Petra in Jordan has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. It was the filming set for a number of famous movies, amongst which Indiana Jones, The Mummy Returns and Transformers.
However when you say Petra a lot of people, myself included, only think of the façade of the Treasury built into the orange canyon walls, since it’s what you see most often on social media.
There is actually so much more to visiting Petra than just the Treasury, waiting to be discovered.
If you’re planning a visit to Petra you probably have a lot of questions. This guide will cover all the essential things you need to know and my own personal top tips on visiting Petra like a pro.
- 1 Essential questions about visiting Petra answered
- 1.1 What is Petra?
- 1.2 How do I get to Petra?
- 1.3 How much does entrance at Petra cost?
- 1.4 What are the Petra opening times?
- 1.5 What should I wear in Petra?
- 1.6 Are there places to eat and drink inside Petra?
- 1.7 Are there toilets inside Petra?
- 1.8 How much time do I need if I’m visiting Petra for the first time?
- 1.9 How much walking will I have to do to visit Petra?
- 1.10 Can I see everything in Petra without walking?
- 1.11 Is Petra safe?
- 2 My 10 top tips for visiting Petra like a pro
- 2.1 Buy the Jordan Pass
- 2.2 Get to Petra from the “backdoor”
- 2.3 Be there early
- 2.4 What to see in Petra
- 2.5 Bring water and snacks with you
- 2.6 Discover this secret viewpoint over the Monastery
- 2.7 See the Treasury from above
- 2.8 Don’t get a guide at the Visitor Centre
- 2.9 Visit Petra by Night
- 3 Where to stay in Petra
Essential questions about visiting Petra answered
Before we jump into my top tips for visiting Petra like a pro, I figured we should cover some basic information about Petra itself and answer the biggest questions I know you’re dying to ask (because they’re the same ones I had before visiting Petra).
What is Petra?
Let’s start with the very basics; what exactly is Petra? Petra is a huge archaeological site in Jordan, it’s one of the seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s kind of a big deal. It was established in 312BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, Arab people who inhabited the area, until 100AD Romans invaded it and took over Petra.
In the 12th Century it was abandoned and left to the local people. Petra remained unknown to the western world until 1812 when the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt found it.
It then became known as the “Lost City of Petra”. It is also known as the Rose City because of the colour of the stones in which it is carved.
How do I get to Petra?
Now that you know what Petra is, you’re probably wondering where it is and how you can reach it. First things first, you need to get to Jordan.
The easiest way to get to Jordan is to fly into Amman. If you’re coming from Europe there has recently been an increase in low cost flights (I flew from Milan in Italy with Ryanair for 80 GBP return)!
Petra is located 230km south of Amman, roughly a 3-hour drive away. The easiest way to get to Petra from Amman is to rent a car and drive.
You can also hire a driver at the airport but it will obviously be more expensive. You can take a JETT bus from Amman to Wadi Musa but public transport in Jordan overall is very limited, I wouldn’t recommend this.
Alternatively you can book a tour beforehand to take you to Petra and other main landmarks in Jordan.
How much does entrance at Petra cost?
As of December 2018 entrance at Petra for tourists costs 50 JOD for one-day access, 55 JOD for two days and 60 JOD for three days. Tickets to Petra by Night cost 17 JOD and aren’t included in the standard entry ticket.
What are the Petra opening times?
The opening and closing times of Petra vary depending on the time of year. The Visitor Centre is open every day from 6AM to 6PM in summer and from 6AM to 4PM in winter.
The Visitor Centre is where you buy tickets, find a guide, pick up a map, buy snacks and souvenirs. Instructions at the front gate say you need to leave the site by 7PM in summer and 5PM in winter.
What should I wear in Petra?
There is no official dress code for Petra. It’s a historical site but not a religious one that will require you to cover up shoulders, head or legs.
Just make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes and clothes you will be happy to walk in for a long period of time.
I was there in December and was fine in long loose trousers and a t-shirt during the day, in the morning and when the sun went down it’s cooler and you will need a hoodie.
The weather wasn’t the best when I was visiting but if you’re planning on visiting in spring or summer make sure to bring sunscreen too!
Are there places to eat and drink inside Petra?
Yes there are a lot of coffee shops and restaurants at the Visitor Centre and then more stalls throughout the site.
They’re all marked on the map of Petra but they’re not very regular, so make sure to bring some water and snacks with you, especially if you’re visiting Petra with kids.
Are there toilets inside Petra?
Yes. There are toilets at the Visitor Centre when you arrive and then more throughout the site. They’re not very regular though so make sure to check their location on the site map.
