Jordan opened to tourists post-pandemic in February 2021, and Dan and I promptly booked Emirates flights for the end of May in the hopes of visiting Petra sans tourists. And, we were successful! We visited Petra and only saw 12 other tourists! It was amazing. While tourism is definitely rebounding as the pandemic subsides, I still think there is time to visit Petra before the hoards of tourists return. We had a wonderful visit and literally everyone who has seen our pictures is like OMG that’s Jordan?! Go now. Don’t wait.
WHAT IS PETRA
For those who live under a rock, Petra, one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern Word and a UNSECO World Heritage Site, is a historical and archaeological city in Jordan. You probably know it from the famous Indiana Jones film or from seeing photographs of the Treasury building carved into a red-tinged rock mountain. But, Petra is a lot more. It’s actually an entire city that was made into the mountainous landscape, complete with beautiful buildings, Roman ruins, and cave homes. While only a very few people reside in Petra today, it was once quite the city, and its still super cool to visit (especially without tourists!).
In addition to being the world-famous “Petra” of Indiana Jones fame, the small town surrounding Petra is commonly referred to as “Petra,” although its proper name is Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is a tourist town with lots of restaurants and shops catering to Petra tourists. Due to COVID, we missed the full “Petra town” experience, but apparently it can get a bit rowdy . That being said, I would not spend extra days in Petra to experience the town.
ENTRANCE, COSTS, AND PETRA OPENING TIME
Entrance to Petra can only be purchased on site and costs a whopping 50 JD for one day’s entrance, although a 2 day pass is only an extra 5 JD. We opted for the two day pass, and we felt that was a good amount of time. We went one full day and one half day. I recommend spending a similar amount of time in Petra.
The Petra site opens at 6 AM in the summer and I recommend getting there as early as possible to beat the heat and the crowds. One thing to note, our guide purchased our tickets the evening before in order for us to promptly enter the park right at 6 AM. Apparently the ticket booth, while technically open at 6, sometimes opens a few minutes late, thereby delaying your entrance to the park. Tickets do not need to be booked in advance. The ticket office can ask for ID to confirm your name with your ticket, although they did not ask us for identification.
WHAT WE DID AND SAW IN PETRA
For our main full-day visit, we hired a guide who picked us up at 5:45 AM at our hotel and we entered Petra right at 6 AM! We were the first visitors through the entrance! Our guide walked us from the entrance down through the Siq, pointing out buildings in the rocks as we walked. We thought this walk was pretty easy, but I think that’s because it was early, not hot, and we were excited. The next day we found this walk to be quite difficult…
We eventually made it to the Siq, which is basically a canyon-like walkway carved between huge red rocks. Its very cool, and you can imagine how impressive/terrifying it must have been way back when. Its also where the famous Indiana Jones scene was filmed! The Siq is gorgeous and is one of my favorite parts of Petra. A must see in my opinion! There is not much to do aside from walk and take pictures in this area. The walk is also on the easier side here, as the walkway is narrow and the tall mountains on either side provide some shade.
The Siq flows directly into the small area where the Treasury, Petra’s most famous structure, is located! Be sure to arrive early or visit ASAP to avoid tons of people in your pictures. While you cannot enter the Treasury, you can certainly take a million pictures. There are souvenir stands, which also serve coffee, tea, and soft drinks, in front of the Treasury, as well as people with camels should you want a camel picture. Of course, lots of locals are in the area selling souvenirs, whether at the stand or not. Be prepared to haggle and pay in small bills.
After the Treasury, Petra opens up into a full size city, complete with buildings built directly into the mountains, a Roman amphitheater, and lots of other ruins. It’s actually huge. This area is not as well known as the Treasury and the Siq, but its really cool to walk around and explore. And, this is where a guide will come in very handy. Most of this area lacks any signage and its difficult to know what you are looking at. You can spend hours walking around this area and exploring the various structures. However, its right in the sun and there is very little shade. There are also loads of vendors and small restaurants in this area. Again, bring small bills and be prepared to haggle.
The final point of most people’s Petra visit is the 800 and some odd steps to the Monastery, the second most famous building at Petra! Should you not want to hike the stairs, you can hire a mule or horse to ride to the top. We opted to walk, and honestly, it was not that bad if you are able-bodied.
The walk is littered with little stalls selling trinkets and sodas, so there are plenty of options for a break and some shade. We eventually made it to the top and took a break at the coffee and tea stand directly across from the Monastery. As you can see, the Monastery looks similar to the Treasury, but is slight larger and often less crowded since it’s more difficult to reach. You cannot go inside the Monastery, but there are many photo options around the Monastery!
Post-Monastery, you have two options: going back down the way you came or leaving via the “back door.” We back-tracked on our second day from the base of the Monastery hike (i.e. pre stairs, we did not do the Monastery the second day of our visit) to Petra’s entrance and it was exhausting and very, very hot. We were exhausted by the time we left. Keep that in mind when planning your visit.
