Visiting Petra in Jordan had been on my wish list for quite some time. It did not disappoint! Our visit to Petra was one of the most memorable trips ever. Exploring inside Petra, seeing its beauty for ourselves, was a magic experience. Forget Indiana Jones! Petra has to be experienced up close and personal.
A few facts about Petra
Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Petra was built in the third century BC by the Nabateans, an ancient Arab tribe. The Nabateans were great traders and trade was the raison d’etre for Petra. It was on the main trading routes. The site was chosen because it was impregnable to invaders. It was impossible for hostile forces to gain entry through the narrow Siq.
The Romans eventually forced the Nabateans to surrender and they annexed Petra. The Romans contributed to the shape of Petra and how it evolved. There is also a clear Byzantine influence. It was abandoned completely in the 7th Century AD following an earthquake and a change in trading routes.
Petra was re-discovered by the western world in 1812 by Swiss explorer, Ludwig Burckhardt. Petra is now the most popular tourist attraction in Jordan.
Our visit to Petra
Our trip to Petra was part of a longer trip to Jordan, which included visits to Jerash, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and other places within Jordan. It was an “adventure trip” with hiking, biking, scrambling and canyoning activities all included within the itinerary. Visiting Petra, however, was to be the absolute highlight of the trip. Details of the trip we booked can be found at the end of this post and, in due course, there will be posts about other aspects of our Jordan itinerary. The first of these posts about our trip to Jordan focuses on Wadi Rum: What is so special about Wadi Rum?
The weather in Petra
We visited Petra in mid-April. Our research suggested that this was a good time to visit. The weather should have been reasonable and not too hot, which it can be during the summer months. In fact, it did not work out quite like that……. We had rain, thunder, lightning and hail all within the course of our day in Petra! There was also, briefly, some sunshine. We could not believe it and our guide who had visited Petra over 400 times said he had only seen rain very rarely and it was the first time he had ever experienced a thunderstorm, let alone hail.
The rain really came on whilst we were walking from the visitor centre down towards Petra through the Siq. The Siq is a narrow canyon over a kilometer long leading into the city of Petra. The rain was so heavy there were waterfalls spurting down the sides of the slot canyon. It quickly started to flood and we were walking through several inches of water. Thank goodness for Gortex boots and full waterproofs! Then the lightning came and the thunder.
The hail did not start until much later in the day when we were about to leave.
The rain came on again too at this point and was even heavier. The path where we had walked on the way in was now a torrent of flood water and the Siq was flooded. Very few people headed up through the Siq at this time and we were by ourselves for most of the way. Some of those who ventured up took off their shoes and paddled through the water. Literally!
Did this spoil our visit to Petra?
No, absolutely not. In fact, seeing Petra in the rain and having a dramatic thunderstorm made it rather special. An added bonus was that shortly after we entered Petra around 7.00 am, the rain was so heavy that the site was closed as there was a risk of flash flooding. It was, therefore, unusually quiet. Thousands of people visit Petra every day so to experience it without the massive crowds was wonderful. Our guide did mention that if the rain did not abate fairly quickly, we would be evacuated for safety reasons. Fortunately, it did not come to this.
All of this simply added to the Petra experience.
The Highlights of Petra
What to see inside Petra?
It is possible to visit Petra without a guide and there are plenty of guide books available. However, to fully appreciate the history and to ensure that one does not miss any of the real highlights of Petra, I would definitely advise hiring a guide. Our guide was with us for the whole of our trip in Jordan and he was a wealth of information. Below I have listed the highlights of Petra as he showed them to us.
The way into Petra: the Siq
In line with our itinerary, we were supposed to enter Petra via its “back trail”. This would involve hiking along the Jordan Mountain Trail, taking in the scenic balcony route, from Little Petra. Little Petra is a smaller town, which served as a support town for Petra, but this is for another post. This back route, however, had been closed because heavy rain had made it impassable. We entered via the main entrance, therefore. No hardship: in fact, having experienced this, I would not have it any other way.
The first part of the trail into Petra, Bab as-Siq (Gateway to the Siq) is almost 1km long and follows a gentle downhill slope. There are a number tombs along the route, carved into the stone.
Eventually, the trail leads into the Siq, a slot canyon or gorge. The Siq roughly translates as “the shaft” and it is easy to understand why. The walls of the Siq stretch high above the floor and it is really quite narrow in places as it winds its way down into Petra. Along one side of the Siq, one can see the carved channel for the water supply and the places where it was filtered before reaching inside Petra itself.
The Siq meanders around and eventually, anticipation is rewarded as it opens out on to the magnificent Treasury. Wow!
When people think of Petra, they almost always think of the Treasury. Petra is huge, however, and is so much more than just the Treasury. Nevertheless, it is the Treasury, which we see first upon entering Petra and it is absolutely magnificent. The Treasury is definitely one of the highlights of Petra.
Almost all of the structures inside Petra have been carved out of the sandstone rather than constructed in the traditional sense. The Treasury is absolutely stunning when it first comes into sight. The red of the sandstone, which gives Petra its other name, “the rose city”, changes colour as the light changes during the day. The carvings are beautiful and intricate. It is truly a work of art.
