The ancient Nabatean city of Petra certainly deserves to be called one of the wonders of the world and be on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The rose-hued cliff, mountain, wadi and canyon wonderland lay forgotten for centuries. It was known only to the local Bedouins and it wasn’t until the Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt went undercover in search of the ancient city in 1812, that it became known to the rest of the world.
Entering the city through the Siq, you meander through the 1.2km long narrow passage between tall vertical cliffs. A magical corridor opening up to the infamous, powerful and grand Treasury (Al-Khazneh) meticulously carved out of the mountainside. The Treasury is the main reason people know of and come to Petra, but this place is so much more. Beyond the Treasury the city extends far and wide into the windblown rocky and dry landscape, with an impressive number of hidden tombs and caves carved into the cliffs. I loved imagining what this place was like in its heyday, with some 30,000 inhabitants living up in the mountains and the bustling city centre.
The Nabateans were a nomadic tribe from western Arabia that arrived in the region in the 6th century BC. The capital city of Petra became an important trade and commerce centre and remained so for hundreds of years. As the Nabatean empire weakened in the 2nd century AD it was taken over by the Romans who added a Roman touch to some of the structures. After earthquakes in the 4th and 6th centuries AD that destroyed some of the impressively engineered and also vital water management systems the city was mostly abandoned. The ‘lost city’ known only to the local Bedouin tribes.
With the other three members of our ‘Fantastic Four’ I explored the city highlights over two days, and on the third ventured into less known territory, scrambling up the rocks in search of adventure and at one point ended up in a canyon where we probably should have been using ropes to descend some of the steep sections. Even though we covered almost 60km on foot over those days, there were still many areas that were left unexplored.
Some Bedouin still live in and among the cliffs and bumping into a cheery goat herder or some local children who can help you navigate a tricky path certainly contributes to the experience. A definite highlight of the trip was being invited back to one of the Bedouin tea houses overlooking the Treasury for the ‘Petra by Night’ show. We drank copious amounts of Bedouin tea, tucked into the most amazing fire-cooked chicken and vegetable meal with our bare hands and were entertained by the eccentric and quirky Captain-Jack-Sparrow-lookalike Bedouin. With a flick of his black curly shoulder-length hair and ash flying through the air from his cigarette/joint he told stories with a cheeky glint in his coal-painted eyes. Stories that I wasn’t quite sure if I should completely believe or not, and obscure riddles we never got the answer to. When the show started we quietly crawled to the edge of the cliff, laid on our stomachs and peered down into the canyon.
Any visit to Jordan must have a visit to Petra on the itinerary. It is mysterious, beautiful, unique and so much fun!
The nitty gritty:
- Purchased at the gate:
- 1 day = 50JD, 2 days = 55JD, 3 days = 60JD.
- Passport required to purchase tickets, and your passport may be checked on entry on subsequent days for the 2 and 3 day tickets.
- The ‘Jordan Pass’ – This includes your visit to Petra. Check out the details on the website to see if it would be a fit for you. Make sure to get it before you enter the country!
- Purchased at the gate:
- Getting there:
- The town of Wadi Musa is the accommodation and transport hub for Petra. The entry to Petra is about a 20min downhill walk from the town.
- Wadi Musa is a 4 hour drive from Amman, 2 hours from Aqaba and 1.5 hours from Wadi Rum.
- There are many tours that can take you to Petra both from within Jordan and from Egypt/Israel/Palestine.
- There are buses that run from Amman, Aqaba and Wadi Rum to Petra once daily. However, I have heard that these buses aren’t always reliable and may not run if they don’t have enough people on them. Double check details with whoever you are staying with regarding the buses. Getting around Jordan cheaply isn’t easy! See my later post on traveling in Jordan for more tips.
- Private taxi’s are available and can be an affordable option if you can share it with some friends.
- I took a taxi from Amman with three other solo travelers I met at Sydney Hostel in Amman. We took the ‘back road’, the King’s Highway which was a very picturesque road to travel down. We stopped at a few placed along the way too. This cost us 100JD for the whole day.
- You could also hire a car and drive yourself there, the roads are good and with English signposting.
