I was on the fence about visiting Little Petra when I did the research for our trip to the Middle East. I decided to make it a game-day call depending on how much of (big) Petra I had seen and what else was on the agenda. After a day in Petra (read also our article Petra, Wonder of the Ancient World) I decided I did want to see it. I asked the man at the front desk of our hotel for his advice on how to best get there (it's a six mile drive into the desert from the Petra Visitor Center). He suggested that he call a taxi, reassuring me that the driver would wait and bring me back. He quoted me 45 JD (about $60 US) which I was willing to pay.
I set off one morning with Falah, my driver, to explore Little Petra. Falah told me that he comes from a long line of Bedouins. Two of his five children are currently in university studying foreign languages (English and French) to become tourist guides. He told me about how hard it was to support his family during Covid when no one came to Wadi Musa, the city in which Petra is located, and how relieved he and his colleagues are that tourists are starting to return.
After about 15 minutes of driving through stunning geography as in the photo above, we arrived at Little Petra. The photo below is the entrance into the canyon.
The short path is narrow; just wide enough for one person at a time.
Archeologists believe that Little Petra, known in Arabic as Siq Al-Bared, (literally "the cold canyon" due to the lack of sunlight through the narrow slits in the canyon walls) was built by Nabataeans, an ancient nomadic Bedouin tribe, during the first century BCE. They believe that it served as a suburb of sorts to Petra, housing traders traveling the Silk Road.
The sandstone is not nearly as dramatic in shape or color as in Petra, but the buildings carved into the stone are nevertheless impressive. The building below, known as Tomb Facade 846, stands just before you enter the narrow opening to the canyon. Like most of the other structures it's unfinished on the inside, but the outside is beautiful.
Once you emerge from the narrow entrance, the canyon walls open up.
Soon after you enter you see this impressive sight. Known as Temple above Cave Rooms, the structure is thought to have been a temple or a chapel. The columns are remarkably well-preserved from the Nabataean era. It's amazing to me how these beautiful buildings were so skillfully carved into the stone.
As you walk through the canyon, you occasionally come across Bedouin stalls.
The man below enlisted his sons to help with their souvenir stand.
I bought several souvenirs from this Bedouin woman who was happy to have her picture taken for a small donation.
Below is a typical "triclinium" (Latin for "three benches") which would have been used to host banquets.
And below, looking out from a cave.
I loved coming across these structures. The steps have worn through the centuries, but I can't imagine that they would have been much safer when originally carved out of the sandstone!
In the picture below you can make out the precarious steps leading to the far end of the canyon.
I'm in pretty good shape for a Baby Boomer, but I nevertheless debated whether to climb up. I decided to try it and made it about halfway up (to about where the highest person is in the photo below) before deciding to come back down. These were more suggestions of steps than actual steps and I'm glad I didn't go higher because coming down was much more precarious than going up. It took me a while, but fortunately I made it back down in one piece!
The view from the highest point I reached.
I've read that it's not actually a dead end and that you can hike from there to Petra but that the trail is not well-marked and that a guide is strongly recommended.
After about 45 minutes to an hour in the canyon, I met Falah who was waiting for me as promised. This is the view as you leave the Siq.
I asked Falah what the white buildings were in the distance and he told me they're a "tourist camp". Glamping at its best, no doubt and the views must be amazing!
The scenery driving to and from Little Petra from Wadi Musa was interesting and spectacular.
Bottom line...yes, I'd say that a visit to Little Petra is worth an hour or so of your time. There's no admission fee, it's much less crowded than Petra, the buildings are interesting and the scenery through the desert to get there is worth it alone. I visited the day after seeing Petra and loved it, but there might be more of a "wow" factor if you visit before you see Petra. Either way, if you have extra time, in my opinion it's worth the effort.
➜ Top Tips
You don't need much time in Little Petra; I was back to the hotel within two hours of leaving.
I visited in the morning, but my guess is that it's not too crowded any time during the day.
Wear comfortable, closed shoes. The walking isn't difficult (except if you choose to climb), but unlike Petra, this canyon is sandy, similar to a beach. I wore Nike Pegasus Trail 3 trail runners for both Petra and Little Petra and they were perfect.
Take cash. There are quite a few small Bedouin souvenir stalls and I was happy to buy a few trinkets from them.