Some are the chemical ones you find at festivals but there were also some very nice ones built in the rock by the Royal Tombs.
How much time do I need if I’m visiting Petra for the first time?
It really depends on your level of interest in historical sites. I slept two nights in Wadi Musa (the town closest to Petra) and spent one evening at Petra by Night and a whole day visiting Petra and found it to be enough for me.
If you want to take your time exploring all the sites and viewpoints without rushing through all the hikes you should consider purchasing the 2-day Petra pass.
How much walking will I have to do to visit Petra?
The archaeological site of Petra is pretty massive; it covers 60 square kilometres with differences in terrain and elevation.
To walk from the Visitor Centre all the way to the Monastery (the “end” of the site) will take roughly 2 hours at a reasonable pace.
If you take into account the detours you will most likely take to go up to the viewpoints or to see some of the main sights and the 2 hours it will take to walk back to the exit, it will add up to a lot of walking.
I spent one day visiting Petra and walked a total 20km and 131 floors.
Can I see everything in Petra without walking?
Almost everything. Inside Petra you will find numerous locals offering you a ride on a donkey, camel or in a carriage. If you don’t want to walk you can get to most places in the site with a bit of 4-legged support.
The price for these “Bedouin Ferraris”, as the guides will call them, varies depending on the animal and how well you can haggle.
Your ticket to Petra actually includes a ride in a horse carriage, but the owners will ask you for expensive tips, so make sure to agree on the price beforehand.
It will cost you around 20 JOD to get a horse and carriage from the entry to the Treasury and around 5 JOD to get a mule from the Colonnade Street up to the Monastery.
Some spots such as the viewpoints over the Treasury or inside the Royal Tombs you will have to walk to.
Is Petra safe?
When I told my mum I was going to travel to Jordan she got really nervous and started stressing saying it was a dangerous destination (although for an anxious Italian mum, everywhere is too dangerous).
So I did some research and found all sorts of articles online proving that Jordan is actually a very safe country.
It’s often perceived as a dangerous destination due to its location in the Middle East, neighbouring Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel. I personally never felt unsafe, in Petra or anywhere else in Jordan.
My experience is obviously limited to a 1-week holiday; if you want to read more about safety and travelling solo in Jordan, check out these articles by more seasoned Jordan travellers: Carpe Diem Our Way and Divergent Travellers.
One thing to note for female travellers is to always be wary of the guys that approach you saying they are guides.
It didn’t happen to me personally but I read about solo female travellers being approached by local guides offering them tea or dinner in a Bedouin cave, and then being either sexually assaulted or robbed.
During Petra by Night I distanced myself from the crowd a bit as I wanted to take photos of the Treasury and night sky and some local men did approach me with similar offers.
I politely declined and they left me alone without further pressing.
Like anywhere else you travel to always be careful and listen to your gut instinct, try to never put yourself in a position where you are alone with a man you don’t fully trust.
My 10 top tips for visiting Petra like a pro
Having answered all your burning questions about visiting Petra (I hope!) it’s now time to jump into my 10 essential tips that will make your visit to Petra smoother and more enjoyable.
Buy the Jordan Pass
The Jordan Pass is an initiative by the Jordanian government to improve the tourist experience in Jordan.
There are different types of passes but generally speaking it will cover your tourist visa to Jordan and entry to a number of attractions throughout the country.
Petra is one of those attractions. I purchased the Jordan Wanderer for 70 JOD, which includes a 1-day entry to Petra.
If you think that 1-day entry to Petra would be 50 JOD and the tourist visa is 40 JOD (as of December 2018), you’ve already made your money back just with those two expenses.
If you’re planning on visiting other attractions in Jordan such as Jerash, the Amman acropolis or Roman theatre, and Wadi Rum, those will also be covered. You can buy your Jordan Pass here.
Get to Petra from the “backdoor”
If you want to have a truly unique experience in Petra, don’t start your day at the Visitor Centre like everyone else. Instead, why don’t you reach Petra from the backdoor?
This is a 10 km hike that starts in Little Petra and after 2 hours of stunning canyons and viewpoints will bring you to the Monastery of Petra, where most people usually finish their Petra tours.
I can highly recommend this experience for three main reasons. The first one is that the hike itself is incredible.
There are some changes in elevation but the terrain is usually well paved and I would describe the overall difficulty level of the hike as moderate.
The natural landscapes of the rocks and canyons were to me almost as beautiful as the archaeological site of Petra itself.
The second reason is that you will reach the Monastery early in the day, when most people are still making their way from the standard route from the Visitor Centre and you will get it mostly to yourself.