Visitors are not allowed to go inside The Treasury in Petra, but by all accounts, there is nothing to see inside, just empty chambers. Even so, one cannot help but wonder….
The Royal tombs
We took the high trail through Petra, looking down on to the main thoroughfare below. This took us past the wonderful facades of the Royal tombs inside Petra. There are hundreds of tombs inside Petra, some very grand, and others, little more than caves carved into the rock.
One tomb, which we found really quite beautiful because of the natural colours and patterns in the rock, was this children’s crypt.
In many of the tombs and even some storage caves, the natural rock ceilings were absolutely beautiful.
We also looked down on to the theatre, created by the Nabateans over 2000 years ago. It has seating for around 3000 people.
The Byzantine Church
Built in the 5th Century AD, the Byzantine church is another example of the varied architecture in Petra. The church is noted for the mosaic decorations on the floor.
The Monastery in Petra is my personal favourite, even more so than the Treasury. It is not quite so accessible as the Treasury as it involves climbing up 1000 steps to reach it. Our guide said it was a 1000 steps, but other sources suggest it is fewer. I did not count! Either way, it is a lot of steps to climb.
Some steps are man-made, rough-hewn out of the rock; others are naturally formed. There are stalls and vendors all the way along the steps, as indeed there are virtually everywhere inside Petra. It takes most people around 45 minutes to climb to the Monastery and it is definitely worth it. Upon reaching the top, the view opens out on to a plateau, dominated at one side by the wonderful carved façade of the monastery.
The Great Temple
This huge area was originally completed by the Nabateans in the 1st Century AD. The shape of the structure with the columns and steps can clearly be seen.
The Colonnaded Street
The Colonnaded Street, originally built by the Nabateans and later enhanced by the Romans, is another highlight of Petra. It runs adjacent to the Great Temple. It was whilst walking along the Colonnaded Street that the heavens opened and we were battered by hailstones. They really stung!
By the time we reached the theatre area heading back towards the Treasury and the way out, we were drenched again and the area had cleared as people more sensible than us (or perhaps without full waterproofs!) had taken shelter.
Much of the main route in through Petra was now a raging river. There was talk of evacuation among some people who were heading away from the Treasury, but we ploughed on and paddled back through the Siq. The site had closed again because of the heavy rain.
Is it worth visiting Petra?
Petra is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (as pronounced in 2007) and it is easy to see why. It has survived through the centuries, weathered by the elements, but is still in remarkably good shape. The beauty of the facades with the intricate carvings is astounding. One cannot help but marvel at the skill and perseverance, which went into creating these structures. Petra tells the tale of a different way of life and bears witness to the history of humanity. Gaze at the Treasury built by the original inhabitants of Petra, walk the Colonnaded street along which people walked 2000 years ago and climb to the monastery up the steps which they climbed – and feel this history. Is it worth visiting Petra? Yes, without a doubt.
Need to know for a visit to Petra
Getting around Petra
Petra is a large site so to fully appreciate it, one has to be prepared to walk (and climb lots of steps to see the Monastery!). Strong comfortable shoes, therefore, are a necessity. If there is a chance of rain in the forecast, and I speak from experience, waterproof shoes will make the visit much more comfortable.
The path through the Siq into Petra is smooth and easy and downhill. It is possible, however, to hire a golf-buggy style contraption if walking is not an option. Inside Petra, camels and donkeys can be hired, although our guide suggested that they were not always well treated and therefore he did not recommend hiring one. Some of the paths inside Petra are not quite as easy as the trail through the Siq.
There are hundreds of stalls and vendors inside Petra. They line the main thoroughfares and every nook and cranny. The prices are outrageous, however, and the quality doubtful. The same mementos can be bought much cheaper Wadi Musa. For this reason, taking water and snacks with you on a Petra visit is a good idea. We did stop in one of the tents for a cup of tea though. This was very welcome as we were all a little chilled by this time.
There are toilets at the main entrance and others throughout the site. Our host, when we stopped for the cup of tea, however, suggested we just “use the cave out back – and remember to close the door!”
Tickets and opening times
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Where to stay on a visit to Petra
Wadi Musa is the town which surrounds the archeological site and there are lots of options for accommodation here. We stayed in the Petra Palace, quite a large hotel on the main street. It was literally a 5 minute walk to the main entrance to Petra. This made it very easy for an early start.
Details of our trip to Jordan and Petra
We travelled with KE Adventure. They offer a number of trips to Jordan which include visiting Petra. We opted for the Ultimate Jordan Adventure, a multi-activity trip. This was my fourth trip with KE.
Top Travel Tip
One of the best tips I can give to people heading off on their travels, is to pick up a water bottle with a filter. This has several advantages:
- it filters out about 99%+ of contaminants, anything which might cause an upset stomach, so you can fill up in the hotel or hostel;
- it means that you are not buying bottled water in single-use plastic bottles, which is good for the environment and your pocket
I use the Water-to-Go bottle and really like it, but there are others available on the market.
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