(Last updated on: 02/04/2020)
Jordan has a lot to offer, especially if you’re interested in history and archaeology. Little Petra is just one of these. Never heard of Little Petra? I hadn’t either! In fact, we accidentally stumbled across the archeological area when visiting the main Petra site! In this post I will share with you what I learnt about Little Petra and why it should absolutely be on your Jordan itinerary!
What is Little Petra?
As the name suggests, Little Petra is fairly small. Also known as Siq al-Barid – the cold canyon when translated into English – it is an archaeological site located just north of Petra in Jordan. It is a site that consists of buildings carved into the walls of sandstone canyons. There are three wider open areas connected by a 450 metre (1480 ft) canyon.
Little Petra is part of the Petra Archaeological Park. Histories and archaeologists aren’t entirely sure what some of the buildings are, but it is widely believed that Little Petra was a suburb of Petra itself, designed to house visiting traders on the Silk Road.
In the late 20th century, Diana Kirkbride and Brian Byrd excavated Little Petra. Later, in 2010, surviving artwork showing heavily detailed grapes and vines was found in a dining room in one of the caves. These ceilings have since been restored. They provide a rare large-scale example of Hellenistic painting, which is a big draw for tourists in the area.
Where is Little Petra?
You can find Little Petra located slightly north of Petra and the town of Wadi Musa in the Ma’an Governorate of Jordan.
Petra itself, and therefore Little Petra, is around 2 hours by car from the nearest airport. This is Aqaba (AQJ), also known as King Hussein International Airport. It is a 3 hour drive if you are flying into Amman Airport (AMM), also known as Queen Alia International Airport. Drive via the Desert Highway. You can also take the more scenic King’s Highway route (which is what we did- it’s worth it if you have time!), but this takes around 4.5 hours. Flights run to either airport from various UK, European and American cities.
If you are planning to use public transport in Jordan to get to Little Petra, here is some information:
JETT Bus is a tourist-friendly company connecting Aqaba, Amman and Petra – from which you can access Little Petra. They have a website (here) and offices in Aqaba and Amman.
From Aqaba to Petra, the bus leaves daily at 8.30am costing 20JD for a return ticket. The journey is around two hours, and you can catch the bus back to Aqaba at 4pm each day. A one way ticket is 12JD.
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From Amman to Petra, the bus leaves daily at 6.30am costing around 20JD for a return ticket. It’s a four hour journey. The bus leaves around 5pm each day from the Petra visitors centre, and a one way ticket costs around 11JD.
There are local buses that go between Petra and the two cities. However, these will often not depart until they are full – so be prepared to wait a while if you choose this option. Not a great idea if you have a schedule to stick to…
Getting there from Petra
The two sites of Petra and Little Petra are around 5km apart. Many people opt to visit Little Petra as an extra part of their day, because it is FREE to enter. It is often much quieter than Petra, too.
You can walk from Petra to Little Petra, which is what we did. Getting down from Petra is the tough bit, with hills and steps, but after that the last 4km between to two sites is a flat and relatively easy walk. You can use a map app on your phone to show you how to get between to the two locations – these can be downloaded if you don’t want to use your data.
There are also taxis that will take you between the two sites. You may need to haggle for the best price, but if you don’t want to walk or haven’t hired a car then it’s worth it.
Or if you want a more unique experience you can charter a horse and cart or a donkey to walk you between the two sites!
Day trips to Petra often include Little Petra in their itinerary. As the two sites are so nearby, it is well worth visiting both in one day. However, many visitors say that you should visit Little Petra before you go to Petra itself – as it might seem less impressive if you visit afterwards.
Other visitors say that children prefer their time at the smaller site, as there is more of an opportunity to climb and explore. Whilst we travelled Jordan before we had children, I’m sure that my girls would LOVE Little Petra with all the opportunities to explore, run around and climb!
What you can see
The aforementioned restored painting is one of the best things to see at Little Petra. It makes an excellent photo opportunity to impress your friends with! However, there are other things to see around the area of Little Petra.
The siq, where you will find the painted house, also boasts a temple and four triclinia. There are steps at the end of the siq, and climbing these allows you a great view of the landscape. You can picnic here, too! Don’t forget to check out the Nabataean quarries and cisterns of Umm Qusa on your way back out of Little Petra.
To the left alongside Little Petra, you will find the neolithic ruins of Al Beidha. They are 9000 years old, making up one of the oldest archaeological sites in Jordan and indeed, the Middle East as a whole. It is a short 15 minute walk to the site, where you can see 65 structures that pinpoint a physical transition from hunter-gatherers to settled communities. There are marked trails and tablets, and you may have to use your imagination but it is pretty awe-inspiring to see.
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On your way to Little Petra you will be able to spot Al Wu’ira. It was built by crusaders in AD 1116, and 73 years later was overrun by Muslim forces. There is an old bridge and gatehouse at the castle, too.
Where to stay
If you’re visiting Little Petra and want to see it at sunrise, as some people suggest, stay nearby. Wadi Musa has a whole host of hotels for a range of budgets. We stayed in the Esperanza Petra, which was very basic but offered a great price. Friends of mine stayed at Petra Palace Hotel, which came highly recommended. It is mid-budget and has a great pool to relax in after a hard day exploring the ancient sites.
For a unique experience, why not camp in the area? Or stay in a cave? Little Petra Bedouin Camp has cave rooms and tents, as well as a garden/terrace, restaurant, lounge, WiFi and parking. It is a mere 0.6 miles from Little Petra, and the atmosphere is incredible.
For a full list of accommodation options on your travel dates, use the search box below.
So that’s everything you need to know about visiting Little Petra in Jordan. While it may not be as big as Petra itself, it’s still worth visit if you’re in the area!