The lost city of Petra is the most visited destination in Jordan. Every traveler who plans a do-it-yourself trip here wonders: how many days do you need to visit Petra?
The question is legitimate, because Petra is a huge site. Imagine a real city of the past, which in its golden years was full of merchants’ shops and monuments, a meeting place for events of all kinds. Even today many attractions remain, which in some cases are located several kilometers away from each other, or at the end of tiring climbs.
This is why in our opinion it takes at least two days to visit Petra, and we personally recommend dedicating three days for a complete tour of Petra. Petra is much more than a photo at the Treasury!
Below are the details on the most beautiful and famous places, and on how to organize your visit to Petra. You can find the exact location of the various points mentioned below on this map we specifically created.
BRIEF HISTORY OF PETRA
Petra is an archaeological site of rare importance, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as one of the 7 Wonders of the World. It was masterfully built by the Nabatean people about 2,300 years ago, who carved the buildings into the rock and managed to bring water to the desert with great ingenuity. Petra was later inhabited by the Romans and the Byzantines, as monuments like the theatre and the church show.
After the Crusades period and due to destructive earthquakes it was abandoned for centuries. But it was never forgotten by the bedouins of the area, indeed, some considered it haunted by ghosts. In modern times, the first European to rediscover Petra was the Swiss archaeologist and explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812. Burckhardt heard of it during an expedition to the Middle East, and once in the region he disguised himself as an Arab pilgrim to be accompanied to the lost city.
An astounding discovery of inestimable value from an archaeological and historical point of view. Nonetheless, it took decades for experts to begin research work. Only in the 20th century did the first official tours start.
WADI MUSA – BASE CAMP TO VISIT PETRA
Although the heart of Petra is in a large valley surrounded by mountains, the area is not technically fenced off. However, tourists access it from a single point, through the entrance gates located in today’s town of Wadi Musa.
As a matter of fact Wadi Musa is your base camp to visit Petra. There are a plethora of hotels and guesthouses in Wadi Musa. From the most comfortable and expensive ones near the entrance gates, to the cheapest and further away, in the upper part of the city. Consider that it is not easy to walk around Wadi Musa because it has many ups and downs.
To avoid the crowds and be among the first to reach the Treasury, look for a hotel in Wadi Musa within walking distance of the gates to Petra, and leave early in the morning (gates open at 6 or 6:30 A.M. depending on seasons).
If you rent a car during your trip to Jordan, you can stay overnight somewhere further away. There are two large free car parks near the entrance to Petra where you’ll find space if you arrive early. Speaking of parking, scroll to the bottom of the post to read the chapter on potential scams in Petra.
In Wadi Musa we recommend the Al-Wadi and Sajiat Al-Janoob restaurants for dinner, offering excellent food and typical Jordanian hospitality (see map).
READ ALSO: What to eat in Jordan, 10 typical dishes
WHAT TO SEE IN PETRA
Here are the main attractions in Petra. These are located along the simple and flat Main Trail, a 4 km long path (8 km round trip).
- DJINN BLOCKS: after the entrance gates, a 1.5 km-long walk will show you the first typical elements of Nabataean architecture. Djinn blocks were built to house the gods. Further on, the Obelisk Tomb is the resting place of an important family.
- AL SIQ: Expectation heightens as you reach the entrance to the Siq, Petra’s stunning gateway canyon. Let yourself be enchanted by its shades of pink and orange, around every bend there’s a new “Wow!”, and the anticipation grows as you approach the Treasury.
- AL-KHAZNEH – THE TREASURY: the imposing facade of Al-Khazneh, the Treasury of Petra, emerges between the walls of the Siq. There are not enough adjectives to describe the emotion and wonder you will feel when finding yourself in front of the Treasury, especially if you arrive here early in the morning before the crowds. The ingenuity and quality of the Nabataeans in digging such a masterpiece into the rock truly left us speechless.
- STREET OF FACADES: continue the route inside Petra. Along the Street of Facades you will begin to understand the true size of the city, and to appreciate more and more the talent of the Nabataeans in excavating these constructions more than 2,000 years ago!
- HIGH PLACE OF SACRIFICE: with the Treasury behind you, the long uphill trail on your left leads to the High Place of Sacrifice. Formerly a place of worship for the Nabateans who used to sacrifice animals here, today it’s a beautiful vantage point to enjoy Petra from above. Plan your visit carefully, it takes about an hour to climb this path. We suggest to come here before 10 A.M. to avoid the blazing sun. If you have more days available, get off on the opposite side and continue along the Wadi Al Farasa path (1.5 km) which will connect you to Qasr-Al-Bint, point 11 on this list.
