Petra is one of those places we'd wanted to see for as long as we can remember (and I doubt we're the only ones). The landscape and buildings look otherworldly, and sheer scale of the site has you dreaming of living out your Indiana Jones fantasies. We can honestly say it met all our expectations and then some, it is one of the greatest travel experiences we have ever had. It's a must.
The great thing about Petra is that it is huge. So huge that even if you visit during the busy peak period there will still be lots of places where you can escape the crowds. We've written a whole blog post about how to get a little bit of Petra all to yourself, and yes that even includes the Treasury!
Like all major tourist attractions, you'll get a lot more from your trip to Petra with a little planning. It is a pretty big place to visit, so you won't want to turn up for a day trip and find you only have time to see the Treasury! We spent four days exploring this iconic site and here are our tips for getting the most out of your trip to Petra.
The history of Petra
Petra is an ancient city created by the Nabateans (a civilisation I hadn't heard of until visiting Petra) in the 4th Century BC. They were a nomadic people who moved their settlements to wherever they could feed their livestock. Petra was established as a regional hub, positioned perfectly along trade routes between Arabia and the Mediterranean.
Petra soon became a sign of the Nabatean wealth, using stone carving to create structures to show their prestige to trading partners and neighbours. The Romans eventually conquered in the 1st Century AD, putting their twist on the city with an amphitheatre and colonnaded street.
The Byzantines kept building churches in Petra, but after the Islamic expansion the city was abandoned, left to the few bedouin tribes in the area.
From this point is where I don't particularly like the way history is described. Historians state that Johann Ludwig Burckhardt "rediscovered" Petra in the 19th Century. It reeks of the usual European telling of history where they "discovered" or "rediscovered" America, Australia, Angkor Wat and many other places. The truth was that Jordanian tribes knew about it, but it wasn't being used as the centre of a civilisation.
Needless to say, Burckhardt's "rediscovery" is what led to mass tourism. Since then it has become a place that lures travellers from all over the globe.
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Petra Entrance Price
Firstly, if you're going to Jordan and want to visit Petra, then get the Jordan Pass online before you arrive. This includes the cost of the visa and allows you into several places like Wadi Rum, Petra and Jerash.
If you haven't got the pass, then you can buy an entry ticket at the gate. Petra isn't cheap, but you didn't go all the way to Jordan to quibble over the entry price. The ticket becomes better value the longer you stay, culminating in the three day ticket which offers a fourth day for free.
If you can, stay a night in Jordan (once you get here if you are only visiting for a day you're likely to be pretty gutted, there is just too much to see). Those who come off a cruise or day trip from Israel get stung with the entry price!
Here's the costs:
- 1 day (but not staying overnight in Jordan): 90 JD (about $125 USD)
- 1 day (staying in Jordan): 50 JD (about $70 JD)
- 2 days: 55 JD (about $78 USD)
- 3 days: 60 JD (about $85 USD)
Supposedly this included a free horse ride from the visitor centre to the Siq, but we saw a lot of people arguing with the guides of these "free" horse rides, so I get the feeling it leads to a pretty forceful demand for a big tip. When we spoke to any of them, they kept saying how they don't get paid anything unless you tip, so be careful with what you think you may be getting.
The entry price doesn't include Petra By Night. This costs 17 JD (about $24 USD).
It may feel like the costs add up at Petra (especially as everything nearby or in the site is much more expensive than anywhere else) but it is really worth it. I don't think we've ever been anywhere quite like it.
Read more: The cost of a trip to Jordan
How many days should you stay in Petra
Petra is a biiiiiiig place, so don't underestimate how much of your time will be taken up by walking around. Once inside Petra, the only other modes of transport are donkey, horse cart or camel, all of which looked pretty cruel to the animals. We saw lots of whipping and shouting, we know it's tradition but it just didn't look right to us. They also look like the bumpiest way to get around.
We'd suggest taking at least two days to ensure you have enough time to cover the main sights without having to do it at breakneck speed. Plus you're already paying 50 JD for the entry, for an extra 5 JD you can get an extra day.
The Major Sights at Petra
This is the place everyone should start their trip to Petra with. It is by far the best introduction to Petra, and in many other countries, the Siq alone would be a tourist attraction. This winding canyon starts about 10 minutes walk from the Visitors Centre and immediately blows you away. All the way through there are carvings from the various civilisations who ruled Petra and you feel like you're walking through a secret passageway. It is also pretty exciting that round every bend you are expecting to get your first glimpse of the Treasury!
The star of the whole of Petra is undoubtedly the Treasury. It is hard to really convey just how magical it is to see first hand when the Siq opens up to this incredible sight. Its narrow setting and intimacy (as well as the incredible carvings) are what makes the Treasury the most special place in Petra.
The key to having the best experience is to prioritise the Treasury early or late. From the visitor's centre it is the first sight after the Siq and somewhere all visitors head for.
Getting there: The best way to get there is from the Siq, but you can also walk from the Monastery.
Best time to go: Sunrise or an hour before closing. These are the times when the tourists and touts are fewer in number. You're likely to have an unobstructed view of the Treasury up to half an hour after sunrise and half an hour before close.
