28 Apr Petra Travel Tips + Photos
My impression of Petra: All the wonderful things you have heard about Petra, and all the beautiful photos you have seen in travel guides, are all true. The most visited site of Jordan, Petra is one of the amazing places I have visited. In fact, the grandeur and beauty of Petra exceeded all my expectations. Click here for my photos of Petra.
However, a visit to Petra is not without its challenges. At times, it can be quite busy, hot, and because the entire Petra complex is quite large, it can feel overwhelming. Also, you need to be somewhat physically fit to tackle the hike to the Monastery, which not many tourists attempt, but is an absolute must. Below, I share my Travel Tips so that you can maximize your time at Petra, one of the most unique places on earth.
Click here for my detailed review of the top sites in the vast Petra complex.
What is Petra?
For the uninitiated, Petra is a UNESCO Heritage site, in the southern part of Jordan. It is Jordan’s most visited site.
– Petra is not just one building. It is a vast city-complex that will take at least one full day to explore.
– Petra was built about 312 B.C. as the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom.
– Nabataeans were nomadic Bedouin tribes that roamed the Arabian Desert and settled in Petra. Little is known about the Nabataeans.
– The Nabataean kingdom was absorbed into the Roman Empire in 106 A.D., who invaded the region in 63 B.C. After the occupation, the Romans continued to expand the city.
– In 363 A.D. an earthquake left Petra in ruins. Soon after that, it was forgotten by the world until Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer rediscovered it in the early 1800s.
– In 1985, Petra became a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007 it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world.
How big is Petra?
Petra is not one just site. It is a vast city complex. It’s better to think of Petra as a really big national park with a number of really interesting sites within in. The main sight of Petra (as identified on the map above) are:
1. Siq – the main entrance to get to the Petra Complex. A winding gorge you walk through to get to the Treasury.
2. Treasury – the most famous part of the Petra complex. Treasury marks the beginning of the monuments in Petra.
3. Street of Facades – a ‘street’ lined with tombs and facades.
4. Theatre – Roman-style amphitheatre.
5. Colonnaded Street – the main street of Petra, lined with colonnades and leading to the steps to climb the Monastery.
6. Monastery – a good hike from here onwards gets you to the Monastery, massive building carved into a rock.
7. Royal Tombs – on the way back from the Monastery, admire the stunning rock formations inside the tombs.
Click here for my detailed review of the above-listed sites in Petra.
How much to spend in Petra?
I recommend spending 2 days here. If you are in fantastic shape or pressed for time, then you can do it all in one long day. But to truly enjoy the magnificence of Petra, I recommend doing it in 2 days. There is a LOT of walking and climbing and best to pace yourself.
What I did: I hadn’t realized how massive the Petra complex is so I only budgeted 1 full day. Not a good decision. If I was to do it again, I’d travel from Amman to Petra in the morning and do first half on day 1. Then go back to my hotel and relax. Then go back the next day in late afternoon, finish the rest of the sites and then see the sunset. And hang around and catch Petra by Sunset, when the Monastery and the Siq are beautifully lit by candles.
Which are best months to visit Petra?
Petra can get oppressively hot so it is important which month to choose. Spring (March-May) and Autumn (late September – early November) are the best months. Otherwise, it will be too hot (think 35-45°C) or too cold (blistering winds and freezing nighttime temperatures).
What I did:
I went in early April and it was perfect. The daytime temperatures were hot (shorts, T-shirt, hat) but not oppressively hot. Night time temperatures were cool but not freezing.
How to get to Petra?
Petra is about 3 hours from Amman. You can rent a vehicle with a drive to take you there and back, which is what I did. And to save money, book the hotel yourself rather than getting a third party to do it, who will charge a commission.
You can read about how to get to Petra, and how to move around in Jordan, at ‘Getting Around‘ at my Jordan Travel Tips page by clicking here. And most importantly, don’t forget to buy the Jordan Pass! Read ‘Best way to see Jordan? Get the Jordan Pass!‘ at my Jordan Travel Tips page by clicking here.
