Wadi Musa sees half a million visitors each year, yet not many people have heard of this Jordanian town. That’s because it merely acts as the gateway to the ancient city of Petra, its world-famous neighbor. Not that the locals mind: they are in the business of catering to the crowds who come to visit this "New" Wonder of the World.
The town is part of the Ma'an Governorate in southern Jordan. The nearest airport, at Aqaba, is an easy taxi ride away. Most shops, cafés, hotels and banks are centered on the Shaheed Roundabout, in the heart of town. You’ll find accommodations, menus in English and tour operators everywhere.
For a hint of what is to come, visit Little Petra in Siq al-Barid, “the Cold Canyon.” This mini version of Petra is a shaded canyon that cools down fast after sundown, so bring a light jacket or sweater if you plan to visit at night.
Spring and autumn are by far the best times of year to visit this region. Rise early to get to Petra before the crowds arrive and the sun gets too hot, or go in the mid afternoon and combine your visit with a magical Petra By Night Show. To reach the show, walk down the “Tourist Strip,” which runs for 3 miles (5 kilometers) from ‘Ain Musa (Moses’ Spring) to the Petra Visitor Center in the lower valley. Along the way, bedouin merchants sell everything from tea to “antiques” and carpets.
Be sure to return to ‘Ain Musa in the east of town. According to the Bible, Moses hit a large rock with a rod, drawing water and restoring the faith of his parched, disheartened Israelites during their Exodus from Egypt. While it’s debatable if this is the actual miracle rock, it’s an interesting feature.
Before you leave Wadi Musa, soak in a Turkish bath to wash off the desert dust and ponder all the history you’ve explored around this ancient capital.