The ancient city of Petra is for sure the highlight of any visit to Jordan. In the middle of the desert, the Nabateans carved out their monumental temples and tombs some 3000 years ago in the rocks. Today, traveller can still visit the impressive results of this in a huge mountain landscape. We’ll give you the best tips to make your visit to this unique place unforgettable!
Tip: at the Visitor Center at the entrance of Petra, you can take a handy map of the entire area for free. Unfortunately the map is sometimes out of stock, the hikes to the ‘Treasury from above’ are not properly marked and the map is not available online to plan your Petra days. So feel free use our map to find your way through Petra and to the Monastery. Download it offline or print it to use it during your time in Petra!
25 tips for visiting Petra
# 1 Buy the Jordan Pass
When preparing your trip to Jordan, you should buy yourself the Jordan Pass. In this blog, we tell you why this pass is the best investment for your trip. In short: you already benefit from it because of the costs for your visa and your entry for Petra. The Jordan Pass costs 70, 75 or 80 JD, depending on whether you want to spend 1, 2 or 3 days in Petra. Individual tickets for Petra are 50, 55 or 60 JD.
Tip: buy the pass before you arrive in Jordan so you don’t have to pay the 40 JD for your visa on arrival. If you buy the pass later, you cannot reclaim the visa costs.
# 2 Start as early as possible
To avoid the crowds and to make optimum use of the morning coolness in the hot summer months, we recommend you go to Petra as early as possible. Both in summer and winter, Petra is open from 6 a.m. in the morning. That may be early, but it is absolutely worth it. During the morning, the most important places in Petra – and certainly the famous Siq and Treasury – start to fill up. That would really detract you from Petra’s unique experience, so be ahead of the crowds.
# 3 Take at least a full day, but preferably two
Petra might just make you think of the famous Siq with the impressive Treasury at the end. But there is more and Petra is big. One of the highlights of Petra for example is the ‘monastery’ Ad-Deir (it was actually not a monastery, but a tomb or temple that was later used as a church). According to the numbers on the map of the Petra visitor center itself, it takes at least 6 hours from the visitor center to get there. Part of this trip? 900 steps up.
You also need some time to walk to the Treasury itself. From the visitor’s entrance, it is a bit of a walk to the Siq and the Siq itself is 1.2 kilometers long. At the end, you will finally see to the famous Treasury. And that’s just the beginning of Petra. To the right of the Treasury, the path leads further into the ancient town. You can climb endless stairs for beautiful viewpoints, make long hikes and visit endless monuments and tombs.
In short: take preferably two full days
# 4 Don’t schedule too much in a day
Did I say already Petra is huge? Even if you only have one day in Petra, we advise you not to plan to much for it. Choose a few of the highlights that you want to see, such as the schedule for day 1 that we suggested earlier.
Do you really want to see Ad-Deir as well? We totally understand that, as in our opinion it was the best thing about Petra. We then recommend you to do the suggested itinerary for day 2, so go through the ‘backdoor’ to Ad-Deir and descend from there to the city. You will miss the well-known wow moment when you are in front of the Treasury after 1.2 kilometers from the Siq, as you will be approaching it from the back. But with such a big hike in one day you, will be happy to skip the climb from the old town to Ad-Deir.
# 5 Read – or look – in advance about the history of Petra
Though the monuments have been well preserved, it requires some background knowledge to fully understand all the details. We watched this documentary on YouTube the night before, which really brought Petra to life. Did you know that the Nabataeans put down the unique achievement of creating a green oasis in the middle of the desert? Including ponds? If you know where to look, you can find the ancient water pipes. And do you know why there are bullet holes at the top of the Treasury? And how 3000 years ago such impressive monuments could be created in the mountains without the technology we have nowadays? Recommended!
A reading tip? The book ‘Married to a Bedouin’ tells the story of Marguerite van Geldermalsen. She married one of the Bedouins after her visit to Petra and lived in the historic desert area.
# 6 Visit Little Petra in advance
Little Petra is a suburb of the old city and is not far from Wadi Musa – the small modern town close to Petra – and Petra. We recommend to first have a look here so to get a small preview of what’s waiting for you in Petra. It is called Little Petra because you have a small (very small) Siq here that leads visitors to the monuments as well.
