You absolutely must visit Petra during a trip to Jordan.
Most of people in my generation have been dreaming of visiting Petra since having watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the cinema. Although this is one of the most famous places to visit in Jordan, to be honest, many of us hardly read about it before visiting.
The few things you may know about Petra may be limited to the fact that there’s a building called the Treasury. You may also know that Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Everything else, you may learn once there.
My visit to Petra went really smooth though I had hardly planned it, but I believe it is important to go in with at least some basic knowledge to make the most of it.
This post highlights eleven important things you must know before visiting Petra and shares some helpful tips to make the most of your time there.
13 Things To Know Before You Visit Petra
Petra is huge
If your original plan is visiting Petra for half a day, think again. You may want to get there after a 7 days hike from Dana, spend a few hours on the site and then make your way to Wadi Araba border crossing to go back to Israel, or you may just decide that you are pressed on time and that you need to make this visit fast.
You should plan to spend 3 nights in Wadi Musa (Petra port of access), and to get a 2-days pass to the site. A one day pass is 70 Jordanian Dinars (JD), which is around $99 USD; a two day pass is JD 75, around $106 USD. Keep in mind that Petra is one of the attractions included in the Jordan Pass, which can be bought online allowing to save money and time and also allows to wave the tourist entry visa fees and spend a minimum of 3 consecutive nights in Jordan.
The entire area where Petra is located is 264 square kilometers and there’s no way it can be possibly visited in a few hours. On my second day there I saw lots of people coming from cruise ships and wondered how they’d manage to visit the site in only a few hours.
If you only have a day, I recommend going with a tour guide to make the most of it. Day tours leave from various cities both in Jordan and Israel, which I’ll list below:
There are many trails
Aside from the main trail, which measures around 8 km (one way) and goes to the main points of interest, there are many other trails in Petra, of various levels of difficulty. You may end up walking 20 km on a day: the 8 km along the main trail; the hike to the Monastery and that to the High Altar of Sacrifice (both of them are all uphill).
It’s better to get a guide (especially if planning to walk some lesser known trail)
Most of the trails in Petra are well marked. The main trail is really self evident, as is the one to the Monastery. The hike to the High Altar of Sacrifice marked, though you may need to ask directions every now and then.
If you want to go to the view point of the Treasury you need to hire a guide as the path is pretty much unmarked you can easily get lost. The roundtrip will take you around 2 hours, and there are hardly people on the trail or at the view point (aside from two locals who apparently have a shop there, and who will offer you a highly sugared tea to welcome you there).
Once there, you get to see the crowds below. In any case, a guided tour of Petra helps making the experience truly meaningful.
Here are some options for guided tours in Petra:
It is not always hot
Petra is at an elevation (around 900 meters above sea level). A chilled wind may blow during the winter and spring months and it surely isn’t as hot as you would imagine. I have even seen photos of Petra under the snow!
You must dress modestly and comfortably
Petra is a major tourist site, with lots of Westerners visiting every day. Yet, it is in Jordan, and for as open minded as they are, here most people still dress quite conservatively. Make sure to dress modestly when going to Petra, by which I don’t mean that you need to cover your head. Just don’t wear shorts or a mini-dress.
Besides, Petra is so huge and there’s so much hiking, that dressing comfortably is a key factor. Wear a pair of hiking pants, a colorful cotton t-shirt, and carry a light sweater and a wind-proof jacket for the evening, when the temperatures start dropping. I also suggest reading a guide to some fabulous, modest dresses for the most conservative countries.
Find out what’s in my backpack on my post “My ultimate packing List.”
It’s better to wear hiking boots
You really should wear hiking boots to visit Petra. There’s a lot of walking to be done, on often uneven pavements and gravel roads. If you don’t have hiking boots, some good walking shoes will do. Just don’t wear flip flops!
