It’s hard to describe the feeling of finally visiting the place that’s been #1 on your bucket list for half your life. The Lost City of Petra has captured my imagination since my early teenage years, occupying the #1 spot on my travel bucket list since I was probably 14.
So when my dad and I decided to visit Israel last year, I was determined to fit a couple days in Jordan into our itinerary. I worried that there was no way for Petra to live up to my expectations, but the experience was just as magical as I’d always dreamed.
Below I’ve outlined everything you need to know about planning a trip to Petra, and what to see while you’re there. There are a few extra tips and links at the bottom to help with your planning!
Petra is an ancient archeological site in Jordan, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea in Jordan. The site has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but is famous because of the Nabatean city carved into the rock, which dates to the first few centuries BCE (estimates around 300 BCE).
The city was situated at a major trading crossroads during that time, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
BEFORE YOU GO TO PETRA
Is Jordan Safe To Visit?
Obviously bad things can happen anytime, anywhere, and Jordan certainly has some issues with unsafe neighbors. But the country itself is one of the safest in the Middle East, has good infrastructure (paved roads, etc.), and I felt very comfortable and welcome there.
It’s not recommended to go to near the areas bordering Iraq and Syria (the aforementioned neighbors), and obviously check the news and U.S. travel warnings prior to your visit, but as long as you’re staying in the tourist areas such as Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum, Wadi Mujib, etc., you should be okay.
Do I Need A Guide Or A Tour?
You can totally visit Petra by yourself—we did! If you’re visiting several areas in Jordan, a tour guide and driver may simplify things, but it’s certainly not a requirement. You can consider hiring a guide at the entrance to Petra, which I would have considered if we’d had more time.
The history is so rich and the signage is minimal (something I’m thankful for, as a photographer), so a trained guide can give a lot more historical insight and also show you where to get the best pictures.
How Long Should I Spend There?
If your itinerary can swing it, I recommend spending two days in Petra, though if you have time you can definitely spend more there—the park is massive! The price for a two-day Petra ticket is 55 Jordanian dinar (JOD), vs. 50 JOD for one day (both with overnight stay).
Be aware that if you’re doing Petra as a day trip and not staying at a hotel in Wadi Musa overnight, then the price is a steep 90 JOD.
How Should I Go To Petra?
You have a few options, depending on where you’re coming from, but taxi is easiest. We took the bus from Wadi Rum to Wadi Musa (a good option if you’re on a tight budget), but it drops you off at a depot of sorts and then you still have to find a way to your hotel.
Taxi is the easiest, we took a taxi from Wadi Musa back to the Aqaba/Eilat border, and it cost around $35-40 USD. Agree on a price before getting in.
WHAT TO SEE IN PETRA
Here is a fairly simple map created by Lucy of OnTheLuce.com just to give you an idea of the order of things (distances not completely to scale). To hike to the High Place of Sacrifice, the trail starts between the Theatre and the Colonnaded Street.
Upon entering the park, you’ll walk for 10-15 minutes downhill on a boring gravel path, then the path levels out and you’ve reached the Siq, the famous canyon walls leading into Petra.
Take your time through this area and appreciate the massive stone walls and mesmerizing curving colored stripes.
There’s a feeling of mystique that lingers in these walls, and despite the tourists around me I half expected to see a caravan of spice traders round each corner.
After 15-30 minutes of walking (depending on your speed and how many photos you take), you’ll finally turn a corner and get your first glimpse of the famous Treasury.
The Siq dead-ends into a large plaza dominated by the iconic Treasury façade. It is just as cool as you think it will be. It’s also chaotic and crowded, full of tourists trying to get selfies with a camel and locals selling cheap jewelry or donkey rides.
We grabbed some photos here, but there’s a secret to getting place all to yourself—more on that at the end of this post!
The clarity and intricacy of the carving is absolutely unreal up close. No matter how long I stared at it, my brain just kept asking, “How was this possible?!” The thing that most people don’t realize about Petra is that the Treasury is just the tip of the iceberg—there are hundreds of carved buildings throughout the town, so you’re just getting started at this point.
The Street Of Facades & The Amphitheatre
After leaving the Treasury, you’ll walk along the Street of Facades and see dozens more buildings carved into the rock face, as well as lots of caves.
There’s a small but impressive Roman amphitheater as well. Definitely look around, but if you’re short on time then I wouldn’t spend much time here, as there are much cooler places to see.
Hike To The High Place Of Sacrifice
Well, in full transparency, we didn’t actually make it all the way up. Because Dad and I arrived at Petra just after lunchtime, we were pretty tight on time.
We started on the hike but it was a longer and a bit more challenging than we’d anticipated, and we worried that it would take too much of our remaining time.
If you only have a day in Petra, I’d recommend skipping this and focusing on other sights (like the Royal Tombs, which we didn’t have time for).
We did do part of the hike, and got a great view. The path entrance isn’t marked, which does make it a little more challenging. Once you get through the Street of Facades and past the amphitheatre, you’ll come around a corner that opens up into a large town square—you can see it in the photo below.
The stairs leading up are immediately on your left when you round the corner, next to a little souvenir stand.
This is as far as we got before turning around. Because there wasn’t any signage, I don’t know how much further it was to the High Place of Sacrifice—who knows, maybe we were super close. But the view from here was awesome, and I even made a new little feline friend.
