Petra, Jordan


Overview

Petra travel guide, including map of Jordan, top Petra experiences, tips for Petra travel, when to visit the Petra and Petra tips

Petra is Jordan’s biggest attraction and a genuinely breathtaking world wonder – the lost desert city of childhood imagination.

The ‘rose-red city’ of Petra was carved from sandstone outcrops by the Nabataean people, and at its peak in the 1st century AD was a major trading hub and home to 30,000 people. After the Nabataean civilisation declined, Petra was forgotten by the West until ‘rediscovered’ in 1812 by the Swedish adventurer Johann Burkhardt, who travelled there in Arab disguise.

Today Petra is a Unesco World Heritage Site and receives thousand of visitors daily – but still delivers an unforgettable emotional punch.

The classic experience comes in two parts. First, there’s the walk (or horse ride) through a towering, winding sandstone canyon – the ‘Siq’ galloped through in the closing scene of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade.

Then, after 1.2km, there’s the iconic view of Petra: the carved, sunlit façade of the Treasury (khazneh) framed by sheer rock walls.

But Petra isn’t just about a walk and postcard view. Beyond and above the Treasury are the remains of the 2,000-year-old city, including the huge monastery, royal tombs, a classical theatre and the Colonnaded Street leading to the Qasr al-Bint temple. Dozens of less-visited sites and mountain hikes beckon, including the High Place of Sacrifice Walk and the ascent of 1,350m Jebel Haroun.

Although you can ‘do’ Petra on a day-trip, a longer stay is more rewarding. For a truly immersive experience, consider the 50km walk to Petra from Dana, pioneered by Wanderlust award-winning guide Yamaan Safady, or get hands-on experience of Bedouin culture and cuisine at the Petra Kitchen.

Further Reading

Petra Top 5

  1. Walk down the Siq to the Treasury – the classic Petra experience. The Siq (Arabic for gorge) is just over a kilometre long and 150m high, but only a few metres wide in places; it is certainly the most atmospheric lead-up to the awesome Treasury, the iconic facade carved into the cliff, dating back to the first century BC. Aim to arrive here at 9-10am, when the sun first hits the rock face.
  2. Walk up to the Monastery – Petra's largest monument is about one hour's walk up a stepped trail above the ancient city, from where you get sweeping views of the surrounding desert.
  3. Wander Petra by night – a guided two-hour night walk runs three times a week, departing from the Visitor Centre. It takes you along the main path, set with candles on the ground, through the Siq to the Treasury where a Bedouin piper adds to the atmosphere.
  4. Trek from Dana to Petra. The best way to access the complex is to walk the little-used, 50km-long path from the Dana Nature Reserve. The walk takes three to four days and encompasses remote mountain trails, dramatic desert views and remote camping under the stars.
  5. Climb Jebel Haroun, at 1,350m Petra's highest peak. The summit is believed to be the final resting place of Moses's brother Aaron and is marked by a simple white shrine. It's a long, strenuous walk (it takes a day there and back) but the views are worth the effort.