The mystical sandstone city of Petra has entranced and mystified travelers for ages. Famously described as “a rose red city half as old as time,” this stunning UNESCO World Heritage site served as the capital of the powerful Nabataean kingdom between 400 B.C. and A.D. 106. Petra in Jordan is one of those must see places, but actually lives up to the hype and worthy of everyone’s top “must-see lists”.
I honestly didn’t know that much about Petra, except that the treasury was used for the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It was not until I was relaxing and diving my days away in Dahab, Egypt, did I meet other like-minded travelers who were diving with me that had just visited Israel and Jordan. Well I figured I had no plans in Dahab besides just diving, so why not take a few days off and visit one of the world’s most cherished sights?
I also compared Petra to Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat in my which Ancient city is the best question!
Getting to Petra
From Amman to Petra
Amman is where most people will be coming from. It is very easy to get from Amman to Petra. You have the following options
- Taxi from Amman to Petra is roughly 2 hours and costs 70-80 JD. You can even skip Amman altogether and just get a taxi from the Amman airport straight to Petra.
- The JETT bus takes roughly 3 hours and runs daily from Amman to Petra. The cost is 11 JD. You can take a taxi here from the airport for 20 JD. Overall, this is probably the way to go for solo travelers.
- Local buses: Take a yellow taxi from the street to Amman to South Bus Terminal “Mugama Al Ganoobee” “مجمع الجنوب” and from there take a bus to Petra bus station. The price should be between 3 to 5 Jd per taxi ride,and the bus charges 5 JD per person/ one way trip. The best to be there before 2 Pm , this Bus will stop at Villages and Universities it is not a very comfortable ride but it is the Local way! This is by far the cheapest way
From Aqaba to Petra
If you find yourself diving in Aqaba, there are regular buses to Petra as well. With a taxi, it is about 60-70 JD. There are no charter buses that make this journey anymore. The only option for public transportation is to use a local bus. These buses are actually more comfortable than most of the local buses I’ve taken in the past and are by far the cheapest way to get around Jordan. From Aqaba, a one way ride to Petra should be no more than 5 JD.
From Israel (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv)
Many people visit Jordan as a combo with Israel. The countries border each other and enjoy a peaceful border. From Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the best way to visit Petra is to join a tour for those short on time. They have day trips which go to Eilat, and then to Petra. This is a lot of traveling in one day so I would recommend at least a night in Petra.
If you’re DIY, then take a bus from Jerusalem to the King Hussein bridge border crossing, and after crossing the border, take another bus to Amman. Alternatively, you can fly direct from Tel Aviv to Amman but this will cost upwards of $300 USD for a one way flight.
Dahab to Israel to Jordan by Land
Conventional wisdom says to just fly into Amman, Jordan’s capital city, and take a bus or taxi to Petra but as I was already in Dahab, a flight would have had to go to Cairo, and then to Amman and would have costed me loads of money.
There are a few ways to get from Dahab/Sharm El Sheikh to Petra in Jordan:
By Ferry from Egypt
This was my initial plan as there is a ferry that goes from Nuweiba (40 minutes north of Dahab) to Aqaba, a port town in Jordan. From Aqaba, taxis will then take you to Petra. This sounded easy enough but I heard from numerous locals that the ferry was expensive ($100 one way), does not run frequently, and is just incredible unreliable. Nevertheless, it is one method to reach Petra.
By Land from Egypt
Having spent weeks in Dahab scuba diving, I wanted to check out the ancient city of Petra. Dahab to Eilat to Petra. Egypt to Israel to Jordan. The land route, in short, is done by traveling through the Sinai peninsula to Eilat, Israel, a taxi to the Israel/Jordan border, and then at the Jordanian border, taking a taxi or bus to Petra. It’s not a journey I’d recommend for the untraveled, nor for the unprepared, and certainly not for those strapped on time! But it’s totally worth it, just being able to spend some time in Israel.
