Visiting Petra is such an amazing experience as you are truly transported back into time. Petra is believed to have been settled around 9,000 BC and became the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom in 400 BC in what is now Southern Jordan. The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who invested in Petra’s proximity to the trade routes by establishing it as a major regional trading hub.
The main reason that I started researching a trip to Jordan was to see Petra on a day, or many 2 day side trip from Israel. I was soon blown away by all the things to do and see in Jordan. As well as how safe the country was and how relatively easy it is to explore. I knew we needed more time there. I also knew that I did not want to be bused over the border to Petra in a van of tourists to only have two hours in the afternoon to explore the grounds.
We suggest a full day in Petra to really feel like you have explored everything it has to offer. You can also break up this full day into two parts, by staying the night in Wadi Musa. We spent half a day in Petra on our first afternoon in Wadi Musa with a tour guide. This was a great introduction to the history of Petra and to learn more about the site! After our guided tour we hiked up to the Monastery for sunset. We stayed the night in Wadi Musa and woke up bright and early the following day to see the treasury and hike to the high place of sacrifice.
Here is your complete guide including everything you need to know about planning a visit to Petra!
How to Get to Petra, Jordan
Getting to Petra with a Tour
We booked our entire transportation around Jordan through Jordan Direct Tours in a private tour so we were able to customize our time in Petra how we wanted. Jordan Direct Tours organized a guided tour for our first visit to Petra.
Getting to Petra By Bus
If you are not part of a tour, Petra is about 3 hours driving from Amman on the faster Desert Highway, or a 4.5 hour journey on the slower, but more scenic King’s Highway. There is a free parking lot in Petra in front of the Petra Moon Hotel. Here you can also find a bus stop if you are traveling around Jordan via public transportation or using the JETT tourist bus system.
If you are staying within the center of Wadi Musa, then Petra is just a few minutes away. Once at the Visitor Center you have the ability to buy a one, two or three day ticket. For one day in Petra the ticket price is 90 JD. For those at least one night (anywhere in Jordan), ticket prices are significantly reduced: 50 JD for 1 day, 55 JD for 2 days or 60 JD for 3 days.
Where to Stay in Petra
We suggest staying within walking distance of the visitor center so you don’t need a taxi when you want to visit Petra. Some of the further hotels do run a shuttle bus to the entrance of Petra. If you need one, a taxi within Wadi Musa should cost around 5JD. We stayed at the La Maison Hotel which was exactly what we needed and had a buffet style restaurant for breakfast and dinner. We wanted to stay at the Movenpick Petra Resort, however we were too late and all the rooms were sold out. Not within walking distance, but if you want to book on points you can stay at the Petra Marriot Hotel.
The Best Time to Visit Petra
You will have the most comfortable temperatures and least rain chances if you visit in the Spring (March – May) or the Fall (September – November). We visited Jordan at the end of October and beginning of November, and the nights were cool and the days were warm but not unbearable.
The ticket office is officially open in the summer from 6AM to 6PM and in the winter from 6AM to 4PM. Everyday the site closes at sunset, however you will not find any guards there to ask you to leave or to lock up any gates.
On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights you can visit for Petra By Night where the Siq is lined with candles leading you to the Treasury where you will sit and listen to traditional Bedouin music. This takes place from 8:30PM to 10:30PM and tickets cost 17 JD. You can buy tickets from most hotels in Wadi Musa.
What to Wear at Petra
I saw people wearing shorts, t-shirt, long pants, long sleeves, no sleeves, hiking clothes and any other combination. Really just wear what makes you comfortable, but still be respectful of the culture.
If you plan to do some of the hiking trails make sure you at least have a pair of tennis shoes with you. Hiking shoes are not necessary as the trail are pretty straight forward and dry, but we did see people wearing hiking shoes. For reference, both days I hiked in a dress and converse.
