Few places in the world are as impressive as the ancient city of Petra, South Jordan. Though the capital of the ancient Nabatean kingdom dates back to the 4th century BC, the area was inhabited centuries before. Once you come and visit this outstanding site, you’ll understand why. Massive steep mountains surround Petra, with only a few narrow hiking trails. Such a strategic location protected the city from its enemies. As you can imagine, everyone wanted to conquer the kingdom’s capital. As with all great empires, following a period of wealth and prosperity, the city fell into decay and was eventually abandoned. Completely forgotten by the western world, it was rediscovered in the early 19th century!
- 1 Is Petra Worth Visiting?
- 2 How Many Days in Petra
- 3 Best Time to Visit Petra
- 4 Where to Stay in Wadi Musa (Near Petra)
- 5 How to Get to Petra
- 6 3 Days in Petra – Itinerary
- 7 Petra Tips
- 8 Food and Drinks
Is Petra Worth Visiting?
If one of a kind incredible world wonders are your thing, then you will agree with us that Petra is worth visiting. We’ve been to Petra twice, and we hope we can come back. The place is much more than sublime architecture. The dessert and hills are equally beautiful. In fact, visiting Petra is an experience that engages all of your senses. While walking about the city, your mind travels to ancient times. At the same time, Bedouins have been living in the area for quite some time. This millenary old culture is in charge of the horses and donkeys that take tourists around the area. We have mixed feelings about this. Some animals don’t seem to be having fun, but renting them is the only way people can survive in the area. Fortunately, we are in good shape and walked everywhere.
How Many Days in Petra
You simply can’t go to Jordan and not visit Petra. Actually, if you are in Israel too! No worries, its very easy to cross the Israel Jordan border. Now, how many days you should spend in Petra depends on your schedule and interests. Some people visit Petra’s main sites in just one day. Remember that we are talking about one of the grandest places on earth. Thus, why rush? We believe that 2 days in Petra are mandatory. It’s the only way you can see most of the city, including a couple of secluded areas. That said, 3 days in Petra are ideal. You won’t need to rush, and you can also pay a visit to the fantastic Little Petra. We did exactly that and had an incredible time.
Best Time to Visit Petra
Contrary to what most people think, the best time to visit Petra is before the site closes. The Petra Archeological Park Entrance opens every day at 6 AM. In the summer, the ticket office closes at 6 PM and, in the winter, at 4 PM. Nevertheless, the door remains open for an extra hour or so to allow tourists to exit. We visited in February, winter season, and left each day between 5:30 and 6:30 PM. We took some of our best pictures of Petra while trekking on our way out. There are fewer tourists, and the light is splendid. In all honesty, we got the impression that we could have left even later. Therefore, our advice is to ask your hotel and at the ticket office about the estimated time of closure.
Where to Stay in Wadi Musa (Near Petra)
If you are wondering where to stay near Petra, our answer is clear: as close to the entrance as possible. Wadi Musa is not especially nice, and there is not much to do there either. Besides, to get from Wadi Musa to Petra, you have to take a taxi or walk along a smelly road. There is a small neighborhood right in front of the entrance of Petra with a cluster of hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, and tour operators. We stayed there, in the nice La Maison Hotel. We had a comfortable spacious room and decent views of the surrounding area. If you want to splurge a little, stay at the Movenpick Resort, directly at the entrance of the park. It’s one of the best hotels in Petra.
How to Get to Petra
Most tourists go to Petra in huge organized bus tours. You will see the buses parked at the entrance. So, how to get to Petra independently? Unfortunately, a taxi mafia plagues the country. They seem to be the only alternative, and they don’t come cheap. Fortunately, from Amman to Petra, you can take a public bus. Though several depart each day, buses leave when full, so you have to be patient. That’s what happened to us. We were waiting for a couple of hours to take our bus from Petra to Amman when a fellow passenger suggested we all give some extra money to the driver so we could leave. Take note that a daily bus connects Petra with Aqaba. Likewise, one bus a day connects Petra to Wadi Rum. However, frequencies and schedules change frequently, so be sure to check beforehand.
3 Days in Petra – Itinerary
Al Siq Petra – The Main Trail
The Petra Archeological Park occupies some 264 km2. As you can imagine, there are several entrances. Most visitors enter through the main entrance, the closest to Wadi Musa. From there, it’s a 2 km long trek to get to the center of Petra. At first, the road is wide, with giant Djin Blocks to your right and the Obelisk Tomb to your left. As soon as you pass the ancient Dam, you enter the Al Siq, the ancient entrance to Petra and impressive sight in itself. It is 3 to 12 meters wide and up to 80 meters high. This narrow gorge is both natural and manmade, carved by the Nabateans. Go ahead and walk. Petra’s most famous site awaits to dazzle you: the Treasury building or Al Khazneh. Some tourists hire horses to get to Petra’s center, missing on one of the nicest and easiest hikes possible. Once here, you can begin your Petra itinerary.