There are many intricacies to note, especially crossing into Israel and paying the exit taxes, and preparing to be interrogated by the immigration officials. Alternatively, you can skip crossing Israel altogether by just taking the ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba. I wrote a separate article detailing exactly how to cross the borders between Egypt, Israel, and Jordan to make it to Petra!
Preparing to Hike Petra
Petra is Jordan’s most famous tourist attraction. One of the new 7 wonders of the world, this place is on everyone’s bucket list and for good reason. It is one of the most spectacular ancient sites I’ve ever seen, and in my opinion, is a superior attraction than the Pyramids of Giza I saw weeks earlier. Petra is actually a town, with the tourist attractions being located inside the town. The town itself is any normal mountain town with local Jordanians leading their every day lives. Naturally, tourism is probably the biggest industry in this town, but you still get a sense of the local living here which I enjoyed.
There are plenty of hotels and restaurants of all different price ranges. I didn’t bother with any of the nice restaurants in this town but I did have some of the best falafel of my life just walking through the streets. Most vendors would see me gazing at their falafel stands and offer me free pieces. Sandwiches with maybe 6-8 pieces of falafel cost 1.5JD ($2) so after trying one, I’d just get the full sandwich because it was so damn good. I’d wolf it down and move to the next stall I saw, and repeat the process until I was eating on a full stomach.
Some history on Petra
Petra was built several centuries B.C. by the Nabataeans as the capital of their civilization after it had been inhabited several centuries before by various civilizations. The place flourished under the rule of the Nabataeans. Their kingdom stretched from the Sinai in Egypt through Jordan, Israel to Syria. Their economy was mainly based on trading and their capital Petra was the connecting point of several trading routes in the region now called Middle East. After the Nabataeans it was ruled by Romans and Byzantines but the city got forgotten over time. Only in 1812 it was that western civilization found back this forgotten city and it became once more a highlight in the Middle East.
Entrance tickets are expensive, be prepared to pay 50 JD each person ($70) for a one day entrance. I only stayed for one day but a two day pass is only 5 JD more at 55 JD and 3 days is 60 JD. I wish I spent another day in Petra. There is so much to see and do that one day doesn’t seem enough. If I could do it again, I would definitely do the two day pass. It is so beautiful here that a second day will be just as incredible as the first.
What to wear and pack
I visited around Christmas time and the temperatures were very favorable for hiking. Day time temperatures were maybe 15 to 20 degrees at the peak with night time temperatures being significantly cooler. When I set out in the morning, I had long pants and a light jacket as it was brisk. As I knew I would be hiking all day and there wouldn’t be a cloud in the sky, I packed a change of clothes to shorts and short sleeves. This was the best move because as soon as I started climbing the monastery at around 7:30am, I could feel the heat and immediately changed into shorts. The rest of the day was warm enough to be in shorts!
As for the rest of the year, the temperatures can soar to 35 degrees during the day. This means it will be extremely hot, and the sun will be extremely strong. Make sure to pack ample amounts of water and sunscreen for the heat.
There is a restaurant within Petra but expect to pay extra touristy prices here. I packed two falafel sandwiches (at 2JD each) that I picked up in the morning from a local restaurant near my guesthouse. It was absolutely delicious and just what I needed for food. Be sure to pack at least 1L of water. There are places to purchase water near the Treasury, Monastery, and the main restaurant as well so you won’t go thirsty.
Where to stay
There are a ton of choices in the town of Petra for you to base yourselves. All budget options are available as well. I stayed in a guesthouse for about 25 JD a night which included my own room, bathroom, and breakfast was included. However, for the ultimate experience, I will be booking with the Petra Bubble Luxotel next time which looks absolutely stunning with views of the nearby Wadis.