The Highlights and Hidden Gems in Petra
The Siq is a gorge that was formed when a tectonic shock broke the mountain into two. It creates an absolutely stunning 15 minute walk towards the main attraction, the Treasury. When I walked down the Siq for the first time my heart would race at every clearing thinking I was about to see the Treasury for the first time.
When to visit: In the morning or around closing time you will find the least amount of people walking through the Siq. However, don’t waste much time here in the morning. Head straight to the Treasury because you definitely want to see that with as little people crowding in front as possible.
The Treasury (Al-Khazneh)
And here is the main attraction – the Treasury! There is still much discussion on what the purpose of the Treasury was: a calendar, a tomb, or a temple. Whatever you believe, the most recent discovery at the Treasury has been a graveyard underneath.
When to visit: The only good time to see the Treasury without massive crowds is right at the opening and right at the closing time of Petra. However, depending on the time of year you visit, at the closing time of Petra you may begin to lose light.
Alternate Views of the Treasury
The High View of the Treasury
There are two really great alternate views of the Treasury. The first is the high view (left photo above). I have read that you can reach this viewpoint on your own via some stone steps which can take roughly an hour. We took the direct way by paying a Bedouin guide 12JD to take us up the unmarked back way which took about 15 minutes. I have read that you can attempt this way on your own, however it is unmarked and we thought it safer just to pay someone that knew the route. There is also another high view of the Treasury, but with the Treasury further off in the distance and to your left. We saw people climbing up this way using a pretty steep looking stone staircase. If you have your back to the Treasury, you can find the staircase on your left carved into the mountain in front of you. It is possible that someone will offer to show you the way for a fee. We have not attempted this other high view ourselves so we are not sure of the difficulty.
The Side View of the Treasury
For those not interested in the high views, there is a great side view from the ground (right photo above). If you are standing at the base of the Treasury turn right and walk towards the mountain behind you. You will find a great spot to take pictures that blocks a lot of the crowd and leave the Treasury at the main focus!
When to visit: See these views first thing in the morning, after you have taken pictures of the Treasury. This way you will have the least amount of crowd, the most light, and you won’t have to wait for other people to take their pictures or get out of the way!
Hike to the Monastery (Al-Deir)
Many people skip the Monastery because of the distance to reach it, but if you have the time, this is a must see! The stairway up to the Monastery is at the far end of the ground of Petra. Once you reach the starting point, there is another 800 steps up to endure, and around 30 – 45 minutes. Along the way you will pass many Bedouin vendors selling water, scarfs, jewelry and other souvenirs. We bought a Christmas ornament in the shape of a camel to represent our first camel rides in Jordan!
You can also take a donkey up for the price of 10 JD one way. Honestly, the donkeys look over worked and we were able to keep a pace that outpaced the donkeys. So if you are able, forgo the donkey but watch out for them behind you. You will hear them coming and they don’t wait for you to move out of the way.
Once you reach the Monastery you will find a cafe selling teas, juices (try the pomegranate juice!) and an assortment of snacks. You can also just sit here to relax and enjoy the view of the Monastery. We saw the most stray dogs here at the Monastery, maybe because the sun was setting and this is where they could find the most shade. Either way, if you don’t bother them they wont bother you. We sat down at the cafe next to this little pup and he thoroughly enjoyed the pets I had for him. All the stray dogs we encountered seemed very used to people and felt comfortable around people as it seemed they were mostly cared for by the Bedouins that live and work in Petra.
Travel Tip: Definitely don’t miss out on exploring around the monastery. There are some higher points to explore is you turn your back to the Monastery and walk up. Again, they claim to have the “best view in Petra”, but we liked watching the sunset over the mountains near to the “best view in Petra sign”.
When visit: As most people don’t even make it this far, you can really come at any time and it won’t be too crowded. We enjoyed our time spent here around sunset because the sun wasn’t too strong (and there isn’t much shade on this hike) and we got to witness the sun setting behind the mountains. It was incredible!
High Place of Sacrifice
From the High Place of Sacrifice you have a spectacular view over most of Petra. There is a really well marked pathway up to this point after the Treasury and before you reach the Street of Facades.