- NABATEAN THEATRE: continuing down into the ancient city, you will notice the beautiful Nabatean Theatre, dug into the living rock. Inaugurated first by the Nabataeans, it was later enlarged by the Romans who brought its capacity up to 8,000 people.
- ROYAL TOMBS: on the right side are the majestic Royal Tombs. Here you’ll get to understand the nickname “Pink City” given to Petra, thanks to the sandstone striping that offers unique hues. The tombs were used for multiple purposes by the Nabataeans, Byzantines and Romans, and not just for kings. The facades are undoubtedly the most spectacular aspect, each offering different details. The interiors, on the other hand, are mainly empty, they housed the sarcophagus and some space to be used for banquets. But here too the effects of the excavated sandstone are breathtaking.
- THE COLONNADE: at the point where the valley opens up is the Colonnaded Street, or Colonnade. This was the main avenue where commerce in Petra came to life. Part of the original flooring made by the Romans still stands. Among other monuments, they also built a luxurious fountain, the Nymphaeum, to enhance the formidable presence of running water in the desert region. The area of the shops was separated from the sacred one by the Trajan’s Gate, of which the imposing columns remain standing.
- THE CHURCH: to the right of the Colonnade some buildings appear scattered on the hill. The most important from an archaeological point of view is the Byzantine Church of Petra. Here the excavations of the last few decades brought to light the sacred building, dating back to the 5th century AD.
- GREAT TEMPLE: Heading on we get to the Great Temple of Petra. This building too suffered a lot of damage from the numerous earthquakes. Wide stairways lead to the various levels of the temple, whose boundaries were delimited by 120 columns.
- QASR-AL-BINT: Qasr-Al-Bint, or Palace of the Pharaoh’s Daughter, is one of the few relatively intact monuments in Petra. It was built from below, rather than carved into the rock like other Nabataean facades. Over 20 meters high, festive banquets were hosted on the ground floor, while objects of worship were kept on the second floor. In the background, once again excavated along the rock face, Jabal-Al-Habis can be seen, an incomplete construction also known as the Unfinished Tomb. You can walk up to Jabal-Al-Habis and see Petra from another point of view.
- THE TRICLINIUM: Past the restaurants and toilets located in the main refreshment point inside Petra, the Ad-Deir trail leading to the Monastery begins. It’s a 1.5 km-long climb (3 km return) with over 800 steps carved into the rock. If you bring a packed lunch and prefer to avoid chaotic restaurants, stop by the Lion Triclinium, a hidden resting place. Sheltered and off the trail, it is often overlooked, but offers yet another interesting and quiet spot in Petra.
- AD-DEIR – THE MONASTERY: taking up the steps again, pay attention to the many donkeys that are used as mean of transport up and down the path. Your effort will be rewarded at the sight of the great Monastery, the most distant monument in Petra. We are approximately 5.5 km in a straight line from the gates. Enjoy the Monastery for an hour or two. Carved into the rock like the Treasury, it is even more impressive at 42 metres of height. From here some paths lead up to other viewpoints overlooking new wadis, the valleys typical of the rocky desert. There are several bedouin tents in which to shelter and drink tea, here spaces are larger and less crowded.
Consider that the last two points on the list are on a secondary trail, the Ad-Deir Trail, which branches off from the Main Trail.
You will then understand that in order to walk the Main Trail, the Ad-Deir Trail, plus the various detours to the High Place of Sacrifice and to the panoramic points to see the Treasury from above (Al-Khubtha Trail, 3.5 km round trip), you need at least two days to visit Petra thoroughly. Not to mention the Jabal Haroun Trail (to the Tomb of Aaron) or Sabra Trail, which each take up to 6 hours of walking.
PETRA IN 1 DAY OR PETRA IN 2-3 DAYS?
For these reasons, we were happy to have purchased a 3-day ticket to visit Petra.
Firstly, simply to enjoy the site without rush. We had read several blogs explaining how to visit Petra in one day, i.e. walking 20-25 km from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M., skipping some parts here and there. Or by taking advantage of the bedouin donkeys to climb up to the Monastery. Or even using the paid golf carts to quickly cross the Siq, and so on (unfortunately yes, they really have golf carts in the desert…).