Lastly the standard path that takes to the Monastery is composed by 820 steps, which you will now get to walk down and not up!
The hike however isn’t well marked, I wouldn’t recommend doing it without a guide as it would be very hard to tell which way you need to go.
You will need to book a guide beforehand since Little Petra doesn’t have a Visitor Centre like Petra, with guides just sitting around waiting for tourists.
If you’re interested message me and I’ll share with you the contact of our guide (he doesn’t have a website, doesn’t seem right to just list his phone number online, privacy and all that).
Be there early
I get it that not everyone wants to start a visit to a 60 square kilometres archaeological site with a 2-hour hike to reach the site itself.
If you choose to go via the standard route, make sure to get there early! All the big tours don’t get there till later in the morning so if you can be there as soon as it opens you will be able to enjoy the Siq and Treasury all to yourself.
What to see in Petra
Before visiting Petra all I knew about it was the Treasury. There is actually so much more to Petra than just the beautiful Treasury facade.
As I’ve already mentioned Petra is a 60 squared kilometres site, with numerous attractions in it. So how do you know what you should go see in Petra? Here I cover the main sites that you should see when you’re visiting Petra.
This is a 1.2km long canyon that starts just after the Visitor Centre and leads all the way to the Treasury.
It’s considered the entrance to Petra and walking through the towering pink and orange stones, to find the Treasury opening up in front of you is a truly magical start to your Petra visit.
Al-Kazneh (the Treasury)
This is the most famous attraction in Petra. It’s a 40m tall, symmetrical building carved directly into the rock face with detailed ornaments.
The name is actually misleading, as this wasn’t a treasury but a tomb for a Nabatean king. In the past tomb raiders that were searching for treasures tried sacking also the Petra Treasury, without much luck.
If you look closely you can still see bullet holes in the rock where they attacked it with machine guns, trying to trigger traps before they entered. As of December 2018 you can’t go inside the Treasury.
As you walk on from the Treasury the next main sight that will appear soon on your left is the theatre. With over 8,000 seats, it’s hard to miss.
These are just after the theatre on the right, and have elaborate facades carved into the rock similarly to the Treasury. There are four of them one next to the other, a sight that for me was almost as impressive as the Treasury!
However these suffered flood damage over the centuries and some of their facades aren’t as well kept, possibly part of the reason they are not as famous online as their neighbours.
There are steps that lead up to them and you can actually visit the inside of these tombs. Both in the area just below the Royal Tombs and even under some of the arches you will find souvenir stalls.
The Colonnade is a street that runs through the centre of Petra, with columns on each side, as the name suggests.
The Colonnade street is mostly in ruins, due to the frequent flash floods that took place over the past thousands of years, and there are un-excavated sites on either side.
The Monastery is the attraction furthest away from the Visitor Centre. The standard route to reach it from the Colonnade includes 820 steps going up.
Reaching it will be quite the challenge but it’s well worth it! The Monastery is 50m high and has an extremely well preserved facade built into the rock, similar to that of the Treasury.
The name is once again misleading, it’s named the Monastery because of crosses carved inside the main chamber, which are believed to have been added later in the Byzantine era.
Originally, it is thought to have been a temple. Just across from the Monastery there is a tea shop with tents where you can relax in the shade after the tough hike up.
High Place of Sacrifice
The High Place of Sacrifice, as the name suggests, is the location in Petra where they used to carry out sacrifices. These almost certainly entailed libations, animal sacrifices and smoking of frankincense.
It is unclear whether they included human sacrifices too. The walk up to the Sacrifice takes around 45 minutes, but is very steep.
The trail is well marked but there are no railings, so it might not be the best hike if you aren’t confident on your feet or suffer of vertigo.
Once you reach the top you will be rewarded with sweeping views over the mountains, rocks and monuments of Petra.
I didn’t make it to the High Place of Sacrifice as I was short on time and after walking 20km in one day, I was pretty knackered as it was.
Bring water and snacks with you
I know I said there will be stalls and coffee shops inside Petra, however you might find yourself walking for a while before you find one.
I personally find it much easier to just bring my own water and snacks so that if I get suddenly hungry or thirsty I have supplies with me and don’t have to search for a shop.
Discover this secret viewpoint over the Monastery
Once you reach the Monastery you will see signs pointing to a big rock a little way away and describing it as “Top of the world: best view in Petra”.
While the view from that spot is pretty good, there is another one that is much better.
If you’re standing with the Monastery at your back and you’re facing the rock that is advertised as the best view in Petra you need to look at the big rock on your left, behind the Bedouin tents.