There are lot of animals…
Aside from the many cats, the odd dog, and the goats that can be spotted round the site, Petra is packed with working animals. Horse carriages take around tourists; horse, donkey and mule rides are offered; and needless to say there are even camels. The Tourism Board of Jordan invites only those that are physically unable to walk to use the animals, and encourages to report episodes of animal abuse.
However, you inevitably end up seeing many people happily riding the carriages, the donkeys or the mules, and a few owners pushing their animals to go faster. I was regularly offered rides (the common pick up line is “do you want to ride my Ferrari?”). I generally ignored, or muttered a la, shukran (no, thank you).
As I have stated in my post “The use of animals in tourist attractions,” I can’t stand the idea that animals may be exploited for the enjoyment of tourists. I hope that more efforts are made by the tourism board to ensure that animals are never exploited in Petra, and that tourists (and owners) who do so are duly fined.
Make sure to also read my post “The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”
… and even people living on the site
Before visiting Petra, my guide told me that the people that once lived in the site had been moved to a nearby city specifically built for them. Yet, there are still people living in Petra anyways. If you walk off the main path you will see caves that look like someone is living in them; and on a couple of occasions you may even spot a family.
Drinking lots of water is vital…
Between the sun, the dry air, the altitude and all the walking, dehydration may be an issue when you visit Petra. Carry two bottles of water and sip it regularly. The good news is that there are many local vendors spread around the site that sell cold water. A good water bottle may be a good idea to keep the water cold.
… as is wearing sunblock (and a hat)
With such strong sun, it is easy to get sunburnt in Petra. Make sure to apply lots of sunblock and reapply it throughout the day. Wearing a hat may also be a good idea.
Petra by Night is stunning
A Petra by Night show takes place at the Treasury 3 nights per week. It costs JD 17 ($ 24 USD) to see it, and you can buy tickets at the visitors centre. You can also book a Petra by Night tour here
The show starts at around 9:00 pm and ends at around 10:00 pm, but consider that it takes a good 30 minutes to walk all the way to the Treasury. The path and the Treasury are illuminated by candles, and traditional music is played for a truly enchanting experience.
Solo female travelers are a target for scams (and more)
Jordan is generally a really safe country to visit. A few precautions will help women traveling across Jordan to have a good time. One thing that is important to know before visiting, is that women are a target in Petra.
When the owner of the Sharah Mountains Hotel where I stayed in Wadi Musa recommended not to trust anyone in Petra, I just assumed that, as in any other major tourist spot in the world, scams would be common in Petra and he was referring to that. Nevertheless, I asked him what I meant. He said not to trust the Bdouls – a local tribe. I told him that I was quite expert in scams, after having visited Cuba. Without going into much details, he clarified that the Bdouls “look for women.”
Sure enough, solo female travelers who visit Petra are offered anything from donkey to camel rides to tea, coffee and even dinner invitations inside the site. I certainly was. There is only one answer you should give to that: a firm no. These men are not trying to flirt and they are not trying to get to know you. They really want to take advantage of you – whether it is for sexual reasons or for monetary ones.
They invite them to walk around the site, to discover the hidden parts and to enjoy a full local experience, which includes drinks of Arak, the local liquor, and dinners in front of a fire. There have been allegations that drinks have been spiked and that assaults and rapes have occurred.
Guided tours of Jordan that include visiting Petra
If you’re looking into planning a trip to Jordan, most group tours will include time in Petra. Here are a few options:
- Active Jordan Multisport Tour – Over 8 days, enjoy an adventure holiday around Amman, Ajloun, the Dead Sea, the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Petra, and Wadi Rum. Check here for more details
- Classic Highlights of Jordan Tour – Also in 8 days, see all the best of Jordan – Amman, Jerash, the Dead Sea, Karak, Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. Check here for more details
- Petra & Wadi Rum Independent Adventure – For those that want a little more of a solo adventure, this 4-day tour might be up your alley. Check here for more details
What was your experience in Petra? Do you have any further advice for those who plan to visit?
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Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Jordan Tourism Board, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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