The Red Rose City of Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Hidden in a canyon deep in Jordan, this incredible place has remained perfectly intact and preserved, making you feel like you’ve really traveled back in time when you visit. Petra is one of the most incredible places to visit, and yet has managed to remain under the radar for a long time. A visit here is something that you really should plan ahead to make the most of it since there is a lot to see and tourism is still a bit old-fashioned. Here’s everything you need to know to have a picture-perfect visit there.
LEARN BEFORE YOU GO
Before I visited anywhere historical, I like to learn as much as I can about the place. It makes seeing it extra special, and then I have a full understanding of what I’m seeing when I get there. This also often alleviates the added cost of hiring a guide when you visit. I opted not to hire a guide for Petra so I could go at my own pace, so I made sure I did my homework ahead of time!
There are several documentaries, books, and resources about Petra available online that you should take advantage of so that you arrive in Petra as educated as you can. You can also read the Ultimate First Timer’s Guide to Petra for some additional tips.
FINDING A HOTEL
There are several hotels for all budgets around Petra, in the town called Wadi Musa. A few are right outside the entrance to the visitors center, meaning you could wake up in the morning and walk right there. But because of this location, these were among the most expensive. Just a ten-minute taxi drive away, I found the Hyatt Zaman, a newly constructed beautiful hotel with an authentic Jordanian feel. It was easy to arrange an early morning pick up to drive to Petra to be there when it opened, and it was about half the cost of staying nearby.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
The visitor’s center opens at 6 am, and after buying a ticket to enter it’s about a twenty-minute walk down the Siq to get into the canyon. You’ll pass some ruins and signs with information along the way, but you take the same road out, so pass by everything in order to get the Treasury as quickly as possible. Your ticket includes a horse ride down the Siq if you want to take it, but be aware the people caring for the horses will expect a small tip.
As you enter the canyon, you’ll wind around for a while before you finally catch a glimpse of the Treasury ahead of you. Again, you’ll be tempted to stop and marvel and take photos as you do this walk, but you exit this way, so I recommend you hurry through the canyon to get to the Treasury.
When I arrived at 6:30, there were no more than ten other people there. Two camels dressed in tassels and patterns and their caretaker are stationed in front of the Treasury, like a postcard. If you want the classic Petra photo here, you can pay to ride the camel if you want to or just pose with it.
At this early hour, the Treasury is magical. It’s quiet and still, and the few people who have made a point to be there so early were sitting back and enjoying the view. It was easy to get a photo alone, and have time to enjoy the world wonder.
If you arrive early, one day is enough to see everything. I spent a leisurely seven hours the first day and saw everything I wanted to see. I don’t think you need more than one day, but you are coming a long way and can plan for it, it would be well worth coming twice to see Petra by night the first evening, and then coming back early the next day to see it in daylight. Petra by night is only limited days and hours so you can plan to be there to see it, don’t miss the chance!
Because I had done my homework, I did not hire a guide. I wanted to enjoy the city at my own pace, and I highly recommend doing that since Petra is very large and spread out. You can arrange and hire your own guide beforehand to take you in, or you can get one on the spot at the park. Everyone is different, and my travel style is often not to use a guide, but there are of course benefits to having one. It’s just what you want. Do be aware when hiring a guide that you have an official one, a lot of locals inside will claim to be a guide, but they are not licensed.
You will need a local to take you up the hike to the lookout point where you see the famous photos of the Treasury down below. There are not “official guides” but tons of local people will be inside offering this, charging everything from $5-$25 per person to do the hike both ways. The path we took was not clearly discernible or marked at all and I wouldn’t have been able to find my way there without our guide.
WHAT TO SEE
All photos of Petra focus on The Treasury, but there is an entire city beyond it waiting to be explored! I recommend continuing on to keep ahead of the crowds if you want to explore the whole city. I continued through the city, stopping at each site along the way and had each location almost to myself. The main sites are all within a five or ten minute of each other, aside from The Monastery.
The Monastery and the hike there is something you should not skip. It’s about a forty-five minute to one hour hike from the end of the road and entirely uphill, so make sure you have your walking shoes on. There are stairs the whole way and several places to stop for a tea or water if you need to take a rest. You can also hire a donkey and ride up, which takes about twenty minutes and cost around $20. But if you’re able to do the walk, I recommend it. The donkeys don’t smell very good and the ride up looked very shaky and uncomfortable for the riders as they donkeys navigate the rocky steps. It’s nice to do the hike before the donkeys start the route, so you won’t be dodging donkey droppings along the way!
When you arrive, there is a lovely cafe overlooking the Monastery where you can sit and enjoy the view over a fresh juice and snack.
I definitely recommend coming here, it’s larger than the Treasury and much less crowded, but it is less detailed. It has a different look and is much less photographed so don’t miss the chance to see it!
