Many people get in and out of Petra in a day. If you’ve got a little more time on your hands then there are a couple of extra things to see in Wadi Musa and the surrounding area. We’d recommend staying for at least a couple of nights to see Petra By Night and explore Little Petra if you possibly can.
Petra By Night
We arrived in Petra on a Thursday evening and had just enough time to dump our bags before heading straight out to see Petra By Night. This isn’t held every evening and we re-arranged our schedule to make sure that we got to experience it.
The night starts with a candle-lit walk down the Siq. It’s a totally different experience to walking through this narrow canyon in the daytime. The group that we were with tore down the Siq as quickly as they could, probably to get seats in the front row. Mobile phones were waved about to light their way which we felt spoiled the effect of the candle-lit path somewhat; but the path is uneven. The kids were totally shattered from our long day driving along the King’s Highway so I carried Bee and the husband carried the Cub. She complained quite a bit as we walked so we weren’t optimistic about the evening!
The Treasury was lit softly by the light of hundreds of candles arranged carefully in front of it. We sat down on mats placed on the floor by the entrance to the Siq; when everyone had settled, our Bedouin host for the evening began to play the rababa. This is a stringed instrument played with a bow but held on the lap. It has an eerie, haunting quality; the sound is thin and reedy and perfectly suited to the desert. The kids really settled down when the music began, almost as though they were hypnotised into silence (to big sighs of relief from the husband and me).
We were served apple tea and listed to a talk on Petra before a little free time to take photos. However taking photos while holding a feeding baby is easier said than done so I hardly got a decent shot. Never mind – at least the kids behaved!
Little Petra (Siq al-Barid)
Little Petra is only a short drive away from Wadi Musa and is worth a look. It’s possible to hike from Petra to Little Petra if you’re feeling energetic and aren’t weighed down by toddlers. We visited Little Petra on the way to Wadi Rum the day after our visit to Petra.
Little Petra is exactly what you’d expect. As with its bigger sister, you find the carved facades of Little Petra’s buildings by walking through a narrow canyon, although it’s minuscule compared to the Siq.
Unlike Petra, the buildings of Siq al-Barad were not tombs, although they look very similar. Little Petra acted as a rest-station for travellers to do business and feast in the cool rooms of the canyon.
There were several halls for feasting and, climbing up some steep stairs, we found a leafy pattern painted on the ceiling of one. These old rooms seemed a lot more open and easier to explore than the ones at Petra so the husband and I looked around them while the Cub built some sandcastles outside.
The canyon is very narrow and fairly short. It had rained about a week before our visit; grass was growing on the ground and we could see the channels where water flowed down the cliffs. The Nabateans conserved water carefully and held it in large cisterns that you can peer into, helping to make Siq al-Barad an oasis in the desert.
As we walked back to our car we met a Bedouin chap just hanging out with his rababa, as you do. He didn’t speak English but posed obligingly for a few dinar.
The Drive to Wadi Rum
On the way out of Wadi Musa we made a very brief stop at a little shrine of sorts to see a spring coming out of a rock; allegedly the doing of Moses. This is the spring that the Nabateans harnessed for Petra. If you’re interested in religious sites, you can also visit the nearby Mount Harun where some accounts say that Aaron, Moses’ brother, died and was buried.
On the way to Little Petra, we drove along the cliffs surrounding Petra and got a last tantalising glimpse of the Royal Tombs before we drove through the nearby Bedouin town. The Jordanian government made most of the Bedouins who lived in Petra’s tombs move out so that it could be opened up to tourists. Most of the Bedouins who live here now work in Petra as guides or souvenir sellers.
Just before we left Petra’s valley we paused for a look back over the desert. What a view – even a little haze didn’t spoil it. We carried on, through mountainsides covered in juniper trees, until we stopped very briefly at Shobak (or Montreal) castle. This was a crusader castle originally, but it was destroyed about 70 years after being built. Montreal castle finally fell to the famous Saladin after a two year siege, and most of what remains today was built by Mameluks.
It was a shame that we didn’t have time to go inside. But we had to get to Wadi Rum’s spellbinding desert for the afternoon, where we would spend the night in tents under the stars.
Know before you go
Petra By Night runs on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Buy tickets from your hotel, tour representatives or in local shops for 17 Jordanian dinar per person (children under 10 are free). The tour begins at 20.30 at the Visitor Centre and lasts for about 2 hours.
We were on a private tour with Jordan Select Tours. If you’re travelling independently you can hire taxis to take you along this route.