It was our dream to visit Petra and every second we spent exploring the ancient rose red city took our breath away. Petra is more than just an archaeological site, it’s a sprawling city which was once home to 30,000 people. Therefore it is good to have an idea of what to expect so that you can make the most of your time in Petra. For those of you planning on visiting Petra, we’ve shared our tips below – from our favourite things to do, the best hikes, where to stay in Petra, what to wear and our essential planning tips, it’s our ultimate guide to visiting Petra. Happy planning!
Located in the south of Jordan, Petra is an ancient city which was carved into the rock face by the Nabataean civilization, a nomadic Bedouin tribe who roamed the Arabian Desert and who established Petra as a major trading hub. It became the capital of the Nabatean around the 6th Century BC but was hit by a major earthquake in the middle of the first century before being abandoned by all but the Bedouin who inhabited the caves and tombs of Petra and a few of whom remain today. It’s a Jordan icon and the Treasury is an iconic symbol. The city was immortalised in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the lost city in Indiana Jones’ hunt for the holy grail. Petra is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Planning a visit to Petra
1 | When is the best time to visit Petra?
Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit Petra. The winter can be cool and unpredictable and the summer temperatures sizzling but from March to May and September to November the Jordan weather is at its most pleasant.
2 | How long should you spend in Petra?
We’ve been to many historical sites around the world and Petra is one of the most special so we recommend spending at least two nights, ideally three, at Petra: there is lots to see within the ancient site itself and exploring it fully requires at least two visits. Every part of Petra is unique and stunning and there are many fantastic hikes through the site so it’s simply not practical to squeeze everything into a single day. We visited Petra on four occasions: two sunrise hikes, a daytime visit and our evening at Petra by night which only runs on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Little Petra, a much smaller and quieter version of the main Petra site, is also worth a visit.
3 | Where to stay in Petra
- Marriott Petra – We stayed at this fantastic hotel located just a few minutes drive from Petra and loved the panoramic views across the Petra Mountains. The highlight of our stay was a traditional Jordanian meal served in a Bedouin tent overlooking the Petra Mountains – check prices here!
- Candles Hotel – a great budget-friendly option just a few hundred metres from the entrance to Petra – check prices here!
- Mövenpick Resort Petra – Located right at the entrance to Petra, the Movenpick Resort is an excellent choice for those without their own transport and boasts good rooms and an impressive breakfast spread – check prices here!
4 | How much hiking will I need to do In Petra?
If you are planning to walk through Petra there are lots of hiking opportunities while exploring the site. The main hikes in Petra are:
- Visitors centre to the Treasury: 2km
- The main trail from the visitor centre through the Siq to The Treasury, the royal tombs, the colonnaded street, and The Girl’s Palace: 4km
- The main trail and the Monastery: 8km
- The main trail and the High Place of Sacrifice: 6km
If you are unable to walk or have concerns about the distance, read part 5 on accessibility.
5 | Is Petra accessible?
Most people enter Petra from the visitor’s centre at the Wadi Musa entrance gate to the Treasury. This hike is slightly downhill and passes through the Siq, a winding narrow passageway which ends at the Treasury Building. However, if you are unable to make the walk a horse ride is included in the ticket. It’s also possible to take a horse-drawn carriage from the entrance to the Treasury at the end of the Siq. The cost of a carriage is 20JD for a return trip from the visitor’s centre to the Treasury for two people.
After the Treasury, there are numerous walks and hikes around Petra which will keep you on your feet for a number of hours – the hike to the Monastery is the main hike most people make. This hike is relatively intensive early in the morning and is even tougher when the sun rises in the sky. At the Treasury, it’s possible to hire a donkey as transport for the day. Beware, the donkeys walk close to the edge of paths so don’t look down! The cost of the donkey ride is negotiable so have smaller notes in your wallet and ensure you clearly agree on the drop-off and return locations in advance of agreeing on the price.
Visit Petra tip: While programs are underway to improve the conditions for the animals at Petra do be aware that there are huge concerns around the welfare and treatment of the animals. Please only consider this option if you need assistance to get around the ancient city and ensure the animal appears well treated and in good health before commiting to a ride.
6 | Is Petra safe to visit in 2018?
Neither the US or the UK have issued any travel warnings against Jordan and, although the risk of terrorism is considered to be high, the same narrative is used for European countries including Germany and the US. Jordan has seen its tourist numbers pick up again in 2018 and we felt very safe in the country as a whole. As with anywhere in the world, 100% safety can never be guaranteed.
