Exploring Petra and Wadi Musa

Call me naive, but before coming to Petra I thought the Treasury was it. I had no idea about the Monastery, or the Royal Tombs, or the fact that there is also a Little Petra! Nor had I ever heard of Wadi Musa – the town closest to the archaeological site of Petra, which acts as a jump-off point for travellers exploring the Lost City.

Because Petra (namely the Treasury) tends to get most of the attention, in today’s post I wanted to highlight some of the many things you can do in and around Petra and Wadi Musa during your visit. From 2000-year-old cave bars to Jordanian cooking classes, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy!

Visiting Little Petra in Jordan.

Visit Little Petra

Petra may get all the fame, but there are other historical sites in the area worth visiting like Little Petra. Also known as Siq al-Barid (Cold Canyon), Little Petra is located about a 10 minute drive from the Petra and it is believed to have been an important suburb of the Rose City. While Little Petra is not as large and spread out as Petra, there are still many similarities between the two; much like the entrance to Petra, reaching Little Petra also involves walking through a narrow gorge and once you enter you’ll find tombs, storage houses and residences carved into the rock. You can even still see frescoes in some of these buildings! Another nice thing about a visit to Little Petra is that it’s not quite as popular as nearby Petra, so there are less visitors to share the attraction with.

Hike to the Monastery

Because I was pressed for time I personally didn’t make it all the way up to the Monastery. I ended up walking out to the Royal Tombs instead, however, a few of my friends did choose the Monastery and they came back with rave reviews of it. The hike takes about an hour to complete and it involves climbing 850 steps in the desert heat. It’s actually recommended that you tackle this climb in the afternoon when there is a bit more shade along the way.

Visiting the archaeological sites in Petra, Jordan.

Explore Petra beyond the Treasury

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is so much more to Petra than just the Treasury! The journey has only begun once you walk through the Siq and finally reach that iconic structure. From there you’ll want to continue further into the city and make visits to the Urn Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, the Palace Tomb, the Cardo Maximus, the Great Temple, the Columbarium, the Winged Lion’s Temple, and more. You could spend days exploring the little caves that line these red sandstone walls, so give yourself plenty of time here.

Visit Petra by Night

If you’re not left completely wiped by hiking in and out of Petra during the daytime, then you may want to check out Petra by Night. When darkness falls over the Lost City, candles are lit and visitors are invited to enjoy a Bedouin music performance set in front of the Treasury. Petra by Night takes place on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. (If this is your first time to Petra, it’s recommended you first visit during the day and then save Petra by Night for your second visit. The reason for this is that because it’s dark you won’t me able to see all the little details that make Petra so special, and you might be a little disappointed by the lack of grandeur.)

Camels, horses and donkeys. Various forms of transportation in Petra.

Ride a horse, a camel, or a donkey

Because it’s a bit of a journey to reach Petra, there is the option of hiring various forms of animal transportation to get you there. You will see horse-drawn carriages pulling people through the Siq, and there are also horses, camels, and donkeys for hire to explore the rest of the archaeological site. Honestly though, if you’re able to walk I would recommend you get yourself there on your own two feet. Many of the animals I saw there didn’t look like they were well taken care of and some even had visible wounds from gear that was too tight – it was a little heartbreaking. There will be many people offering you rides inside Petra, so if your legs are tired and you do decide to go with this option, try to find someone who is handling their animals with care.

Hike up to Aaron’s Tomb

Aaron’s Tomb is an important religious site in Jordan. The tomb is that of the Biblical Aaron, the brother of Moses, who died in Jordan and was buried on Mount Hor (now called Mount Aaron). Both a Byzantine church and later an Islamic shrine were built on this very site, and today both pilgrims and hikers alike are welcome to ascend to the peak. Again, due to time restraints I didn’t have enough time to hike this one myself – I merely saw it in the distance as we drove away. However, if you’re an avid hiker this is something you can try. Aaron’s Tomb sits at 1,350m above sea level so a certain level of fitness is required to reach it. The hike can take anywhere between 2-3 hours to complete.

Scrub down at a hammam

Hiking around Petra and exploring the little corners of the Lost City takes a lot out of you. There are long distances to cover and sometimes it feels like the desert is trying to shrivel you up into a raisin! If you need a little pampering, then you can always consider checking out Al Yakhor Turkish Bath for a local hammam experience. Nothing quite like a sauna, scrub, and massage to leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the next day. (And you get to keep your bathing suit on here!)

Taking a cooking class at Petra Kitchen.

Take a cooking class at Petra Kitchen

If you enjoy Jordanian food, a cooking class is a great way to take those Middle Eastern recipes back home with you. I’ve tackled cooking classes in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand so I was happy to try my hand at making dishes like baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), tabbouleh (a bulgur, tomato, and parsley salad), and fattoush (a mixed vegetable salad topped with fried pieces of pita bread) in Jordan. What I liked about the cooking class at Petra Kitchen is that it had a very communal feel with everyone working together to create a shared meal. After a brief little intro and getting to know the participants over drinks, we were divided into groups to work on different recipes. At the end we shared the food we had made with others, and they in turn shared their creations with us. It was a really fun way to spend the night and I left feeling stuffed!

Enjoy drinks and shisha at the Cave Bar

I’m usually one to go to bed early, but if you’re looking for a fun night on the town, the Cave Bar is the place to be. Set in a 2000-year-old tomb (talk about location!), the Cave Bar is a good place to enjoy a few drinks and smoke a little bit of shisha. It’s not particularly crowded, so if you’re looking for more ambiance it’s best to go with a group of friends.

So there you have it – a brief little guide to Petra and Wadi Musa! As a side note, if you’re planning a trip to Jordan and Petra is on your itinerary, I would recommend spending at least 3 days here. It’s impossible to cover the archaeological site in one day and you’ll likely find yourself wanting to go back to hike to the various vantage points and experience the city at different times of day. Aside from that, the town of Wadi Musa is also worth a little wander, so give yourself plenty of time.

Have you been to Petra and Wadi Musa?
What else would you recommend doing?

For more Jordan posts you can read:

Petra: Journeying into the Lost City

Destinations in Jordan, because there’s more than just Petra!

Memories from Camping with Bedouins in Wadi Rum

A Night at the Dana Biosphere Reserve

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