 60 square km area. There are donkey and camel handlers all over the site, so hitching a ride when you are feeling zonked is always an option.
The longer you stay in Petra, the better value it is. A one-day ticket is JD50 ($70) per person, but a two-day ticket is JD55 and three days is JD60. These prices apply only if you are staying in Jordan. If you visit on a day trip and are not staying overnight, the price is JD90. Children under 15 go free. Petra tickets can only be bought at the Petra Visitors Center in Wadi Musa (which does not take credit card, so bring cash).
Petra is a short walk, taxi ride, or shuttle bus service away from Wadi Musa. The bus stop outside the Petra Moon Hotel is where you can catch JETT buses to Amman and Aqaba.
Petra by Night Tour Welcome to the Arabian desert, pre-electricity! On this haunting, candlelit tour, you can almost hear the whispers of ancient ghosts. Petra By Night tour happens on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Petra is a special place that forces you to appreciate the unstoppable and relentless gusting of the sands of time, and the constant desertification of the present moment. You will no doubt be moved to seize the day, every day, so while you stroll through the uniquely spectacular ancient ruins why not inspire your friends by sharing your dream Petra experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?