Between us, Ash and I have been to the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Barrier Reef. We were lucky enough to add Petra to the list during our recent trip to Jordan, and for me, of all these places, Petra is the most impressive. Built over 9,000 years ago by the Nabataeans, the craftsmanship, size and sheer wonder of the place is without equal. It’s simply a place which must be seen and experienced to be believed.
Rather than provide a detailed history of Petra (which is genuinely fascinating), we’ve decided to share our top ten tips for visiting this incredible site.
1. You will need Two Days (at least)
Petra is massive. At least 60 square kilometres, and there is a fair distance between each of the main sights. You’ve come all this way to visit this incredible wonder, do yourself a favour and spend at least two days to experience as much of it as you can. You don’t want to feel rushed and your feet will thank you for pacing yourself.
I’d recommend using the first day to check out some of the most famous sights (Treasury, Palace Tomb, Roman Theatre, Great Temple, etc.), then spending the second day wandering.
2. Be Sun Smart (Shirt, Hat, Sunscreen and Water)
I can’t stress this enough, Petra is hot. It’s literally in a desert, in a country where the average summer temperature (including the night) is around 33°C. For large stretches there won’t be any shade and chances are you’ll be walking for hours. A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are an absolute must. Plus you don’t want to look like a lobster in all your Petra photos.
Being sun smart also includes packing a few litres of water. Whilst cold water is available at various rest stops throughout Petra it’s fairly expensive so we recommend bringing your own.
Ash and I visited during Ramadan, a month where Muslims generally abstain from food or drink (including water) during the day, but for a few exceptions. In
3. Buy a Jordan Pass
The Jordan Pass is the ultimate addition to your Jordan packing list. Tailor made for visitors, this pass allows free visa on arrival (if from an eligible country), free entry to over 40 sightseeing attractions in Jordan, and free entry to Petra (with the option of 1, 2 or 3 days).
The price of the Jordan Pass varies depending on how many days you choose to visit Petra for (70, 75 or 80 JD for 1, 2 or 3 days), and you must stay at least 4 days/3 nights to quality for the free visa on arrival.
4. Don’t Pay for a Taxi to Petra
No matter where you’re staying in Wadi Musa (the small town surrounding Petra), literally everywhere is a short walk and downhill. You don’t need to take a taxi and your legs could probably use the warm-up. Save your money, particularly because taxi drivers in Jordan are notorious hard bargainers.
If you want to get a taxi back to your accommodation after your Petra expedition that’s ok (and I may have done so when faced with an uphill trudge back to the hostel after hiking over 15km), but you shouldn’t pay more than 5JD.
5. Get Lost
This isn’t usually advice we’d give on a travel blog, and we don’t recommend requiring a search party to come find you, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wandering off the beaten track. In fact it will give you an entirely new and unique perspective of Petra, one free from some of the 1 million+ tourists who visit the site each year.
Even without all the historic and architectural marvels, Petra would still be a magnificent place to visit purely due to the natural rock formations which comprise the landscape. Some of my favourite times at Petra were wandering off the main path, seeing a crevice/valley between two rocks, and asking myself “I wonder what’s through here?”. Occasionally it’s nothing, but more often than not you’ll rock-climb your way to a secret cave, temple or other hidden treasure that few others get to see.
My personal recommendation – close to the start of the climb to the monastery take a left into a valley rather than veering right along the monastery path. Walk along the rock ledges until you reach a small cave at the end of the crevasse. It’s yet another beautiful structure that you can appreciate without the thousands of tourists.
6. Visit the Monastery (on your second day)
Whilst the Treasury is beautiful, it’s one of the first things you see upon emerging from the glorious Siq Trail tunnel. Equally stunning and far more rewarding is the Petra monastery.
Fair warning, it involves a one hour steep hill climb, however the journey is almost half the fun (ok, maybe a third of the fun… the walk is pretty strenuous but the Monastery itself is spectacular).
It’s approximately 850 steps up to the Monastery, however there are many stores and tea shops on the way to act as pit-stops. As an added bonus, after you reach the summit and get to view the 2,000 year old building, you can relax at the cafe on the summit, which somehow has very decent Wi-Fi (I was able to FaceTime my family back in Australia to show off where I was). If you’re not particularly fit or used to hiking then you may be tired out by the time you descend, so plan to do it on your second day.
7. Don’t Get a Donkey or Horse Ride
When you first set foot into Petra there will be many people offering you a horse ride through the Siq Trail to the Treasury. They will tell you the ride is “included in your ticket”, however will then demand a “tip” at the end of the ride. I’ve visited Petra twice and on both occasions I’ve seen tourists fiercely arguing with horse attendants that the ride was included, while the attendants argue that the tip is mandatory and attempt to stop the tourists from leaving.
It’s a scam, plain and simple. But regardless of whether the horse/donkey rider ends up paying the “tip”, it spoils your first impression of Petra. You’re much better off taking your time to stroll through the trail at your own pace, and spare the animals (and your wallet) the unnecessary pain.
8. You Don’t Need a Guide to Reach the Best Photo Spots
There will be many locals offering to show you ‘secret spots’ which promise fantastic views and selfie vantage points of the Treasury. It’s not worth it. Save your money and simply look around for a good raised rock outcropping or elevated goat track. While facing the Treasury head to your right where you’ll see a dirt hill between two rocky towers.
Climb about halfway up, and there will be a trail winding away to the right to a rock platform directly in front of the Treasury. It’s easily spotted by the small refreshment stand (and probably a few Instagrammers). It’s where we managed to take these great shots!
9. The High Place of Sacrifice Probably Isn’t Worth It
Now I’m a massive history nerd who loves rock climbing/scrambling, but even for me the fiercely steep 2 hour hike to the alter where ritualistic animal sacrifices used to occur just wasn’t worth the journey. There isn’t much shade on your hike, the views on the trail are fairly monotonous, and although the summit does give expansive views all across Petra, the best way to see the ancient city isn’t from above, it’s by walking through it so you can appreciate the details. Spend your time checking out some of the other amazing sights.
10. Buy from Local Bedouins
The Bedouins lived in Petra for thousands of years until they were forcibly resettled by the Jordanian government upon Petra being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. Today you will find hundreds of Bedouins throughout Petra selling wares, running tea houses and offering guided walks.
Spend some time speaking with them, their lives and stories are incredibly fascinating. Always remember to haggle when buying souvenirs though (the Bedouins are notoriously great hagglers!).
Petra is unlike anywhere else on Earth, and you definitely want to make the most of your time here. Hopefully these tips have helped, and if you have more please feel free to share them in the comments!
While you’re here why not check out some of our other articles about Jordan!
- Our Ultimate Guide to Visiting Jordan – EVERYTHING You Need to Know!
- Canyoning in Wadi Mujib – Natures Playground
- Wadi Rum – A Qnique, Fascinating and Peaceful Desert
- The Dead Sea – Our Top Tips Before Your Visit
- The Jordan Pass – Is It Worth It For YOU?