My tips, tricks and what to do to maximize your visit to the magical city of Petra in Jordan in one day.
Aah, Petra. One of the Seven Wonders of the World. When I found out I had a trip to Israel coming up, I knew that I had to figure out a way to get to this UNESCO site.
Petra is undoubtedly Jordan’s most famous tourist attraction. Famous for the carved-in rock architecture, this place is the stuff of movies. Petra is also known as the Rose City due to the pretty colour of the sandstone rocks out of which it was carved.
Getting to Petra
Since I didn’t have the luxury of time, I joined a tour to Petra that departed from Jerusalem. It was a 3-day trip with Petra as the highlight, and included visits to Wadi Rum and Jerrash in Amman.
If you choose to make your way to Petra sans tour, I would think it’s easy enough. There were a lot of hotels located right outside of Petra’s entrance. The Jordanians are also extremely friendly people, and open to tourists. Do take note of visa requirements.
I thought the tour was well worth it, since it was all-inclusive of transport, accommodation, meals, and entrance to Petra. A quick search revealed the entrance tickets to cost: 50 JD per day, 55 JD for two days, and 60 JD for three days.
With my tour, I had a full day exploring Petra – and I thought it wasn’t enough! We did manage to cover the highlights, namely the Siq, Treasury and Monastery.
We arrived into Petra early on in the day, around 8am or so. Arriving early meant that we avoided the bulk of the tourists. This would be especially conducive for the first part of Petra, which was the narrow entrance of the Siq.
The tour began through the Siq, which is the rocky layered entrance of Petra. I absolutely loved walking through the spectacular Siq. It felt very otherworldly – reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon. And perhaps more wistfully, of Antelope Canyon, which I didn’t manage to do when I was in the US.
As we walked through, our guide regaled us with tales of the Nabataean people and this city.
Petra belonged to a civilization of people called the Nabataean Arabs. The Nabataeans were a skillful and resourceful set of people who built cities within the rocky valley that is Petra. Located in a desert, the Nabateans also engineered a genius water conduit system. At some point the Romans got involved, and that’s why there are hints of Roman influence throughout, such as with the Roman columns and tiles.
It took us maybe an hour and a half to cover the Siq, including the mandatory stops for storytelling. The end of the Siq narrowed down to open up dramatically to The Treasury.
The Treasury, or Al-Khazneh, is the famous site at Petra, Jordan. After walking through the Siq, the looming Treasury left me awestruck.
The Treasury would be crowded. If not with tourists, then with camels, donkeys and their accompanying guides.
Archaeologists believed the Treasury to be some sort of temple, due to the Greek deities carved at the top. Recent excavations revealed a graveyard underneath. I guessed that the Treasury was some sort of ancient bank from its name, but it wasn’t. I was somewhat close though. The Treasury got its name because legend has it, pirates used to hide their treasures in an urn on second level.
I had about 30 minutes here to admire the Treasury and take photos.
You will be approached a lot of locals who ask if you’d want to be taken to the top for the “best photo of Petra”. They can be very… persistent. This would be tip-based, I believe it was 20 Jordanian Dinars or so, to be taken to that famous Instagram-worthy shot. You can actually go up there without a guide, though it’s not clearly marked, and apparently is a “difficult” route. I’m thinking the biggest obstacle would be trying to fend away the local guides.
I didn’t really care much for it – I was more than happy to admire the Treasury from where we were.
As we moved along from the Treasury, Petra opened up to a wider plain. We passed by a lot of tombs here. I ventured into a couple of these tombs. Nothing too exciting there. There’s not much light, and it will be all sorts of musty and dusty.
As we walked along towards our lunch spot, we were occasionally flanked by kids selling souvenirs. Lunch was at this restaurant located at the base of where you’d climb to the Monastery. The restaurant had no name, literally just called “Restaurant”. Although a buffet spread, the food was very good. Make sure to have the freshly fried falafels.
This also marked the end of the guided tour. Our guide gave us 2+ hours of free time to explore Petra. At this point, you would either make the trek up to the Monastery, or backtrack to further explore the royal tombs.
The Monastery is another carved-in building located up high in Petra. To get to there, it’s an arduous hike up. Personally, though not an easy one, I quite enjoyed the climb. We paced ourselves and the views were nice. You can also browse souvenirs along the way, and rest at the few cafes.
If there were any annoyance, it would be donkeys that were clamoring up and down the steps after us with people on their backs. I’m not going to comment on whether these are ethical practices or not, but the hike up to the monastery was not exactly an easy one. If I wasn’t as fit, I’d strongly consider taking the donkeys up too.
If you’re able, definitely make the trek up. Once you arrived, the Monastery would look even better as a reward. I thought the Monastery was even more majestic than the Treasury, perhaps because there’s more roaming space up here than at the Treasury.
There’s a cute café that faces the Monastery with cold drinks and snacks if you need replenishing. It has wifi too for the restless.
We took a lot of photos up here, and from different angles too. Make sure to climb further up to this cave-like perch to end up with photos like this:
After about an hour up there, we began making our way down and back with heavy hearts.
The way down was easier than the hike up. It was slippery from the rain when we were there. We teetered and tottered our way down some steep steps and paid extra mind of our footing. And those darn donkeys too.
Camels, Donkeys and Horses
With your Petra entrance tickets, you get a “free” donkey or horse ride included… I put huge apostrophe marks because the only way you’re getting a ride was if you tip the owners. This free ride, by the way, was stated to be included very clearly on the ticket stub. Blatant bamboozling. The tip per way costs about 10 JD, or 20 JD for two-ways. Agree on this cost before you accept a ride.
I mentioned earlier that I’m not going to go into the ethics of these practices, because we did end up riding on the camel, and later on the horse. We grossly miscalculated how long we would take to hike and explore the Monastery. On top of that, my travel buddy can’t walk too quickly – that hike can really do a number on the knees.
From the base of the Monastery to the Treasury, we got on the camels. I absolutely adore the camels. The gentle giants are like the elephant equivalent of the desert. Earlier on, my guide told me that the camels are generally well taken care of, and somewhat revered by their Bedouin owners. “They have to; these camels are such high investments for them.” Along the way, I never saw any camels being mistreated either.
So imagine my horror when the dude smacked my camel on its butt! I was extremely miffed and immediately told him to not do that. He obliged rather nonchalantly, which makes me think he might get such rebuffs often enough.
What to wear
I was there in their Winter, so I had my coat. I recommend layers, since I had to take off the coat on the way up. The sun shines bright, but the temperature remains cool. I want to say around 16 to 18 degrees celsius at its peak. This was in February.
Otherwise, I recommend light, comfortable layers and relatively modest. Tank tops are fine, but I would advise against short shorts. Bermuda-length are fine. Although Petra is a touristy area, Jordan itself is an Arabian Muslim country.
Good, comfortable shoes are the most important – you’ll be doing a lot of walking regardless of weather.
Bring along shades, a hat or scarf for some sun protection. Obviously – sunscreen is a MUST.
I absolutely loved my trip to Petra, Jordan. I wished I had more days. Perhaps two days might have done the trick.
Petra also has a night tour on certain days, which was not available on the days we were there. That said, I heard it’s just candles lit at the Treasury, and nothing more.
Although I gripe at the side effects of tourism, I can’t be mad at it. With the bad, comes the immense good. Petra is a UNESCO site and a world wonder, and mass tourism has made it so easy to access for little old me.
Have you been to Petra? What was your trip like?