A beautiful, rock-hewn city in the rugged highlands of southern Jordan, Petra was once a great, thriving capital of the ancient world. Human settlement started near Petra around 8500BC - a long time before it had gathered pace in Egypt's Nile Valley - and continued on and off for several millennia. The southern parts of what is now Jordan came under the control of powerful empires in early times, from those of Egypt's Pharaohs to the Biblical Kingdom of Edom and the faraway states of Mesopotamia and Persia. Nevertheless, by about 300BC, a people of nomadic origins native to the deserts of Arabia had come to dominate the area, consolidating their power by monopolising lucrative trading routes that ran across the vast, empty sweeps of wilderness they knew so well. These people were known as the Nabataeans and Petra - or 'Raqmu' as the Nabataeans called it themselves - was the capital they crafted at the centre of their kingdom. A sprawling cluster of temples, tombs, theatres, council chambers and residences connected by winding stairways, high mountain paths and deep, shadowy gorges, about half of Petra was cut out of the region's beautiful sandstone and the other half built. Archaeologists estimate over half of Petra's ruins may still be buried, with only a minority of what is actually here visible. Nevertheless, what remains standing is a monument of extraordinary beauty, showing the unique, inimitable vision a people of nomadic heritage, with an extraordinary knowledge and mastery of the natural world, brought to creating a settled capital. Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and the northernmost trailhead of the Bedouin Trail, from where most hikers walking the route will start their 1200km journey to Luxor on the banks of the River Nile.
Wadi Musa: a quick glance
Wadi Musa is a modern town that stands next to the much older ruins of Petra. It is named after the Prophet Moses, who it's said journeyed this way, striking a rock to draw out water for his followers. Wadi Musa nestles in the high, rugged uplands of the Sharah Mountains and has two distinct hubs, connected by a road known as 'Tourism Street'. The main downtown hub stands in the easterly hills of the town and is home to cafes, cheap hotels, banks, shops and the minibus station. At the other end of Tourism Street is a hub of higher-end hotels, the JETT bus station, the Petra Museum and the entrance to Petra itself. Um Sayhoun is a Bedouin village of the Bidool, 3km north. The site of Little Petra is a short way beyond. For more on Petra, see Petra: What to See.
Getting there & away
Petra stands at the northernmost end of the Bedouin Trail with Luxor at its other end in the south. Amman is Jordan's most commonly used international gateway, with the Queen Alia airport handling most international flights. Aqaba has an airport too but is served with a much more limited range of international routes, meaning Amman will be the only option for many visitors arriving by air. Aqaba has land border crossings with Saudi Arabia and Israel and is connected to Nuweiba in the Sinai by ferry. Jordan is served by a wide network of domestic bus routes, making in-country travel easy. JETT bus is the best company and it operates one bus daily between Amman and Petra. From Amman to Petra, it leaves the Abdali bus station at 6.30am with the journey taking three hours and costing 10JOD. From Petra to Amman, the bus leaves the Petra Visitor Centre at 5pm. From Aqaba to Petra, a JETT bus leaves daily at 8am, taking two and a half hours and costing 15JOD; this bus passes the Visitor Centre in Wadi Rum at 9am, where the bus can also be disembarked. Going towards Aqaba, it leaves Petra at 5pm, passing the Wadi Rum Visitor Centre at 6.30pm. Anybody catching the JETT bus from Wadi Rum must be aware it stops at the Wadi Rum Visitor Centre, a few kilometres outside Wadi Rum Village. A taxi between the village and Visitor Centre costs 5-10JOD but asking prices can be more. The road is busy and hitching is also an option. Taxis can also be hired to go all over Jordan; between Amman and Petra taxis will cost around 90JOD and between Aqaba and Petra around 45JOD. Petra to Wadi Rum is also 45JOD.
The Bedouin Trail
The Bedouin Trail between Petra and Wadi Rum is the northernmost section of the 1200km travelling passage. It is a stand alone route that connects Petra with Wadi Um Ashreen on the Wadi Rum Trail. Whilst most sections of the Bedouin Trail outside the Wadi Rum Trail, Sinai Trail and Red Sea Mountain Trail traverse areas in which roads, villages and towns are seen, the route between Wadi Rum and Petra is for the most part a wilderness passage, crossing just two roads. Hikers go deep into the heart of a remote, rugged tract of badlands between the highlands of the Sharah Mountains and the lowland plains of Wadi Araba, known to the Bedouin as 'El Haddab'. This is a geological break zone that counts as one of the most varied, beautiful regions anywhere along the Bedouin Trail, on which hikers will traverse everything from deep, gorges to winding canyons, rugged camel passes, high peaks and plateaux and dripping springs and oases. It is a 140km route that will take most hikers six days to walk and it is a section so rugged it will usually be supported with donkeys, rather than camels. Most of the route runs through the territory of the Howaytat tribe, with the lands of the Anaza reached near the village of Deesa, a few kilometres north of Wadi Um Ashreen, on the Wadi Rum Trail. Hikes on this section of the trail can be organised with Bedouin clans of the Howaytat or those further south near Wadi Rum. Once the Wadi Rum Trail is reached, the Bedouin Trail follows it clockwise, going 100km around to Wadi Abu Baytherana before exiting to Aqaba. For more information on hiking the section of the trail between Petra and Wadi Rum see: Bedouin Trail: Petra & Aqaba.
