Petra – The Rose Red City

I had arrived in Petra, Jordan, a captivating destination where ancient architecture and mesmerizing landscapes combine to create a truly unforgettable experience. Nestled within the rugged mountains of the Jordanian desert, Petra is an archaeological wonder often referred to as the “Rose City” due to its unique rock formations that blush shades of red at sunrise and sunset.

I am sure you, like myself, are familiar with the Indiana Jones movie of the arrival through the Siq and the view of the Treasury building. 

As you step foot into this ancient city, you’ll be transported back in time to the heyday of the Nabataean civilization, who carved intricate structures into the sandstone cliffs. Among the most famous sites is the Treasury, a grand temple adorned with intricate carvings that leave visitors in awe. Wander through the narrow Siq, a natural rock formation that serves as the entrance to Petra, and be prepared to have your breath taken away as you catch your first glimpse of these awe-inspiring structures.

Beyond the incredible architecture, Petra is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Embark on a hike to the Monastery, where you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding desert. Explore the vibrant colors of the Petra Mountains and discover the secrets that lie within.

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El Khazneh, Petra, Jordan

History and significance of Petra

Petra holds a rich history that dates back to the 6th century BC when it was established as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom.

This ancient civilization thrived due to its strategic location on the trade routes linking Egypt, Arabia, and Syria. It grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices.

The Nabataeans, known for their advanced engineering skills, carved magnificent structures into the sandstone cliffs, creating a city that was both aesthetically stunning and functionally impressive.

Later the Romans came and annexed the area. Then the city developed a more Roman and later Byzantine style.

An earthquake in 363 AD destroyed the city and the trade routes moved to the Red Sea. The city never recovered and was left abandoned to be forgotten except for the local Bedouin. It remained ‘lost’ until a Swiss explorer called Johannes Burckhardt ‘rediscovered’ the place in 1812.  That was the beginnings of the modern age tourism boom over time.

Bedouin inhabited the city until around 1985 when most, but not quite all, the locals were moved to a new village nearby. In fact our fantastic trekking guide Mahmoud Bdoul was born in one of the Petra cave ‘houses’ and his family still live in the nearby village. I even met Mahmoud’s aunt at one of the many tourist ‘trinket’ stalls dotted around the city.

entering Petra

Famous landmarks in Petra

As you step foot into this ancient city, you’ll be greeted by a plethora of famous landmarks that showcase the architectural brilliance of the Nabataeans. One of the most iconic structures is the Treasury, also known as Al-Khazneh. This grand temple, carved into the rock face, is believed to have served as a mausoleum for a Nabataean king. Adorned with intricate carvings and towering at 43 meters in height, the Treasury is a sight to behold.

Beyond the Treasury, Petra is home to a multitude of other remarkable structures. The Monastery, also known as Ad Deir, is another must-visit landmark. Located high up in the mountains, reaching the Monastery requires a challenging but rewarding hike. The Monastery’s sheer size and grandeur, along with the panoramic views it offers, make it a favorite among visitors.

tomb in petra

Exploring the Treasury and the Siq

To truly immerse yourself in the wonder of Petra, you must first venture through the Siq. This narrow, winding gorge serves as the main entrance to the ancient city. As you walk through the Siq, flanked by towering sandstone cliffs, you’ll feel a sense of anticipation building up.

Finally, as you reach the end of the Siq, the Treasury reveals itself, standing majestically before you. The sight of this intricately carved structure emerging from the narrow passageway is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Take the time to admire the intricate details of the Treasury, as every surface is adorned with delicate carvings, representing a blend of Nabataean, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences. The Treasury’s inner chamber is believed to have once housed valuable treasures, although it remains a mystery as to what exactly was stored within its walls.

Hiking and climbing opportunities in Petra

I did not arrive on one of the many coaches that take visitors to Petra every day. I felt quite smug that we had arrived on foot on a five day trek from Dana to Petra on a part of the Jordan Trail.