Day 1 Petra Monastery Hike
Most visitors that spend 1 day in Petra rush through the main trail and the monastery hike. We suggest doing so on your first day. Most of the famous sites are here. From the Treasury, walk along a short gorge that opens up to a row of monumental tombs: the Street of Facades. After the tombs, you’ll spot a giant Nabatean Theater on your left and even more imposing Royal Tombs on your right. The road widens a bit until you pass by the Colonnaded Street. You have to see the Great Temple and Qasr al Bint Temple. Once done, take the road that leads to the Monastery at Petra.
The road begins at the Basin restaurant, across the Qasr al Bint temple. The road changes here, from flat and wide to narrow and uphill. To reach the monastery, you need to walk up the hill for about 2 kilometers. The path is curvy and full of stairs. Don’t worry if you get hungry or thirsty. Bedouins sell food and souvenirs in small kiosks along the way. From time to time, you’ll arrive at small lookouts with outstanding views of the surrounding area. When you finally reach the Monastery or Ad Deir, you’ll be exhausted but stunned by the site of the masterpiece in front of you. To us, one of the world’s best cafés is here. Ask for some tea, a drink, or something to nibble on, and enjoy heaven on earth.
Day 2 High Place of Sacrifice Trail
Since you’ve visited all the main sites, it’s time to go to less popular places. In Petra, the main trail is flat, but all others are mountainous and require physical effort. You have to take the stairs that are after the Treasury, to your left, across the monumental tombs, before the Theater. This 1-kilometer long trail takes you to the Altar of Sacrifice. The views from here are majestic. The circular altar is superb too. Notice the Motab stone, where God statues used to be kept. Don’t forget to check the two obelisks that are close to the top. Supposedly, they are dedicated to the Nabatean Gods Dushara and Al Uzza.
The High Place of Sacrifice Trail doesn’t end at the Altar. Once you pass the obelisks, the path descends, and after a few meters, the terrain becomes flat again. Nature here is stunning. Besides, incredible temples dot this Petra trail. We couldn’t believe our eyes and the fact that we were mostly alone. As soon as you get down, you’ll immediately spot three ancient structures: the Garden Triclinium, the Painted Triclinium, and the Roman Soldier’s Tomb. You must enter each. The interiors are as impressive as the exterior, and some have frescoes! Continue along Wadi al Farasa until you reach the end of the trail at the Basin restaurant. Do not worry. There are clear signs along the path and lovely Bedouins that will be more than happy to point the way.
Day 3 Little Petra and Treasury Viewpoint Trail
Spend your third day in gorgeous Little Petra. Since it’s approximately 9 kilometers from Petra’s main entrance, you have to hire a car. We hired a taxi to take us there, wait for us, and take us back to Petra. The area of Little Petra is considerably smaller, and its monuments not that monumental. Fortunately, not that many tourists visit Little Petra, so we were mostly on our own. We advise you to walk to the end. There is a coffee shop at the end with unforgettable views. Likewise, don’t forget to check the only large scale example of Hellenistic paintings in the area, the Painted Biclinium or dining room. These are inside a big hole to your left, reachable by a staircase. From Little Petra to Petra, you can also hike along a dusty road, but you need a licensed guide to do so. The road is mostly flat and enters Petra through the Monastery.
If you return to Petra by car, you’ll have the rest of the day to wander about in awe. Walk past the Treasury and continue along the Streets of Facades until you see the Royal Tombs on your right. These are the Palace Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, Silk Tomb, and Urn Tomb. Though you can go inside, there is not much to see. Follow the path left of the Palace Tomb, and you’ll spot stairs going up the cliff. The so-called Al Khubtha Trail begins here. Go all the way up the hundreds of steps until you get to the most spectacular Petra viewpoint. Once again, you will be in one of the nicest coffee houses in the world, overlooking the Treasury building. Go ahead and buy a snack and a drink. We enjoyed this extraordinary view alone, chatting to the coffeehouse owner, his two sons, and caressing a bunch of cats. What a victorious end to such a magnificent journey!
There are three kinds of entrance tickets to Petra. You can go in for one, two, or three days. The difference between each ticket is only 5 Jordanian Dinars. That is, one day is 70US$, 2 for 78US$, and 80US$ approximately. Therefore, we strongly recommend buying a three-day ticket. Remember to bring your passport every day. You won’t be able to buy the ticket nor enter Petra without it. Likewise, remember to bring a hat and sunscreen even in winter. In summer, bring a light coat. The weather changes a lot during the day, so you need to be protected. The same applies to shoes. Bring comfortable but sturdy shoes so you can walk everywhere.
Food and Drinks
Regarding drinks, don’t bring anything inside the park. We always recommend traveling with your own recycled bottle. However, this time, buy from the local Bedouin population. First and most importantly, the coffee houses along Petra are stunning and inexpensive. You pay much more for your mediocre coffee at your mediocre Starbucks. At the same time, Petra is their home and selling to tourists their livelihood. We stopped in fantastic coffee houses with unforgettable views in every single trek we did. Each time we drank delish tea and were treated professionally and kindly. Thank you so much! In Wadi Musa don’t forget to try typical Jordanian food.