‘I want to visit Petra’ is undoubtedly the first words blurted out of someone’s mouth when they announce they are going to Jordan. And with good reason, after all, the iconic image of The Treasury is used pretty much on every piece of tourist board branding out there, so it’s not surprising that a trip to this UNESCO World Heritage site is on everyone’s Jordanian Bucket List.
The Treasury is no doubt mind-blowingly awesome. Straight out of the set of Tomb Raider – or more accurately Indiana Jones, I think I stood there with my mouth wide open – flycatcher style, for a good 5 minutes while I took in what I was seeing. It’s actually difficult to describe how beautiful the millennia-old oversize rock carving, (which is what is essentially is!), looks.
However, as awe-inspiring The Treasury is, there is so much more to see when you visit Petra. As Archaeological Parks go, this is up there with the best! A temple-junkies dream.
Fascinating fact: the original name of what we know today as Petra was ‘Raqeem’. It was the Greeks who renamed it ‘Petra,’ which means the rock.
The Nabateans were an Arab tribe, living around the desert to the east of Jordan. They first appeared in the 6th Century BC mostly living a nomadic life. By the second century, the Nabateans had developed into an organised society. Petra became the Capital of the Nabataean Empire at about 1st Century BC. At its peak, Petra had approximately 25,000 people living there.
Petra came under the rule of the Roman Empire until the 4th Century when an earthquake destroyed large chunks of the city. A subsequent change in trade routes meant that by the 7th Century, Petra was all but abandoned with the exception of the Bedouin people. It was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt. Petra was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1985. More recently Petra was voted as one of The New 7th Wonders of the World.
Available in 1,2 or 3-day pass (for multiple days DO NOT forget your passport, they print your name on the ticket and they do check at the entry!) Prices at the time of writing are 50, 55 and 60JD ($70/77/84 or £56/61/67) respectively. Only buy your ticket from an official vendor, or the Ticket Shop at the entrance.
Regardless of how you buy your ticket, if you have the time, I highly suggest you visit Petra over a 2-day ticket. This gives you more time to explore everything fully giving you plenty of chillax time to enjoy and take in what you are looking at as well as hike some of the surrounding trails.
The Visitor Centre
Useful for the obvious – to buy tickets at the start of the day, but IF you have time it also has an informative little museum attached as well as that all-important WiFi. The visitor centre is surrounded by overpriced mediocre eateries and souvenir shops, so unless you’re desperate for either of these, then bypass all this. There is a useful luggage hold where you can store larger items (like a suitcase or backpack) for a fee. It was 10JD ($14/£11) at the time of visit for a the whole day.
How to visit Petra – Map Vs App
You will get given a good ol’ fashioned paper map at the ticket shop when you visit Petra, there is also a nifty little app, aptly (see what I did there) called ‘Visit Petra’. This official app has a digital map, a route planner showing the terrain, loads of information about points of interest. It’s free to download and available from the Google Play or Apple Store. There are various Wi-Fi hotspots around the Archaeological Site.
The gates open at 6 am, so if you’re after those stunning Insta-snaps with no one else in them, then I suggest you arrive at the gate before this time. Leave it to a more humanly hour, and the place is rammed.
26 awesome things to see when you visit Petra
1. The Gateway - Bab Al Siq
Bab Al Siq is probably the first epic thing you’ll see when you visit Petra. Basically ‘Bab’ in Arabic, translates to ‘gateway’. You are at the Gateway to the Siq. Here you’ll see a number of smaller temples and monuments you’ll pass as you walk from the park entrance to the Siq. Check out the three HUGE square monuments carved out of the rock. These are called Djinn blocks. You’ll also notice the Obelisk tomb, a temple with four pyramids on top of it.
2. The Dam
Yes, it kinda looks like a brick wall – it is! Originally built by the Nabataeans to protect the city from floods and then renovated in the 1960s. It redirected the seasonal flood waters into a nearby tunnels. You can see some of the irrigation system carved into the cliff face and running alongside the wall in the Siq.
3. The Siq
Probably the second most iconic landmark at Petra is The Siq. This is the gateway into the city of Petra. You can see the remnants of a once huge gatehouse/arch (only the crumbling foundations are left now) at the entrance.
The majority of the immense rock formation is mostly naturally formed, with its sheer walls stretching up well over 90m above. This meandering 1.2km channel varies in width from around 3m-12m, just breathe in as the horse carts come rattling past.
The Siq opens up onto The Treasury, however, it’s an absolute tease. The Siq meanders its way along and with each turn you expect to see the iconic view of the Treasury through the crack in the Siq. With every bend a there’s a slight diapointment, that you haven’t reached it yet. It’s 100% worth the wait when finally, you get your first jaw-dropping glimpse of The Treasury for the first time.
4. The Treasury (Al Khaznah)
Even before you arrive, you will instantly get that seen-before feeling of The Treasury. As you exit the Siq the stunning facade of Treasury will be looming over you in all her glory. At around 40 metres in height, covered in intricate columns, friezes, statues carved into the red sandstone it’s blatant why so many films have used this as their backdrop.
One of the sole reasons to arrive insanely early when you visit Petra will be to have The Treasury pretty much to yourself, minus a few other budding photographers, a few vendors and camels. At peak times you are sharing this place with what feels like the rest of the world.
You can’t go inside but according to the guide books there are three chambers inside, the actual use of the building was unknown and there are rumours of there being a burial chamber underneath.
5. The Street of Facades
Unless you head back out of the Siq or climb up one of the look-out points and cliff top walks (I’ll talk more about look-out points later) the only route you can take is to the right and along the wider opening to The Street of Facades. Aptly named due to the number of carvings in the rock face these are said to be burial grounds.
6. The Theatre
At its peak, 4000 spectators could have been seated in this auditorium. Imagine the acoustics in this place.
Just to the right of the Theatre is the pathway you’ll need to take to get to The High Place of Sacrifice.
The Royal Tombs
7. Urn Tomb
Standing in the colonnaded courtyard outside this temple and then look up. About half way up, you’ll see three hollows which go into burial chambers. You can’t go inside the chambers, but you can go inside the main building. This Tomb gets its name from the ‘Urn’ at the top, it can be tricky to make out the shape close up, but from a distance you can clearly see it.
8. Silk Tomb
Along from the Urn Tomb is the Silk Tomb. Out of the four Royal Tombs, the colours in the sandstone, in swirls of reds, oranges, purples and yellows are the most impressive. And this is where the Tomb gets its name.
9. Corinthian Tomb
Next in line is the Corinthian Tomb. Once upon a time, the Corinthian Tomb would have made a stunning little sister to The Treasury, but alas, it’s now a shadow of its former glory due to erosion over the centuries.
Inside you’ll find four rooms which were used for various ceremonies after worshippers had been cleansed in one of the four basins outside of the temple.
10. Palace Tomb
The last of the four Royal Tombs is the Palace Tomb. Because of the multitude of columns and massive five-storey facade, it’s easy to see why it’s been called this.
The biggest of the Royal Tombs it just shy of 50metres in width and height. With four gates each leading to a burial room, separated between 12 decorated columns on the bottom layer, and another 18 pillars on top, its own mini-dam and water reservoir – impressive stuff.
11.The Sextius Florentinus Tomb
Named after Sextius Florentinus (what a name!) who in 129 AD was the governor of the Arab state, this tomb sits further north and away from the string of four Royal Tombs. Similar in fate to the Corinthian Tomb, it’s quite badly eroded but you can make out columns with triangular decoration on top as well as inscriptions in the Latin language.
12. The Nymphaeum
At the start of the colonnaded Street, you’ll find the Nymphaeum. If you’re not familiar with Nymphaeums around Jordan, such as the one at Jerash Ruins then a little explanation of what it is. Essentially, a Nymphaeum is basically a heavily decorated public water fountain. The one at Jeash is in better condition than the one here in Petra, BUT you can still make out some of the details.
