Jordan is emerging as one of the most popular countries to visit in the Middle East. It’s relatively safe and affordable, and there are some amazing things to do.
The highlight of any trip to Jordan is a journey to the lost city of Petra. This is an incredible ancient town carved into the rocks in southern Jordan. It can be explored by foot, or on the back of a camel.
Petra is a bucket list item for sure, and this travel guide will explain how you can do it on your own, with or without a tour, and with a very modest budget and minimal planning. Read on!
What Is Petra? What Is The History?
Petra is an archaeological city in Jordan where ancient buildings were carved into the rock walls as early as 400 BC.
The most iconic thing at Petra is the Treasury (pictured above), which is known in Arabic as Al-Khazneh. This view is famous because of all the cool photos that appear on Instagram.
But what most people don’t realize is that the Treasury is just one of the buildings. Petra was an actual city, and at one time, it’s thought that almost 20,000 people lived at this hidden city in the rock!
Petra was abandoned in the early centuries AD, and became unknown to the world until it was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812:
I was without protection in the midst of a desert where no traveller had ever before been seen…
An excavated mausoleum came in view, the situation and beauty of which are calculated to make an extraordinary impression upon the traveller, after having traversed for nearly half an hour such a gloomy and almost subterraneous passage as I have described.
In comparing the testimonies of the authors cited in Reland’s Palastina, it appears very probable that the ruins ….. are those of the ancient Petra…
Epic, huh? That’s why the monuments at Petra have been featured in Indiana Jones and other adventure movies.
I mean, just look at it!
Day Tours To Petra
First of all, if you’re on a tight schedule and want to skip the extra steps involved in arranging your own trip to Petra, or if you’d rather travel with a vetted tour company, there are options for doing that.
There are a number of companies that offer prearranged day tours to Petra for as low as $170 USD, with pickup and dropoff at the airport, and optional guide.
If you’d rather make your own arrangements and do everything yourself (which is ultimately cheaper), then that’s covered next.
How To Get To Petra
Petra is located in southern Jordan, about 125 miles (200 km) south of the capital city of Amman.
There is no airport at Petra, so international flights to Jordan will generally go to Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Amman. It’s also possible to visit Petra overland from Israel, but that’ll have to be addressed separately.
It’s a 3-4 hour drive from Amman to Petra. You can make the journey by car (more convenient) or bus (more affordable).
If you have a hotel booked at Petra, you can ask the hotel to send a driver to pick you up at the Amman airport and bring you there. My Petra hotel arranged this for me for the fairly typical price of 75 JD ($105 USD).
You can also find a taxi driver at the Amman airport to take you to Petra, but the prices will be similar.
Expensive, isn’t it? But this is the quickest and easiest option for getting to/from Petra.
If you take the JETT bus, it’s 11 JD ($15 USD) for a one way ticket or 22 JD ($30 USD) for a round trip ticket. You can book the trip with them on their website.
Here is the bus schedule on the JETT website. You will also need a taxi driver to take you from the airport to the JETT office in Amman where the bus leaves from. Taxis are expensive in Jordan, so sadly this part may cost upwards of 20 JD ($28 USD).
I only took the JETT bus one way, when I went back to Amman from Petra. The bus was pretty comfy and really not hard to use at all.
If I ever visit Petra again someday, I think I would take the JETT bus both ways.
Another option is to rent a car and drive yourself.
The roads and driving in Jordan are pretty tame compared to other countries in the Middle East, so this is a decent option to consider. Car rental prices are reasonable.
Map Of Petra
Here’s a rough map of the Petra area. You’ll get a copy of this same map when you reach the visitor’s center at Petra.
The main path is pretty easy to follow, and you’ll most likely be in the company of other tourists, especially after the sun comes up.
The main trail distance (from the visitor’s center to the museum) is 2.5 miles (4 km). More info on walking distances later.
There are restrooms and a couple of small restaurants on the main path through Petra. The food is very overpriced, but the souvenirs are really neat and they can be a bargain if you haggle hard.
Visiting The Ancient City Of Petra
Hours of Entry
- Summer: 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM
- Winter: 6:00 AM – 4:00 PM
- Daytrippers (No Overnight Stay In Jordan): 90 JD ($127 USD)
- One Day: 50 JD ($70 USD)
- Two Days: 55 JD
- Three Days: 60 JD
- Jordan Pass: Free
- Children: Free (under 12)
You’ll need to show your passport or ID at the ticket office. You can pay by cash or credit card.
