I’m just going to put this out there now- Petra is my all time favourite place to explore in the whole world! Aside from the insane beauty and history of the Rose City, the absolute freedom that you have to wander and explore the site makes this wonder of the world is like no other place on earth.
I first visited Petra in 2010 and spent a packed day rushing around to take in as much as possible. I knew I’d be back- some places are just too awe-inspiring to visit once. I finally made it back to Jordan in January of 2018, and had an amazing two and a half days re-exploring Petra. If at all possible I definitely recommend more than a day to discover this unique archaeological site. So here is an outline of how I’d recommend spending 2-3 days exploring the site. I’ve also included some tips at the end to help you make the most of your experience.
Me in 2010 on the left and then in 2018 on the right… not much has changed in the background… clothing or pose!
Day 1: See Petra first by Night
This was a real novelty on my second trip and something completely different from my first visit. Tickets can be purchased from the visitor center and this is where the tour starts. The path leading into Petra is beautifully lit by lanterns and once you reach the Treasury building the lanterns become a sea in front of the famous facade. The Treasury is as far as you’re allowed at night, probably a good thing as it was extremely dark the night we were there and even with the lanterns you had to be careful not to trip over.
The Treasury building itself is lit up with rotating different coloured lights, which provide an interesting and somewhat eerie feel to the place. Sweet tea is served while you sit and enjoy some local entertainment in the way of songs and stories. Unfortunately, I found this aspect overly touristy and drawn out, but overall the evening was a unique experience. I definitely recommend this as a different way to see Petra and appreciate the spectacular sight even more in daylight the next day.
Day 2: Start early and explore the furthest reaches
The main path
On your first full day, start early and visit the most popular sights on the main road before other tourists arrive. The site is open from 6am to 6pm daily in summer (6am-4pm in winter) and I recommend going as close to opening time as you can. As the day wears on these easily accessible sites will become progressively busier, so it’s much more enjoyable to explore first thing before the crowds arrive. Some popular sites on the main trail include the Treasury (now even more spectacular in daylight), the huge Theatre, the Street of Facades and Royal Tombs and then further along to the Colonnaded Street. It’s 8km from the Visitor Center to the end of the main trail, marked as the red path on the map below.
Once the main sites start to become busier it’s time to explore the more remote parts of Petra. I’d recommend first visiting the Monastery, as I think this is the most stunning facade in Petra and you don’t want to miss out on it! It’s also one of the most popular longer walks in the site, so again setting out relatively early will give you some quiet time in this beautiful place before others arrive. The Monastery trail is a further 2.5km from the end of the main trail.
Tip: continue on past the Monastery to the self proclaimed ‘best view in the world’. There are several of these signs pointing to high lookout places where locals also set up little gift stores and chai tea stops. They’re not lying about the view either- it’s spectacular and the cushioned cafes are the perfect spot to re-energise and take in the view.
The Roman Soldier’s Tomb
Depending on your energy and enthusiasm, I’d then recommend exploring the lesser visited tomb of the Roman Soldier on the way back from the Monastery. From the exit of the Monastery trail at Qasr al-Bint, take the High Place of Sacrifice Trail to Wadi al Farasa. I loved this place, as it felt completely abandoned and like we were the first ones to discover the tomb. The High Place of Sacrifice Trail is 3km and ends between the Theatre and Treasury on the main trail. There are many steps, so this is one of the more challenging trails in Petra.
Day 3: Climb high for incomparable views
Today is all about stunning views from above. These trails all require a good level of fitness, so if you’re not up for the climb in the heat, exploring further details of the main trail may be a better option. Again, it’s best to arrive before the crowds arrive and make a start on the Al-Khubtha Trail. This trail is 3.5km and is the hardest one we dd in Petra, as it’s pretty much all uphill. But the view from above is well worth the effort, as you look down on the Treasury from above. Again, there’s a cafe at the end of the path to reward your efforts and quench your thirst as you take in the stunning views.
If you then have time and energy, and didn’t visit the High Place of Sacrifice on Day.2 then this would be another opportunity for stellar views.
If you are staying in the area the prices are as below, otherwise if you are only visiting for the day the entrance fee is 90 JD. You’ll need to show your passport when buying the tickets.
|One Day||50 (J.D)|
|Two Days||55 (J.D)|
|Three days||60 (J.D)|
Stay in the town of Wadi Musa, up the hill from the archaeological site. Many hotels offer free shuttles to the site in the morning, and if not it’s about a 45min walk to the visitor center, depending on where your hotel is located. There are some expensive hotels right next to the visitor center, like the Crown Plaza and Movenpick Resort- so if you’re budget allows, then these are probably more convenient options. We preferred to stay up on the hill in the heart of Wadi Musa as it was both budget friendly and had more of a local feel to it.
It’s hot and glarey, even in the cooler months, so make sure you take a hat, sunscreen and some snacks and water.
If you can, go in low or shoulder season, as you’ll have many of more distant trails completely to yourself
Bartering- there are little market stalls set up throughout the site. If you want something then it’s customary to barter. Remember you have to carry everything with you, so ideally buy any souvenirs on the way out. Be warned- if you use this as an excuse not to buy something, the sellers will remember and pester you on the way out. If you’re not interested then just smile and say no thanks and walk on.
At the end of a long day exploring in the sun and dust, revive at one of the Turkish baths on the way back to the main town. We got scrubbed, soaked and massaged for an hour, which was not only a wonderful insight into the local bath culture but made the flight home that evening so much more enjoyable after the desert dust was scrubbed away!
For more information on Petra visit this official page.