You’ve probably heard of Petra, one of the new wonders of the World and the filming site of many movies (like Indiana Jones)! But a lot of people don’t know what it involves to tour Petra. I wanted to put together some essential tips for visiting Petra so you’re well prepared. The more prepared you are the better the experience will be.
These huge sandstone carvings in Wadi Musa are on every traveler’s bucket list. The walkway in called the Siq, is over 660 feet high and keeps you shaded and cool as you walk toward the main sights.
My Essential Tips for Visiting Petra!
1. Absolutely do a Petra Tour
For many places, I think that exploring on your own is fun and you can read signs as you go through, but at Petra, the Rose City, there were very few signs explaining the history. Without a guide, you won’t know what you’re even looking at. The stories behind the sculptures and carvings are what made it such a special day. Guides can be very inexpensive and if you split the costs with your travel buddies, it’s very well worth it. Have you heard of the Nabataean dynasty? No? Then take a tour for sure! I do recommend reading up on it a little before because you’ll appreciate it even more. Here are a few quick facts:
- Nabateans made this place is 312 BC
- UNESCO heritage site
- Was unknown to the West until 1812! Bedouin tribes kept it secret because they feared people would come treasure hunting in their home.
- Trade of things like frankincense and myrrh happening here and people passing by had to pay a fee.
- One of the new 7 wonders of the world (see the rest here)
- No one actually knows what the treasury was for.
- Moses’ brother Aaron is buried around here at the tip-top of the mountain.
These are the first sights you’ll see as you walk into the Siq:
2. Travel to Petra – Amman to Petra, getting there
You will want to ask your driver to take the “Kings Highway” which isn’t as fast but is a scenic route that some locals call Jordan’s Grand Canyon. The sights were great and we stopped at a few lookout points for photos so add in about 30 minutes. You can also stop at Karak Castle if you go this way. I’ll be posting an itinerary soon! This route is very windy and hilly so don’t take if you get car sick.
3. Consider Petra by Night
… but don’t plan your trip around it. Petra by Night is a “performance” at Petra, at night, go figure! Although it was neat to see the lights, we were very tired from our trip and maybe could have given this a skip. So many people loved this experience, like Ashley & Jessica, so definitely do some research before deciding. The performance was good and they pass around tea. I would have preferred to check out Petra town, shop, and eat some street food after dinner and just wait to see Petra in the morning. We went a little late so had no mats to sit on which made it not so fun, but we also had the walk through the lit up Siq all to ourselves. If you want some images, check out the posts linked above because I have no clue how to take night photos!
4. Where to stay in Petra
The two great 5 star hotels are the Movenpick & Marriott although the Movenpick is the most famous of the two. It’s just outside the entrance of the site and has a pool! We stayed there and it was cool to know that Ben’s dad also stayed there years ago!
For a great but more affordable option, check out Petra Guesthouse. It’s got a more boutique feel and many like that more than a 5 star! If you want something budget, stay at the famous (and cheap) Al Rashid Hotel. DO book ahead for any hotel in Jordan. Don’t just show up.
5. Petra is not just the treasury!
The treasury is what you see on all the photos and what you probably have heard of but the Monastery which is a huge walk away is much larger and more impressive. I heard the same thing from others who have been there which is that guides imply it’s not worth going to, which might be because they don’t want to make the walk up.
I am here to say it IS worth going to. I wouldn’t have if Ben didn’t want to. He was determined so I went along with it and am so happy we did. The monastery did not use to be open to the public, so it’s great that we are now able to see it.
Here is what you’ll see BEYOND the treasury!
map via ZigZag
6. Get there early
We got there about 9 AM which was a decent time but earlier is more preferable. We saw some people rocking up at 2 PM and felt so bad for them being out in the hot sun. You need 7 hours to walk to the monastery and back. We did it in 5 but we SERIOUSLY speed walked and we took a donkey part of the way up to the monastery (I’ll get to that later). It starts to get really hot around 1 pm so the earlier you go the better, plus there will be fewer people around.
this kid above was hilarious. I had my guide ask for a photo of him and we gave him some candy in exchange. For the photo, he chugged his juice box then slammed it to the ground with this huge attitude haha theatrical.
7. Take a donkey up to the monastery… but not like I did
I am a huge animal lover but really did feel like this was an okay thing to do. It gives money to the people working there and donkeys are really strong animals that, from what I understand, can walk these steps without issue. The monastery is at the top of 822 very steep and uneven steps. Many people wore hiking shoes and brought a walking stick. I wore silk trousers and my favorite
Then, I nearly fell off! I was wearing a tank top with a sweater over it and went braless because I knew it’d be all hot and sweaty out there. I didn’t know I’d be on a bumpy camel ride. As soon as I let go with one hand to hold my chest (because the donkey had started trotting) my silk pants failed me and I started to slip to the left…
I just knew I was going down!