BEST PHOTO SPOTS
What makes Petra so magical is how removed it is from the rest of the world. When you arrive at the visitor’s center, you have to walk eight hundred meters down The Siq before entering the Canyon. Once inside, you wind and turn through the narrow, red rock knowing that at any moment you could turn and see the iconic sliver of the Treasury before you. You don’t know when it’s coming, and the anticipation of it builds so much, that when it finally comes into view, you may just get a wave of goosebumps. Have your camera ready to capture this moment, that classic Indiana Jones shot that makes you feel like a true explorer.
IN FRONT OF THE TREASURY
You must arrive as early as possible in order to get this shot at Petra. As mentioned, I was at the Visitor’s Center right when they opened at 6:00 am. I was at The Treasury by 6:30, and there were ten other people there. At this early hour, the Treasury is magical. It’s quiet and still, and the few people who have made a point to be there so early were sitting back and enjoying the view. It was easy to get a photo alone, and have time to enjoy the world wonder before the crowds set in.
When I returned to the Treasury after seeing the rest of Petra at noon, it was a zoo! There were at least two hundred people crowded around, several large tour groups, and many local guides trying to enlist tourists to join them. There would have been no chance at this hour of getting a photo alone.
THE CLIMB TO THE MONASTERY
Since you are climbing up and far out from the rest of Petra, there are several beautiful photo options along the way. About a quarter into the hike I came across an empty canyon, where I took some time to explore and enjoy having a bit of Petra all to myself. There are many viewpoints from the hike where you can look out over the rocks and ruins.
You can take a donkey, available for hire inside, but I recommend the hike if you are able. The donkeys will be along the route if you want to get a photo with them, but be prepared to tip the owner.
The Monastery looks similar to the Treasury but is less decorative and a little larger. When you finally reach it after your long hike, it’s quite a reward and a sight for sore eyes! There is a cafe just in front of it, so you can sit and relax while taking in the beauty. You can get water, some snacks, and fresh juices here.
I began the hike right after seeing the Treasury since I knew it was going to get hot as the day progressed. I arrived at The Monastery by 8 am, and there were only a dozen people there. Getting a solo shot and then a front-row table with a view was a piece of cake! By the time I left around 9:30, I passed tons of people heading there I was going back down.
THE PLACE OF HIGH SACRIFICE
Of all the views of Petra, this was the most special to me. It’s a fifteen-minute climb straight up into the rocks, and you have to enlist a local to help you (which will cost between $10-20 dollar per person, depending on your bargaining skills). This climb is a little rough since there’s not a real path so make sure you have proper clothes and shoes on – no one should be doing this in sandals and a dress! You will scale rocks on all fours, duck under trees, and eventually spill out on top of the canyon you walked through earlier. There are several viewpoints you can hike to, but they all have a similar perspective down on The Treasury. We did this on our way out, when it was chaos on the ground level, I was able to have one last special moment alone cup high.
There isn’t much food inside aside from packaged snacks, but there are a lot of places to get a freshly pressed juice, coffee, tea, or soft drink. I recommend packing bag with a meal or snacks to enjoy inside and then having another meal when you exit in Wadi Musa.
Most hotels you stay at will also pack you a lunch if you order it in advance.
There are tons of stalls inside selling the same few items: necklaces, rocks, pottery shards, wooden-carved camels, red and white check scarves, and all the typical magnets, keychains, t-shirts and other things that gift shops sell. There wasn’t much in the way of something authentic, but if you’re looking for a souvenir you’ll have your pick of things to choose from and the prices were very low. There are also a dozen shops in the courtyard of the visitor’s center, so if you want something larger or heavy, it would be wise to buy it on the way out. I found the prices inside the park better than outside in the shops, so it’s a rare time that it’s a good idea to purchase something inside.
WHAT TO WEAR
Definitely wear a lot of SPF and bring more with you. There is very little shade around. Wear sunglasses, a hat or head covering and sneakers or hiking shoes if you plan to hike. The steps are uneven, slippery stone for much of the hike to the monastery and you may truly climb on all fours up rocks to get the lookout point for the treasury. I don’t recommend a dress if you want to hike. It will slow you down and be challenging to navigate the hike without your dress flying up.
If you don’t plan to hike, you could wear sandals if you’re comfortable walking in them, and there are no restrictions with shoulders or knees for men or women. When I visited it was 85F and overcast. I wore a sundress one day a light-weight, loose-fitting co-ord the next.
Be prepared it is very dusty, my clothing and shoes were caked in a fine layer of red by the end of the day. Don’t wear anything you can’t easily wash or would be upset if it got dirty! Make sure you are comfortable. At the end of the day, I had climbed ninety-six flights of stairs, walked ten miles and taken twenty-four thousand steps!
I hope this guide makes your trip planning easier and experience in Petra picture-perfect! Don’t wait to see this world wonder, it’s getting more popular every year.
Have you been to Petra? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
Our Top Places To Stay In Petra
- Hyatt Zaman
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