What makes this one just as worthy is the ancient 450-year-old juniper tree situated next to it
13. The Colonnaded Street
No ancient city would be complete without a cobbled and Colonnaded Street and Petra is no exception. It was originally built by the Nabateans and would have been the equivalent of today’s Oxford Street in London. Basically for shopping, trading and socialising – not much has changed really since then. In 106 BC the Romans rebuilt it to the 6metre width you see today.
Look out for the set of stairs leading to the courtyard to the left-hand side, this was the market area and THE central hub and back then referred to as the heart of the city.
14. The Great Temple
A sprawling ruin of fallen columns, floral carvings, stairs and crumbling walls, The Great Temple can be fully explored with no shortage of stuff to look at. It’s the largest ruin in Petra Archaeological Park. There are pretty decent write-ups of what everything here actually is, but check out the cute hexagonal paving stones in the courtyard and the mini amphitheatre and the intricate carvings dotted all over the ruin.
15. The Winged Lion Temple
Until the 1970s, the Winged Lion Temple was hidden under hundreds of years of desert debris. You’ve got to use quite a lot of imagination to see anything that resembles a Winged Lion which sit on the corners of the columns and gives the temple its name.
Surrounding the ruins is what looks like a Temple graveyard – lots of pieces, some with intricate carvings on, collectively like some sort of impossible giant jigsaw puzzle.
Archaeological notes on the boards nearby describe this Temple as being quite a marvel before its destruction by an earthquake in 363 AD.
16. The Byzantine Church
In terms of footprint size, the Church is lacking, however, where it packs a punch is inside.
Send your focus to the floor and check out the beautifully preserved mosaics that run along the sides of the room. There is so much detail in them; geometric shapes, food, animals, aquatic life, the four seasons and gods.
17. The Blue Chapel
Just slightly further up the hill from the Byzantine Church is the Blue Chapel. It’s a small ruin, but just look at the pretty blue columns!
18. The Temple of Qasr al-Bint
A short walk on from The Great Temple and you’ll see the temple of Qasr al-Bint. A giant archway looms above, 23m above. I hope it doesn’t collapse. Think of this temple as a court surrounded by walls with seating inside and side chambers.
19. The Lion Triclinium
A slight tangent en route up to the Monastery, with a bit of a shuffle and squeeze to get there, the Lion Triclinium is set in a gully. It’s a small tomb with a single doorway fronted with two very weathered looking lion carvings.
20. The Monastery (Ad Deir)
The Monastery is out on a bit of a limb, and similar to the High Place of Sacrifice, does require lung and leg power to get there. 730 ancient steps, meandering through the valley will lead you out to a plateau where the Monastery sits.
Out of the three stunning buildings in Petra (I’m referring to The Treasury and The Corinthian Temple), the Monastery is the biggest. Intricately carved columns in the rock, sitting in an open expanse against a contrasting bright blue sky, it’s picture perfect.
You can’t go inside, but you can stick your head in. You’ll see a couple of benches and an Altar, if you squint enough you might be able to see the crosses carved in the back wall. Hence the name ‘Monastery’.
21. The High Place of Sacrifice
Depending on how good your knees and lungs are, persevering up this steep climb will give you probably the best view in the park. They don’t call it ‘High Place’ for no reason!
To get here, head up the route behind the Theatre. The path you follow forms part of the original Nabataen route, check out how worn the sandstone steps are in places.
At the top, you’ll find a flat expanse where on top of a rock, two Obelisks stand. The obelisks like a lot of Petra, are carved directly from the surface of the rock.
On a plateau, you will find a rectangular ‘benched’ area and an altar. Look out for the little drain where blood would once have flowed.
Spend some time up here just to chill and admire the view. Because the High Place of Sacrifice is a little bit off the beaten track with a steep climb up a lot of tourists who only visit Petra for one day don’t do this hike. Even at peak time, it’s quieter than most other places within the archaeological park, plus the 360 Panoramic views of Wadi Farasa valley are outstanding. If you love deserts and want to explore more, then take a trip to the Wadi Rum Desert after your time in Petra.
22. The Lion Fountain
Head away from the High Place of Sacrifice and start to climb down the winding route on the other side of the cliff. While heading down the ancient carved stairways don’t miss the Lion Fountain carved into the rock. The shape of the lion is still really evident.
