The ancient city of Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I have dreamt of visiting for a very long time. I had a fantastic time, and even want to go back again.
Petra is located in Southern Jordan, and is approximately a three-hour drive from the capital Amman. Situated by the town of Wadi Musa, Petra was once the capital of the Kingdom of Nabataean empire, between the years 400 BCE and 104 CE. The region was inhabited as far back as 7,000 BCE, and it has been said that Petra dates to roughly 4,000 BCE.
Petra has been known as the “Lost City”, as in the 4th century BCE there was an earthquake that destroyed many of the building,s and up until the 1800s some of the ancient buildings were simply used as shelters for sheep herders. In 1812 an Italian visited the area and documented the city, bringing it back to life for the rest of the world again.
There are plenty of options on where to stay when visiting Petra. There are hotels/hostels all across Wadi Musa, so if you are driving in there are plenty of places to stay overnight in the city, and all booking websites are easy to find.
Some people come from Amman in the morning (you can get great views of the sunrise on the desert drive) or from Wadi rum, which is where I stayed in a Bedouin Camp – which is a traditional part of Jordanian culture. The Bedouins are desert dwellers, are the original population of Jordan, and used to wonder the deserts and set up camps living off the land as nomads.
Staying in their camp was an amazing experience, from sitting around the communal tent in the warmth by the fire drinking sweet tea to the thick multi-layered bedding that keeps you snugged up warm in the cool desert night.
Their tents are made from goat hair and can be easily rolled up, providing shade during the hot days and insulation during the cold nights.
One thing you must do is see Petra by both day and night. On some nights (Click the link to see the timetable for Petra by night) you can pay 17 JD (£18.34 – 2020) to enjoy a magical couple of hours through the Siq Canyon by candlelight. It truly is breath-taking, and I will just let the photos speak for themselves.
During your day visit, you first have to go through the Petra Visitor centre where you’ll find stalls outside, a café, restaurant and a gift shop. Tickets vary in cost, depending on if you are staying within Petra or not, but for those who are just here for the day tickets are 90 JD (£97 – 2020). This seems very steep, but is absolutely worth it. You can hire a guide within the city, or you can see it all by yourself.
You also have the opportunity to ride horses and donkeys in Petra, however I don’t really agree with this for tourists for animal rights reasons, but the decision is yours. Make sure to bring cash for anything you wish to purchase in Petra.
The first thing you’ll come across is the Djinn Blocks. Most people miss these to get to the Siq and Treasury, but these monuments are also known as God Blocks and very little is known about their purpose. I really think it’s worth taking your time to enjoy the carvings.
The Obelisk Tomb will be on your left, which is the first of many extravagant burial sites for high ranking Nabataean officials.
The Bab al-Siq is the entrance to the famous al-Siq ( “the shaft” in Arabic), which is the entrance to the city of Petra.
This narrow gorge was shaped by nature, and smoothed by running water. As you walk through, the walls tower above you on either side, with glimpses of light shinning through in sections, creating amazing reflections of light against the rock.
Throughout Siq, you will see underground chambers and carvings that to this date have not been understood.
The red sandstone rock goes on for roughly 1 km, but the walk is well worth it.
Just before you get to the end of the Siq you will get your first glimpse of Al-Khazneh, also known as The Treasury.
This is the most iconic symbol of Petra, recognised across the globe. The Hellenistic façade is one of human kind’s design pinnacles, carved into the sandstone, and was originally designed to be the mausoleum and place of worship for Nabataean King Aretas III.
It obtained its name as the Treasury due to the myths of the Egyptian pharaohs hiding their treasures in the urns perched on top.
If you look closely you can see bullet holes in parts where the urns sit, where people shot thinking treasures would fall out.
To see Al-Khazneh at its best (although it’s beautiful at all hours of the day), you should go when the sun shines on it in the morning. You can climb a pathway where some locals live (brave) and see Al-Khazneh from above the Siq itself (Unfortunately I did not do this 🙁 ).
The Siq opens past Al-Khazneh and gives you two options. To the west you’ll follow some narrow paths into some more gorges, and come to the Alter of Sacrifice (High Place of Sacrifice). Atop Jeb Madbah is the highest point that is accessible. This is where animals were sacrificed (how lovely).
Around a few bends from here you will move past the Garden Temple, Tomb of the Soldier, Renaissance Tomb, and the Broken Pediment Tomb. The Garden Temple – unlike the others – is said to have been a place that stored water for rituals, as no burial niches were found within. The Tomb of the Soldier is one of the most preserved burial tombs in Petra. This is said to be the case due to its redesign during the Roman ruling period in this region.
Further past this section the walking trail does get very rocky and unstable underfoot (and it is not flat), so be careful.
If you go back to where the paths split and continue down the Street of Facades you will come to the Al-Khubtha trail, and on your right it leads you to the Royal Tombs (containing the Urn Tomb, and Palace Tomb). They are a collective of burial places that are beautifully decorated, and look stunning the sunlight.
Nabatean theatre is carved into the solid rock and was a place of entertainment for the Nabataean people during the time when Petra was a major trading base. It is said to have held up to 4,000 spectators at a time.
Nymphaeum was a public fountain, grander than most built today. It was used as a place of gathering during the Nabataean Empire, and was a part of Colonnaded Street where people would go shopping for goods that had come in from trading routes.
As you walk through the ruins, seeing sandstone pieces laying throughout the streets, you will start to notice the streets narrow and elevate. Just before you start going up you will come across the Winged Lion Temple to your right and the Temple of Dushares on your left. The Winged Lion Temple was mostly destroyed in a major earthquake in the 4th century BCE, and was a large complex for worship.
The Temple of Dushares is one of the widest buildings in Petra, and you’ll see the remnants of an alter at the front of the ruins where the offerings would have been brought.
This next section does get a bit trickier, as you need to climb up many steps and slopes to reach further into Petra.
Along this Monastery route you will see carvings and more ruins within the beautiful landscape.
You will come across small stalls where Petra locals sell gifts and trinkets. They are always up for a haggle, so if you see something you like give it a go.
The final stop on your journey is the Ad-Deir Monastery. This Monastery is hidden high in the hills of Petra and is worth the long hike. Far bigger but similar in design to Al-Khazneh, this was built as a tomb in the 3rd century BCE and then used as a church during the Byzantine period.
You would have walked up roughly 800 steps to get here, and it is far less crowded due to the hike.
This is a great place to just sit and enjoy the view (especially from a point slightly further up to get pictures of the full Monastery).
Petra certainly is an experience of a lifetime. It may be busy at times and expensive to visit, but there is a reason it is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
You can learn so much about the history of the city and its people, seen through those that live within Petra itself today.