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A first-timer’s guide to Petra

Amphitheatre in Petra, Jordan

Petra is always appearing on those top travel lists – the new seven wonders of the world, the top ten places to see in your lifetime. But unlike some places that top those lists, Jordan is actually fairly easy and not too expensive to visit. You can pick up a budget flight from the UK for under £150, there’s accommodation ranging from tented camps to five-star resorts, it’s safe and the people are incredibly friendly (the first English phrase everyone seems to learn is ‘Welcome to Jordan’). So if you want to visit Petra, which is the best way? While there are plenty of companies offering trips to the site, it’s an easy place to visit independently. Here are some tips I picked up on my first visit to Petra – from the closest hotels to stay at, the best times to visit, and even the best places to stop for a drink after a long day of exploring.

The Royal Tombs in Petra, Jordan

Petra’s Royal Tombs, carved into the hillside

Where should I stay?

A whole town – Wadi Musa – has grown up around Petra to serve visitors to the site. There are hotels of all types and budgets here, starting right next to visitor’s centre and stretching up into the hills. Closest to the entrance are the Petra Guest House and Crowne Plaza hotels, right next door to the visitor’s centre, and the Movenpick across the street. Though if you have a car then the hotels further away up on the hillside, like the Rocky Mountain Hotel where we stayed, are good value and have stunning valley views.

How do I get to Petra?

If you’re staying in Wadi Musa, then Petra’s either a short walk away or the hotels further out often run a free shuttle down to the visitor’s centre a couple of times a day, though it does mean you’re limited to fixed times. Otherwise there are plenty of taxis waiting outside the visitor’s centre, especially in the afternoons, and you’ll pay about JD2–4 within Wadi Musa. If you are driving to Petra, then there’s a free car park opposite the bus stop just in front of the Petra Moon hotel. This bus stop is also where you can catch the JETT buses to Amman and Aqaba if you’re travelling on by public transport.

Petra in black and white, Jordan

The Roman ruins at Petra

What do tickets cost?

Petra is one of those places where the longer you stay the better value it is. A one-day ticket costs JD50 (about £45) per person, but a two-day ticket is only JD55 and a three-day ticket JD60. These are the prices that apply if you are staying in Jordan; if you’re on a day trip and not staying overnight then the price is JD90 (though you aren’t usually asked to prove you’re staying if you’re not travelling on a group tour). Children under 15 get free entry. At the moment the visitor’s centre is being redeveloped (due to open later in 2013) so you buy your tickets from the portacabins near the entrance. They don’t accept credit cards so you need to pay in cash. You can also pick up maps, guide books and hire a tour guide here.

When should I go?

The best time to visit is in spring and autumn as the temperatures aren’t so high and the crowds are smaller. The ticket office is open from 6am to 6pm in the summer and 6am to 4pm in the winter, and Petra closes around sunset. The quietest times are usually early morning and late afternoons. Petra is also open at night on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for the Petra by night tour. Tickets cost JD12 (£10) and the tour starts at 8.30pm and finishes about 10pm. It’s really popular so I’d recommend hanging back so you can walk down slowly and experience the Siq away from the scrum of visitors.

View from the Royal Tombs across Petra, Jordan

Overlooking Petra from the Urn Tomb

What should I wear?

You’ll be walking over sandy and rocky ground so walking shoes are probably the best bet, or sturdy sandals if you don’t mind picking the occasional stone out. There’s hardly any shade around so a hat or scarf is a good idea too, and don’t forget to bring sunscreen. You see people wandering around Petra in all sorts of clothes – from full-on hiking gear to vest tops and shorts, and I even saw one women in an evening dress and heels – but I felt happier covered up with a long-sleeved cotton top and trousers (though it helped that it wasn’t too hot in November).

How much walking will I have to do?

Petra stretches over a massive 60 square kilometre area and you’ll end up doing a lot of walking. But if it gets too much there’s a choice of camels, donkeys and horses to do the hard work for you. A horse ride from the visitor’s centre to the entrance of the Siq is included in the ticket price, though you’ll still need to pay a tip of about JD3–5. It’s an easy 15-minute walk downhill though so you might want to save the horse ride til the way back up as that final slog up a sandy path after a whole day’s walking is a bit of a killer. There are donkey and camel handlers all around the site if you want a lift at any other time. The donkeys up to the Monastery and for the hour’s walk from the old city to the Siq at the end of the day are busiest, but there are plenty of them around so you should be able to negotiate on the price.

Camels in Petra, Jordan

Camels in Petra

Can I get food and drink inside Petra?