Hiking through Petra
From the visitors center you can walk only one way, through the Siq. You will get lots of times the question asked to take the horse (actually included in the ticket but be prepared to tip!), camel or donkey. If you decide to take a ride make sure you negotiate a fixed price before taking it and make sure they understand that price is including the tip. Being the fit individual that I am, I calmly brushed off the gestures and went about my way.
The Siq is a narrow gorge through the mountains functioning as the entrance to Petra today. In ancient times, this was a wadi with water flowing towards the city. The trick to Petra is to come EARLY. Petra opens at 6:00am and I made sure to get here shortly thereafter. Even so, there was a huge Indonesian tour group at the entrance so I made sure to pick up the pace so I could get to the main sights before them. After a half hour walk through the Siq, the scenery is amazing but colorful. I take some pictures, continue walking and then, BOOM. The Treasury is upon me.
Wow. Just simply wow. I’d seen so many pictures of the Treasury, and of course in Indiana Jones but it never seemed to be that impressive of a structure. Stand next to it, marvel at its amazing architecture and just feel how small you are compared to this massive spectacle of human engineering.
The Treasury was a crypt and mausoleum and has one of the best preserved facades in Petra. A lot of details still remain but many are eroded over time by water and wind. The Treasury is probably the most photographed structure in Petra and many people think that the Treasury is Petra but there is so much more. From the Treasury continue walking the gorge which then opens up and you can admire the full view of the city of Petra. It was a good decision for me towake up early and scurry past the large tour group as I got to take pictures like these:
Now most people would continue on to see views of the city of Petra but I met two Dutch guys, one of whom had been to Petra once before and said we needed to hike up the mountains to the Monestery, an even more impressive monument than the Treasury. Already amazed by the Treasury, I couldn’t imagine anything more impressive, and the two guys seemed cool, so what the hell, why not have some hiking companions?
From the Treasury, we walked another half hour to the base of the mountain. The hike is another 30 minutes to the top, and many people elect to take donkeys up (paid of course). The hike isn’t difficult in my opinion but I did it in winter, with a change of shorts, knowing that even though the temperatures are low, the sun and the physical activity would make shorts a very welcome addition. I could only imagine how miserable it’d be to hike up this mountain in the summer when temperatures can get to 40 degrees. Nevertheless, we made it up with relative ease and what a GREAT decision this was.
The Monastery is absolutely marvelous. It’s even bigger than the Treasury and located high up in the mountains, surrounded by panoramic views of the region. It’s over 50m high and 50m wide and is truly a breathtaking piece of architecture. How these ancient Nabateans chiseled these defined structures into the mountain rock is beyond me, but I thank them for it so guys like me could marvel at its glory 2000 years later. There’s a little tea shop with outdoor seating right in front of the Monastery.
I’m glad I took the Dutch guys’ advice as we were the first people here for the day. We arrived around 9:30am and laid on the couches provided by the little shop and just stared at the Monastery, enjoying a much deserved rest. Of course, we also took numerous pictures in front of the Monastery without a single soul. The best pictures of the Monastery are when the sun shines on it. We were too early for this so it worked out for us to just chill in front of it for two hours.
From the Monastery, it’s another 10-15 minutes to the peak, where stunning views of Petra, and the deserts surrounding the region await. There are a few peaks to choose from and each one is just as stunning.
Just before noon, we descended the mountain to check out the rest of Petra. These included the temple, the various Roman ruins, the Church, Royal Tombs, and the Theatre. It’s difficult to describe why I felt so much more affinity towards Petra than I did the sights of Egypt. Perhaps it’s because most of Egypt’s main attractions are located near large cities, heavily commercialized, and just felt less authentic. I really felt like I was walking around an ancient town whilest in Petra, despite the abundance of tourists as well.
Hike the Al-Khubtha Trail
This was another hike you can do to visit the iconic views of the Treasury from above. The hike starts from the Royal Tombs and you’ll need to veer off slightly by following all the signs pointing towards Al-Khubtha. The hike is long, but is quite easy as the elevation is not as steep as the Monastery. It’s just 600 manageable steps! The view from the top is nothing short of amazing however!