HOW TO PLAN A VISIT TO PETRA?
Siq – marks the start of the Petra complex.
Your first stop prior to entering the Petra complex is the Visitor’s Centre. From here, it is a 20-30 minute walk to Petra’s main site, the Treasury. A big part of the walk from the Visitor Centre to the Treasury is inside the Siq, a large winding crack in massive rocks. The crack is about 1200 metres in length, 3 – 12 metres wide, and about 80 meters high. The walk in the Siq is especially magical at sunset when the rocks take on fantastic yellow, orange and red colours and you occasionally see horses pulling chariots along. If you go with smaller kids, then rent a donkey near the Visitor’s centre to make the trip from the Visitor’s Center to the Treasury. The kids that I saw had a blast riding the donkeys.
Treasury – as you near the end of the Siq, next up is the most famous Petra site.
Treasury is the most famous part of the Petra complex and boy, does it get busy! My advice, wait to see the Treasury towards the end of the day. This is when crowds are far less and you are likely to get photos without hundreds of people in it. Also, towards the end of the day, the light gives the Treasury a nice pink hue, making it look all the more magical. So when first arrive here after walking through the Siq, give it a quick look and move on. After seeing all the other Petra sites, on your way back towards the end of the day, then stop and see it more gingerly.
Monastery – After the Treasury, head along the Collonaded Street and go to the Monastery.
Don’t miss the Monastery! Not many people make the effort to climb the 850 or so stairs to the Monastery but DO IT! Yes, the climb to the Monastery is challenging. But as long as you are in reasonably fit shape, you will be fine. The Monastery itself is really stunning but equally impressive are the views when you get to the top. And along the way, you will find vendors selling food, drinks including fresh juices. So you can rest and break your journey.
Should you rent a donkey to climb the Monastery?
One option you have is to ride on a donkey, instead of walking the steps. I don’t recommend this option unless you have major mobility challenges. 2 reasons for this. First, the donkeys are not in good shape. Some are not treated well. Second, it makes for a wobbly, uncomfortable ride. The steps are narrow and made of earth. I saw many people struggling to hold on the donkey as the poor thing tried to shakily navigate the stairs. Unless you have absolutely no choice, don’t rent a donkey. Walk instead. Even if you have small kids. Take periodic rests, take your time, and enjoy the process. (If you do have small kids and they want to ride a donkey, do it when you are going along the Siq, where the path is flat and well established).
Don’t forget to take the toilet paper! As you can see from the photos below, the Monastery and the scenery from the top is fantastic! They also have a restaurant which has decent food and good fresh juices. When I went there, the public ‘bathroom’ up there was absolutely disgusting. It was not so much a bathroom but a makeshift hole in the ground and there was no door! Also, don’t forget to take some toilet paper with you as there was none in the ‘bathroom’.
Royal Tombs – After the Monastery, go along a different route to get to the Royal Tombs.
Don’t miss the Royal Tombs! On the way back from the Monastery, don’t come back the same route. There is a different path which you can take that leads via the way of the Royal Tombs. Unfortunately, the route is not well signed so you have to ask someone. That is what I did. The Royal Tombs are something that not all people visit. But like the Monastery, DO IT! Frankly, there are no actual tombs inside the Royal Tombs. But what makes the Royal Tombs extremely special are the colours of the rock inside the tombs. Purple, green, yellow, blue, black, and every colour under the rainbow! There are a number of such tombs and all of them are spectacular inside! There are 4 major ‘tombs’ to admire: the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, and the Palace Tomb. Make sure to see them all as the colours are quite distinct in all of them.
Roman Theatre was bit underwhelming. Finally, there is the Roman Theatre, which I found a bit underwhelming after seeing all the other amazing sites in Petra. And I had already been to north Jordan, which is you can the more fantastic Roman ruins. The best views of the Theatre are during the late afternoon, during sunset, from atop the area where the Royal Tombs are. What I recommend is after your hike back from the Monastery, go see the Royal Tombs and wander around amidst the majestic rocks in the area. Then find yourself a good spot, sit and relax and enjoy the sunset.