My dad couldn’t believe that I’d found a cat out here in the middle of nowhere! #catwhisperer
The Colonnaded Street
After you pass the amphitheater and that big plaza, you’ll walk down the Colonnaded Street, lined with Roman columns leading up to a pretty sweet gate. If you’re wanting an action shot of people riding camels, this is a great place to take it.
Climb To The Monastery
I hadn’t planned on us doing any donkey or camel rides, but we were running short on both time and energy, so we decided to ride a donkey to the Monastery rather than climb the 800 steps.
Some locals were hanging out outside the restaurant, so we agreed on a price and set off.
Our guide, Egel, was charming and chatty, and he led me and my dad up the steep stairs on our donkeys. It’s absolutely amazing how sure-footed those donkeys are! The ride took maybe 20-30 minutes total, versus the hour or more it would have taken to hike.
I am completely in love with the Monastery, and can’t understand why it doesn’t get the same attention as the Treasury!
This was easily my favorite sight in Petra, and with a stroke of serendipity, the boring overcast skies cleared and we got 30 minutes of bright blue sky while we were here!
Sadly, we did have to head back down eventually. And wow, going down on a donkey was even scarier!
But Shakira knew what she was doing—though she did have to make a pit stop to try and steal a bag of trash from a shopkeeper. Shakira’s a feisty wench!
The Royal Tombs
The place I was most bummed to miss was the Royal Tombs—we just didn’t have enough time!
By the time we got back from the Monastery, it was almost closing time. I’ve heard amazing things about the views from the Royal Tombs, so I definitely recommend going, and would go there instead of the Place of High Sacrifice if you have to choose.
How To Get The Best Photos Of The Treasury, Petra
Dad and I dragged our sore, dusty behinds back down the Colonnaded Street and Street of Facades, and when we reached the Treasury something magical had happened—all the tourists were gone! We could take pictures to our heart’s content, and we even discovered some neat viewpoints.
If you want great photos of the Treasury without the crowds, hang around until close to closing time!
Experiencing Petra By Night
Here’s another insider tip—if you’re already inside Petra, you can actually stay and watch them set up for Petra by Night, and then just buy your ticket once it starts. I was bummed that I didn’t know this ahead of time, because it would have allowed me to get pictures of the glowing lanterns before the crowds arrived.
It’s probably not for everyone, but I was completely mesmerized by the experience of Petra by Night. They line the Siq with glowing lanterns, which cast cool shadows along the curvy Siq canyon walls.
Be careful though, it is still super dark and the ground is uneven, so it’s easy to fall and injure yourself. When you reach the Treasury, there are dozens of lanterns laid out, and a short musical and cultural program.
As a photographer, it gave me an opportunity to practice my nighttime and tripod photography. If your goal is to get great long-exposure nighttime photos of the site, the most important thing is to wait and be LITERALLY the last person in.
It’s harder than it sounds, and I kept having waves of latecomers walk through my photos, but it gave me a chance to play around with settings and find what worked best. You will need a tripod and the ability to change exposure times on your camera, to really do it justice.
HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRIP TO PETRA
- Check Petras official site for up-to-date costs and hours.
- Generally, you can enter Petra from around 6:00am until about 6:00pm in the summer, 4:00pm in the winter
- As I mentioned above, entrance costs vary depending on how many days you’re visiting and whether you’re staying overnight. The official website breaks it down even more, including guide costs.
- Petra by Night is only done three nights a week, visit the website for more info; tickets are 17 JOD
What To Bring For A Trip To Petra:
- Sunscreen and water, it is hot and there is very little shade once you’re past the Siq
- Sunglasses and a hat or scarf to cover your head when you’re in the sun
- Wear cool, comfortable clothes that dry quickly and breathe. Because there are so many tourists you’ll see all kinds of clothing there, but since Jordan is a more conservative culture I felt it was respectful to cover up a little more, so I wore yoga pants and a loose t-shirt.
- Comfortable walking shoes with a good grip, as the stone can be very slippery. Tennis shoes or hiking boots are best, but sturdy sandals can work too, just know that you’ll have to pick some sand and rocks out from time to time.
- Plenty of cash! While you can purchase your entrance tickets with a credit card (IF the machine is working, which it wasn’t when we were there), most things you purchase in the park will be using cash, so make sure you have plenty. And make sure that you haggle for anything like a donkey ride, souvenirs, etc.
Where To Stay In Wadi Musa:
We stayed at the Sharah Mountains Hotel for about US $50 per night. The owner is very accommodating and shuttles guests back and forth to Petra. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and our mansaf dinner was delicious (not included in the price). I’d highly recommend.
About The Animals:
In all honesty, I have very mixed feelings about the animal situation in Petra (and many tourist destinations, for that matter).
I grew up on a farm and so have a fairly practical utilitarian perspective on animals, but I’ve also seen negative stories about the treatment of animals in Petra. Both of our donkeys seemed well cared-for (and quite feisty), but I definitely saw some animals there that looked a little scrawnier.
At the end of the day, you have to do what feels right to you. Jordan is trying to improve the situation of the animals here and elsewhere, so if you see one being mistreated please report it to the Visitor Centre, Tourist Police, or park rangers. Okay, soapbox dismounted…
Jordan is an amazing and welcoming country, and I hope I’ve inspired you to plan a visit to Petra on your own!
If you’re in the process of planning a trip, I’ve published even more detailed guides for both Petra and Petra by Night on my blog, outlining all the info you’ll need to create your itinerary.
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Petra and Jordan. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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