It is no secret that Petra is Jordan’s most popular and most visited tourist site. The ‘Rose City’ has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
Ok, so you have made the journey to Jordan and you're heading to Wadi Musa to start your Petra adventure. Stay in a hotel close to the entrance of Petra. This is a far better way of experiencing the ancient city in one day than taking a day trip. We opted for the Movenpick, because you just can’t beat the location. Just walk across the road and you are right at the Petra visitor centre.
Start early. The site opens at 6am so be there between 6 and 7am. Day trip buses depart from Amman and Aqaba in the morning arriving at around 11am. You will have the site almost to yourself in the early morning which makes a huge difference to your experience. No crowd, no noise, it’s perfect…..until 11am when those crowds roll in!
Once you are head down ‘The Siiq’ (path to Petra) and get ready for a beautifully spectacular walk. There is the option to take a horse and cart, or ride a horse into Petra, but the walk is all downhill. If you don’t think you can manage the 8 or so km needed to cover the whole site then you can always catch a ride back to Wadi Musa. However, be cautious, and avoid this if you can - unfortunately the animals are not always treated well, and supporting the practise can feel a little unpleasant.
The first glimpse you get of The Treasury is absolutely breath-taking. Through the cracks of the red sandstone wadi you catch sight of a sliver of rock carving. It is just as impressive as all the photos show it to be. The Treasury, otherwise known as ‘Al-Khazneh’, was originally built as a crypt and mausoleum, but got its name from the legend of bandits hiding their treasure in a stone urn on the second level.
Once you can pull yourself away from The Treasury you will make your way down the Street of Facades. The street is lined by a number of different decorated tombs. The intricately carved tombs are believed to be the burial grounds of some of the most senior city officials and princes.
Next is an optional ascent to the High Place of Sacrifice. The climb is roughly 700 steps but offers stunning views of the area. On the way up there are tombs and terraces as well as 6m high obelisks carved out of solid rock. If you opt for this climb you will not be disappointed, and it doesn't take as long as you think it will. Some websites suggest the full climb is two hours, but it took us no more than twenty minutes. If you would rather not, at the base are a series of stalls and cafes that make for fun browsing - especially if some of your party fancy the climb and you do not.
At the foot of the path to the High Place of Sacrifice lies the 4000 capacity Theatre, thought to be carved into the rock during the reign of King Aretas IV between 4BC and AD27.
The Royal Tombs are a row of four different tombs side by side overlooking the theatre. The Um Tomb features a series of arches over a two-tiered vault. The Silk Tomb is smaller, yet the most colourful in Petra. The Corinthian Tomb resembles The Treasury, and The Palace Tomb is over three levels and markedly bigger in size. All are worthy of your time.
Delving further into the site you will follow the Colonnaded Street sometimes referred to as the Roman Road. This original Nabatean creation was later refurbished by the Romans.
At the end of the street lies the Triple Gate and the Temple of Qasr Al-Bint. Both are impressive and warrant exploration before heading on.
Your final absolute must-see lies ahead. The ‘El Deir’ Monastery, commonly referred to as just 'The Monastery,' is one of the largest monuments in Petra. Accessed via an 800 step rock path, the monastery is dated back to the 3rd century BC. The Monastery gets its name from its use as a Byzantine church, its previous use is somewhat contested – it was either a tomb or for meetings of religious associations. One thing we can be sure of is that it is incredibly stunning. The climb up is a little arduous, but the final few steps lead to a turn, and as you round the corner you begin to catch glimpses of what awaits - then you step out on to the wide flat rock to enjoy the full spectacle and feel fully rewarded for your climb!
It is not often that we would ever recommend a café inside a major tourist attraction, but the café opposite is the best vantage point for admiring The Monastery’s façade. There is of course more to explore in Petra, but you will have hit all of the major sites and done it before the hordes arrive. All that’s left is for you to head back to your hotel for a dip in the pool and a G&T on ice!