Why Petra should be on your bucket list and Essential tips for visiting Petra in Jordan.
Petra, one of the 7 Wonders of the World, is undeniably on many people’s bucket lists. For many visitors, visiting Petra is the only stop on their Jordan trip. It’s surely a price trip so you might want to get the most out of your visit. Here are my most essential tips for visiting Petra.
What exactly is Petra?
Also known as the Rose City because of the color of the stone it is carved from, Petra was established in 312BC as the capital city for the Nabataeans. It remained under Nabataean rule until 100 AD when the Romans invaded it, and in the 12 century it was finally abandoned and left to the local people.
The site remained unknown to the western world outside local communities until 1812 when a Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt found it. The Lost City of Petra was designated a World Heritage Site on December 6th, 1985 and became Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction.
The Treasury – The Most Famous Landmark of Petra
The Treasury was named so because it was believed to have treasures hidden inside. I was told that there were four lions at the top of it, but the Bedouins used to shoot at the facade and these statues because they thought that Pharaoh put his gold and treasures in them. However, no treasure has ever been found there.
These days, the official info is that Bedouins are the only one who is allowed to live on the site. They used to live in caves on the site, but these days they might occasionally sleep in their local stalls if even. They’ve moved to a nearby village, but return to the site on a daily basis to make some money. No one actually knows what the treasury was for.
How to Get to Petra
There are two popular ways to get to Petra. First, you need to either fly to Amman or cross the border from Israel in Aqaba.
If you’re flying, I recommend finding the cheapest flights on Skyscanner. I flew from London with MEA (Middle East Airlines) with a layover in Beirut, Lebanon and I can highly recommend this airline. Once you reach Amman, instead of heading to the city I recommend going down to Petra first as it’s the opposite direction from the airport than Amman city.
While there are some buses to Petra, they aren’t frequent and not too reliable. You can take a JETT bus from Amman downtown to Wadi Musa.
Your best bet is to either rent a car and drive or hire a driver to take you. A driver can be easily arranged upon arrival, as everyone offers to take you anywhere. I have to warn you, it’s not cheap.
I actually drove myself and I can’t recommend this option enough as it’s flexible and about 6 times cheaper than hiring drivers. Driving in Jordan was easy (outside of Amman), most roads were empty, and easy to navigate without wifi since you just follow the King’s Highway (you can get a local SIM CARD at the airport with 6 GB of data and unlimited calls for $8). No one was ever bothering me when driving alone as a solo female either.
I booked my rental car on Orbitz. I recommend getting a car from a company that’s located within the terminal of the airport since I was struggling to find a shuttle to my rental car company outside the airport. It turned out they reached out to me on WhatsApp to let me know when to pick me up, which was slightly confusing.
How Many Days Should You Stay in Petra
Even one full-day at Petra might not be enough, leave alone just a few hours like most tourists tend to do. With more than 800 registered sites sprawling across 102 square miles, it’s a place where you can hike for days and keep finding new spots.
Petra Visitor Center and Ticket Office opens from 6 am and closes at 4 pm in the winter and 6 PM in the summer. I was told that I should start my exploration right when it opens to avoid the crowds, but I can assure you that when I entered the site at 8 am there were barely any other tourists around, and the sunlight wasn’t even lighting the Treasury up (it happens around 9:30 am). I had to wait for the sun to make its way over the high cliffs.
You should definitely be planning on staying at least one night in town in order to see Petra by Night, the unique opportunity to see the Treasury and Siq surrounded by beautiful lights. Petra by Night starts 8:30 pm and finishes around 10:30 pm.
How Much are Tickets for Petra
Visiting Petra isn’t cheap. Even the whole town is also ridiculously overpriced in terms of accommodation and food. For the same thing you pay in Amman 2 JD, in Petra you pay about 9 JD. But don’t let it scare you – I think it’s definitely worth your time and money.
Entrance to the Petra site will cost you 50 JD ($70) for a one-day pass, 55 JD for a 2-day pass and 60 JD for a 3-day pass. The price of your ticket includes a free horse ride to the entrance of the Siq (you don’t really need it though and you’re expected to give a tip). Petra by Night is not included in day-passes and costs additional 18 JD.
My Best Tips for Making the Most of Petra
1. Petra is huge.
You can’t see the whole site in one day, even when using a donkey. Most day tours and any types of tours just lead visitors to the Treasury for a photo opportunity and back. Many visitors feel like they waste a lot of money without getting much in return by doing that. I would too.
2. Don’t hire a guide at the entrance, get one inside Petra.
There are many guides waiting for tourists to hire them right at the entrance of Petra. Naturally, many people hire them. I strongly advise against it, not because I don’t like having a guide (quite the opposite), but those guides will take you down the tourist route down the road and you can do it all on your own.
What you can’t do on your own, however, is going to the shortcut to the best view of Petra Treasury. But the guide hired from the entrance isn’t going to take you there, because he can’t.
3. There are Two Ways to Get to the Best View of Petra (the one from the top!).
That said, there are two ways to get to the viewpoint of the Treasury. Both aren’t the easiest hikes, some parts involve climbing some rocks, but don’t worry – you can do it!
One, on the right side, is a regular route that you can do on your own starting from behind the Royal Tombs. It will take you about 45 min to 1 hour to reach it and then you’ll have to go back the same way.
The second way is a shortcut, for which you need a guide. There are many ‘bedouin’ guides waiting for you once you reach the treasury (They’re technically not Bedouins since the ‘bedouins’ living at Petra are actually Bedul gypsies).
I highly recommend it, as not only it will save you time, but also enable you to reach the not so touristy route of Petra from the High Place of Sacrifice.
4. Explore Petra off the path
Many maps of Petra don’t show more than the typical tourist route. But if you decide to explore more of Petra and go down from the High Place of Sacrifice, you’ll have the best time.
There were barely any tourists there (I met like 5 in 4 hours), you can go inside many structures, drink some tea with the locals and play with their kittens. The rocks in that area had way more colorful than anywhere else in Petra.
5. If you’re heading to the Monastery, do it at the end of the day.
Most blogs and sources will tell you to get to the Monastery first and see other things on the way back. I disagree. I think you should head there in the afternoon, simply because it will be less sunny to climb the stairs up there (it’s quite a hike!) and it will be less busy. If you get there around 3 PM, most tourists will be walking away (as they choose to go there straight after the Treasury), so you can get the site to yourself.
There was barely anyone when I got there around 3 pm as I passed most tourist leaving on my way up.
On the way back, stop at the orange juice stall close to the top (not at the top). It’s very refreshing and I highly enjoyed sitting with a group of locals and chatting about their lives.