Once you get closer to it you will find a trail and some steps that will take you to the viewpoint. There is some climbing involved but it’s fairly easy and won’t take you more than five minutes.
I personally like this view better as it’s closer to the Monastery and there is less stuff in the way of the view.
See the Treasury from above
If you’ve seen photos of Petra on social media you’ve probably seen the photos of the Treasury from above. These all look very similar but are also slightly different every time.
The reason for this being that there are THREE main viewpoints that will allow you to get that Instagram-worthy shot of the Treasury from above.
The moment you reach the Treasury from the Siq local guides will come to you, show you photos of the viewpoints and offer to take you there for a small fee.
To convince you to hire them they will tell you that it is now forbidden to climb to the viewpoints without a guide. I was in a group with four other girls and we negotiated for a guide to take us to two viewpoints for 5 JOD each.
If you’re looking at the Treasury the first and easiest viewpoint to reach is on the right. It will only take about 5-10 minutes to reach it however there isn’t really a marked trail, you will have to do some climbing over the rocks to reach it.
This is where your guide will step in and help you climb to the viewpoint. The viewpoint itself is a small rock plateau without much else.
This was my personal favourite because it’s not as high, and it allows you to get nice photos at the same level as the Treasury.
The second viewpoint is on the left and a bit harder to reach, about a 15-20 minute hike. While some of it is well treaded or with steps there is a lot of climbing over rocks also here.
You will find a small Bedouin tent at the top of this viewpoint, where they sell tea and offer some shade after the hike. If you don’t purchase anything they ask that you make a 1 JOD donation for the taking a photo up there.
A cup of tea costs 1 JOD so you might as well get some tea.
The guides will offer to take that famous shot from above for you and you should let them, there is more climbing involved to take the perfect shot and to be honest, it looked pretty dangerous.
The third viewpoint is the toughest to reach but does not require a guide. It starts from behind the Royal Tombs and takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour, with most of the trail being up steep steps.
I didn’t go to this viewpoint as it would have taken too long to get there and it’s very similar to the other two. It’s similar to the first viewpoint, just higher.
It’s also similar to the second viewpoint since it’s at the same height, just from the other side. It’s up to you whether you want to pay for a guide and do a shorter hike to the first two viewpoints, or do a longer hike solo.
Don’t get a guide at the Visitor Centre
I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a guide at all, quite the opposite. Compared to other historical attractions around the world in Petra there is a bit of a lack of explanations on site.
Most of the sites will have a sign somewhere in their proximity (if you can find it!) telling you a little bit about what it is, but we found they didn’t really go into a lot of detail and we were having to read more about it in our Lonely Planet Jordan guide or online.
I do recommend getting a guide in Petra, just not at the Visitor Centre, since these will have fixed prices and only take you to the standard tourist spots.
Wait till you reach the Treasury and here you will find guides willing to take you to the viewpoints over the Treasury, to the High Place of Sacrifice or anywhere else you want to go. You will also be able to haggle more on the price.
Visit Petra by Night
Petra by Night is a light show that is on every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night from 20:30 to 22:30. They light the walk from the Visitor Centre, all along the Siq and up to the Treasury with 1,500 candles.
During the evening there is a live fiddle player, complimentary tea being served around and a short story telling session at the end. Entry to Petra by Night isn’t included in your day entry to Petra and costs an additional 17 JOD.
It’s a great opportunity to see Petra in a different light (literally and metaphorically) and with not quite as many people around.
Despite the lights from the candles you will still be able to see a lot of stars, which for me is always a magical experience.
Where to stay in Petra
Wadi Musa is a town that has grown around Petra. It’s fairly small with only a couple main streets, but there are a number of hotels for every budget range.
One thing to note is that we couldn’t find any alcohol in any of the shops or restaurants in Wadi Musa, we were told only the big 5-star hotels serve it.
I didn’t mind it but if it’s something you think might impact your trip you might want to consider staying in one of the big hotel chains.
I personally stayed at the Peace Way Hotel. It’s reasonably priced, serves a good breakfast and is a short 5-minute drive away from the Petra Visitor Centre.
If you want to have a completely different experience you could also stay in a Bedouin tent, for example at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp (or save the bedouin experience for when you do a Wadi Rum overnight tour)!
Final thoughts on visiting Petra
Have you been to Petra before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below!
Visiting Petra was an incredible experience for me; the stunning natural beauty of the location combined to its rich history really makes it one of the most interesting places I’ve visited recently.
I wanted to put together this guide since before actually visiting Petra, I knew very little about it other than photos of the Treasury I had seen online. I hope you will find this guide useful in planning you own visit to Petra.