From the Siq
Start your journey by walking down the Siq. This is by far the best introduction to Petra and the best way to see the Treasury. The walk starts with a rather uninspiring gravel track, but then goes gradually down into the Siq: a magnificent canyon with high walls and a narrow path.
After 1.2km you'll come to the entrance of the Treasury. Hold back and take in the first glimpse from here. It is a beautiful view and you can see why the Nabateans decided to build the Treasury here.
Getting there: The Siq is directly accessed from the Petra Visitor's Centre in Wadi Musa. It is a short walk from the entry gate.
When to go: Sunrise or sunset. It can get very busy in the middle of the day with horse carts, tourists and touts. The clearing in front of the Treasury can also get very crowded.
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The Ledge at ground level
After all that walking, why not garb a 'seat' and take in the view. You can choose the cafe directly in front of the Treasury, but there's also a natural ledge which no one ever seemed to use. It is one of our favourite places to take in this incredible structure and provides a great angle for a photo.
Getting there: After walking through the Siq and into the clearing where the Treasury is, head right. Go beyond the Tourist police booth and you'll find a perfectly situated ledge to sit on.
When to go: We'd recommend sunrise or sunset as the Treasury can get busy and you'll have camels, donkeys and people in your way.
After the ledge, it's time to climb! There are two ledges you can reach to view Petra: one is a lot closer than the other. We chose to do the closest ledge, but there you could also try the "Indiana Jones Way" which starts at the Royal Tombs.
There's a small souvenir shop at the top which you should pay 1 JD to (about $1.5 USD) if you don't buy a trinket. We were happy to pay, after all we were trampling all over their area but sadly they ask for it so aggressively. The people in Petra were the only Jordanians we found to be rude and pushy.
Anyway the view is worth it, take a seat and enjoy this amazing vantage point.
If you want a photo, you can climb the rock above the ledge to get the birdseye view. It's precarious, but makes for a great angle.
Getting there: We highly recommend getting a guide for this one. The path isn't clear and it is pretty slippery at points. It pays to have someone who knows the place to help. There are plenty of locals who will be more than happy to help you waiting in front of the Treasury, in fact they will find you long before you find them!
Just make sure you agree a price for getting down as well. The guides' favourite trick is to agree a price and then leave you stranded unless you pay double! The walk is only 10-15 minutes but fairly steep, there's a bit of path and a bit of bouldering.
When to go: Ignore the advice of the locals, do not go to the Treasury viewpoint after around 8.30am. It creates huge shadows and doesn't look good in photographs. We made this mistake and had to wait up there for two hours to get it in full sun without shadows, and it actually looks nicer in full shade. The better time to go is either at sunrise or in the late afternoon.
The High Place of Sacrifice
The High Place of Sacrifice is a really underrated spot in Petra. The climb up is pretty relentless but it only takes around 30 minutes, and the views from the top are stunning. It really helps to put into perspective how remarkable Petra is.
From the top you can see the city including the Royal Tombs, amphitheatre and for miles into the distance.
Getting there: The start of the walk up to the High Place of Sacrifice is by the "Why Not Cafe". From here it is uphill all the way. Make sure you keep right and don't follow the signs to "Treasury View". You do not need a guide, it is signposted.
We don't think you should take a donkey to the top. It looked cruel, and the steps are very narrow for a donkey with a person on their back. We also saw a donkey kick someone off their back on the way up to the Monastery and I doubt this was a rare occurence. If I was a donkey and had to carry tourists up incredibly steep slops in the blazing heat, I'd do the same.
When to go: Sunset. This is the perfect time to go: the temperatures are cooler and there's a beautiful golden light that covers the landscape. It lit the Roy al Tombs with a pink hue. We had the place to ourselves when we went.
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The Royal Tombs
The Royal Tombs are pretty impressive when viewed from a distance. Into the side of a cliff are several facades carved into rock and piled up on top and along side each other. You can walk up the steps for a closer look and even go inside, but they are more impressive when you see them from the Colonnaded Street.
Getting there: The Royal Tombs are just a ten minute walk from the Treasury. Just follow the path round to the right.
When to go: The Royal Tombs can be visited at any time as they rarely get crowded.
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This is one of the furthest away sights and the one which requires the most effort. But persevere, because the Monastery is amazing! Think, the Treasury but at the top of a canyon.
We really liked the cafe in front of the Monastery, but you can get an even better view from climbing up to the nearby viewpoint. It is along the path heading away from the Monastery and is clearly labelled as the viewpoint.
Getting there: Here's the tricky part. If you go from the Treasury, the Monastery is 1 - 1.5 hours of hiking along a very exposed path. The last 2 km of this are up a steep set of steps which seem to go on forever. The walk down isn't too bad, but a visit here will take up nearly half a day! The alternative is to do the Little Petra to Petra Walk (see below).
When to go: Early morning or afternoon - sunset. In the morning, the Monastery is in shadow, which we quite like for photos but you may prefer lit up. By the afternoon, the sun has moved to light it up and it does look spectacular. There are rarely many people here, so you won't need to worry about crowds developing.