Walk to the high altar of sacrifice
My two dutch friends had to leave the same day for Aqaba so we said our goodbyes in the early afternoon after walking through much of Petra. I wasn’t ready to call it a day and asked around for what else I should see. The high altar of sacrifice topped the list. Perched up at the top of one of Petra’s mountains with more stunning views of Petra, this was where the ancient Nabateans sacrificed animals to the Gods. It’s unclear whether they sacrificed humans however!
The walk is about 30 minutes through steep steps. There are local people selling souvenirs all over Petra and I ended up talking to one for awhile on this mountain. Turns out, they routinely walk these mountains every day! Eventually, I made it to the top and at the top you will find the altar of sacrifice, some obelisk and a few other structures. The views on the top are amazing and I ended up just passing out at the top and waking up just in time for the sunset. What an absolutely amazing day.
It wasn’t over however.
Petra at night
One of the popular activities in Petra is to see the Treasury at night, lit up by hundreds of candles. After scarfing down some falafel and schwarma I immediately left to return to Petra for the night viewing. The cost is 18 JD, which is steep for a 2 hour exhibit, but I was already here and half of the guesthouse was going. We walked back through the Siq, where I had been 12 hours earlier, and the entire Siq was lit up by candles. Beautiful. Eventually, we made it to the Treasury, where hundreds of people were gathered, sitting down behind hundreds of candles laid out in front of the Treasury. It’s a completely different view of the treasury at night, but one I think is well worth the 18 JD. We sat, watched some Bedouins perform some traditional music, drank traditional tea and just soaked in the views.
After it ended, we all went to the cave bar in the hotel right next to the entrance of Petra. Yes, it looked like a cave too, similar to some bars I saw in Cappadocia. Being the tourist attraction that it is, we paid the premium. Nevertheless, we all had beers, and of course, copious amounts of shisha.
In the end, I was satisfied with what I saw of Petra in one full day. I had originally planned to do a guided tour that left from Dahab Egypt, but I was glad I did it on my own. Not only was it cheaper, but I met so many cool people, and although I didn’t have a guide teaching me the history of the place, there’s no way I could have seen half of what I did if I had other people slowing me down. Ideally, I’d recommend two full days for Petra but it can be done with PLENTY of walking in one day, as is demonstrated by the following photo:
Petra One Day Itinerary
Here is my recommended itinerary for maximizing a one day visit to Petra. Alternatively, this can easily be split into two days for the less masochistic travelers out there. I did hike 30km in one day which I know is not for everyone! Also, I went in the winter time when the temperatures were perfect. I would never attempt this during the summer months.
6:00 – Eat Breakfast, buy falafel sandwiches from local vendors for the day ahead
6:30 – Arrive at Petra, walk through the Siq
7:00 – Arrive at the Treasury, take photos and enjoy peace and quiet
7:30 – Arrive at the base of the Monastery
8:15 – Arrive at the Monastery after hiking the mountain. No one is here so relax and enjoy the views with some morning tea
9:30 – Climb to the top for some views of the surrounding Wadis
11:00 – Descend from the Monastery and visit the surrounding monuments like Royal Tombs and Roman Ruins
12:30 – Eat Lunch, rest, and continue exploring the stuff above
13:30 – From the Royal Tomb, hike to the top for the famous Treasury overlook views. Follow the Al Khubta trail for this view! All in all, this took me approximately 45 minutes to reach the top, and another 30 minutes to come down.
15:30 – Hike up the High Altar of Sacrifice to enjoy the sunset
18:00 – Return back to my hotel to eat dinner and rest
20:30 – Return for the Petra at night
22:00 – Petra at night is finished. Have some shisha at the local cave bar with people I met
23:00 – Time for bed before waking up to go to Wadi Rum the next morning!
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