JORDAN – Exploring the lost city of stone: Petra

A visit to Petra is probably on everyone’s schedule if visiting Jordan. For me this was not different. Petra is Jordan’s number one place to go, one of the new seven world wonders, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I visited Petra during a family trip with the kids during our Christmas holidays in 2014. On our way from Aqaba to the Dead Sea we had a one night stay in Petra to explore this beautiful city of stone. The modern city has besides plenty of hotels and restaurants not much to offer except functioning as a gateway to Petra. We bought a two-day pass and visited the first day the main route up to the monastery and the second day we went up to the high altar of sacrifice. It is recommended to take two days in Petra to be able to see everything and not be in a hurry. A walk through Petra is full of “wow moments”, I guarantee.

Some history on Petra

Petra was built several centuries B.C. by the Nabataeans as the capital of their civilization after it had been inhabited several centuries before by various civilizations. The place flourished under the rule of the Nabataeans. Their kingdom stretched from the Sinai in Egypt through Jordan, Israel to Syria. Their economy was mainly based on trading and their capital Petra was the connecting point of several trading routes in the region now called Middle East. After the Nabataeans it was ruled by Romans and Byzantines but the city got forgotten over time. It was only in 1812 that western civilization found back this forgotten city and it became once more a highlight in the Middle East.

Entering Petra and walking the Siq

Entrance tickets are expensive, be prepared to pay 55 JD each person for a two days entrance but it’s worth it! From the visitors center you can walk only one way, through the Siq. You will get lots of times the question asked to take the horse (actually included in the ticket but be prepared to tip!), camel or donkey. If you decide to take a ride make sure you negotiate a fixed price before taking it and make sure they understand that the price is including the tip. The Siq is a narrow gorge through the mountains functioning as the entrance to Petra today. In ancient time this was a wadi with water flowing towards the city. After at least a 30-45 minute walk you finally see the Treasury in the distance: THE view of Petra.

A walk through Petra is full of “wow moments”, I guarantee.

The Treasury was a crypt and mausoleum and has one of the best preserved facades in Petra. A lot of details still remain but many are eroded over time by water and wind. The Treasury is probably the most photographed structure in Petra and many people think that the Treasury is Petra but there is so much more. From the Treasury I continued walking the gorge which then opens up and you can admire the full view of the city Petra.

The main area of Petra

After the Treasury you walk into Petra from the east where you easily spend 2 to 3 hours exploring all of it. You will find on your right side various tombs and in front of you on the left side the theatre. The theatre is cut out of the sandstone rock and remains pretty intact today. If you continue your walk down the main road you will find on the right side the royal tombs. They are amazing!

many people think that the Treasury is Petra but there is so much more

From the main road you should climb the hill on the right side for the old Byzantine church which has great mosaics. Here you have a great view on the temple complex on the other side of the road and also the royal tombs. From here it’s best to walk further down the main road towards the end. There were not that many tourists when we visited and we got chased by a guy who wanted us to take the donkey; this came in handy later.

Climbing to the Monastery

At the end of the main area there is a restaurant but the buffet was not really appealing and we were not that hungry. We had something to drink and we came to the conclusion it would be most efficient to walk up to the Monastery that same day. It was already around 3PM so it would be a close call but then the guy that chased us to take a donkey ride arrived again 🙂 After negotiating we made a deal that for 10 JD in total (4 persons) they would take us up the mountain. Riding the donkey, or for me a mule, was not frightening at all for us but the people walking the road probably got frightened as we made a race who was at the top first. My son won. A great and fast experience!

Once at the top you will be able to admire the second most beautiful building in Petra: the Monastery. It’s a huge building with a size of over 50 meters wide and almost 50 meters high. Have some great tea here in the shade of the small restaurant. You will have great views over the valley below from here. After an hour we decided to head back to the hotel. This was still a huge walk but we came across some desperate donkey owners giving us a ride for almost nothing. We were back at the hotel probably at 7 PM. It was a long but satisfactory day. For dinner we just went to the top floor restaurant of our hotel La Maison where they served a great Jordanian dinner for a very affordable price.

A walk to the high altar of sacrifice

The next morning only I and my son decided to head to Petra again to climb to the high altar of sacrifice. We had to walk the Siq again (boring the second time) to get to the path leading up the mountain. The path you find on your left just when you have entered the main area of Petra. It’s a narrow path up the mountain taking approximate an hour. At the top you will find the altar of sacrifice, some obelisks and a few other structures. The views on the top are amazing and I do not regret getting back into Petra to see this place. From here you have two options to either walk back down the same way or walk further and end up at the end of Petra through another Wadi.

We decided to walk back the same way to save time and so we were back at the hotel just after lunch time to get in our car and drive to the Dead Sea. The two days in Petra definitely were needed to see the places wanted to see. In our itinerary in Jordan we did not have more time to fit in anyway. If you are into hiking there are more trails in Petra to follow and to see every single one of them it probably takes you 4 to 5 days. For us however two days was enough to see all and get a great impression of Petra.

Did you like reading this post? Comments or questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery of Petra

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

GPS Track in and around Petra

During my trips I make GPS tracks. Feel free to download them and see how we moved around and see the time frames at the various places. Hope these maps are of help for you when planning your trips.

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