What to pack for a visit to Petra
1 | Hiking Boots and Socks
If you plan on hiking in Petra make sure to bring good footwear. It wasn’t something we had considered before we travelled but Elaine had packed her hiking boots for some of our other hikes on the trips and they made the long hikes through the sand and rough terrain must easier. Remember to break in new hiking boots before the trip to avoid sore feet or blisters – check prices now!
2 | Hat and Sunscreen
It gets really hot later in the mornings/afternoon and, with almost no shade after the trek through the Sik, make sure to bring lots of sunscreen and pack a sun hat.
3 | Water and Snacks
It’s possible to buy bottled water and snacks from the stalls in Petra although be sure to bring some if you are planning a very early morning hike before the stalls open. We travel with a reusable collapsible water bottle which we refill and use during shorter hikes on our trips – check prices here! If you are planning some of the longer Petra hikes then we’d recommend a water bladder – it’s our hiking essential! We use a 2litre Camelbak which is super convenient to carry and doesn’t feel like you’re carrying anything at all – check prices now!
4 | What to wear at Petra
There are no set guidelines on what to wear when visiting Petra but we’d recommend the following:
- Comfortable walking shoes/boots are a must for the long hikes over the sometimes rough terrain.
- Jordan is conservative and we felt most comfortable with our shoulders and knees covered and this seemed to be the typical attire of most visitors. We did occasionally spot some shorts and tank tops but, as well respecting the locals, dust and sunburn would be more problematic!
- After emerging from the Siq at the Treasury there are very few shaded areas throughout the rest of the site so a hat or a scarf is a necessity.
5 | What are the best things to do at Petra?
From the iconic Treasury, the shaded Siq and the breathtaking Monastery to Little Petra and drinks at the oldest bar in the world there is no shortage of things to do at Petra. Check out our detailed guide on things to do in Petra and Wadi Musa to help plan your trip.
Tips for Visiting Petra
1 | Buy a multi-day ticket
Petra tickets are available for one day (50JD), two days (55JD) and three days (60JD) and 90JD for visitors who are not staying overnight in Jordan. Tickets are purchased by card or cash and a valid passport/ID is required. Under 12s are free and Jordanian residents can purchase tickets for 1 JD. If you are staying in the area our recommendation is to buy the three-day pass. We found ourselves returning later in the day and again on our second morning. The ticket price includes a horse ride from the Visitors Centre to the Siq but we’d recommend walking. If you do take a horse, be aware the horse owner will expect to be tipped and please make sure the animal is well looked after and in good health as animal welfare is an ongoing concern in Petra.
Visit Petra tip: If you are palnning on visiting in the evening for Petra by Night note that it is not included in the standard ticket price and must be purchased separately from the ticket office.
2 | Make a plan in advance of what you want to see.
You’ll need at least 2 days, preferably 3, to see the main sights in Petra so having a plan is really important. The main gate opens are 6am each morning and we were the first in the queue! A map is issued with the tickets but it’s worth planning your daily routes in advance so you can make sure to squeeze everything in.
Visit Petra tip: Petra opening hours are 6am to 6pm during the summer and 6am to 4pm in the winter.
3 | Bring Cash
It may be an ancient city but Petra still has the modern conveniences of souvenir stalls, snack stands and coffee shops all of which require cash!
Visit Petra tip: grab a copy of Marguerite van Geldermalsen’s ‘Married to a Bedouin’ before you visit Petra (pick up a copy on Amazon here). It’s the story of a young New Zealand lady who was hitchhiking around the Middle East with her friend when she fell in love with a Bedouin and never left. Marguerite still has a store in Petra and it is incredible to meet someone who moved to Petra and has lived and experienced life within the ancient city.
4 | Visit Early in the morning
Visiting Petra early in the morning has two massive benefits: firstly you’ll be able to hike around the site during the coolest part of the day and secondly there will be very few crowds at the site in the morning. The main gate opens at 6am so there is no excuse not to squeeze in a pre-breakfast hike!
4 | Guides
You can hire a Petra guide at the visitor’s centre, the prices are:
- The main trail from the visitor centre through the Siq to The Treasury, the royal tombs, the collonaded street, and The Girl’s Palace: 50JD
- The main trail and the Monastery: 100JD
- The main trail and the High Place of Sacrifice: 100JD
We opted to use a guidebook and find our own way through the site. Most of the Jordan guidebooks have maps and information on Petra and we picked up a Petra specific guide as well.
5 | Don’t underestimate the hikes
A lot of the hikes in Petra are vigorous, uphill climbs in the open sun. In addition, some of the hikes are relatively long (it takes around 2 hours to hike from the Treasury to the Monastery). Be prepared with water, sunscreen, a hat and proper walking shoes and try to avoid the midday sun.
Did we miss anything on visiting Petra? Let us know in the comments!