When we were planning our trip to Jordan unsurprisingly the first must-see thing on our list was Petra. It was a given that we would go there, so the big question was would it be for one day or two. We chose to do two days at Petra and we are so glad we did.
Jordan is quite a small country and it is possible to visit Petra on a day trip from Amman or even locations in Israel. Many people visit this way, and if you only have a short time then a day trip will at least give you a taste. If you have the time, stay locally for at least one night. Your visit will be so much more relaxed. You will do a lot of walking at Petra, and rushing at the end to get back somewhere will be tough.
Petra is located in the town of Wadi Musa. The entry is literally right in town and accommodation of all sorts can be found within a few minutes walk. If you do what we did and stay further up the hill, you can either still walk (we did) or there are plenty of taxis around that will do the short trip for just a few dollars.
A Petra entry ticket for one day is 50JD ($94AUD/$71USD) and two days is only a little more at 55JD ($103AUD/$78USD). There is also a three day ticket for 60JD ($112AUD/$85USD). Petra though is the main component of the Jordan Pass. Like many other city passes, the Jordan Pass is purchased in advance and it gives entry into a variety of attractions all over Jordan. Unlike other passes, the price of the Jordan Pass depends on how many days you choose to spend at Petra. This is the only pass I have come across that also includes your visa on arrival fees into Jordan too (with some exceptions, so please check). This means that the pass needs to be purchased before you arrive in Jordan, and therefore you need to know how many days you will spend at Petra. Of course you can pay for everything separately, but you will save a lot of money by getting the Jordan Pass.
On top of this is another entry fee if you would also like to do the Petra by Night tour. This is available on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and tickets can only be bought on the day for 17JD ($32AUD/$24USD). We were asked in the morning if we wanted them and were able to pick then up then but we also saw many others buying them in the evening.
If you follow only one tip I give on Petra, it should be this one – go early! I cannot emphasize how much better your experience will be if you get there when the gates open at 6am. I know, I just heard you say “are you crazy?” but there are two reasons for this craziness! Firstly, you will do most of your walking before the heat of the day kicks in. We were in Jordan in late October and the temperatures were still in the mid thirties (Celsius). It gets hot here, and there’s not a whole lot of shade once you are out of the siq. The second reason is to avoid the crowds. If you are not doing a day trip, you can avoid a lot of the peak times and be almost done with your visit before others arrive.
On our first day I looked out the window at 5:45am and noticed it was still dark, so I waited another half an hour before leaving our hotel. We were a good twenty minutes walk from the entry, so didn’t enter until almost 7am once we got our tickets and everything sorted. The second day we got there at 6am, and it was so much better to walk in the cool of the morning for a bit longer.
If you are concerned about walking in the dark, don’t worry. The first signs of light will be peaking over the hills so it won’t be pitch black. The first kilometre or so is on a wide gravel road until you reach the beginning of the siq. Then there is about another kilometre to walk before you reach the most well-known part of Petra, The Treasury. If you are already starting to think the distances sound a bit crazy, 2km to even get to the start of the good stuff, then don’t panic too much, there is an option! Included with your ticket is a horse ride either from the gate to the start of the siq or vice versa. I suggest waiting until the return journey as you will be tired and the return is also uphill, but many people choose to ride in. You will be greeted at the gate by lots of the local Bedouin men asking if you want a horse ride so you won’t have to look far if this is your choice.
Another benefit of getting to Petra early is that you will be able to get some fantastic photos in front of the Treasury without the crowds of later in the day. This is the one area in particular that is always milling with people, both tourists and locals alike. Of course it is visitor’s first “wow” moment and we all want to stop and get that iconic photo. This is also when many of the locals spruik their wares, whether it’s a camel ride, trinkets and souvenirs or snacks and drinks.
From the Treasury you can continue to walk along the main path for another two kilometres, and you will see many of the main sites such as the Roman Theatre, the Royal Tombs, the Colonnaded Street and the Great Temple. If you are short on time this may be all you have a chance to see. If you have time though, I absolutely recommend some of the longer walks. Many of them are physically challenging with lots of stairs so look out for information on the boards throught the park and the information brochure you can pick up at the ticket window. They contain difficulty ratings, time needed and lengths of each of the other paths.