Most of the hotels in Petra will do you a packed lunch if you ask the night before, and there is a line of stalls outside the entrance where you can pick up drinks and snacks like chocolate and crisps on the way in. Prices in the site tend to be a bit higher so it’s worth stocking up on water. There is a mixture of places to eat and drink inside Petra, ranging from Bedouin tea stalls, simple kiosks to cafés and there’s even a full restaurant near the museum called The Basin where you can have a buffet lunch and a bottle of wine (though you might need a camel to carry you back!).

What else should I know?

Petra’s surprisingly well-equipped with toilets, with proper toilet blocks at the visitor’s centre, near the Theatre and by the museum. There are also portaloos by the start of the Siq and at a couple of cafes.

There are stalls selling souvenirs all over Petra (with some pushy sellers) but one worth a stop is a jewellery stall by the museum run by New Zealander Marguerite van Geldermalsen. She came to Jordan as a backpacker back in the 1970s and ended up staying and marrying a Bedouin who lived in a cave in Petra. She’s written a book about her experiences called Married to a Bedouin, which you can buy there.

And finally, if you’re in need of a drink after a long day of walking, some of the nicest places to stop at on the way out are the Movenpick Hotel’s Arabian-style bar or the Cave Bar by the Petra Guest House – a 2000-year-old Nabataean tomb which has been turned into a bar.

Map of Petra, Jordan

A map of some of the main sights inside Petra

Have you been to Petra? Do you have any other tips for visiting the site?

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60 Comments Post a comment
  1. A lot of good advice that I will remember!

    January 21, 2013
    • Thanks Andrew, hope it comes in useful for you someday.

      January 22, 2013
  2. Great advice! I can not wait to visit there one day – you blog is fantastic!
    Thanks!

    January 22, 2013
    • Thanks for visiting, and good luck with your new site and travels around Asia!

      January 22, 2013
  3. Excellent advice – if I’m ever fortunate enough to get to Petra I’ll print this off and take it with me 🙂

    January 22, 2013
    • Thanks Suzanne, I absorbed so many articles and so much info I thought I’d put it to use!

      January 22, 2013
  4. Good and comprehensive tips Lucy. Love the map 🙂

    January 24, 2013
    • Thanks Madhu, I ended up carrying a few different maps as none of them had everything on, so I thought I’d try and draw my own version!

      January 25, 2013
  5. Now is a great time to visit as tourism is down due to the drama in the neighboring countries.

    Petra is my favorite of the ancient wonders, in part because there are some great hikes among the ruins that allow you to escape the crowds.

    January 30, 2013
    • Very true, I think a lot of people have been put off visiting but Jordan seemed perfectly safe to me and it would be a shame for people to miss out on seeing Petra.

      January 30, 2013
  6. Great advice. We went with a tour group that left from Dahab, Egypt.
    After about 10 minutes with the group we decided to leave and explore on our own.
    So glad we did. The group didn’t even make it to the monastery.
    Petra is such a beautiful place and everyone should go in their lifetime.

    February 6, 2013
    • Definitely – it’s so much better to be able to escape and go and explore on your own.

      February 6, 2013
  7. If you can, try to do the climb above the Royal Tombs to get the view of the Treasury from above. The climb was pretty tough but I made it to the first plateau in about 30mins (where the small hut is) there may be a Bedouin guy named Fawaz, he ivited me for tea which I did on my way back. To the left of his cave/hut is a path down to a hidden valley and you get a great view of the Al-Khazneh. My favourite part so far. I was a solo female and felt fine being there, passed about 3 Bedouin on my way all offered me horse/mule ride but were not pushy, offered me help “on the way bacK” if I needed… definitely do it if you can!!

    April 27, 2013
    • That was one of the walks we would’ve liked to have done but ran out of time, I’ve seen some great photos from there though. Thanks for the tips!

      April 29, 2013
  8. Great tips Lucy! Jordan is so high on my bucket list – I hope to be putting your tips to great use!

    June 6, 2013
    • Hope you get to make it out there soon, sure you’ll love it!

      June 7, 2013
  9. Lucy your post is really fantastic and Petra is one of the place I should visit.
    Thank you for all your suggestions, sorry for my English.
    Bea

    June 19, 2013
    • Thanks Bea, Petra is such a dream destination isn’t it?