If you are feeling adventurous, there is another unmarked way up. This morning we were already up at the Treasury viewpoint, when the Bedouin guide asked if he could show us the back way to the High Place of Sacrifice next, for a fee of course. We politely declined as we were all out of Dinars from paying him to get up there in the first place! Now we had a choice, hike back down an unmarked route to the base of the Treasury or hike an unmarked route towards the High Place of Sacrifice.
Caution: I seriously wouldn’t recommend attempting this route on your own if you have a poor sense of direction (like me – I thought we were lost the whole time). Instead, climb back down with the help of a Bedouin and take the easily marked pathway up to the High Place of Sacrifice.
We had a lot of time on our hands, and a general idea of where the High Place of Sacrifice was, so we took off on our own. You hike down the same way you came up from the base of the Treasury until you see a plywood bridge on your left shortly after the bridge you are rewarded with the most spectacular view of the mountains, see below.
You continue on some ways past a Bedouin hut claiming to have the best view in all of Petra (there are lots of those by now). Past this about 5 minutes you come to a valley below you, which you need to cross. We tried crossing the valley from straight on. In the end, we found an easy and safe way down if you cross the valley from the left side. Stand front facing the valley and turn immediately 90 degrees left. Then continue down that pathway through the rocks and you will very quickly find yourself in the middle of the valley. Now you have reached a more defined pathway and you will be up in no time!
When to visit: We were there around 9AM after we spent some time at the Treasury high viewpoint, and to be honest the shadows were kind of unforgiving. If you have room in your itinerary, later on in the day when the sun is setting in the west could make for better pictures!
The Street of Facades
Just past the Treasury, the pathways widens and there is much more room to explore. This photo was taken from the start of the pathway up to the High Place of Sacrifice. The Street of Facades are tombs and houses built into the mountainside by the Nabataeans 2000 years ago! You are able to enter and explore.
When to visit: Anytime!
The Royal Tombs
As the name would suggest, these are Nabataean tombs built into the side of the mountain, reserved for those of royalty. You can find these after you pass the Treasury on your right. You are able to enter these and explore more.
When to visit: Anytime!
What They Don’t Tell you About Visiting Petra
- A handful of Bedouins from the Bdoul tribe actually still live inside the caves that surround the Petra site.
- There will be many Bedouins around selling rides on their animals, tours, or setting up their shops to sell food, juices and souvenirs. What is most amazing to me is that they all know multiple languages which they have learned from tourists over the years. As tourism is their main source of income, the more languages you know, the more successful you are. I left amazed that a Bedouin living in a cave in South Jordan knows English, Chinese and German, and I can still only speak English.
- If you decline a tour or a ride on an animal from on of the Bedouins, it is possible they will ask “later, later, you promise?” Do not agree to that just to get them to go away. This was a tip from our guide as he said that they will remember you later on and will persist even harder. Politely say no and walk away.
- You can actually pay with a credit card in some of the Bedouin shops inside Petra. They will surely let you know that if you decline a tour or a camel ride for not having any more dinars!
- There is an official closing time of Petra, however no one will tell you to leave if you are still inside the gate past this time. We were urged by our guide to leave by sunset. After our hike to the Monastery, the sun was setting as we walked back through the Colonnaded Street towards the Treasury. A couple of Bedouins were resting along the side of the street and asked us to come join them for some tea and Bedouin hospitality. This is not uncommon and we might have accepted if it was not the end of the day and we were hungry for dinner. I have read stories of people accepting and spending 2-3 hours after Petra has closed hanging out with the Bedouins in Petra. If you want that kind of experience, just keep your general sense of awareness with you, and from what I’ve read you shouldn’t have any problems.
- The best places to grab a drink after a long day are the Movenpick Hotel’s Arabian-style bar or the Cave Bar by the Petra Guest House – a 2000-year-old Nabataean tomb which has been turned into a bar.
Happy Petra Planning! Leave me a comment if you are planning a trip to Petra or it is on your list for the future!