Petra valley

While the architectural wonders of Petra are undoubtedly impressive, the surrounding landscapes offer equally breathtaking experiences. Petra is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with numerous hiking and climbing opportunities available. One of the most popular hikes is the trail leading to the Monastery. As you ascend the mountain, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding desert and the intricate rock formations that make Petra so unique.

For those seeking a more challenging adventure, the High Place of Sacrifice hike is a must-do. This trail takes you to the summit of Jebel Madbah, where a sacrificial altar once stood. From the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Petra and the surrounding mountains, making the effort well worth it.

We climbed as the sun climbed higher and the light on the caved rock faces was sublime. From there the views down over the valley floor gave a real sense of the scale of this city, as it would have been. By the time we descended again the crowds had arrived. Bus loads of them.

view of petra, jordan from monastery

Other attractions in and around Petra

While Petra is undoubtedly the main attraction, there are other notable sights in the vicinity that are worth exploring. The ancient city of Little Petra, located just a few kilometers north of Petra, offers a similar architectural experience on a smaller scale. The tombs, caves, and facades found here showcase the artistic prowess of the Nabataeans and provide a glimpse into the daily life of the ancient civilization.

For those seeking a break from the desert landscapes, a visit to the Dana Biosphere Reserve is highly recommended. This nature reserve, located a short distance from Petra, is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. Hiking through the dramatic canyons and valleys of the reserve allows you to connect with nature in a truly unique way.

Best time to visit Petra

Petra can be visited year-round, but the best time to experience its beauty is during the spring and autumn months when the weather is mild and pleasant. The summer months can be scorching hot, with temperatures reaching well above 40°C (104°F), making it challenging to explore the site comfortably. Winter brings cooler temperatures, but it can also be quite chilly, so layering clothing is essential.

To avoid crowds, it’s advisable to visit Petra early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This allows you to witness the changing colors of the rock formations as the sun rises or sets, creating a magical atmosphere that is truly unforgettable.

camels at petra, Jordan

Tips for visiting Petra

When visiting Petra, it’s important to come prepared. Wear comfortable walking shoes, as exploring the site requires a fair amount of walking and climbing. It’s also advisable to carry a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water, especially during the hotter months. Snacks and light meals can be purchased within Petra, but it’s always a good idea to bring some snacks of your own to keep your energy levels up.

Engaging the services of a local guide is highly recommended, as they can provide valuable insights into the history and significance of the various landmarks. They can also help you navigate the site efficiently, ensuring that you don’t miss any hidden gems along the way.

petra coloured beads for sale

Accommodation options in Petra

Petra offers a range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. From luxury resorts to budget-friendly guesthouses, you’ll find a variety of choices within close proximity to the ancient city. Many of these accommodations offer stunning views of the surrounding landscapes, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of Petra even when you’re not exploring its wonders.

Petra Marriott Hotel: Located near the entrance to the ancient city, this hotel offers comfortable rooms, a swimming pool, and stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Movenpick Resort Petra: Situated right at the entrance to Petra, this luxury resort provides spacious rooms, multiple dining options, a spa, and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views.

Petra Guest House Hotel: This hotel is just a short distance from the entrance to Petra, making it a convenient choice. It offers cozy rooms, a restaurant, and a rooftop terrace overlooking the archaeological site.

Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp: For a unique experience, consider staying in a traditional Bedouin camp. These camps offer comfortable tents, traditional meals, and the chance to immerse yourself in Bedouin culture.

Petra Moon Hotel: Located within walking distance of the entrance to Petra, this budget-friendly hotel offers clean and comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and a rooftop terrace with beautiful views.

Rocky Mountain Hotel: Situated in the heart of Wadi Musa, the town near Petra, this hotel provides simple yet comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and a friendly atmosphere.


In conclusion, Petra is a destination that seamlessly blends history, culture, and nature to create an experience like no other. From its awe-inspiring ancient architecture to its mesmerizing landscapes, this UNESCO World Heritage Site captivates visitors with its timeless beauty. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or simply seeking an unforgettable adventure, Petra is sure to leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul. So, embark on a journey to Petra and let the magic of this ancient city enchant you.

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