A first-timer’s guide to Petra
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you been to Petra? Do you have any other tips for visiting the site?