Of course this is possible, but it would really be a hasty visit. If you are familiar with our thinking and way of travelling, you will know that we love to do things calmly, authentically and in depth if possible, we don’t like shortcuts, nor falling into the hit-and-run tourist category.
Then, for meteorological reasons: good weather is never a guarantee, especially when traveling out of season (November). So we preferred to extend our stay and hope for a beautiful sunny day. In fact, the first day was cloudy, while the other two we had clearer skies.
Indeed, a few days after our stay, we read the news of a violent storm that flooded the Siq and forced the authorities to close the whole Petra site for a day!
Lastly, to appreciate the site from several points of view and at different times of the day. We walked by the Treasury at six in the morning when it was dark and magically deserted, at noon with the rush of tourists, bedouins and camels, and then at sunset.
HIKING HOURS AND EXPLORING AROUND PETRA
One morning we hiked the Al-Khubtha Trail at sunrise to get to the top of the mountain and admire the Treasury from above. Spending half an hour by ourselves talking to the bedouin in his tent made it really worth getting up early at 4.30 A.M.
We also walked unhurriedly to the Monastery in the afternoon, stopping at quiet places like the Triclinium, and witnessing the mad racing of people on donkeys up and down the way.
Finally, on day three, we had time to walk along Wadi Al Farasa. This is much less frequented than the Main Trail, and we enjoyed the view from the High Place of Sacrifice. In the afternoon we also dedicated an hour to the Petra Museum. The museum is located just outside the Visitor Centre, offering in-depth explanations and artefacts found at the archaeological site.
Rely on the map at the beginning of this article to calculate the hours needed for your purposes. Taking into account the time required for the visit, to snap millions of photographs, to enjoy the place, and to cool off. Count at least 4-6 hours to see the sights along the Main Trail, 2 hours each day to get and return to the Treasury from the entrance gates, plus an additional 3-4 hours for every side trail you decide to take.
Overall, we could estimate between 12-16 hours in total inside the Petra site, to split over 2-3 days. If you only have 1 day available, we recommend staying on the Main Trail, visiting the tombs and the Monastery.
To find your way once inside Petra and get around the lack of phone reception away from the Main Trail, download and use Maps.me‘s accurate and reliable offline maps.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO VISIT PETRA?
The single entry fee to visit Petra is 50 Jordan Dinars (almost 70 €). We strongly recommend securing your entrance to Petra through the Jordan Pass.
Buying a Jordan Pass, which costs between 70 and 80 JD depending on how many days you want to spend in Petra, will allow you to save money on individual admissions. Read our dedicated post on the Jordan Pass here.
Given the time available, it is definitely worth investing those extra 10-15 € to have 2 or 3 consecutive days of admission to Petra and make better use of the money spent.
It is important to note that multiple entries must be on consecutive days. There are no exceptions and tickets are non-refundable.
WATCH OUT FOR SCAMS IN PETRA!
As in all highly touristy places, in Petra too there are scammers who take advantage of visitors.
The parking lots around Petra are free, don’t be fooled by those who will ask you for money to park. The police usually patrol the tourist area at the Visitor Centre.
Be wary of those who’ll offer you a lift (for a fee) to enter from the back of Petra (Petra back-door). Since you will have already purchased the Jordan Pass, it’s better to avoid unpleasant situations getting into the car with strangers. Also, by entering from the back you’d miss one of the most evocative passages of Petra, the path through the Siq which reveals the Treasury.
Let us clarify that it is incorrect to define all the vendors you will meet in Petra as “bedouins”, as they are often individuals who pretend to be such in order to earn money. After a couple of hours in Petra you will already be tired of being pestered with the usual questions. Be patient and always answer with a simple “No, thank you”.
The horse ride, which is theoretically included in the ticket to Petra, didn’t seem like a good idea to us. We have seen the bedouins insistently demanding tips at the end of the promised “free” ride.
Other animals that are used/exploited for photographs or as carriers are camels, donkeys and mules. It is up to each of you to decide whether to rent them, it is not illegal to ride them. Sadly it seemed that locals have no concerns when loading up the animals with weights of all kinds, making them take countless laps up and down Petra. Personally we opted for a simple photo in front of the camels, but chose to walk on our own feet.
