By 250 BC, Petra was a flourishing trade and power center. By then the Nabateans had been trading throughout the Middle East, into China and the Mediterranean. They were master carvers who adapted much from other societies into their structures and buildings. They also devised ingenious tunnels and water systems to avoid flash floods and protect those walking through the Siq. One tunnel is 88 meters long and cut from solid rock.
Most travelers envision looking up to the beauty of the famous Treasury carvings at the end of the Siq, which opens dramatically to the carvings made famous by Hollywood’s Indiana Jones. But they don’t consider their options for getting to that point, into the vast city beyond and back out again. The Siq opens dramatically to the carvings made famous by Hollywood’s Indiana Jones. To really enjoy seeing Petra, plan for a day spent walking, hiking trails or up steps if that calls to you, or ride donkeys and camels when it doesn’t.
The best ways to explore inside Petra
- Be prepared to walk for hours across the flat complex. Hikers will be happy to know there are optional challenges that include steep stairs and trails.
- Near the entrance to Petra, you can hire a horse-drawn carriage and ride in style to the Treasury or return from there.
- Whether you walk or ride, don’t miss all that lies beyond the most famous site. From the Treasury, you can negotiate a ride through the rest of the grand city.
- The complex is laced with canyons and carved, not just for grand temples, but also homes. Many Bedouins still live in Petra’s canyons. They train the camels and donkeys, run the shops and many are guides.
- There are grand avenues and vast stretches still waiting to be excavated. Tourism is helping Jordan discover all the ancient Nabataeans built around 250 BC after trading for centuries with the rest of the known world.
- Do stop for Jordanian tea and coffee or a full lunch at the central cafe.
- Explore the hills and trails beyond the Treasury site. There are many small shops and artifact collections to peruse on and off the main trail.
More tips for seeing Petra.
- Know your limits.
- Come prepared with water and snacks.
- Trust the Bedouin guides who know their donkeys, camels and horses. Negotiate but pay them fairly.
- Wear sunblock, bring a hat and a long-sleeved shirt can be helpful too.
- Explore side trails and you might find wonderful souvenirs. I brought home silver bracelets and bought spices in small shops hidden off the main trails.
- Take advantage of the toilets when you see them.
- Stop for tea often and admire the view.