23. The Garden Triclinium
Keep winding your way down into the Wadi Farasa valley and you’ll be greeted by a collection of slightly off-the-beaten-track temples in this area. The first is the Garden Triclinium. It’s thought this temple wasn’t used for burials, but for water-related activities. Check out the reservoir in front of the temple! However, I wouldn’t advise drinking or swimming in it, better still just don’t touch it at all.
24. Tomb of The Roman Soldier
Just along from the Garden Triclinium, you’ll find the Tomb of the Roman Soldier. This ruin takes its name from the three statues in the niches which are of military soldiers. The area is sattered with temple and tomb parts, it’s thought that originally this tomb was part of a much larger and long ceased to exit temple complex.
25. Petra by Night
On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights you can come back after hours to visit Petra and see The Treasury by candlelight. You don’t get to explore the rest of the site. Following the trail of 1500 candle lit lanterns from the entrance, along The Siq will lead you to the open area in front of The Treasury where mats are laid down to listen to the musicians and singers.
At the end of the show, they illuminate the area with coloured lights. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy, and if Disneyland did Jordan, this is pretty much what it would look like. To visit Petra by night, you need to buy a separate ticket priced at 17JD. More information can be found on the official Petra website.
26. The Treasury Lookouts
One of the best souvenir pics you can take when you visit Petra, is an overhead shot, looking down on The Treasury. As you come out of the Siq and stand in the clearing in front of The Treasury, no doubt within a matter of
minutes seconds you’ll get approached by someone offering you a photo on a camel, a ride on a camel or a view from on top. The touts are relentless. Basically, from this clearing, there are two routes to either side of the cliff where you can go up – for a fee. I never did find out exactly how much it was, they kept quoting different amounts, but anywhere between 10-20JD ($14-28 / £11/22)
You can do it for FREE though, take the steps from around the back of The Sextiux Florentinus, officially it’s called Al-Khubtha Trail. It’s steep, but it’s also easy to follow the path up to the top which then eventually levels out into a grassy area, the well-trodden path is signposted to a little cafe in a tent at the top looking down over the Treasury. Sit and have a cup of mint tea while admiring the view.
A lot more to Petra
If it wasn’t for my time restriction, I could have easily spent an extra day at Petra and explored even more of the off-the-beaten trails and revisited some of the ruins at different times of the day to see it in different levels of sunlight.
Petra is up there with some of the best temple complexes I’ve visited and if someone said to me ‘pack your case, we’re going to visit Petra today’ it’s a no brainer that I would drop what I was doing in an instant.
When you visit Petra take this
- Sun cream, even with the wind chill it’s quite exposed, in particular at the top of High Place of Sacrifice and the trails surrounding that area.
- Something warm, particularly if you arrive in the morning before the sun rises. The walk down the Siq is breezy and with the sun too low in the sky, it’s a chilly walk.
- Wear layers, with a mix of breezy exposed areas, the scorching sun and getting hot from hiking take comfortable clothes that can be layered up.
- Decent walking shoes – a no brainer, it’s a ruin site. Unless you have specific hiking style sandals, leave the strappy wedges,
- Water, and lots of it. Take as much as you can realistically carry, there are shops and vendors at regular intervals but sometimes these are sporadic, especially off the beaten path.
- A map, whether it’s the paper version, a GPS system, the App. It doesn’t matter, but the archaeological site is big and if you do go off the beaten track it’s quite easy to get lost.
- Finally, don’t forget snacks, to keep your energy levels up, and the hangry at bay. There are food places in the park, but it’s busy at peak times.
Where to stay
The nearest town is Wadi Musa, it’s a bit grotty but does have a buzz about it with plenty of places to eat. It’s also a lot cheaper than the resorts directly outside Petra.
There are a number of high-end hotels just outside, but they aren’t exactly budget.
How to get to Petra
Depending from where you are travelling from you can get to Petra easily from Amman and Aqaba. Petra is THE most visited tourist attraction in Jordan, so there are options for travel from pretty much everywhere in the country.
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*opening times, prices and information correct at time of writing.