- Where to stay:
- There are a tonne of places to stay in Wadi Musa, from cheap backpacker hostels to fancy upmarket hotels. Some places have a nice view down the valley towards Petra, but the actual city of Petra cannot be seen as it is hidden behind the mountains.
- I stayed at Valentine Inn, probably the cheapest place in town. It was ok. Quiet dorm room with a comfortable bed, but no hot water or toilet paper.
- Time of year:
- I was there in November. The mornings were a little chilly, as were the nights. But during the day it could still get very hot in the sun, especially when hiking those steep trails. It got busy throughout the day, but if you got in early and managed your day well, you could avoid the huge crowds.
- Best times to go are during spring (March-May) or Autumn (September to November). In the spring you would see more flowering plants in the wadi’s but this is also the busiest season to go. The summer months can get very hot and the winter months a bit cold. Although it would be less crowded during these times.
- Navigating the city – do not underestimate the time it takes to walk between areas of the city. It is huge!
- Go early! If you go as soon as the gates open – 6-6:30am depending on the time of year, you will encounter almost nobody in the Siq, have the Treasury almost to yourself and the vendors will still be half asleep and less persistent on the horse or camel ride thing.
- There are two places you can see the ‘Treasury from above’ at the end of the Siq from both the left and right side high up on the cliffs. If you are standing at the end of the Siq facing the Treasury, you have one on the left (the less official one and the one that is a little harder to get to/find) and one on the right (a little easier to get to).
- They say you ‘need’ a guide for any trail other than the main one through the centre of the city. Some trails off the main trail are easy to navigate, however some are trickier and we ended up with some unintended (but beautiful) detours. Most of the Bedouin we encountered on the trails tried to convince us to pay them to be our guide for the day, but after declining this offer most of them showed us the way anyway.
- 1, 2 or 3 days?
- I would highly recommend you take three days there if you have the time. This gives you time to really see the place properly, take a break to soak in the magic of the city, people watch, and explore some of the less popular (but still impressive) parts of the city away from the tourist trail. But you could still see the main sites in one day if you are prepared to put in the miles.
- In one big day you could see: The Siq, the Treasury, one of the views from above over the Treasury, the Monastery. If time, some of the Royal Tombs.
- 2 days: Spread the highlights over two days so you can take the time to enjoy it some more. Add the other treasury from above view.
- 3 days: On the third day go exploring on the lesser known paths, for example to the Crusader fort. Or revisit some parts at a different time of day for different colours or better photo ops.
- Horse and camel vendors:
- These are found throughout the Petra city. Your entry ticket does include a free horse ride for a short section of the main trail. I didn’t take up this offer, but I heard from others that they would try and take you past the ‘free’ section and make you pay more, and would ask for a significant tip at the end of the ride.
- Female traveler safety:
- Be on your guard for charmers with ulterior motives in Petra. I had no issues, but I was also traveling there with three male friends. I have however heard stories of women (particularly solo travellers) having problems. Be smart, make good decision and stay safe!
- What to wear:
- Wear comfortable shoes with good grip for rock scrambling. You will walk many kilometres in this place and be prepared for steep hills and stair climbs.
- Cover up from the sun and also for respect for the local culture.
- Food and drink:
- Available within the site but at an increased price. Bring plenty of water and a picnic lunch to save on costs.
- In town:
- There are many small restaurants in Wadi Musa, and don’t be afraid to barter with them, even on the written menu price (I couldn’t do this, but one of my friends I was traveling with was great at this!).
- Al-Wadi Restaurant was really tasty (and they make their bread on the spot) but a little on the pricier side. Next door is Al-Arabi with much cheaper and delicious shawarma!
- There are a couple of great bakeries in the centre of town (near the main roundabout) with great baklava and good bread to take for lunch.
- There are a number of small supermarkets in town to buy lunch food and snacks.
- There are a couple of ATM’s in Wadi Musa, but it would be a good idea to take out money beforehand just incase they don’t work.
- Grab a map at the visitors centre and don’t lose it! It will be very helpful for getting around without a guide. Google maps or maps.me can also be useful to use if you get a little ‘off route’.
See my other posts from Jordan here: