No this is not Photoshop trickery, it is actually possible to visit all the sites in Petra with virtually no one around. We can't think of any other new wonder of the world where this is possible, and we were really surprised when we walked to the Treasury and found no one else there (well, except a couple of camels)!
THIS is how you want to see Petra! We'd heard horror stories about huge crowds and people not being considerate of others, ruining the whole experience for everyone. However, we were so happy to have organised our trip to ensure we had the best experience with barely anyone else around.
Here's how we did it.
How to get Petra to yourself
Time is of the essence
Since the Arab Spring in 2011 and ongoing Syrian crisis, tourist numbers in Jordan have halved! That's a dramatic drop and Petra has seen visitors go down from just under 1 million per year in 2010, to just over half a million in 2017. But it won't stay like this for long. Word is spreading that Jordan is one of the safest countries in the Middle East. We've heard it termed the 'Switzerland of the Middle East' and it seems a fair title.
A budget airline will launch 15 new flight routes from Europe to Amman in October this year, so it won't be long before the crowds return. If you've been planning a trip to Jordan, go whilst tourist numbers are still comparatively low.
Whilst time is of the essence in that sense, don't worry if you can't get there this year because the vast majority of visitors all go to Petra at the same time of year.
Choose your holiday dates carefully
Jordan has one of the biggest swings between the number of people in peak and off-peak seasons we've ever heard of. For instance, Petra goes from 4,000, to 400 people per day within a matter of weeks. That's the difference between having a mass of people everywhere and having the Treasury to yourself.
We don't advise visiting in the middle of summer or winter (Jordan's climate goes from blisteringly hot to freezing cold/rainy), but if you can travel outside of March to May and September to October, you'll find much lower numbers. We visited in early June (a few weeks after the Easter holidays) and found that whilst the weather was getting hotter, we could still travel everywhere comfortably.
Don't disregard visiting during Ramadan
Before we got to Jordan, we were anxious about the impact Ramadan could have on our trip, in fact we nearly decided against going. This would have been a huge mistake. Travelling during Ramadan has so many more advantages than disadvantages.
During this month long festival, Muslims fast during daylight hours. That's essentially no food or drink between sunrise and sunset. We thought places would be closed and everything would be difficult.
However, we found this to not be the case. In the main areas, everything was open but with slightly reduced hours. We did struggle a little when we got off the beaten track, but to be honest it was a minor inconvenience overall. We found that off-peak season and Ramadan combined to make visitor numbers incredibly low.
It was actually a fascinating time to travel and we enjoyed the moment when everyone came to eat together after sunset. It had a carnival like atmosphere.
Plan in plenty of time at Petra
If you want zero people, then you'll have to make early starts and then make a second trip in the late afternoon. In a lot of other places, this wouldn't be a problem. However, everything to see in Petra is a surprisingly long walk from the entrance. With every trip into the ancient city, you'll be doing at least 2.4 kms of walking which gets you as far as the Treasury (half of that is a gradual climb up hill on the way back) and that quickly adds up.
If you want to go to the Monastery you can almost triple that distance. Sadly there is no closer road access to any of the major sights. You can take a horse and cart, donkey or camel but we didn't like the way we saw the animals being treated.
Before booking your trip, think about giving yourself enough time to really explore. You could rush around like a crazy person and do a lot in one day, but you wouldn't be able to take it all in and you'd be seeing the major spots with a lot of people around.
Petra also gets pretty hot in the middle of the day (unless you visit in winter), so you'll want to avoid this time of day unless you have no choice. This really does limit the amount of time you have to explore. There's a lot to see in Petra, we spent four days there and still couldn't fit it all in!
Buy a 2-3 day ticket
Firstly, if you plan on making a day trip to Petra from a cruise or from Israel, then prepare to be stung for a lot of money! Visitors who don't stay in Jordan pay 90 JD ($127 US) to visit Petra; more than a three day pass and a Petra By Night ticket combined for someone who is staying in Jordan!
Getting a 2-3 day ticket is essential to see more than just the Treasury and Royal Tombs area. It is also a lot better value as it only costs 10 JD more than a one day ticket (which costs 60 JD - $71 USD). A three day pass will give you the time to see a lot of Petra without exhausting yourself doing it. As an added bonus if you are a real enthusiast the fourth day is free!
Start very early and go back in late
The best times to visit Petra is at sunrise and sunset. These are the times that are not only the coolest in temperature, but are also the quietest in terms of visitor numbers. We regularly did 6am starts and went back in again at 3.30pm and found that there were a lot fewer people there. People see a lot in the day, get exhausted and head back to the hotel in the afternoon. Perfect for those willing to do very early and late start.
The other benefit is that the fewer people also means that the camels, donkeys, mules and tourist touts disperse as well, giving you clear views of the Treasury and the main sights.
Petra isn't overly vigilant with opening and closing times either. We found that it often opened earlier than 6am and closed later than 6pm, despite it being Ramadan.
Petra by Night
One of the most hotly debated topics about Petra is the night show Petra By Night and this is dramatically affected by when you go. If you go during the peak season you'll be herded into the narrow Siq and opening in front of the Treasury with hundreds of people! This mass of people means more noise, and less space to sit and soak it all in.
However, if you plan your visit in low season you'll see a fraction of the people there. When we went, we walked down the Siq lit by candles completely on our own, sat down in blissful peace with not many people around us and had a magical experience.
There was no loud talking, no blocking of other people to get the perfect shot and everyone was really friendly.
We've written an individual blog all about Petra By Night and how to get the most out of this magical event, including photography tips.
Where to stay in Petra (Wadi Musa)
Wadi Musa is the closest town to Petra and is likely to be where your accommodation is.
Our Pick - The Movenpick
You couldn't get closer to the entrance of the Visitor's Centre than this luxury and stylish option. The rooms are comfortable and spacious, whilst the lobby, lounge and bar are decked in a beautiful traditional arab furnishings. It really was the perfect place to crash after a long day exploring!
Mid-range: Petra Moon
Petra Moon is another choice that is pretty close to the entrance of Petra. The rooms are nicely done and comfortable and is a really good option for a stay in Petra.
Budget - Petra Palace
The Petra Palace is a little dated, but it offers large and clean rooms at a pretty good price. It isn't far from the entrance to Petra and it has it's own pool for when you want to retreat from the midday heat. One downside is the breakfast: you'll be lucky to find anything edible. Still, a decent choice if you're looking for a cheaper option in Wadi Musa.
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Are you planning a trip to Jordan? Would you risk the off-season to have this kind of experience? Let us know in the comments below!
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