Ten things to do in Petra

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The famous Treasury in Petra

You may have seen images of Petra – or its most famous structure, the Treasury – in magazines, documentaries, movies (‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ is a good example) or even this blog – but it’s not till you’re there that you begin to feel a real sense of awe for the place. Imagine an entire city carved out more than a thousand years ago from the rose-red stone of desert mountains and you’ll begin to get an idea of the magnificence of this ancient city. Built by the Nabateans in the 1st century BC, the city is an imposing sight till this day. Most visitors visit this UNESCO World Heritage site in southern Jordan as part of a day-trip and that’s a pity as Petra has many things to keep visitors occupied for at least a few days. In addition to visiting the city’s main highlights, here are my ten tips for things to do and see in Petra:

1. Petra by night

Seeing Petra during the day is an overwhelming experience for most visitors. By night, the ancient city transforms into what must be one of the most magical places in the world. Thousands of candles guide visitors through the Siq (a canyon) to the main square where the Treasury is located. It’s a truly romantic experience and a perfect place to pop the question (for those planning to do so).

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The Treasury in Petra illuminated by hundreds of candles

2. Join a cooking course

This is a great thing to do in the evenings if you’ve already seen Petra by night. The Petra Kitchen (located along the main road in Wadi Musa, a few hundred yards away from the main entrance to Petra) is a lovely place that promises an educational and fun-filled evening. Visitors don gloves and aprons, and under the supervision of the restaurant’s chefs, learn how to create typical Jordanian dishes.

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All set for the cooking course at Petra Kitchen

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Yours truly at work in Petra Kitchen

 3. Look for traces of ancient grandeur in the Siq

The Siq is a canyon that connects the city of Petra with the outside world. It’s a wondrous experience to walk on thousand-year-old cobblestones and see the curvy rock face in a multitude of colours. Look for traces of ancient dams and water channels used by the Nabateans to control the water supply into the city. As the Siq was the main entrance to the city, the Nabateans carved magnificent statues and arches along the Siq. Little of it can be seen today but look carefully… what may at first look like a hump in the rock face may actually be a carving of a camel.

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Walking through the Siq

4. Meet the Bedouins

As you make your way around Petra, you’ll see various Bedouin tents that provide visitors a shady respite and refreshments. Strike up a conversation with the Bedouins – many of them are from Petra and speak good English – and ask about stories of their ancestors living in Petra. Chances are, you’ll get to hear a fascinating story about what it was like living in Petra in days bygone.

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Bedouins are incredibly friendly and are always in for a chat

Another interesting person to meet is Marguerite van Geldermalsen. She was a backpacker from New Zealand who visited Petra in the 1970’s. She met and fell in love with Mohammad, a local Bedouin, and she never left. Her heart-warming story about being married to a Bedouin and adjusting to the lifestyle is a great read and I highly recommend it if you’re visiting Petra. While you’re there, look her up.

5. Hike through the mountains

There are numerous trails which lead hikers through the mountains and to breathtaking vantage points such as the High Place of Sacrifice. It’s a great way to discover lesser-known ruins like Little Petra, as well as admire colourful and strange rock formations. This is a desert climate so wear appropriate clothing (a cap and proper hiking shoes are a must) and bring plenty of water and some food. Avoid venturing off the path and make sure you get back to the main gate before dark. Information about guides and trails can be obtained from the Petra office at the main entrance.

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Discover lesser-know sites in Petra

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There are stunning views of Petra from the mountains

6. Ride a mule to the Monastery

The Monastery is another of Petra’s highlights. Located in the mountains above Petra, it’s a pretty tough hike to the top. An alternative to hiking to the Monastery is to ride a mule up. It’s fun and quite harrowing at times but you’ll get there in good shape! A one-way ride to the Monastery costs ten dinars (about $15).

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Riding a mule to the Monastery

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The Monastery deep in the mountains of Petra

7. Shop for authentic souvenirs

Petra/Wadi Musa is a great place to shop for traditional Jordanian and Nabatean handicrafts. You can visit various Bedouin tents in Petra (near the Roman ruins) and learn about the culture of the various tribes as well as local community initiatives to improve the livelihoods of the Bedouins. These places have a modest collection of silverware, stone carvings, embroidery and pottery. There is a bigger variety in the Wadi Musa township. The Nabatean Ladies Cooperative of Wadi Musa is an initiative that focuses on the production and sale of silverware and jewellery to wholesalers and tourists, thereby creating jobs for the women in the township. The cooperative operates a modest retail outlet along the main street in Wadi Musa.

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Shop for handicraft in Petra

8. Watch the sunset

This is another magical Petra experience that you simply cannot miss. As Petra is located in a valley, you’ll have to travel to the outskirts of Wadi Musa to see the sunset. The best spots to see the sunset are located along the road (no. 35) from Wadi Musa to Taybeh, about a 5-10 minute drive from the centre of Wadi Musa. There’s a small municipal park (where the picture below was taken) that has a great view of Petra – the city is right there at your feet but you’ll only see parts of it if you look very carefully! As the sun sets, watch as the mountains change from a bright orange to gold. This is one experience you won’t easily forget! You can also opt to enjoy the sunset at one of the hotels along road no. 35 such as the Mövenpick Nabatean Castle or the Marriott which boast commanding views of the mountains and the valley.

