The ancient city of Petra (also known as the Rose City) is the most famous archaeological site in Jordan and the most visited attraction in the country. It’s also a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Petra has been on our bucket list for a while and we were excited to finally having the chance to visit it. While we’d seen plenty of pictures of Petra before (especially of the Treasury), nothing can really prepare you for the grandiosity of these ancient ruins.
This lost city was carved out of the pink sandstone cliffs by the Nabataeans, over 2000 years ago and is a photographer’s paradise. The temples, tombs, theatres, churches and houses that are carved into the mountains are truly a sight to behold.
Early wake up
We stayed at La Maison Petra, a small hotel in Wadi Musa which is located just a stone’s throw from the Petra visitor centre. Being so close, we made sure that we were up bright and early to head into Petra before the tourist’s buses arrived.
We reached the visitor centre just before 6 am which is when it opens. It was still pitch black outside and when we arrived only a pack of street dogs were there, having a good play with each other.
When the gate opened, it was just us and five other tourists. It was such a difference from our recent sunrise experience in Angkor Wat. We enjoyed having the place to ourselves, even if just for a few hours.
Walking towards the Siq
After you purchase your ticket at the main entrance, start walking down the main trail that will lead you to the Treasury. As you make your way there, you will come across some other carved structures, such as the Obelisk Tomb.
The Siq is a narrow canyon with vertical walls that soar up to a hundred metres high on each side. It’s over one kilometre long and winds its way towards the city of Petra. You feel very small with these towering walls all around you.
Once you reach the end of the Siq, you’ll emerge at the most famous building in Petra, the Treasury. The Treasury was used in the Indiana Jones movie and is also a hit on Instagram. There are no words to quite describe this astonishing temple.
The High Place of Sacrifice
This hike off the main track offers a 360-degree view of Petra and of the surrounding rugged mountain scenery. We went about half way up to take this photo. Climbing a few stairs was well worth it.
The Nabatean Theatre
The Nabatean Theatre was carved into the mountainside at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice. It could accommodate up to four thousand spectators.
The Royal Tombs
The Royal tombs are built high up on the mountainside. To get there you’ll need to climb a few sets of stairs. From there you can carry on to the Secret Trail for the best view of the Treasury (see below).
The Collonated Street
This street was the main shopping street in ancient Petra. Now it looks more like a Roman forum, with ruins of columns and arches on each side.
The Monastery is the second highlight of Petra. It’s a tough hike to get there, especially in the heat (yes even in January) but it’s so worth it.
It’s not quite as ornate as the Treasury but it’s bigger and just as impressive. It measures 150 feet in both height and width.
You can continue past the Monastery and climb up to a couple of viewpoints for some even better photos looking back at the Monastery or out to the surrounding mountain ranges.
Some tips for enjoying Petra
- Wear some good sturdy shoes, you’ll need them as you’ll be doing plenty of walking.
- Bring a lot of water, even in winter. All that walking is exhausting and makes you very thirsty.
- Bring snacks and some lunch. Our hotel made us a packed lunch, so check if your hotel can as well. There are restaurants and other places to buy food inside Petra but they are very pricey.
If you visit in winter, layer up! It’s pretty cold first thing in the morning but as you walk around and as the sun rises further, you’ll warm up quickly.
- Pick up a map from the visitor centre when you buy your ticket.
- Make sure you check out the viewpoints along the way. They are often marked with big signs saying “great view, this way” or “the best view in the world”! You’ll usually find a Bedouin tent right on the best spot for taking your photo and you’ll be obliged to buy a drink to get your shot. Still, every time we did it the views were absolutely worth it. We also spent a few minutes talking to one the Bedouins and learnt a bit about his life.
Petra and the animal rides
I don’t agree with the exploitation of animals of any kind for tourism purposes so I don’t agree with any of the animal rides in Petra. Please don’t take a donkey ride. The donkeys in Petra are so overworked it’s ridiculous. You have feet, walk! Also, don’t take the horse ride to get to the Treasury (which is annoyingly included in the ticket price).
Walking through the Siq was one of the highlights of the day. You can take your time, take photos and really enjoy yourself instead. That’s much better than rushing through quickly in a horse carriage so that they can maximise the money they get from tourists without thinking about the horse.
Tips to avoid the crowds at Petra
- Get up early and start exploring at opening time, 6 am. The tour buses arrive around 9 am so that gives you a whole three hours of peace and quiet to take great pictures without a zillion people around. Once you have your photos of the Treasury, spend a few minutes there with no-one around. Then get moving and enjoy the rest of the site including the Monastery, the second most popular building in Petra.
- For the best views of the Treasury and the best photo opportunity, take the secret trail that heads off to the right once you pass the royal tombs. It’s an hour-long hike and you have to climb 800 steps, but once there you’ll arrive at a Bedouin tent where you can take the best pictures of the Treasury. Many people take the guided trail on the left side of the Treasury but this hike requires no guide. All you need to do is buy a cup of tea, some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice or a soft drink from the Bedouin at the tent. It’s a small price to pay for such an awesome shot! On our way back down we stopped and ate our lunch looking towards the Treasury again. We were joined by some energetic street dogs, although they were more interested in our food than in the view! For a detailed guide on getting to this viewpoint, check out this post from Travelling the World Solo. We followed her instructions and found our way really easily.
How much does Petra cost?
Petra is not cheap! I was actually rather shocked by the price. However, if you plan on spending more than a day there, it becomes it a little cheaper.
A one day pass is 50 JOD, a two-day pass is 55 JOD and a 3 three-day pass is 60 JOD. Children under 12 enter free.
Should you do “Petra by night”?
Unfortunately this was not offered on the night we were in Petra, but if you have the opportunity I think you should take it. It would be awesome to see Petra all lit up.
Petra by night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evening starting at 8:30 pm from the visitor centre. The entrance fee for Petra by Night is 17 JOD per adult, children under 10 years enter free of charge.
Should you take a multi-day pass?
We did a bit of a whirlwind tour of Jordan and could only spare a single day in Petra. However, by getting up so early we managed to see a fair bit. We walked a lot that day and we were pretty exhausted at the end of it but it was totally worth it.
If you have time though, it’s worth buying a multi-day pass and spending more time there. While you can rush and see most of the important sights in one day as we did, an extra day or two will let you really take your time, enjoy the scenery and tackle some of the longer walks.
If you have even more time, considering visiting Little Petra or doing some of the hikes in the area. We’re quite keen to go back there one day just to hike through the surrounding mountains.
Use the search box below to find accommodation close to Petra: