Your flight is booked, the suitcase is packed, and you’ve got a frolicking good itinerary for your trip to Jordan. Of course, you must visit Petra! It’s the first thing anyone talks about when you mention Jordan. Petra, Petra, Petra darling! You know you need to go, but you’re not really sure what to expect, or what Petra even is. We’ve got your back! In homage to Karl Pilkington, the idiot abroad who famously visited Petra, we’ve put together this short guide to help you do the same.
Hopefully with a little more style than Karl himself!
- What is Petra?
- Why is Petra famous?
- Best time of the year to visit Petra
- What to see when visiting Petra
- How long to spend in Petra
- What to wear when visiting Petra
- Tickets for Petra
- What not to do when visiting Petra
- Don’t ride a camel, a donkey or get into a horse drawn cart
- Don’t encourage child labour in Petra
- Don’t take any photos of or film any of the merchants in Petra
- Don’t way anyone to see a “special view of Petra”
- Don’t get locked in Petra overnight
- Don’t wear sandals
- Don’t buy any food in Petra (if you can avoid it)
- Refreshments and facilities in Petra
- Can children visit Petra?
- Where to stay in (near) Petra
What is Petra?
“I’d rather live in a cave with a view of that palace, than in a palace with a view of that cave”Karl Pilkington on Petra
Petra is one of seven of the new wonders of the world, alongside the likes of the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge. Many people (us included before we visited) wrongly think it is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, it is not.
Petra is a sprawling paradise, referred to interchangeably as the “Lost City” and the “Rose City”, because it was lost for a period (more on that below), and all of the buildings have a magical pink hue. Like any great city, it has a theatre, a monastery, a spectacular centrepiece (The Treasury), a dam, and a bunch of tombs.
Whether you are a history buff, or just an idiot abroad visiting Petra, the enchantment of Petra is undeniable.
Why is Petra famous?
Petra is famous for five main reasons:
i) It was a “lost city”, until an enterprising Swiss explorer donned some Arabic dress and persuaded a Bedouin guide to help him find it. It’s difficult these days to imagine how we would lose a city, but in 1812 when it was discovered (rediscovered), it wasn’t quite such a shock.
ii) It’s really old – nobody quite knows how old, but there are indications that the land has been inhabited for upwards of 10,000 years.
iii) Two words – Indiana Jones. Mr Jones can be seen swaggering all about Petra in The Last Crusade. Most notably around “The Treasury”, which you are sure to recognise from the movie.
iv) As already acknowledged, Karl Pilkington visited Petra in the hit series Idiot Abroad. Hats off to you Karl.
v) It’s extremely pretty and pink – both of which make it the perfect “Instagram” hot spot.
Best time of the year to visit Petra
The climate in Jordan does vary from season to season. As Petra is near to the South of the country, it can get really hot. If you’re planning to walk around Petra and enjoy it, we would recommend visiting in either Spring or Autumn. A visit to Petra could also be beautiful in the Winter and may be less full of other idiots abroad visiting Petra.
We would suggest that the height of Summer may not be the best time to see Petra in all its glory. You’ll be walking around a lot, often in direct sun light. If you do visit in Summer, ensure that you have ample sun protection and water, and perhaps visit early in the morning to beat the sun.
What to see when visiting Petra
The site of Petra is huge! We would recommend prioritising what you’d like to see if you have time constraints when visiting. Also, a little bit of reading ahead of time, can go a long way when you arrive. There’s not very much information to assist visitors and you could be in danger of wandering around meaninglessly staring at pretty buildings, if you don’t do a bit of research. We’d recommend picking up a very handy leaflet guide when you collect your tickets. You can also find more information here (The Official Petra Visitors Site.)
The Treasury, with it’s intricately carved facade, is undoubtedly the most famous site in Petra. In order to visit The Treasury without hordes of tourists, you would need to visit early in the morning. Many people queue at 06:00 when the gates open, and with a brisk walk to The Treasury (around 2km from the Visitors Centre), it could just be you and the cleaner milling around.
If you’re not that dead set on a snap of The Treasury without photo bombers, or indeed not a morning person, you can still see The Treasury, but don’t expect it to be quiet. However, it won’t take long for you to find other viewing spots and quieter corners of Petra away from the crowds. Fun fact – it is unclear what the treasury was originally used for. Theories range from a temple, a burial ground or a place to store documents (Petra’s bureaucratic HQ.)
You can book a tour of Petra if you’d like to – we didn’t go for this option, but many people do. The pros of doing so are that you will probably learn more than tourists walking around independently. But the downside is that you may end up in quite a large group and won’t get to see as much. The official site has more information – Petra Site Here.
Our favourite spots in Petra
There’s so much to see in Petra, the below were the highlights of the visit for us:
i) The Monastery and the hike to and fro – definitely a must do if you are able to walk this trail (approximately 3kms up some steps), but well worth it for the views and to see the stunning monastery.
ii) The Treasury – of course! It looks like an intricately decorated cake, so beautiful (if you look past the camels and badgering from merchants.)
iii) The Al-Madras Trail– which takes in the “Royal Tombs”. This area is really interesting and tends to be quieter.
iv) Following our nose and climbing up rocks – we did a lot of this. Not really following formal trails, but we found loads of quiet spots for photos and views of the theatre and other interesting Petra bits!
How long to spend in Petra
We went for a 6-hour whistlestop tour of Petra and still felt that we had a good look around. If you’re more an historical enthusiast than we are, then you may want a full dawn to dusk day, or indeed more than one day. The same applies if you’re keen to tackle the various hiking trails into Petra or around. There are lots to choose from including the Al Sabra Trail, which is 10km each way.