Our first day, however, since we had a guide, rather than walk back the way we came, we left via the “back door.” This is basically another hike (we were dying here!) around the mountains that eventually meets up with a solo truck, which takes you over some sand and eventually back to Petra’s entrance. This was cool, and offered gorgeous mountain views, all the way over to Israel, but I would not do this without a knowledgable guide/friend. The trail is difficult and not well-marked. We would have never been able to do this on our own.
And, that’s really it for Petra! Our second day, we simply walked to the Treasury and then generally around for a bit. We took a nap post-Petra both days, as its plain exhausting!
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE IN PETRA?
While you can go to Petra all on your own, my thought is that a guide for at least a part of your tour will definitely add to your trip! As mentioned, there are not many signs explaining what you are seeing and there are a lot of things to “see” that are not in plain sight. A guide will show you these places and give some explanation to Petra and what you are exploring.
We hired an awesome guide, Abdullah Nawafleh, at a cost of $315 for the entire day (he charges by tour, not person). Abdullah is from the Petra area and is incredibly proud of Petra and knowledgable. We got way more out of our visit than we would have otherwise. You can find guides to pre-book online or hire a guide on-site, with quality varying greatly with the on-site guides.
WHAT TO EAT, DRINK, AND BUY IN PETRA
First off, there are many, many places in Petra selling water, soda, coffee, tea, and ice cream. We brought in water, but it was no problem to buy more. Bring small bills. Prices were reasonable.
In addition, there are a number of small restaurants selling sandwiches and lunch type food. There is also a modern restaurant run by the Crown Royale near the base of the Monastery hike called the “Basin.” Apparently its a run-of-the-mill tourist buffet that is also the only place serving alcohol on premises.
We did not eat at any of the Petra restaurants and instead, had our hotel make us a “breakfast box” to eat on site. Most hotels offer breakfast or lunch boxes for tourists to take into Petra. Our boxes each contained a cheese sandwich and a beef ham sandwich, a box of pastries, a mango juice, and a water. Honestly, it was pretty decent. We ate it sitting at some tables looking at the Treasury. This is a good option.
WHAT TO WEAR TO PETRA
Petra is not a religious site and there are technically no rules that you have to cover shoulders or knees, etc. That being said, most of the locals in Petra and Wadi Musa are Muslim and dress conservatively, meaning long sleeves and pants/skirts. I dressed conservatively so as to not stand out, wearing khaki pants, hiking shoes, a white t-shirt, and a Patagonia pull over. Dan wore khaki pants and a t-shirt. While it was hot during our visit, the long pants actually helped keep the sun off of us and were not too hot, even hiking.
My biggest tip is to wear layers, it can go from cold in the morning to sweltering in the afternoon. Also, bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a backpack to carry said layers in. And finally, I strongly encourage hiking shoes, or at least tennis shoes for your visit. All of Petra is on uneven rocks, that get worse the further into Petra you go. We both wore hiking boots and were very happy that we did.
WHERE TO STAY IN PETRA
We stayed at the Petra Marriott, which is located juuuust outside of Petra town. While it would be annoying to walk to and from Petra, Petra is easily accessible from the Marriott Petra via a taxi or the complimentary Marriott shuttle.
We really enjoyed our stay; the hotel is great and the staff was really lovely. The Marriott Petra is home to a couple restaurants, which had excellent food, and the most lovely pool area (though not heated!). We would definitely recommend staying here.
Alternatively, there are a few other hotel chains in the area, as well as some hotels and guest houses right in Petra town. The closest hotel is the Petra Guest House, and there is a Movenpick hotel not too far from the entrance (although there is also one near the Marriott, confirm which one you’re staying at).
A FEW TIPS AND TRICKS
Restrooms are available pretty regularly, but of varying cleanliness. Bring paper and hand sanitizer.
If you are very light on time or have difficulty walking, just go to the Treasury and turn around. That’s a good experience in itself. You can also rent a golf cart for about 40 JOR round trip from the entrance to the Treasury and back. This amenity is supposed to be for guests with particular needs, but I’m not sure how strictly its enforced.
There are flies and bugs everywhere in Petra, and they are so annoying! I suggest bringing some bug spray.
Definitely bring sunglasses, a head covering, sunglasses, etc. to cover up from the sun. It gets HOT in Petra!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Petra: Official website in English.
Mariott Petra: Beautiful property about 5 – 10 minute drive from “downtown” Petra. Very easy to get between Mariott and Petra; the hotel even runs a daily shuttle.
Abdullah Nawafleh, our Petra tour guide: Website of our English speaking Petra tour guide. He was great. Highly recommended!
Naser, our driver (no website): Our amazing driver all over Jordan, Nasser! Don’t go to Jordan without booking him. His email is Naser@viajordanrentacar.com and his Instagram is na_sser1352. I booked him via direct email.