      June 21, 2013
  10. I spent only a day at Petra but just loved it. It was a very slow day, not long after the missile strikes in Israel last year, so many travelers had canceled their plans (including two of our small group). We had the place just about to ourselves. It was cold, so we enjoyed hot peppermint tea in the Bedouin cave that’s on the main track. My friend bought some of the metal and bead jewelry from a Bedouin kid. (Good salesperson…he found the big spender in our group!) You must visit the restroom (modern) on the main track. It is built into a cave and had the most gorgeous natural stone ceiling with waves of colored veins in the rock.
    Because the crowds were small, the cart drivers were anxious for riders. We were glad to accommodate, and it was a blast. They raced through the Siq, sometimes playing daredevil with other drivers. It’s a hold-your-nose experience, but well worth the fun. We laughed the whole way down to the Treasury. I’d love to go to Jordan again and spend more time…especially at Petra and Jerash…and a few other places, too. I wrote about Petra on my blog.

    December 2, 2013
    • Petra is such a fascinating place, I’m so glad I made the trip out there. We were there a little later than you I think and it was still fairly quiet but I hear it can get very overrun in peak season. Nice to be able to soak it all up without being too packed and rushed!

      December 23, 2013
  11. This is brilliant information! Thank you! I am planning on visiting next month!

    December 23, 2013
    • Thanks – hope you have a fantastic trip and hope it comes in useful!

      December 23, 2013
    • Thank you! Look forward to reliving ancient History!

      December 29, 2013
  12. Katie #

    Hi Lucy, Love your blog and your passion for travel & adventure! My husband and I just came across your article on Petra (we are planning a 2 day trip to the site) and we were SO IMPRESSED by all of your notes & travel tips. Many thanks for sharing and I hope that you have a very exciting trip planned for 2014.

    January 31, 2014
    • Hi Katie, so glad to hear that the article was useful to you! Hope you have a fantastic trip to Petra, it’s a really amazing place.

      February 3, 2014
  13. cory #

    Lucy – is end of February a bad time to go (weather wise)? Thank you!

    February 10, 2014
    • Hi Cory, we were there in mid-November which should have similar conditions to late February – generally it was sunny and dry when we were there, warm in the sun (18-20 degrees) but cool in the shade and can get cold at night. We had one cloudy day with some spot of rain but it’s generally quite dry.

      February 10, 2014
  14. Tina #

    Thanks for that! You’ve summarized all the information I’ve read in one succinct article! Just wondering if you were to do one day from noon till 6pm then another day 6am-6pm (stopping for lunch) would we see everything (or the biggest and best at least). Just trying to work out if we should do the third day 🙂 thanks heaps

    February 18, 2014
    • So glad that it has come in useful! We did two days and managed to see most of the things we wanted too, so I would imagine that especially with your long second day then two days should be enough for you too. Have a great trip!

      February 18, 2014
  15. Michelle McAlister #

    When I was in Petra I saw two cases of animal cruelty there with the donkeys. One was chained by an extremely short chain to a fence and whipped and yelled at for no reason as he stood there. He was just standing there chained up (meaning, not trying to be moved). The other was left in the sun with a tight plastic muzzle over his mouth for 9 hours! I was there. He couldn’t move and was there in the sun with no water or shade for 9 hours. It really altered my opinion of Petra.

    Fellow tourists, please report mistreatment of donkeys to the Petra Archaelogical Park and Heritage Society. They want to hear from tourists visiting Petra about any signs of crutely toward the donkeys working there (neglect, excessive whipping, hitting, punching, leaving in the sun for long periods).

    Email them at: info@pra.gov.jo or at http://www.pdtra.gov.jo

    March 7, 2014
    • That sounds terrible – we didn’t see anything that bad but there were a few boys whipping their donkeys. Thanks for the tip about contacting the Petra Archaelogical Park and Heritage Society, very useful for people to know.

      April 17, 2014
  16. Mary #

    Hi Lucy,

    Thanks for this post! I’m from D.C. but I will be in Italy in June and I would really love to go visit Petra. I have to work during weekdays but I’m free on the weekends. Do you have any advice/travel tips for me so I can go see Petra? Thank you in advance.

    April 17, 2014
    • Hi Mary, Petra should be just doable in a weekend if you don’t mind a lot of travel – you can even do a day tour from Amman, though I would recommend staying overnight if you can to see a bit more. So you could arrive in Amman Friday night, travel to Petra on Saturday morning (about 3-4 hours) and spend the afternoon there, then have Sunday morning at Petra before heading to Amman for your flight back. Hope that helps!

      April 17, 2014
  17. Good read! I loved Petra, one of the fun parts of the day for me was the bedouins in particular the ones who tried to get me to ride one of the donkeys up to the monastery. They had funny sales lines like “it’s a desert ferrari” and “donkey comes with airconditioning”.

    April 21, 2014
    • Thanks – yes they definitely have a great banter going on!

      April 21, 2014
  18. Tim #

    You are getting around Lucy. I have not yet been to Petra but my brother has and raved about it. Your way of writing is very easy to read and imagine being there which is a talent and I look forward to you next post. All the best, Btw, are you writing a basic piece on it’s history? Tim

    April 24, 2014
  19. Great advice Lucy! Will definitely bookmark this for when I finally get the chance to go there!

