The cities, towns and villages of the Middle East are known for their amazing history, friendly people and stunning architecture, and Petra, Jordan, is certainly no exception. Visitors to Petra will soon find out why the town is known as the Rose Red City, and why locals claim that it is “half as old as time”.
Petra is home to some of the most spectacular ruins in the Middle East, and history buffs and architecture enthusiasts alike are sure to be enthralled. These impressive ruins date back to the 6th century, when Petra served as the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. Back then Petra was an important hub for commerce and trade, and the city continued to thrive until a catastrophic earthquake destroyed key buildings and infrastructure. Modern visitors can see the entire arc of ancient Petra, from its rise as a capital of commerce to its unfortunate end.
Ironically, the ruins that make Petra such a great tourist attraction were hidden from view for most of modern history. Those ancient ruins were not uncovered until Swiss explorers infiltrated the then Bedouin-occupied site in 1812. Further research ensued, and a great deal of Petra’s ancient history was recovered.
Reaching Petra is easy
These days visitors do not have to embark on a full-scale exploration to enjoy the history of Petra. Tourists staying in nearby Egypt and Israel often make Petra a day trip, and the ancient ruins are easily accessible from those popular destinations.
Petra is also easily accessible from other major cities in Jordan. JETT buses run regularly from Amman and Aqaba, and those buses are an inexpensive way to see Petra and explore its ruins at your leisure. A number of public minibuses also make the trip from other Jordanian cities to the ruins of Petra, and those public transportation options are even less expensive.
Visitors who are pressed for time can take a taxi directly to Petra. Taxis are plentiful, easy to use and inexpensive throughout Jordan, making them a viable option for busy tourists.
Walking on 2 human or 4 animal feet: best way to explore Petra
No matter how you get to Petra, once you are there you should expect to do plenty of walking. Motorized transport is not allowed within Petra itself. The only permissible modes of transportation take place on two feet or four. You can lace up your hiking boots and explore Petra on your own, or you can rent a camel, donkey or horse from one of the many vendors doing business in the city. While a horse or camel-back ride is a lovely way to see any Middle Eastern city, be aware that these animal vendors expect – and demand – high tips. If you do not want to deal with the hassle or the haggling, you might want to explore Petra on foot.
Key Sightseeing in Petra and perhaps a trip “Little Petra” and into the desert
The ancient city of Petra is now a stunning archeological park, and the Jordanian government has taken special pains to keep it as pristine as possible. Visitors are urged to respect the integrity of the site by taking lots of pictures while not disturbing any of the historical artifacts. Tourists who want to go more in-depth can hire guides at the visitor center. These local guides can provide a special insight into both the history of Petra and modern-day Jordan.
The Monastery, or ad-Deir, is one of the most impressive structures in Petra, but it is also one of the most difficult to get to. Dating back to the 1st century AD, the Monastery is the biggest carved monument in the city. If you want to go inside, plan to spend some time. There are some 800 steps leading to the top of the Monastery, and the climb alone can take more than an hour.
If you still have any energy after climbing the Monastery steps, there are several beautiful hikes throughout Petra. The visitor center can give you some suggested routes, but it is often just as much fun to wander around on your own.
The adventurous tourist may want to extend a visit to Petra with an exploration of Little Petra and the surrounding Wadi Rum and Wadi Araba deserts. Tourists can hire a local Bedouin guide and enjoy a multi-day camel trek into the ancient desert. There is something magical about sleeping under the stars in a Bedouin camp, and the Little Petra region is a great place to experience that magic.