Possibly the most popular choice for another track is the Ad-Deir (Monastery) Trail. It continues on from the main trail for another 1.2km, but it is almost all uphill, with hundreds of stairs to climb. We did this on our first morning, and yes it was hard work. At the end is The Monastery, another carved rock face similar to The Treasury. Yes, that was pretty cool to see, but walk up behind the tea shop and you will see some amazing views out over the valleys and hills beyond. As we were told by the signs, they were all the “Best Views”. I think I might agree.
Walking along the Main Trail and then the Ad-Deir Trail was enough for the first morning. We took our time and looked at all the sites along the way. We left Petra at about 1:30pm to go and get lunch then rest up knowing we would be back again in a few hours for Petra By Night.
Petra By Night begins at 8:30pm at the main ticket office. Everyone gathers together and starts the long walk to the Treasury. There will be a lot of people all walking at once. I would not be surprised if there were 800 -1000 people the night we were there. The path is lit by candles the whole way, but this is not really enough light to see where you are walking. The road is pretty good, and the floor of the siq is too, except in some areas where there are some of the old paving stones left. Some people had torches with them and others used their phones to light the way, but most people just walked without light.
On arrival at the Treasury you will see candles covering the entire area. We were all asked to be seated amongst the candles. Everyone was offered tea as a welcome gesture as all Bedouin do. A small cultural show was performed, with a couple of songs played on traditional instruments. The last part of the show was lighting up the Treasury in different coloured lights. We then all trooped out again – on tired legs.
For the amount of money paid, I am not sure Petra By Night was worth it. It was nice to do, but if you miss it, I would not be too upset. It felt almost like a procession, and most of the time is spent walking – which you likely did earlier in the day or are going to do in the morning when you can actually see what is around you. I definitely don’t class it as a “must-do”.
On our second day we tackled two of the other trails. We started with the High Place of Sacrifice Trail, but once at the top did not just return the way we came, we continued on, following a trail that had been recommended by a local we had met on the way. We eventually came back into the main valley exactly opposite the start of the next trail – the Al-Khubtha Trail. This one takes you past the Royal Tombs, then up high overlooking the Treasury. Both these paths were challenging, especially as the day got hotter and our legs got even more tired from continously going up and down stairs.
It is likely that when you arrive at the Treasury for the first time you will be offered a local Bedouin guide to take you to the top of the Treasury. The walk up is only fifteen minutes which could be an attraction if you do not have much time. The view is slightly more front on (but more to the left hand side) but you will have to pay for this service. We were told the view from the Al-Khubtha Trail was not good so we would pay (we didn’t) – but you can judge from above whether this free view good enough. I think so.
The scenery during our hikes was spectacular. We were fascinated by the colours and patterns in the rocks. The first trail in particular had many more carved rock faces, temples and other monuments to see that we got to view without anyone else around. It felt quiet and peaceful. As we started the second trail we came across a lot more people as now the crowds were starting to come in. Not only was this climb notable for seeing the Treasury from above, but also for the Bedouin people we sat and had tea with at the top, chatting about our families and lives. They did not want to accept payment for the tea, but we gave them a small tip anyway – to which they insisted we take a bottle of water each!
As we left at about 1pm on the second day, we felt like we had seen as much of Petra as we could. There is one other short walk, which the locals called the Indiana Jones Trail, that we perhaps would have also done, but our legs were worn out. Over the 30 hours from our first entry and our last exit we walked about 47km! It didn’t help that it was an extra 1.5km each way to where we were staying. Most of the time though our attention was too taken up with what we were seeing to be concerned about being tired. We loved every minute of it and would do the same again in a heartbeat. Sure the Treasury and the other big attractions are great, but getting out on the lesser known trails was the highlight for me.
For more on some of the other fantastic things to do in Jordan see my post here. I have also put together the perfect two week itinerary here, and gathered everything you need to know about the Jordan Pass here?