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The Little Petra to Petra Walk
The Little Petra to Petra Walk is a great activity to do in it's own right. We would argue it is probably the better way to get to the Monastery as it isn't as steep and it is a one way walk rather than doubling back on yourself.
We've written an individual blog about the walk and why we loved it.
Getting there: The walk starts at Little Petra. You can get a taxi to drop you off, but we chose to get a guide to help. It enabled us to find the start and learn more about Petra as we went but isn't essential.
When to go: You could do this at any time of day in the cooler times of year, but in the late Spring, Summer and early Autumn we'd recommend starting early. There is some uphill hiking and it can get hot!
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Petra By Night
A must-do for any visitor, Petra By Night is a really special event. The Siq and Treasury are lit by candlelight and there is music, stories and bedouin tea served. It is the perfect way to finish off your trip to Petra.
We've written a blog all about the best way to do this, so check it out before you book.
Getting there: Petra By Night is on three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday), so ensure you factor this into your trip. You can buy tickets on the day at most hotels or the visitor's centre. It starts at the visitor's centre where you walk down to the Treasury for the show.
Best time to go: It is a fixed time, so you can only go at 8.30pm. However, we held back until 8.40 and had the walk down the Siq to ourselves which made it really special.
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Get ready to pack a lot in!
- Start at sunrise, heading to the entrance for 6am.
- Walk through the Siq, taking in the majestic canyon.
- Take a breath and admire your first glimpse of the Treasury.
- Find a local to guide you to the canyon top viewpoint. This will take about an hour to clamber up, admire the view and clamber down (the walk itself is only 20-30 minutes return but the view will keep you there far longer).
- Head back to Wadi Musa to avoid the major heat of the day.
- Head back into Petra, walking down the Siq to the Treasury.
- Turn right and head towards the Royal Tombs.
- Take in the Amphitheatre on the way.
- Head to the tombs to admire the stone carving from close up.
- Head back a few minutes towards the Why Not Cafe.
- Walk up the steps that go for a loooooong way (about 30 minutes upwards) to the High Place of Sacrifice for one of the best views in Petra.
- Take a while to admire the views of the Royal Tombs and this incredible landscape.
- Head back down, returning in the evening for Petra By Night.
Follow the day one itinerary and add the Little Petra to Petra Walk. This will take over half the day, taking you through Little Petra, the desert, the stunning Monastery and then through other sights in Petra such as the Colonnaded Streets and some of the churches.
A three day version is a more leisurely version of the two day. To enable you to take in these historic places, we would recommend splitting the High Place of Sacrifice and Petra By Night. This way you can take more time at each place in Petra without having to think about cramming it all in.
Where to stay in Petra
The Movenpick - Luxury choice
You'll be doing a lot of walking and a lot of going in and out, so the Movenpick is a great choice!
Firstly, it is directly opposite the main gate (tick). This means you'll not have to add even more distance to your walk.
Secondly, it is the best choice in Wadi Musa for style, comfort and being able to relax. The breakfasts were delicious and great fuel for exploring, the rooms were very comfortable, we were able to recharge after each visit to Petra so we could keep exploring!
Petra Moon - Midrange Choice
This hotel is also close enough to walk to the Visitor's Centre. Our room was quite pokey but clean and comfortable. We wouldn't recommend eating here though, the food was pretty inedible!
Petra Palace - Budget Choice
The Petra Palace is a decent budget option. The rooms are pretty tired but large and clean and the location is good. Don't even bother with the included breakfast, it's the worst we had in Jordan.
Our top tips for ensuring you have the best time at Petra
1. Plan to go off-peak
The number of visitors to Petra dramatically changes between peak (March/ April, May & September/October) and off-peak seasons. Within a matter of weeks, the number of people in Petra can drop from 4,000 per day to 400.
2. Give yourself time
Petra's a big place and you'll want to give yourself time to take it in. We did four days at the ancient city and didn't feel like we had enough time! If you visit at the warmer times of year, you'll want to head for some air conditioning at midday as it gets pretty dam hot!
3. Do the Little Petra to Petra Walk
There's no better way to see the stunning Monastery than by walking from Little Petra. As the Treasury is best seen by walking from the Siq, the Monastery is best seen from the walk from Little Petra.
The trail is a little easier than walking from the Treasury, plus you may bump into some bedouins along the way who often like to share tea. It is a picturesque walk with plenty of stunning canyon views and a chance to see far more of the local area.
4. Let Petra By Night be the final thing you do
We've read a few blogs about people who didn't like Petra By Night. The main reasons why were because it was the first thing they did and they did it in high season. If you've followed our guide, then you've skipped the peak season (well done you). Our next tip would be to leave this to be the crowning glory of your trip.
Petra By Night in low season is beautiful. There are not many people there and listening to the soulful music in front of this wonder is an experience you'll never forget. There's no better way to finish your trip.
Just make sure you've planned your days to coincide with Petra By Night as it is only on three times a week (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday).
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Are you planning a trip to Petra? Have you been and have any tips we've missed or experiences to share? Let us know in the comments below!
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