The most beautiful landmark in Little Petra? Those are the murals that have been preserved here in one of the monument. Almost all of the paintings in Petra have disappeared, but here you can still catch a glimpse of what it must have looked like.
# 7 Sleep in the magical camp of Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp
In Wadi Musa near Petra, you have plenty of places to sleep. From low budget hotels to the popular Mövenpick directly in front of the entrance to Petra. The town is quite large, so you will probably not be sleeping within easy walking distance of Petra’s visitor entrance. But if you take the car to the entrance, why not drive a little further for 5 minutes?
Near Little Petra – the suburb of the ancient city of Petra – you’ll find the magical Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp. In this tent camp, you sleep in atmospheric tents, you get endless cups of traditional tea to drink and you sit around a large campfire in the evening. The camp gets a really magical atmosphere around that time by the lights that are lit in the mountain next to the camp.
The tents do not have their own bathroom. There is a large toilet block in the middle of the camp. Are you looking for more comfort? Then spend the night at the new and luxurious neighboring camp Seven Wonders Luxury Camp.
# 8 Make sure you wear good shoes
You will walk a lot in Petra. And if you want to view some viewpoints or the High Place of Sacrifice, you will also have to climb quite some bits. So we recommend to leave your flipflops at home and preferably wear some sturdy walking shoes.
# 9 Walk everything yourself and try to skip the donkeys and camels
I already mentioned you will have to walk a lot to get around Petra. The easiest way to skip that is to accept the offer of a ride by horse, donkey or camel. Our advice is not to do that. There are many stories about how badly the animals are treated and the rides certainly didn’t look very comfortable. Yet we saw young families climb the 900 stairs to the Monastery on a donkey and we understand that. With small children or even a baby, we would really rather not have climbed the stairs as well (but you actually don’t have to, we’ll tell you later!).
# 10 There are no dress codes
It is a tourist attraction, so no one will be surprised by shorts or short skirts. We have seen all types of outfits. I chose to wear long, thin pants one day and a long dress the other day. The long dress was just a bit uncomfortable when climbing the mountains to the ‘viewpoint from above’. I recommend to wear a shorter dress or pants for this.
# 11 Don’t forget your sunscreen
Although part of Petra is in the shade – after all, it is a mountain area – you will walk a lot in the open sun. Especially in the summer months, it is very hot here and you burn quickly. So make sure you have some sunscreen in the bag!
# 12 Bring plenty of drinks, but there is also food and (cold) drinks for sale everywhere in Petra
You will walk a lot, so bring enough water. Of course, you can also get your drinks and food in Petra as well, but you’ll pay a price for that. We chose to bring a lot of water ourselves, but to buy something cold on the spot as well. A heavy backpack with liters of water is also a bit inconvenient during a hot hike.
# 13 The cheapest drinks (2 for 1 dinar) are bought at the first stall after the theater
Our favourite shop in Petra was the first stall after the theater (it is on the side of the theater and not of the Royal Tombs). The friendly owner chatted with us every time and told us about the life of the Bedouins in Petra. Moreover, his drinks are the cheapest. He also sells ice creams from 1 JD.
# 14 You don’t need a guide in Petra
Though Petra is large, you will easily find your way without a guide. Especially if you bring a travel guide with some background information and have watched the documentary on YouTube in advance, you can do without. We always find it more enjoyable to explore something with just the two of us at our own pace. We also loved doing that here and we didn’t feel that we were lacking any background info without a guide.
# 15 You may not be able to view the Treasury and Monastery from the inside, but you can at other tombs
Unfortunately, it is not allowed to visit the Treasury and Monastery from the inside. But don’t worry: you can enter almost all other tombs. It is unique to see how a number of tombs are still being used by the Bedouins to live in (of course we could not enter those). Many tombs are also used for the herds of goats (yes, those tombs stink a lot) and as shelters for warm fires (which has totally blackened the inside).
# 16 Allow enough time for the Royal Tombs
Not far beyond the Treasury, you will find the Royal Tombs on the right. Immediately after the souvenir shops, a staircase leads up to these tombs. I did not know about these enormous structures beforehand and was impressed by their size. The tombs are almost all larger than the Treasury and some are particularly well preserved. Though the Treasury might be crowded with other tourists – or if you go early, still a lot of sellers and ‘guides’ – this will not be the case here. So make sure you have enough time to enjoy these impressive structures without the crowds.