I yelled out and my left leg sort of tripped the donkey. I couldn’t balance out and was feeling like a bitch for tripping an innocent donkey but the guy who was walking with us (he owned them) pushed me back up and Monica, my dear donkey friend, kept on walking like nothing happened. I think she winked at me like girl, don’t worry, no one saw. But let’s be honest, people saw.
We paid 5 dinars each for the ride up ($15 USD all together) which was offered to us as we walked by, not negotiated. I did see others pay 10 dinars each for a ride.
8. Save the camel ride for Wadi Rum (unless you aren’t going there)
There are camels rides which you could take from the bottom of the monastery back toward the treasury (and you could ride a horse or chariot back from there). If you’re going to Wadi Rum on a camel safari I suggest saving your money and waiting to have this experience in the desert instead of a crowded historic site.
The chariot is great if you have difficulty walking and is about $40 dinar each way. Not cheap!
9. Buy the two-day pass
Chances are you will go there two days, not just one – after all, you’ve flown all this way! The one-day pass is $70 USD and the two-day is $77 USD. You can read more about the passes here. Tickets come with a free horse ride which is about a 5-minute ride but it’s not actually free because you need to tip 5 dinars (about $7 USD). It looked like fun, but I passed on this. Petra by night is an additional $25 bucks.
10. What to wear in Petra
Wear comfortable walking shoes! I was fine in Tom’s really and Ben was in flip-flops so this isn’t as major as everyone makes it out to be but yes, of course, hiking shoes would make it easier.
This is a Middle Eastern country (duh) and although not as strict as somewhere like Saudi, there are customs you should follow. I wore silk Ali baba pants which were breezy and comfortable. I wore a tank with a long sleeve kaftan (sort of) over it. It had slits in the armpit where you could get a breeze and also take your arms out and make it a tank top kaftan. It was hot, but you should cover up here. I saw girls in mini dresses and jean shorts, so to each their own. Most of what I wore was from the brand Tia.
Do NOT forget sunscreen! I am obsessed with Sun Bum… lifesaver!
11. Bring money
You can shop as a few places. There are food and tea stalls (and even free WiFi). I bought my mom a seriously overpriced pice of jewelry because it was that cute. I can’t say what because I haven’t given it to her yet! Ben got an overpriced coin that may or may not be from ancient times. I try not to be cynical though! We also paid for water, tea, and our donkey rides. Kids are selling post cards as well.
this is the famous Rosemary spice shop, definitely make a stop by! You can’t miss it.
12. What I would do differently…
Of all my tips for visiting Petra, this is the one I think is most important. As I mentioned I would skip Petra by Night to explore the town. Unfortunately with just 2 or 3 days you end up going from the hotel to Petra and entering the blocked off UNESCO site. There IS a whole town there where people live and work. I wish I could have explored outside the tourist attraction and next time would do so. There was one place outside that we did try, which is my next point.
13. Eat at Qantara
This is a popular restaurant owned by the self-proclaimed Arab Al Pacino (lol) and it was very tasty! This was the only thing we did outside of Petra site and the hotel due to time constraints and I loved this meal.
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Petra has always looked like the experience of a lifetime, but this really clinches it for me. Thanks for the detailed guide – it’ll be super helpful for later planning!!
Awesome Allison, I hope you bookmarked it :)
Beautiful photos, Rachel! The earth tones are something else.
Wow! The images are amazing, as usual! Also, this is a great place to visit and reconnect with people from long ago. It definitely leaves a mark on you.
Thanks John! It’s an easy place to photograph.
Thanks so much for your detailed tips they are so helpful in planning.
Question, did you use a tour guide at petra or did you go on your own?
If so what company did you use?
And what transportation company did you use for your drive from Amman to Petra?
Hi Joan! On this trip, I was working for the tourism board so I was given one of their official tour guides & drivers. Sorry to not be of help in that area!
A very helpful article of a place I would love to visit. I have one question to which I can’t find an answer on various websites and perhaps you can help. I am 69 years old and have various health issues. I can’t really do hills so the walk to the Monastery would be out of the question. How is the topography to the Treasury building, however? Is that an easy walk or more of a gradient? Many thanks if you can assist. And thank you again for a great report.
The Treasury is a really short walk, on pebbles, and flat. But, you can take horse carriages to the treasury and not walk at all if you’d like.
Thanks AGAIN Rachel! Seems like you have been to so many of the places I am going.
I was planning on a two night stay at Petra but now am thinking I should make it three. The first day I will just be arriving from Mabada which is a four hour journey so I won’t see much on that day.
Did you spend two days in the Petra site or one?
I just spent one day at the Petra site although the norm is to spend two days wondering it – it would have been overkill for me
Thank you! I will spend one day too then :-)
This is super helpful!
Great article and super helpful, thanks! Quick question, have you been back since? If so, how was the “off the beaten track” you mention you wish you had done more of while in the region.
Thank you for a very insightful guide – will definiely come in handy when i visit next month and i look forward to the donkey ride! I was wondering if there is still access by night as you mentioned petra by night (but online it says it closes at 4pm / 6pm)