If you hold a Jordan Pass (highly recommended for most visitors!), then you don’t have to pay an entrance fee.
More information about Petra fees can be found on the official Jordanian tourism website.
There’s no strict dress code at Petra, since it’s not a temple or mosque.
With that said, Jordanian culture is relatively conservative, so wearing modest clothing in public is a good idea. That would mean something that covers your knees and shoulders.
Distances & Walking Times
Here are some rough estimates for distance and walking times by foot.
They can change of course, depending on your fitness level and how many photo stops you make along the way.
- Visitor’s Center to Siq: 1 km (15 minutes)
- Siq to Treasury: 1 km (15 minutes)
- Treasury To Monastery Trail: 2 km (30 minutes)
- Monastery Trail: 1.5 km (30 minutes)
- Main Trail (Visitor’s Center to Monastery Trail): 4 kilometers
- Visitor’s Center to Monastery: 5.5 kilometers
Camel/Donkey Rides At Petra
If fitness is an issue, you can pay to ride a horse, carriage, camel, or donkey for different segments of the Petra trail. I never used these, because the prices are just unreasonable.
When I went in 2018, they were asking a firm 20 JD ($28 USD) for a camel ride. For comparison, you can ride a camel at the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt for 1/10th the price!
On the other hand, if you’re just itching to get your pic taken sitting on a camel in front of the epic Treasury of Petra, then this is your chance.
Best Things To Do & See At Petra
At this point, you’re probably wondering what are some of the “must see” places in Petra.
This is not a complete list of every single rock, tomb, and interesting thing to see at Petra, but these are just some of the highlights that stood out to me during my time there. Remember, no matter how awesome you think Petra is, trust me, you will get tired of looking at rock buildings after awhile.
One day at Petra is enough time to see most of the places on this list, but probably not all of them, so you’ll want to prioritize the things that look most appealing to you. Two days is plenty of time to see all of these.
These are listed in basic chronological order, with a few deviations from the main path where it’s necessary (Monastery and upper viewpoints).
• The Bab al-Siq
This is an open road in the desert, stretching from the visitor’s center until the Siq (entrance to Petra). The name is Arabic for ‘gateway to the Siq’.
On the roadside you’ll pass some of the first carved monuments of the day, with some cool rock houses that look like they belong to Fred and Barney in the Flintstones.
There are some Bedouin guys standing around here giving ‘free’ horse rides to the Petra entrance, but the catch is that they will expect (and demand) a big tip afterwards. Just tell them no thanks and keep walking.
• The Siq
The Siq is the entrance to Petra.
This is a long, narrow pathway that leads you to the hidden city.
The steep walls on either side of this path are really impressive, and right away they make you feel tiny.
You can ride a horse drawn carriage through the Siq, again for a fee, but I don’t see much point unless you’re just very tired (maybe on the way back). Granted, the path is not completely flat, but it’s not steep or exhausting either.
• The Treasury
As you exit the end of the Siq, you’ll be greeted by a majestic carved monument called the Treasury.
This facade is easily the most famous view in Petra. Tourists can’t go inside, but the outside was good enough to keep me busy taking photos for quite awhile.
The best lighting is early in the morning, when the rocks are a dark purple color. Later in the day, the rocks will change to a brown or bright orange color (in direct sunlight), and this looks a lot different. Both views are nice, but they’re very different. I’d recommend seeing both phases if you can.
• Above The Treasury
There are three different upper viewpoints where you can look down at the Treasury from the rocks above.
All of these are fantastic, but they require a little bit of explanation to find. I’ll be writing a followup guide for this soon.
• The Street of Facades
After you get done gawking at the Treasury, you’ll enter the Street of Facades. It’s lined with various carved tombs and other monuments. There are a lot of these, and some of them are skippable if you’re just wanting to see the highlights of Petra.
• Tomb of Unayshu
This is a well preserved tomb, and one of the biggest carvings on the eastern side of the Street of Facades. Most people seem to skip this section, but it’s worth a look if you have time!
• The Amphitheater
As you continue walking on the Street of Facades, you’ll pass an amphitheater on the left.
This is a Roman-style theater that was built in the 1st century AD. You can’t go inside, but it’s easy to take photos of it from the street.
