Visiting Petra is a journey through a lost city of ancient history, staggering architecture, and unparalleled charm. Petra is not a trip to rush, it is a place to linger, take a deep breath, and even meditate. Make sure you spend at least a full day in Petra. If you have time, a 2-3 days stay will allow you to immerse yourself in this Nabatean masterpiece.
Arrive at the visitors’ center and choose your excursions. To help you decide which excursions to choose, below is a description of Petra’s major attractions.
You just passed the main gate that guards the Petra site and you are so excited to reach the Siq –the main entrance to the rose city; however, make sure you do not miss out on several historical relics on the way. There are three colossal Djinn Baetyli representing Nabatean Gods, freestanding obelisks, and a dam cut out in the rock by the Nabateans to divert flash floods from the Siq. In this short walk you can see the Snake Tomb, the Eagle Monument, Bab-Al Siq Triclinium and Entrance or Triumph Arch.
The Nabateans chose the location of their city carefully: Petra’s main entrance, the Siq, is a narrow gorge that is over one kilometer long and is shouldered by soaring 80 meter high rock face. Walk through the Siq or take a horse or camel ride and relive the times in which caravans laden with silk and incense traveling between China, Syria, and Arabia passed through the Siq to find sanctuary and a resting place in the hospitable and friendly Nabatean capital. Horse-drawn carriages are also a popular way of traversing the Siq.
When the meandering Siq is about to end, you will experience for yourself what Johann Ludwig Burckhardt experienced in 1812 AD when he took the first step into the lost city: overwhelming admiration.
A breathtaking façade carved in the rose-pink mountains is the first thing you see at the end of the Siq. This façade, known as the Treasury or Al Khazna, is adorned with intricate friezes, statues, and decorative patterns. Some locals believe that it is the safe where Pharaoh’s treasures were kept but archaeologists believe that it is the mausoleum of King Aretas IV, the last Nabatean King (9BC -40AD).
A Nabatean religious site that sits on a plateau of iron-red rock. The Nabateans carved away the top of the sandstone plateau to create a rectangular courtyard surrounded by benches from three sides. To the west, there is a sacrificial platform with an altar, a carved circular basin to receive the blood of sacrificed animals, and a water basin for purification. It is called the High Place for a simple reason: getting there involves a steep climb, but the remarkable vistas are worth the effort.
Built in the 13th century AD, this Shrine is located atop Mount Aaron in the Sharah mountains range. It was built by the Mamluk Sultan Al Nasir Mohammad to commemorate the death of Aaron, the brother to Prophet Moses. He died in Jordan and was buried in Petra at Mount Hor, now called Jabal Harun in Arabic (Mount Aaron). Aaron is remembered for the beautiful blessing that God commanded him to give his people: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).
A Roman-style theatre that was built in the first century AD. This was carved into the side of the mountain at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice during the reign of King Aretas IV (9BC-40AD). It consists of three rows of seats separated by passageways and seven stairways that ascend the auditorium and can accommodate over 4000 spectators.
The tomb receives its name from the decorative jar that crowns it. A Greek Byzantine inscription records that the hall, which was originally a royal tomb, was transformed into a church by Bishop Jason in 447 AD.
Shaded by a wild pistachio tree that is over 450 years old, the Nymphaeum is conveniently located near the amphitheater and the marketplace. This public fountain used to receive water from a tank located on the opposite side of the valley.
The street was originally constructed by the Nabateans and later renovated by the Romans.
A trip up the marble stepladder takes you to Qaser Al Bint. It is believed that the goddess Al Uzza, who was equated with the Greco-Roman goddess of fertility Aphrodite, and Baal Shaman were the main gods of this temple. The temple is believed to date back to the first half of the 1st century AD and is built on a podium of yellow sandstone that is 23 meters high.
Eight hundred rock-cut steps will take you to Ad Deir or the Monastery. This remarkable site is definitely worth the effort. You can take a horse or donkey ride up the stairs. The hall in the Monastery was later used as a Christian chapel and crosses were carved in the rear wall.
Petra is a large museum of preserved rock art in itself, but within the site there are also two small museums showcasing various aspects of Petra’s history: The Petra Archaeological Museum and the Petra Nabatean Museum. Both museums exhibit finds from excavations in the Petra region and offer an insight into Petra's history and Nabatean culture.
Just by the Monastery, “the End of the World” site offers breathtaking views over parts of the valley. This is a place for mediation and inspiration, where you can spend hours.
Several mausoleums can be seen along the pedestrian route. Among the notables ones are: The Renaissance Tomb, Roman Soldier Tomb, Unieshu Tomb, Palace Tomb, Silk Tomb, and Corinthian Tomb. Over 500 tombs survived over the years and they offer us a glimpse into Petra’s death rites. Read or ask your guide about the fascinating inscriptions on the tombs.
Just a few kilometers from Petra’s main site lies a miniature of the legendary Petra in Al Beidha in Wadi Musa. Little Petra is accessible through a crack in the rocks that resembles the Siq in the main site. This site also includes notably persevered tombs.