Petra is one of the most popular places to visit on the planet. Take a look at almost any traveler’s bucket list and Petra will be on it. Why? Because it really is amazing. But guess what. There is so much more to Petra than the Treasury, the iconic façade featured in every travel book and brochure about Petra.
Petra deserves two days to be seen properly. Yes, many people visit Petra on a day trip, spending only a few hours here, but they are missing a lot. To really experience Petra you need more time here.
We spent 24 hours in Petra, arriving in the morning. We spent the day seeing the best of Petra, and then we stayed the night in the town of Wadi Musa. The next morning we were the first ones back in Petra. By sleeping overnight in Wadi Musa, we were able to catch sunrise and sunset in Petra, the best times to be here. The lighting is awesome, the day trippers are gone, and if you are lucky, you could get the Treasury all to yourself.
We visited Jordan on a two day tour with Desert Eco Tours. We visited Petra with a guide, Mohammad. Normally, we are not huge fans of tours. In this case, having a guide was very worthwhile. Mohammad explained to us the importance of the sites as well as took us on a hike through Petra, giving us a view that most visitors never get to see. Yes, we loved seeing the Treasury, but the hike and the other side trips are what really made this visit phenomenal.
What is Petra?
Petra was the capital city of the Nabataeans from roughly 300 BC to 100 AD. The Romans took over in 100 AD, then several earthquakes destroyed much of the city and Petra was abandoned. For centuries, Petra was left untouched, until it was discovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812. Petra became one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” in 2008 and since then has been making the bucket lists of travelers all over the world.
Best Things to see in Petra
Stretching out in a line from the town of Wadi Musa, visitors enter the park and then follow the trail into the Siq, the legendary canyon where tourists get their first views of the Treasury. Continue the walk past the Treasury, visiting the Royal Tombs and Roman ruins. Those with enough time and enough energy can continue onto the Monastery, another monument that rivals the Treasury in its splendor. There are numerous other side trips and interesting things to see in Petra, as well as rides on camels and donkeys if you so desire.
Map of Petra, from Jordan Travels website.
Every visitor’s journey starts at Bab As-Siq, the trail that runs from the ticket booth to the Siq. There are tombs and monuments to see along the way, such as the Obelisk Tomb.
The Siq is a gorge that was formed when tectonic forces broke the mountain into two pieces. It is a delight to walk through, a snaking path with rock walls towering high above your head. It is almost suspenseful…around every bend you expect to get that famous view of the Treasury.
This is it, the view that draws so many visitors to Petra. Completely carved out of the sandstone mountains, the Treasury was built as a tomb for the Nabataean King Aretas III. The Treasury is the highlight of Petra, but this is only really the start of a visit here. There is so much more to see.
Street of Facades
From the Treasury, the journey continues. The path widens, taking visitors to a much more open area. Here are tombs and houses built into the sandstone mountains by the Nabataeans 2000 years ago.
This is the view from the hiking trail to the High Place of Sacrifice.
Hike through Petra
Not far past the Treasury, Mohammad took us “off-road” to unmarked hiking trails. In no time we were hiking up and over the normal walking trails for some of the best views of the day. From our highest vantage point we could look out over Petra towards the Roman ruins and the path to the Monastery. It was a short, somewhat strenuous hike, and worth it to leave the other visitors behind and get these unique views over Petra. If you are interested in doing this, it is worth hiring a guide! The hiking trail was completely unmarked and almost impossible to follow if you didn’t know what to look for.
At the end of the trail, we descended back down in front of the Royal Tombs. It was here we met a lady cooking bread over a fire.
The Royal Tombs
Here lies a series of facades carved from the sandstone mountain, the tombs of Nabataean royalty.
This is the interior walls of the Urn Tomb, the most popular of the Royal Tombs.
The Colonnaded Street
The Colonnaded Street is the remains of the Romans who took control over Petra in 106 AD. Those Romans were masters at building, and their road still remains today, along with several columns lining the side of the road.
The Great Temple
This Nabataean Temple was built in 100 BC and is the largest freestanding building in Petra.
The Monastery (Al-Deir)
This you have to see. It is just as impressive as the Treasury. Good thing, because it requires quite a hike to get to it.
The hike to the Monastery has visitors climbing over 800 steps for a solid 20 minutes or more of hiking. It is an almost entirely uphill journey. Along the way visitors pass numerous stalls, worked by women, selling scarves, souvenirs, and jewelry.
For those not up to the hike, donkeys rides are an option, costing roughly 10 JD in one direction.
The Monastery is larger than the Treasury and just as well preserved. There is a small restaurant overlooking the Monastery, a great place to relax, grab a bite to eat or a cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, while enjoying the view.
Best View in Petra
From the teashop there were signs pointing us towards the “Best View in Petra.” Just out of curiosity, we had to see the best view. How can you beat seeing the Treasury from the Siq or the Monastery after a hot, tiring, uphill hike?