    April 25, 2014
    • Thanks Aggy, it’s a fascinating place, hope you do get to visit sometime!

      April 27, 2014
  20. Very helpful. I don’t have any set plans yet, but do hope to visit Petra sometime, so a first-timers guide is perfect for me. The book by Marguerite van Geldermalsen might be very interesting – I’ll have to check into that. Thanks for the tip about her and her shop.

    April 27, 2014
    • You’re welcome Cathy, Marguerite van Geldermalsen’s book is really interesting, gives a very different perspective on Petra and Jordan.

      April 28, 2014
  21. Wes #

    First off, FAB blog. love it. I’m a travel junkie just like you! Im going in june (its ok I absolutely LOVE the heat) and I’m just curious about how much time you feel is enough? I’m planning on 2.5 days in petra (first day leaving early AM a bedo camp in Wadi Rum) and as well as petra by night one of the nights. with leaving early AM from wadi rum which is around 1.5 hours or so id get there as soon as i can and then that leaves me two full days at petra before I’m off to a resort on the dead sea. Because you have been there, done that, i was wondering if you think that the 2.5ish days I’ve allocated to Petra would be sufficient. Im a huge travel junkie (36 countries and counting) and I rarely can convince myself to visit a place twice (with few exceptions) and I just want to get your opinion on if you think id be able to cover all the ground I need to! Also, you mentioned you stayed at the rocket mountain hostel/hotel….its currently my top choice, would you recommend it?

    May 3, 2014
    • Hi, yes I’d say 2.5 days in Petra should be enough – I did two days and managed to see all the main sites, and with a bit of extra time you could add in some of the hikes too. If you get there early it shouldn’t be too hot and you can miss some of the worst of the crowds. The Rocky Mountain Hostel was great – very good value, rooms were simple but have everything you need and the roof terrace and balcony were fabulous, we had a great meal there too. Hope you have a fantastic trip!

      May 7, 2014
  22. ali zaman #

    I love your blog thank you.

    May 7, 2014
  23. Heather #

    Hi, I too enjoyed Petra so much,that I am going back next May. I noticed our entry ticket was a day and night ticket. Can you stay in there overnight or just visit at night?

    May 10, 2014
    • I don’t believe you can stay overnight and the night-time tour was a separate trip with an extra cost when I was there, so that’s quite strange – maybe it means day/evening?

      May 13, 2014
  24. Paulo Santos #

    Hi. Great blog and great tips for Petra. I am thinking to visit Petra in the beginning of July. I know that is too hot, right? And do you think that one day is too much to visit Amman? I am thinking to do a 3 day trip. Arrive on thursday visit Amman and maybe in the same day travel to Petra. So i would have friday and saturday morning to visit Petra. Do you think that is enough?

    June 6, 2014
    • Hi, yes it’ll definitely be hot then! It’s probably be a good idea to get up early and look around the site when it opens, then avoid the hottest part of the day and come back later on. One and a half days should be enough to see the main sites of Petra. Hope you have a great time!

      June 11, 2014
  25. Great Blog I love it ,I will be there in the next week thank you for your precious advices 🙂

    June 11, 2014
    • Thanks so much, hope you have a great trip!

      June 11, 2014
  26. Thank you for sharing the map, it really helps me a lot in understanding the sites. Petra is in my bucket list.

    June 17, 2014
    • You’re welcome! I found it a bit hard to get my head around what was where before I went so hope it helps.

      June 22, 2014
  27. Rinki #

    Hi Lucy, Your blog on Petra is of immense help. I am trying to put together a trip to Petra. I have few questions? Did you book a private vehicle from Amman and drove all the way to Petra or took local vehicle from the hotel to move between Petra, Wadi rum and Amman? The site guides should we take from travel agent or get one from the tourist center?

    Could you share which travel agent you used in Jordan?

    July 26, 2014
    • Hi Rinki, I didn’t use a travel agent at all but booked everything myself. We hired a car from the airport in Amman and drove all the way to Petra (the roads were good and it took about 6 hours via the scenic Kings Highway but it about 4 hours on the more direct Desert Highway). We booked our car in advance through Sixt but there are lots of car hire companies there. If you want to hire a guide in any of the sites there are guides at the tourist centre, or you can pre book a tour with a company like Viatour. Hope you have a great trip!

      July 28, 2014
    • Rinki #

      Thanks Lucy

      July 28, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  4. TRAVEL TIPS – Planning your trip to Petra, Jordan | ZigZag On Earth

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