We opted for the hike from the monastery into Petra and then continued a nose around, taking in the start of various trails and finding some good viewpoints. This felt sufficient for us to feel that we had seen Petra, but others may prefer more time.
What to wear when visiting Petra
Partly in the interest of taking some good travel blog snaps, partly because I’d been wearing hiking gear for days prior and partly because I had to get dressed in our “lock up” (Japanese Pod hotel – see below), I totally missed the memo on what to wear when visiting Petra.
This idiot abroad, decided to wear a white dress (total blunder) and sandals (total disaster.) We walked 20km around Petra and my feet have still not forgiven me. Determined not to let it hold me back, I successfully climbed up quite a few rocks and trails and somehow managed not to destroy myself, or my dress, in the process. But I don’t really recommend this approach.
Instead, opt for athleisure, hiking and outdoor clothing and sturdy footwear. You can’t go wrong with a hat or headcover to shield from the sun and layers for the morning or as the sun goes down.
If you’re a female traveller and would like more advice on what to wear in Jordan – check out our article on this topic here.
Tickets for Petra
A one-day ticket to Petra will cost you 50 JOD ($70), this is the same price each day, even if you choose to visit for two days in a row. If you’re sensible, you will have purchased the Jordan Pass before you arrive in Jordan. The Jordan pass costs 70 JOD ($98), which includes your entry to Petra and the visa entry fee (normally 40 JOD). So, if you plan to visit Petra, then the Jordan Pass is a no-brainer.
You can also buy a Jordan Pass to include 2 days entry to Petra (75 JOD) or three days (80JOD), which works out as an extra 5 JOD per day. Even if you think you “might” want to spend more than one day in Petra, it’s worth buying the extra day on your Jordan Pass. You can’t make any amendments to the pass once you’ve bought it, so you would wind up spending an extra 50 JOD for your second day. Bad times!
What not to do when visiting Petra
Apart from the obvious, don’t steal anything in Petra, there are some other things that we think you should avoid doing in Petra:
Don’t ride a camel, a donkey or get into a horse drawn cart
If you have difficulty getting around the site, you can arrange a golf buggy with the visitor centre. But otherwise, we would highly recommend avoiding riding on any animals. Not only are there no safety procedures, but it also appears that there are animal welfare problems. The more that tourists support this practise, the longer it will continue.
Don’t encourage child labour in Petra
You’ll find many children working in Petra trying to offer you tours or camel rides. It can be tempting to take them up on this – who can say no to a child? But, doing so only serves to perpetuate the issue.
Don’t take any photos of or film any of the merchants in Petra
If you do this without their permission, they will most likely try to charge you, expect you to buy something from their stalls (probably fairly), or if you catch them on film doing something they don’t want you to record, they may try to force you to delete imagery.
Don’t pay anyone to see a “special view of Petra”
Unlicenced merchants are praying on tourists who want “exclusive” access to viewpoints of The Treasury and Monastery. If you want to do this, then go ahead, personally we chose to steer clear!
Don’t get locked in Petra overnight
Petra shuts at sunset, 4pm or 6pm depending on the season. Tourists have been locked in and Indiana Jones will not come to save you.
Don’t wear sandals
As above. Lesson learned!
Don’t buy any food in Petra (if you can avoid it)
Food is available, but it’s incredibly overpriced and the hygiene practises are questionable. Pack a lunch instead. Your hotel can probably arrange it for you!
Refreshments and facilities when visiting Petra
There are some restaurants in Petra, as well as shops selling water and other cold or hot drinks. These tend to be quite pricey. Within Petra, you’ll pay 1 JOD or more for a bottle of water, compared to 0.5 JOD in Wadi Musa town before you visit Petra.
Controversially, there is also a bar inside Petra – The Basin – where you can buy wine and beer (again on the expensive side.) There’s another bar just outside Petra gates, called The Cave. It’s quite atmospheric, but pricey. We preferred Kilkenny Bar, where some of the Petra merchants hang out of an evening, the prices are better, and they keep the “good cans” of Petra out the back. See our article on drinking alcohol in Jordan if you’re keen to know more.
There are a few toilets in Petra, they can be found clearly labelled on the tourist map. Petra also has a few “wifi” hotspots too.
Can children visit Petra?
The short answer is yes, children can visit Petra. However, taking young children to Petra may be a little like taking them to a VERY LARGE National Trust property in the extreme heat, and hoping for a great day out regardless.
We saw a few children plonked atop donkeys, being heaved up and down some very steep, very stone, stairs. Personally, not something we would do, given the obvious risk of injury. I’m sure most mule rides are trouble free but meandering around Petra on a wonkey donkey without a helmet feels like a recipe for disaster.
The other thing to be mindful of, is that Petra is a general health and safety nightmare. There are random holes in the ground, steep drops and no safety railings. Keep an eye on those tots!
Where to stay in (near) Petra
You can’t stay overnight within Petra itself; no amount of money can buy this experience. But you can stay in Wadi Musa (the town just next to Petra.)
When picking accommodation, opt for anywhere close to the Petra visitors centre. Don’t try to find a place with a “view of Petra”, these don’t really exist and you’ll just wind up in some out of town location which is nowhere near the entrance! A sure-fire way to feel like an idiot abroad visiting Petra.
We stayed at The Cabin Hostel, which is very close to the visitor centre. An interesting place with “Japanese style pods,” more like being inside a very small lockup or a dog kennel. But the location was excellent, and it was cheap.
If you don’t want to stay in Petra itself, consider either Wadi Rum or Aqaba, and take a day trip to Petra.
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