PETRA: WHERE TO STAY
Petra is the crown jewel in Jordan's tourism industry and a range of accommodation is available. The cheapest hotels are found in the downtown district. More expensive ones are located near the Petra Visitor Centre. Hikers may find the Bedouin camps in the quiet sandstone landscapes of Little Petra the most appealing of all. Prices will increase in the high season.
NOMADS HOTEL - The best, cheapest backpacker option. Clean, stylish rooms with a/c, friendly staff & a quiet location in the quiet, southerly suburbs. WIFI. Singles, 20JOD, doubles 25JOD, dorms 7-11JOD. WhatsApp +962 3 215 7171
OVER MOUNTAINS LODGE - Good backpacker option that feels like a homestay. Homely dining area, friendly staff & clean, spacious rooms. Superb view from the roof. WIFI. With breakfast singles 30JOD, doubles 40JOD. Tel +962785553891.
PETRA PLAZA - A small, family-run hotel in the downtown area. Some rooms small, others bigger; all have a/c, en suites, fridges & a TV. WIFI. Good breakfast, helpful staff on the front desk. Singles 35JOD, doubles 45JOD; +962 7 9909 2427
ATA ALI - A small, family-run hotel, with a boutique feel, close to downtown. Spacious, comfortable rooms with a/c, en-suite, TV & fridge. WIFI & rooftop terrace & cafe. Singles 32JOD, doubles 45JOD. Tel: +962 7 7004 4668
PETRA SKY - A mid-range hotel, a short walk from downtown & the local minibus station. Clean, comfortable rooms; a/c, en-suite, fridge & TV. Roof terrace, WIFI. With breakfast singles & doubles 32JOD. Tel +962779750410
SUNSET HOTEL - One of the cheapest options near the Petra Visitor Centre. Simple rooms with a/c, en-suite, fridge & TV, with an old 70s look. WIFI. With breakfast, singles 30JOD, doubles 40JOD. Tel 03 215-6579.
PETRA CORNER - Good location between downtown & the Petra Visitor Centre, giving easy access to both. Newly renovated with comfortable, modern rooms & all mod cons. Singles 40JOD, doubles 45JOD. Tel +96232153215.
PETRA MOON - One of the oldest hotels in Petra, recently renovated & 150m from the Petra Visitor Centre. Modern rooms with a/c, en-suite, fridge, TV. WIFI, roof terrace bar. Singles 45JOD, doubles 50JOD. Tel +962 3 215 6809
SABA'A GUESTHOUSE - A backpacker hostel in the heart of downtown, with the cheapest rooms in Petra. Simple rooms but clean, with helpful staff. Good view from roof terrace. Singles 15JOD, doubles 17JOD. Tel +962 7 7978 7899
AMARIN BEDOUIN CAMP - Another excellent option; quiet camp in remote, sandstone hills 1km from Little Petra. Sleeping in simple tents, large Bedouin tent for dining, small museum. 21JOD per person. WhatsApp +962799755551.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOTEL - Another backpacker favourite, in quiet, northerly suburbs. Basic, clean rooms. Homely, friendly feel. Turkish Bath, WIFI, superb terrace view. With breakfast, singles JOD25, doubles JOD35. Tel +962 3 215 5100
TOWN SEASONS HOTEL - A modern 3* boutique hotel in the bustling heart of downtown. Clean, stylish rooms with en-suites, a/c & TV & a nice roof terrace for dining. WIFI. Singles 40JOD, doubles 50JOD. WhatsApp +962 7 9849 0390
PETRA HEART - One of the best downtown options, a 3* hotel near the Petra Plaza. Modern, spacious rooms, with a/c, fridges, en-suites, TVs. Local owner who studied in Scotland. WIFI. Singles 35JOD, doubles 45JOD. Tel +962 7 7774 5909
SEVEN WONDERS - A popular option for big tour groups. Comfortable rooms with a/c, TV & en suite but drab, beige-interiors. Turkish bath. Open roof terrace. WIFI. With breakfast, singles 45JOD, doubles 55JOD. Tel +962 3 215 5156
P QUATTRO - A higher end downtown option, close to the local minibus station. Spacious, modern rooms with a/c, fridges, en-suite & TV. WIFI. Roof pool, salt room, massage chairs. Singles 50JOD, doubles 70JOD. Tel +972776903172.
SHAQILATH - A small, family-run hotel, in high, quiet hills, for which a taxi is necessary if carrying heavy bags. Clean, modern rooms with a/c, TV, en-suite & WIFI. With breakfast singles 30JOD, doubles 37JOD. Tel +962 3 215 6809
PETRA ELITE - One of the newest hotels in Petra, close to the main downtown area. A slick, 5* interior, rooms with all mod-cons. Spa, pool & rooftop dining, plus WIFI. Singles 70JOD, doubles 110JOD. Tel +962778438346.
ESPERANZA - Another hotel close to the Petra Visitor Centre. Spacious rooms with a/c, en-suite, fridge & TV, some with balconies & excellent views. Friendly staff & WIFI. Singles 45JOD, doubles 50JOD. Tel +962 7 9029 8143
LITTLE PETRA BEDOUIN CAMP - Bedouin accommodation in quiet sandstone hills, candle lit at night. Bedouin decor & feel, with sleeping in basic tents for 35JD, deluxe tents for 45JOD & caves for 50JOD. Tel +962775312882.
SEVEN WONDERS BEDOUIN CAMP - Another good Bedouin camp in sandstone hills near Little Petra. Sleeping in comfortable tents; 'Martian pods' also available. WIFI. Singles in tents 45JOD, doubles 55JOD. WhatsApp +962796941865