When visiting Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, why not carve out some time to visit its lesser-known neighbor, affectionately dubbed “Little Petra?”
The site lies north of Petra, about 5 miles (8km) from the town of Wadi Musa and the entrance of Petra. Like Petra proper, Little Petra (Siq al-Barid in Arabic) is a Nabataean site, also built around the height of their influence. And, as you might have guessed, it’s called “Little Petra” because it resembles a smaller version of the larger and more expansive Nabataean capitol. Like Petra, the site features several rock-cut facades, and even has its own narrow, winding Siq that leads into the small settlement. It was likely a “suburb” of the main city, and could have acted as another stopping point for trade caravans.
So why bother to visit this site if Petra is larger and more elaborate? Several reasons, actually. First of all, entry is free, so if you have a couple of hours, why not? The site is close to the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp we stayed at, and we visited the morning of our final day before we left Wadi Musa to go on to Wadi Rum. Our taxi was picking us up at 10am, so we had plenty of time to swing by Little Petra and check it out.
Secondly, Little Petra provides a quieter, more intimate experience. While Petra can get crowded, you’re unlikely to encounter too many others at Little Petra. When we went, there was only a handful of people, and they left shortly after we arrived, so for the most part we had the entire site to ourselves. You also won’t find the trinket shops and tent cafes that line Petra. For the most part, the local Bedouin merchants are stationed outside the entrance, although we did encounter a sweet old man playing a one-stringed rebab for tips.
But the best reason is being able to see something that can’t be seen in Petra, which is the Nabataean fresco inside one of the carved structures known as the “Painted House.” It depicts wine grapes with cherubs and birds, and although quite damaged, still exist as one of the only examples of Nabataean painting.
Beyond that, there are a few tombs cut into the rock that you can climb up into, and when you reach the end you can ascend a staircase for views of the entire Petra complex. Intrepid visitors can continue on from there to reach the Monastery (Al-Deir) inside Petra, but it’s best to arrange that with a guide.
While in the area, you can also visit the neolithic site of Beidha, which is an ancient settlement dating back up to 9,000 years ago. There’s not much to see besides the tumbled ruins of the walls that formerly marked the settlement, but it’s an interesting detour if you’re interested in this period of history. From the entrance to Little Petra, follow the path south about half a mile (1km) to reach Beidha.
If your time in Wadi Musa allows it, head over to Little Petra. It’s especially easy if you’re staying at one of the Bedouin camps in the area. You’ll enjoy an intimate experience and have an expanded understanding of the Nabataeans.