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View of Wadi Musa & Petra (to the left of the township)

9. Check into a hammam

After a day of trekking through Petra, there’s no better way to soothe those aching muscles and rid yourself of the dust and sand than to check into a hammam (or Turkish bath). There are several hammams in Wadi Musa (the township adjacent to Petra) that serve both male and female clientele. A typical hammam session consists of a steam bath, a body scrub and an oil massage.

10. Relax at the Mövenpick Resort bar

The Mövenpick Resort Petra is an excellent base from which to explore Petra as it’s situated right next to the main entrance. It’s Arabic-style interior is stunning, not to mention inviting. The atrium is beautiful but make your way to the adjacent bar for a drink – the interior of the bar is absolutely gorgeous!

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The atrium at the Mövenpick Resort Petra

Mövenpick Resort Petra: bar (image courtesy of Melvin Boecher)

Note: a big thank you goes to the Jordan Tourism Board for hosting me in Jordan.

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17 Responses to “Ten things to do in Petra”

  1. issac al khairy 13/02/2013 1:44 pm
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    i have a happy day at the petra and i enjoy it so much

  2. jordan 17/12/2012 10:36 am
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    recommended

    An experience beyond your imagination

    Al Yakhor Turkish bath is located in Quiet Street where next to Petra Palace hotel. Just 200m far from main gate of Petra. Freshen up with a centuries-old spa treatment! A scrub in a Turkish bath is not just part of a bathing ritual, it also helps with detox and enhancing our immune system. Indulge in a hammam and get clean on the inside as well as out!
    The Turkish bath, also known as a hammam, is the Middle Eastern variant of a steam bath. During the Ottoman Empire, Turkish baths served as places of social gathering and ritual bathing. Today people use the hammam as a pampering form of cleansing and relaxation.
    How the hammam works
    The Turkish bath is modeled on the Roman system of bathing with a warm room, hot room and cool room. The bather enters the warm room where their body warms up, then enters the hot room, or steam room, which has water basins along the walls and a large heated stone platform in the center. The bather can rest on the stone to increase body temperature and promote sweating, then rinse off at the water basins. One of the main specialties of the Turkish bath is the foam and scrub massage where a masseuse or masseur lathers up the bather with a special cloth sack full of foam and scrubs off dirt and dead skin with a loofah. The bather can then continue to relax in the hot room and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the steam and heat.

    tel ; +962 03 2154944
    mobile ; +962 779831414
    websit ; http://www.alyakhorturkishbath.com

  3. Michael @ Changes In Longitude 29/10/2012 3:11 am
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    Great tips for Petra. I’d add #11. Make sure to visit nearby Little Petra. It’s much smaller but doesn’t have any crowds. Here’s a story we wrote about it: http://www.changesinlongitude.com/visit-to-jordan-little-petra/

    Cheers, Michael

  4. Agness (@Agnesstramp) 10/10/2012 8:26 am
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    Petra at night looks spectacular. There is nothing like strolling down the street admiring the beautiful scenery of this place. I was dreaming of doing a cooking course there, but never had a chance. I will go for it soon though. Great review by the way.

  5. Anisha Shah 24/09/2012 2:12 pm
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    I’ve just come across this…in Petra right now & thrilled to i’ve done every one of the above except Petra by night (will do in 4 hrs time!) It’s truly a surreal & magical place and thd lesser known sights are physically challenging yet massively rewarding! You can find some of pics – posting as I go throughout Jordan & next Lebanon on Twitter @anishahbbc

  6. Vicky 18/09/2012 12:41 pm
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    Looks amazing! Actually just looked up the weather in December to see if I could go on a little expedition, but doesn’t look too good. I’ll have to wait until next year :)

  7. velvet 02/02/2012 12:07 pm
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    Petra is indeed a mesmerizing place. The Treasury & Monastery are two distinctly different structures. The Treasury is the most famous of the two; it was featured in one of the Indiana Jones movies. The monastery is quite a distance away in the mountains.
    Hope you get to visit Jordan one say soon.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  8. Journeys and Travels 02/02/2012 11:53 am
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    WOW, i am mesmerized! I am so loving this post and a great way to explore it is by feeling it through your feet and all your senses. I liked the idea of getting on a mule to go to the monastery that must be awesome.

    The treasury and monastery perhaps, looked the same? or is it me looking at the same photo all over again.

    Jordan is indeed a great country. I will be praying hard that I will get there too and perhaps write about it on my travel blog too.

  9. Lane 26/01/2012 4:49 pm
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    Cooking? Great idea. I’m not even certain what’s on the menu in Jordan.

  10. James Cook 07/12/2011 7:56 am
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    I would love to do a cooking course in Petra!

  11. jenjenk 06/12/2011 5:30 am
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    further solidifies my desire to get here! would love to take a cooking class, too!!!

  12. velvet 18/11/2011 11:38 am
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    Thanks Andrea. You’ll love it there. You definitely shouldn’t miss the sunset, Petra by night and the cooking course (good fun). Enjoy Petra! :-)

    Cheers,
    Keith

  13. Andrea 18/11/2011 12:21 am
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    Wow – so much to do – I’ve heard there were many things to do there but had no idea about some of these. We’re there next week so hope to experience some of these! =)

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