VIEWPOINTS TO SEE PETRA FROM ABOVE
Another dodgy situation where everyone makes their own rules are the climbs to the various viewpoints above Al Khazneh. Some “bedouins” insist that climbing by yourself the steep paths immediately adjacent to the Treasury is illegal and dangerous, but it suddenly becomes legal if you pay one of their own to go there. It undoubtedly remains risky, with or without a guide, and there have been fatal accidents in the past.
We therefore wouldn’t recommend going up to the viewpoints from these steep climbs to either side of the Treasury. There you will see groups of bedouins offering themselves as paid guides. If you decide to go there anyway, mind the price. Asking around they quoted us 30 JD, but as we walked away they followed us lowering the offer down to 10 JD (still expensive for a short hike).
Therefore we preferred the long way around, away from vendors and queues to get up. We reached the panoramic point above the Treasury without arguing or risking our safety!
In this other dedicated article we explain how to reach the different viewpoints to see the Treasury and Petra from above.
Luckily, among the various sellers you will find some real bedouins. They are typically kind and relaxed, like the boys who hosted us in the bedouin camp in Wadi Rum. Have a chat with the residents who seem more honest to you, you can support the families who spend their days in the bedouin tents by buying something to drink or a Petra souvenir.
PETRA BY NIGHT
Petra By Night is a tourist show that takes place in the evening in Petra. The part of the Siq around the Treasury is lit with low candlelight. The ticket costs 17 JD (23 €) and has to be purchased separately from the Jordan Pass, at the Visitor Centre.
Reading and hearing different opinions we have chosen not to do so, therefore we can’t share our thoughts on that.
Another attraction you will hear about is Little Petra. It is a small archaeological site, with free admission, similar to Petra but on a very small scale. Indeed it’s possible to see it quickly, even though if you visit it after its more famous cousin, it will inevitably lose interest.
CONCLUSION AND FINAL TIPS
For us too it was difficult to imagine before, only by visiting it we realised that Petra is much more than the Treasury. Al-Khazneh is certainly spectacular and fascinating, but also a bit too mainstream and consequently overcrowded.
It is well worth exploring the rest of the archaeological site of Petra, from the impressive tombs to the majestic Ad-Deir Monastery, and climbing to the more distant viewpoints, to experience even the slightest part of the emotions that a foreign merchant in Nabataean times or Johann Burckhardt two centuries ago could feel, discovering step by step the wonderful city of Petra.
Plan your stay in Petra and Wadi Musa in advance. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, try to leave early in the morning to avoid having to walk during the hottest hours. Bring plenty of water and a packed lunch, comfortable shoes, sunscreen, suitable shoes and clothes.
Happy exploring in Petra!
HOTEL – WHERE TO SLEEP IN PETRA/WADI MUSA
- You can book all your accommodation in Petra and Jordan with free cancellation here.
- Nomads Hotel Petra, modern property, the most beautiful hotel facade in Wadi Musa!
- Movenpick Resort Petra: elegance and location, you can’t get closer to Petra than this.
- Sunset Hotel Wadi Musa: in Tourism Street, at walking distance from Petra Visitor Centre.
HOW TO GET AROUND?
- Car: international car rental companies are at Queen Alia Airport, slightly more expensive than the Jordanian ones which have offices 10-15 minutes away and pick you up at the airport. The cheapest options start at $25/day, petrol costs around $1.60 per litre. With an additional 20-30$ per day on average it is possible to hire a driver for your trip to Jordan.
Check out your options for renting a car in Jordan here (we approve Auto Nation).
- Bus/tour: daily tours to visit Petra from Aqaba are available, although this option leads to a rushed visit of Petra.
- Plane: daily flights connect Europe to Jordan, including low cost carriers Ryanair and Wizzair, to Amman and Aqaba international airports.
CLIMATE&WEATHER – WHEN TO GO TO JORDAN?
Jordan has different regions and climates, with hills, sea and deserts. Although the sun in Jordan feels very hot, the temperature is not always high. Amman is cool in the evening especially in the winter months, being over 1,000 meters above sea level. Even in Wadi Rum the thermal shock is considerable, you’ll need to cover yourself after sunset.
In the winter months there can be severe thunderstorms and flash floods, so as to flood Petra and its canyons. Check the weather before you visit Petra. Snow is also not uncommon in January or February, although it melts quickly during the day.
The Dead Sea is an inhospitable and hot place, don’t stay more than half an hour under the scorching sun. In the same way, we recommend to take baths of less than 15 minutes due to the extreme salinity of the water.
Bring comfortable walking shoes, long but light clothes, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water!!
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