To get to the “Best View of Petra” required going on another short, uphill hike. Once at the top of a small mountain, this was our view. Now we were overlooking the Monastery and the nearby mountains. What do you think? Is this the best view of Petra?
High Place of Sacrifice
Our hiking and climbing was not over yet. We walked back down the path from the Monastery, along the Colonnaded Street, past the Royal Tombs, and to the path to the High Place of Sacrifice. By now it was 4:30 pm. We were tired but we had one last thing to see.
This climb was a little shorter and a little easier than the path to the Monastery. Again, it was an uphill climb, this time the reward being a view over Petra from a different angle. And again it was worth it.
We are suckers for a good viewpoint, and from the High Place of Sacrifice we could see far out across Jordan.
Tim also loves freaking me out, standing on the edge of drop off to have his photo taken. And usually this requires me to find an almost equally unsafe vantage point to shoot the photo. This time we both made this pic…Tim looking out over Petra and my shadow at the bottom of the photo.
Petra at Sunset
Petra closes around 6 pm. There does not seem to be an enforced closing time. At 5:30 pm there were no park guards ushering people towards the exit. Still, most people made their way to the exit on their own. Tim and I took this opportunity to spend as much time as possible in front of the Treasury while tourists filtered out of the park. Wait long enough and you can get photos of the Treasury without anyone else in them. And this is the advantage to spending the night in Wadi Musa…the chance to see Petra at sunset and sunrise.
Technically, we did not get to see Petra at sunset. We were here in April and the sun set past the 6 pm closing time. Still, to have the Treasury almost to ourselves in the fading light was still a fantastic experience.
This is the last of the visitors, camels, and horse drawn carts before closing time.
Petra at Sunrise
The park opens roughly at 6 am. Again, there is no discreet time. It seems to change depending on the season and the mood of the person working the main gate. At 6:10 am, Tim and I re-entered Petra. The sun was already rising, just because of the time of the year, but our early start gave us 20 wonderful minutes in front of the Treasury all to ourselves. It really was an awesome experience. Of course we took more photos, but it was nice to grab a seat on one of the few picnic benches and just stare up at the Treasury.
Petra by Night
We missed this, unfortunately. Three nights a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 20:30) the Siq and the area around the Treasury are lit by 1500 candles. This is a unique way to see Petra and many describe it as “magical.” Tickets cost JD 17 and children under 12 years old are free.
This is one of the holiest places in Petra, the tomb where Aaron, Moses’ brother, is buried. To get here it is a very strenuous, 6+ hour hike. Having a guide is strongly recommended. Most people come here for the amazing views. This is the highest point in the area, giving hikers a view of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
Things to Know Before You Go
How much time is needed?
At a minimum, 24 hours is needed to see Petra. Staying overnight allows visitors to catch sunset and sunrise. You will also be in Petra before and after the day trippers arrive. It is worth it to hike to the Monastery and the High Place of Sacrifice. If you have time, hike to Aaron’s Tomb and spend some time in Wadi Musa.
We usually visit sites fast…we get in, see it, and get out. We are not ones to linger long. Petra was different. Do not underestimate how much there is to see here.
When is the best time to go to Petra?
Spring and Fall are the best times (March to May and September to November). Daytime temperatures are very pleasant. The winter can be bitterly cold at night and chilly during the day. During the summer months it can be unbearably hot.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Petra?
For one day in Petra the ticket price is 90 JD. For those staying overnight in a hotel, ticket prices are reduced: one day entry is 50 JD and two day entry is 55 JD. Children under 12 are free.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Petra Guest House in Wadi Musa. This is a three star hotel (although it seemed nicer than that!) operated by Crowne Plaza. It is the first hotel on your left as you exit the park, making it very convenient. In the hotel is a restaurant offering dinner and breakfast.
The best part of the hotel was the Cave Bar, the “oldest bar in the world.” Being 2000 years old, this once was a Nabataean tomb now converted into a bar. This is a great place to end the day.
Desert Eco Tours
We hired Desert Eco Tours to take us on a two day tour of Jordan. Our tour started on a Friday morning with a border crossing from Eilat to Aqaba. From Aqaba, we were driven two hours north to Petra. Mohammad, our guide for the day, spent several hours with us, explaining the history behind Petra and he took us on the amazing hike that we never would have known about on our own. After lunch, Mohammad left, leaving Tim and I to explore on our own. This is when we hiked to the Monastery and the High Place of Sacrifice.
We highly recommend Desert Eco Tours. Having a guide made our experience so much better. Plus, Desert Eco Tours took care of getting our Jordanian visas for the border crossing, booked our hotel in Wadi Musa, and the next day took us on a phenomenal hiking tour of Wadi Rum.
Post updated October 2017.
So, is this a place you would like to visit? Do you have plans to travel to Petra soon?
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