• The Royal Tombs
This is a series of tombs on the right side of the Street of Facades. The style looks similar to the Treasury, but these buildings are unfinished and not as nice.
If you follow the trail that goes around the backside of these tombs, you can go see the Treasury and other parts of Petra from above.
• The Colonnaded Street
The Street of Facades eventually blends into the Colonnaded Street.
This was a paved street that in old times probably served as a market lined with shops and sellers. The gate and some of the columns are still standing.
• The Great Temple
Joining the Colonnaded Street, these are the ruins of a big temple in what used to be the city center of Petra. There’s a big staircase and the remains of an open air plaza.
There are great views of the mountains in the distance, so definitely make a quick stop here, at least.
• The Monastery
The monastery is one of the most underrated parts of Petra. It’s bigger than the Treasury, and much less crowded.
If you go straight for the Monastery first thing in the morning, you may even have it to yourself for hours.
• The High Place of Sacrifice
This is a panoramic viewpoint above Petra where religious sacrifices of animals and incense were offered. It’s a 30-60 minute hike to the top, and the views are worth it!
Hotels In Petra
If you would like to spend more than one day at Petra (which I’d recommend), then you’ll need a hotel.
There are no hotels “in” Petra, since it’s a protected archaeological site, but you can stay in the nearby town of Wadi Musa, which is within walking distance to Petra.
Wadi Musa is not a big town, but it’s been built up by tourism at Petra, so there are plenty of good hotels and restaurants to choose from.
Where I Stayed
I stayed at Rocky Mountain Hotel near Petra for 26 JD ($37 USD) per night, and it was a pretty good bargain compared to the other hotels I've tried in this area (Jordan is not the cheapest country to travel).
Rocky Mountain is a 20 minute walk to Petra, or you can use the hotel's daily shuttle service. Jane, the hotel owner lady, was kind enough to drive me to Petra herself and pick me up later. She's a New Zealander and obviously works very hard.
The hotel also helped me arrange my Wadi Rum jeep tour from Petra. All in all, it was just what I needed, and the staff were very helpful with arranging transfers, meals, and other things.
Petra By Night
This is a night show where the Treasury of Petra is lit up by 1,500 candles and some songs are played. It lasts 2 hours and runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, from 8:30 PM to 10:30 PM.
I decided to skip this because a lot of people say it’s overpriced and disappointing, and I had already seen the Treasury on two separate visits. Now, as a travel blogger and semi-serious photographer, I kind of kick myself for not doing it.
If you’re into photography, it could be a good opportunity to take some cool photos of the Treasury lit up by candles. Otherwise, the general consensus seems to be that it’s poorly executed and not worth the entry price for most people. I wish the Jordanian tourism authorities would take some lessons from the folks who made the outstanding night show at Abu Simbel in Egypt.
The entrance fee for Petra By Night is 17 JD ($24 USD) for adults, and it’s NOT included in a regular Petra day ticket. Kids under 10 go free. More info can be found at the official Jordanian tourism website.
Is Jordan Safe?
Yes, I think so.
Nowhere in the world is completely safe, but Jordan is a stable country that gets millions of tourists per year.
Terrorist attacks are possible, but that’s true anywhere. They don’t seem to be any more common in Jordan.
In the age of terrorism I would avoid crowds whenever possible while traveling here, but again, that’s a basic safety tip that goes for just about anywhere nowadays.
Personally, I would rate Jordan much safer than Egypt. But I survived and enjoyed both! 🙂
Best Time To Visit Petra
Petra is nice any month of the year, but the best time to visit is in the spring (March – May) or fall (September – November). I went in early October and it was very pleasant. In the middle of summer, Petra can be very hot — up to 86 F (30 C).
Either way, the best time of day to visit is very early, before sunrise. Not only will you skip the crowds and heat, but you’ll also get a headstart on your day, and photos of the Treasury will look cooler. My favorite photos at Petra were taken shortly before the sunrise.
It’s the best time of day for photographing the Treasury because the rocks are a dark purple color. Later in the day, the rocks will change to a brown or bright orange color (in direct sunlight), and this looks a lot different. Both views are nice, but they’re very different. I’d recommend seeing both phases if you can.
You can also check the live webcam at the Treasury to get an idea what the lighting will look like at certain times of the day.