You absolutely must visit Petra during a trip to Jordan.
Most of people in my generation dream to visit Petra since having watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the cinema. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra is absolutely massive, and although you may think that you can simply show up and wander around at your own pace to make the most of it, that is hardly true.
While I truly enjoyed my time in Petra, I was certainly taken aback by some of the things I experienced, by the sheer amount of visitors, and by the many places to visit inside the archeological park. So, I thought I’d put together a list of things you should know before visiting Petra, and some times that will help you make the most of your time there.
Everything You Must Know Before You Visit Petra
Petra is huge
If your original plan is to visit Petra for half a day, think again. There is 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 I wondered how they’d manage to visit the site in only a few hours.
You should plan to spend 3 nights in Wadi Musa (Petra port of access), and to get a 2-days pass to the site.
Visiting Petra is not cheap, but the good news is that the longer you stay, the better value you get out of it – not only in terms of what you see, but also financially!
Petra is one of the attractions included in the Jordan Pass, which can be bought online and allows you to save money and time and to wave the tourist entry visa fees if you spend a minimum of 3 consecutive nights in the country.
For travelers on a trip around Jordan who plan to spend at least one night in the country, these are the costs:
- ONE DAY PASS – JD50 ($70 USD)
- TWO-DAY PASS – JD55 ($77 USD)
- THREE-DAY PASS – JD60 ($85 USD)
- CHILDREN UNDER 15 – FREE
If you visit Petra on your first day in Jordan, you will be charged JD90 ($127 USD) but if you go again the following day you get a refund of JD40.
If you are visiting Jordan on a day trip from Israel, the fee is JD90.
Petra opening times
Petra is open every day from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm in the summer, and from 6:00 am to 4:00 pm in the winter.
Petra by Night is stunning
The Petra by Night show – when the Siq and the Treasury are beautifully lit by candles – takes place three nights per week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The tour starts at 8:30 pm and finishes at about 10:30 pm. It costs JD 17 ($ 24 USD) to see it, and you can buy tickets at the visitors centre.
How to get to Petra
The best access point to explore Petra is Wadi Musa, a nice town that was pretty much built around the site and that is connected to Amman and to Aqaba via regularly running JETT buses. If your hotel in Wadi Musa is close to the visitors center, you can simply walk there. If not, you can count on the free shuttles that most hotels run at specific times, or hop on a taxi. You won’t have troubles finding one outside the site. A ride should be in the range of JD5.
Petra is at about 240-250 km from Amman, depending on the road you take. The easiest way to get there is via the Desert Highway – that should take around 3 hours. King’s Highway is a nicer drive, but it will take you up to 4.5 hours.
For guided tours departing from Amman, click here.
The drive from Aqaba – Jordan’s Red Sea outpost – is around 2 hours.
You can visit Petra on day trips
If you are traveling around Israel and wish to go to Petra, you are certainly better off joining a guided tour where transportation, border crossing, tickets and even a guide is taken care of. It will be quite expensive, but definitely more hassle free. There also are day tours departing from Amman, the capital.
Be prepared for a lot of walking
Aside from the main trail, which measures around 8 km (5 miles) (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 (12.5 miles) on a day: the 8 km (5 miles) along the main trail; the hike to the Monastery and that to the High Altar of Sacrifice (both of them are all uphill).
In general, you can expect to walk a lot when exploring the site and may be tempted to hop on a carriage from the visitor center to the Treasury. I honestly don’t recommend it. First of all, it costs JD20 (that’s more than $28 USD) for a walk that should take you no more than 15 minutes and is mostly downhill. Secondly, carriage rides, horses, donkeys and camels in Petra are meant for the use of people with mobility issues. More about the use of animals in Petra in a bit!
But don’t ride the 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, mule and camel rides are offered.
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 carriages, donkeys or mules, and a few owners pushing their animals to go faster. You will be regularly offered rides when walking around the site (a common pick up line is “do you want to ride my Ferrari?”). My recommendation is to ignore. A simple no, or – if you want to practice your Arabic – la, shukran (no, thank you), will suffice.
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Get a guide
Most of the trails in Petra are well marked. The main trail is really self evident, and so is the one to the Monastery. The hike to the High Altar of Sacrifice is also marked, though you may need to ask directions every now and then.
If you want to go to the view point of the Treasury, on the other hand, you need to hire a guide as the path is pretty much unmarked and you can easily get lost. The roundtrip will take you around 2 hours, and there are no people on the trail or at the view point (aside from a local or two selling tea).
Guides are available from the visitors’ center at fixed rates. If you are traveling alone, head there nice and early and hang around for a group to show up – you may join and share the fees.
The best time to visit Petra
Though you can travel to Jordan year round, it is much better to visit in spring – April and May; or in the fall – October and November, when the days are mostly dry and temperatures pleasant. However, keep in mind that Petra is at an elevation (around 800 meters / 2625 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.
It may snow in the winter, when temperatures range between 2 and 14°C (36 and 57°F). Just as well, temperatures in the summer may well be above 35°C (95°F). Considering there’s not much shade on the site, you may want to avoid visiting in the summer.
You must dress modestly and comfortably
Petra is a major tourist site, with lots of Westerners visiting every day. Yet, it is in Jordan, where most people still dress quite conservatively. Make sure to dress modestly when going to Petra. While you won’t need to cover your head, you simply should not wear shorts or a mini-dress.
In any case, Petra is so huge and there’s so much hiking, that dressing comfortably is a key factor. Wear a pair of hiking pants or a long skirt; a colorful cotton technical t-shirt, and carry a light 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.
You really should wear hiking boots to visit Petra. There’s a lot of walking to be done, on uneven pavements and gravel roads. If you don’t have hiking boots, some good walking shoes will do. Just don’t wear flip flops!
Apply sunblock and wear a hat
Drinking lots of water is vital
Between the sun, the dry air, the altitude and all the walking, dehydration may be an issue while exploring the site. 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. For a more eco-friendly solution, opt for a bottle such as this one – it keeps your drink cold for hours!
Eating in Petra
Scattered around the site you will find vendors selling snacks and drinks, including tea and coffee. There also is a restaurant near the museum, called The Basin, that serves a buffet style lunch.
Alternatively, you can pick up some snacks before entering the site from the many stalls outside the entrance, or even ask your hotel to prepare a packed lunch for you.
People live inside the site
Before I went to 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. 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.
Solo female travelers are a target for scams (and more)
Though Jordan is generally a really safe country to visit, it won’t help to observe a few precautions when visiting Petra – as apparently women are a target there.
It is a known fact that men inside the site are looking to take advantage of foreign women – whether it is for sexual reasons or for monetary ones. With the excuse of a donkey or camel ride women get chatted up and invited for tea, coffee or even dinner inside the site, which is often followed by Arak, the local liquor. There have been allegations that drinks have been spiked and that assaults and rapes have occurred.
I was invited too – but I knew the only answer to such invitation would have to be a no.
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
Where to stay in Wadi Musa
There is no shortage of good accommodation options in Wadi Musa, the best access point to visit Petra. These are some places you may want to check out:
- MOVENPICK RESORT – Known to be the best hotel in town, it’s also the closest to the site.
- TOWN SEASON HOTEL – An excellent mid range option, it offers comfortable spacious rooms and it is close to the site.
- PETRA HERITAGE HOUSE – It has a choice of dorms and private rooms at unbeatable prices.
Make sure to read these other posts
- 13 Cool Things To Do In Amman
- A 3 Day Itinerary For The Jordan Trail
- The Best Travel Tips For Jordan
- 29 Things To Do In Jerusalem You Can’t Miss
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.