Petra is synonymous with Jordan. It’s what most people think of when they hear this Middle Eastern country and therefore the highlight for most visitors. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by so many other things Jordan has to offer. But Petra deserves its own post to cover tips for visiting this World Wonder.
I went to Jordan with G Adventures on one of their National Geographic Journeys trips. This fully-guided tour was perfect to understand the history of the region and this ancient city in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do had I visited it independently.
Petra Logistics – What You Need to Know
The entire Petra area is 30 square kilometers – it is absolutely massive and so much more than just the iconic Treasury building.
It’s a 2km walk just to get to the Treasury building from the main entrance. That walk is a mix of flat, concrete paved walkways, sand, giant rocks, and small rocks. There is a bit of a downhill incline on the way in…which means you’re walking gradually uphill on your way out.
Petra at Night – Is it worth it?
I think doing Petra at Night is worth it to catch your first glimpse of the Treasury building illuminated by hundreds of twinkling luminaries. Local musicians and singers perform traditional songs before they light up the Treasury with different colored spotlights. I really enjoyed the peaceful performance under the stars with a gentle breeze.
It is a popular attraction and we got there a little late, so we were on the edge of the mats they lay down to sit on, but it was fine for us. However, if you want front row seats, you’ll have to get there early.
It was pretty magical to see the Treasury lit up at night, but if you already saw it during the day, I don’t think it’d have the same effect as it would for your first look. I also really liked returning the following day and seeing the gorge and Treasury in the daylight because you realize everything you couldn’t see at night.
Petra at Night only takes place on certain nights of the week, so plan accordingly. I would caution you to attempt this if uneven ground makes you nervous. The path is lit by luminaries but you definitely can’t see the ground fully and as mentioned above, the terrain changes quickly, and if you aren’t wearing good shoes then you may find yourself tripping or sliding on rocks. You could wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight, but it would disturb others you are walking near because of the harsh light.
Tips for Visiting Petra
- Go Early – We arrived just after it opened at 6am and thankfully there were only a few others there with us. It allowed us to get pictures in front of the Treasury building by ourselves, which is definitely not possible later in the day.
- Bring Water & a Hat/Headscarf – You’re going to do a LOT of walking in the sun. I walked 30,000 steps the day we went to Petra; likely 25K of that was in Petra, including the optional Monastery hike. You can buy water, food, scarves, and hats inside (along with a lot of other souvenirs), but
- Wear Hiking Shoes/Boots – Aside from all the walking you’ll be doing, you’ll need sturdy shoes or hiking boots to support you on the uneven rocky and sometimes slippery terrain.
- Hike to the Monastery – If you want to see the Monastery, which is even more well preserved than the Treasury building, you need to hike about an hour hike uphill. It took our group about 3 hours round trip since we stopped at a viewpoint to rest for a bit at the top. It’s not a particularly difficult hike, but there are a lot of stairs and if you attempt this in the middle of the day it feels endless under the hot sun. I’d recommend doing this as early as possible in the day.
- Don’t Ride the Donkeys – You’ll see a lot of people touting donkey rides around Petra, and especially up to the Monastery, but the donkeys are not treated well at all, so please don’t encourage the practice by paying for a ride. It may be very tempting, but definitely not worth it.
- Ladies, beware of “Jack Sparrows” – You’ll also see plenty of guys sporting the Jack Sparrow-esque look with black coal eyeliner and headscarf. If they try to come on to you, don’t get enamored by their eyeliner and one liners. If you google “Jack Sparrow Petra” you’ll find plenty of articles on the topic.
- Don’t Bring a Stroller – I saw some people (that looked miserable) dragging a stroller around Petra. It’d be a very bumpy ride at best for the kid and would be terrible to try to drudge it through the sand. If you only want to see the Treasury building then it may be worth it, but getting around the rest of Petra would be a pain. I’d only bring babies you can carry on your back/chest or kids that are old enough to walk for miles…bringing toddlers to Petra would be very difficult in my opinion.
Where to Stay – The Old Village Resort Petra
Our whole group of travel advisors absolutely LOVED this hotel. This historical, family owned resort opened pretty recently. In fact, the owners grandfather was born in a room just off the main lobby! Service is impeccable – everyone I encountered was friendly, always had a smile on their face ,and were quick to crack a small joke.
We had a buffet style dinner and breakfast there – the selection was incredible with a good mix of local specialties as well as some other food that would satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. The curried fish was a standout for dinner and the omelet made to order for breakfast was cooked to perfection.
The expansive property is oozing with local charm. The comfortable rooms are grouped into individual buildings spaced throughout winding paths lined with vibrant flowers that really pop against the neutral stone.
They’ve got an indoor pool and outdoor hot tub, plus a nice terrace and fountain that is perfect to relax in after a long day hiking Petra.
Where to Eat/Drink – The Cave Bar
If you’re looking for a cold one after a long hike, head to The Cave Bar which is just outside the Petra Visitors center. We went there at night to enjoy a drink under the stars.
10 kilometers away from Petra is Little Petra, which is where visitors slept, ate, and conducted business as they made their way along the Silk Road. Little Petra is much less touristy, but I think worth the trip to see some original carvings, dining room, and bedrooms that the visitors to Petra enjoyed.