Petra, a true gem! The number one destination in Jordan. The landmark that put the country on the map. World heritage site. A wonder of the world. One of those extraordinary places where man and nature have worked together to create unimaginable beauty. In short, a place you must visit and preferably take your time to fully experience!
- In this article
- Practical info
- The highlights of Petra
- Two-day itinerary for Petra
- Staying in Wadi Musa / Petra
We recommend that you spread your visit to Petra over two days. While it’s possible to see all the highlights in one day, it can be incredibly tiring! Petra is huge, and you’ll be climbing a lot of stairs. It’s also almost always hot, with minimal shade. Finally, Petra is swarmed by thousands of tourists every day, and the crowds can eventually take a toll on your mood. Petra may be one of the main reasons you’re traveling to Jordan, so let’s make it an enjoyable experience!
Parking is free and conveniently located near the visitor center in Wadi Musa, a town that owes its existence entirely to the presence of Petra. Tourism is the heartbeat of the place. There is an abundance of restaurants, although the quality of some is questionable. On a positive note, we found the Petra Night Restaurant quite enjoyable!
Access to Petra is included in the Jordan Pass. When you purchase it, you’ll need to decide how many days you want to spend in Petra (one, two or three). The additional cost for the second day (JOD 5) and, if applicable, the third day (JOD 10) is minimal compared to the total value.
You’ll find several places to eat in Petra, so you don’t need to bring your own picnic. Be aware, however, that prices are a bit higher inside.
The highlights of Petra
Petra has about 850 registered monuments. They are scattered over a large area. However, not all of them are open to the public, and of course some are more impressive than others. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of highlights that are easily accessible and guaranteed to leave you in awe.
1. The Treasury, or ‘Al-Khazneh’, is probably the most famous (read: most photographed) hotspot in Petra. It’s a monumental tomb with an urn on the front that was often targeted by enemy troops who believed it hid golden treasures, hence the name ‘Treasury’. You’ve probably seen photos taken from a higher vantage point. Later in this article, we’ll show you how to get to that viewpoint yourself (for free).
2. The Siq is the narrow gorge that leads from the Visitors Center to the Treasury. This kilometer-long passage is often walked by most tourists without looking up. However, those who pay attention (and lend an ear to local guides) will notice numerous inscriptions and remnants of statues of gods within the Siq.
3. The theater could seat seven thousand spectators and was built by the Nabataeans in the first century. A hundred years later, the Romans expanded it significantly.
4. The Royal Tombs are the largest complex within the entire historical site, consisting of about ten tombs where the kings were buried. It’s exciting that you can enter these tombs, unlike many other monuments. However, we found the tombs to be most impressive when viewed from a distance.
5. The Monastery, or ‘Al-Deir’, is located farthest from the main entrance and requires a robust climb of more than eight hundred steps (unless you opt for the Backdoor Trail, which we’ll discuss below). Inside, crosses carved into the walls give the monument its name. However, it was probably not built as a monastery by the Nabataeans, but rather as a mausoleum.
Two-day itinerary for Petra
We took two completely different hikes in Petra, allowing us to explore this world wonder from all angles. On the first day, we arrived from Dana and started the Backdoor Trail from Little Petra to the Monastery, leaving a little later in the day. On the second day, we were at the entrance at six in the morning to follow the route along the other, much busier highlights.
Backdoor Trail – 10 km – 4 hours
From the visitor center you can take a shuttle bus to Little Petra. The ride is included in your ticket and takes about twenty minutes. Little Petra is particularly enjoyable as a preparation for the main attraction, and the bonus is that it’s much less crowded.
After some sightseeing in Little Petra, you head south on this hike, which is part of the Jordan Trail, a long-distance hike through the country. Despite its growing popularity, you can count the number of hikers on one hand. You’re almost alone in this beautiful landscape, if you don’t count the goats. Enjoy the silence while it lasts!
There are some signs along the way, but we didn’t always find them very clear. It is easier to follow the route with GPS. You can download the map below.
The first 5 kilometers are a breeze, with no significant changes in elevation. After that, the stairs start and you’ll have to climb 150 meters in a short time. Fortunately, you’ll find a few tents along the way selling refreshing drinks (or coffee and tea). The breathtaking views from the “terraces” are a bonus.
The first 5 kilometers of the Backdoor Trail can also be done by jeep. A ride costs 5 JOD (€ 6.5) per person and can be arranged at the entrance of Little Petra.
The last stretch to the Monastery is downhill again. And just like that, after ten kilometers, you find yourself in front of one of the most beautiful monuments in all of Petra! Take a seat, relax and enjoy the view.
After that, you continue towards the visitor center. On the way, you’ll pass many exhausted and red-faced tourists climbing the long staircase. Feast your eyes, because from these stairs you can already see the royal tombs in the distance. Later you’ll pass other attractions, but it’s best to visit them on another day. The way to the exit is another 6 kilometers, so in total you’ve covered almost 17 kilometers.
Highlight Trail – 14 km – 6 hours
We have only just made up the name for this hike, but it pretty much captures the essence of it. This hike does indeed pass by the busier highlights of Petra. However, we’ve tried to take a few more “back door” routes. In addition, we got up before dawn to be the first to enter Petra and avoid the crowds.
Walk through the Siq and you will find yourself in front of the world famous ‘Treasury‘. Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times in photos, it really is something special! At six in the morning, there are hardly any tourists. But there are dozens of ‘guides’, local Bedouins who offer camel rides or take you to a viewpoint for a fee.
However, you can also reach one of the viewpoints on your own (and for free) via a longer but more scenic hike. We recommend this only for the adventurous, as it’s not an easy trail. To get there, you must first pass the ‘Treasury’. Four hundred meters further on, on the left, you’ll find a sign pointing to the ‘High Place of Sacrifice‘. This will lead you up some stairs and along an ascending path. If you download the map below and follow the exact route, you should be able to reach the viewpoint, though it may require some scrambling. If this sounds challenging, it’s better to join a guided tour.
After the viewpoint, our hike continues to the High Place of Sacrifice, several lesser known temples and tombs. Besides the monuments themselves, the panoramas are truly breathtaking. From the elevated viewpoint, you get a sweeping view of the entire site, and the thousands of other visitors below seem like a bustling ant colony!
You will eventually descend to the Great Temple and a colonnaded street. Continue on to the Royal Tombs and the Theatre. This way you won’t miss any of the highlights! Once again, you will have to walk through the Siq to get back to Wadi Musa.
Staying in Wadi Musa / Petra
As mentioned above, Wadi Musa, the town near the visitor center, is full of tourist amenities. There are many hotels for all budgets. We discovered the delightful Nonna Aisha B&B, a small gem. It’s located in a house with a cozy living room and spacious kitchen. There’s also a pleasant outdoor area where you can relax after an exhilarating visit to Petra. The B&B is run by an Italian expatriate with the motto “La mia casa è la tua casa” (My house is your house). In short: you grab what you need!
Spacious, cozy house with ample rooms and a (shared) luxurious bathroom. Very friendly host. Just a 3-minute drive from Petra.
Comfortable, modern rooms. Lovely roof terrace with beautiful view. Within walking distance of Petra (but on a very steep hill). Delicious breakfast.