# 17 Admire the interior of the Urn Tomb
The highest of the Royal Tombs is the Urn Tomb, for which you have to climb several stairs. It has the largest interior of all as well. Just try to imagine how this was all cut from a mountain by hand. An impressive piece of work, right? But not only the size is impressive, the stone is particularly beautiful at this tomb. This is for sure the most colourful type of stone in Petra.
# 18 The Treasury is the most beautiful in the second half of the morning
As the Treasury is located in a gorge, the monument is in the shade for most of the day. Only during the second half of the morning, the sun falls into the gorge exactly right onto the Treasury. Of course, it depends on the season what the exact time for this would be.
# 19 And the Monastery in the afternoon
Ad-Deir may not be in a gorge, but just like all monuments, it is carved into a mountain. The sun rises behind the Monastery. That is, of course, a beautiful sight, but do you want to see the monument in full sunlight? Then you get here in the afternoon.
# 20 Do not climb with a guide to the ‘viewpoint from above’, but hike to it yourself
At the Treasury, dozens of ‘guides’ will offer to guide you to a viewpoint overlooking the Treasury. They mean climbing straight up. That way you are up in about 15 minutes, but it is certainly a dangerous climb. If you want to make the climb though, definitely pay a guide for his help. We heard that another tourist made a fatal fall only last year, as she thought she could climb without help.
But it is much better option to take the longer, but scenic hike to one of the viewpoints. That is not dangerous at all and will lead you around the beautiful mountains of Petra.
# 21 There are three places where you can view the Treasury from above (without breaking your neck)
So about those viewpoints. There is already a viewpoint in the gorge of the Treasury itself. It is not very high and the view is not spectacular, but it is a great option if you have limited time. It is right across the Treasury and hard to miss.
Do you have more time? Then go for one of the two hikes. You have a viewpoint on both sides of the Siq. For one you have to go up the stairs at the High Place or Sacrifice; the hike to the other point starts behind the Royal Tombs. The walk takes 1 to 1.5 hours, but make sure you wear sturdy shoes. The view is all worth it.
# 22 Visit the monastery via the ‘backdoor’
Did I already mention that you have to climb 900 steps to reach Ad-Deir? Well, not if you visit the Monastery from the ‘backdoor’ near Little Petra. Even then you will have to descend and climb a little, but that is nothing compared to the steps from the old city. From Ad-Deir you then walk back to the old city, but you only have to take the stairs down. Do you want to know more about this hike? Then read this blog.
# 23 And book a 4WD lift for that
Do you want to take the ‘backdoor’ hike to Petra? The Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp is one of the few places where you can book a 4WD to the back entrance. The back entrance is not far from the camp. It would take about 2 hours to walk, so you can easily walk here yourself. But as you will walk and climb more than enough in Petra as well, we recommend you to book a 4WD.
# 24 Check the dates for Petra by Night
We had tickets for Petra by Night, but unfortunately we fell ill. So we cannot give you our opinion about this evening, but we have read many bad stories about this experience. The tickets are pricey and the event would be very touristy and massive. Yet we ourselves did not want to skip it, as the photos of it look magically beautiful. You’re only here once, we thought.
But if you want to visit Petra by Night, make sure to check in advance on which evenings it is organised and adjust your travel plan accordingly. When we were there (June 2019) it was on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
# 25 Get off the beaten track
Petra is so huge you can make hikes and view monuments around the area for days and days. Make sure to do that! For example, choose not to go down the stairs next to the theater from the High Place of Sacrifice (the same way you came up), but take the scenic and less visited hike through the mountains. You will then pass the Garden Tomb and end at the end of the ‘main street’ of Petra. Or how about the Wadi Muthlim hike (with a guide)? You’d then enter Petra through the mountains instead of the Siq.
Every time we went off the beaten track, we only saw few other tourists. We also saw more of the beautiful mountain scenery and got a glimpse of how the Bedouins still live in the mountains.
Do you have more tips for Petra? Tell us at