How to Best Explore Petra, Jordan

Surprisingly this is our first post about Petra. We’ve covered quite a bit of the rest of Jordan as you’ve probably seen, but I felt it was time to post something about Petra, especially as tourism to the site continues to grow month over month. The world famous Nabatean city of Petra is, of course, the biggest single draw to Jordan, and rightly so as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This makes Petra a must-see for anyone traveling to the Middle East let alone just to Jordan. I’d be shocked if anyone has visited Jordan for vacation and didn’t make it to Petra. Please comment below if you fall into that category. I’d be curious to hear why.

Jordan’s current tourism boom means Petra and the neighboring village (Wadi Musa) are filled with visitors from across the world. This is, of course, good news for the part of the economy that depends on tourism like hotels, guides, restaurants, etc. However, it can or will have a negative effect as infrastructure could be strained and the cost of goods goes up, which will impact the tourist experience and locals too.

The Treasury

The Treasury

Where to Stay in Wadi Musa (Petra)

The village of Wadi Musa, where the main entrance to Petra is located is where the vast majority of overnight visitors to Petra stay. The village has changed a lot since I first visited 12 years ago. There’s been a lot of development and the average hotel rate has gone up considerably. Places that were once considered “Peace Corps” hotels, because they were affordable now go for over $100 a night. On a side note, in case you didn’t know Peace Corps Volunteers aren’t given very large stipends and thus are experts at locating deals.

In the past six months, I’ve stayed in Wadi Musa twice, once close to the entrance to Petra and the other time up in the village of Wadi Musa. Both locations, of course, have their pros and cons. Staying down the hill close to the entrance means it’s easier to access the site, the main reason you’re in town, but this comes often at a steeper price per night. You can opt to stay up the hill in Wadi Musa where the rates are lower, but this requires a 20-minute walk or transportation down to the entrance and honestly after hiking all day who wants to hike another 20 minutes uphill to their hotel or pay for a taxi.

Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Amman

Back in November my brother and I (Albert) stayed at the Petra Palace Hotel, which given the location (4 mins from the entrance), cost ($50 a night) and a large buffet breakfast were all perfect. The weather wasn’t good enough to enjoy the pool, yes they have an outdoor pool! I should note the room was basic and ok for the night. Another advantage of staying here is the number of restaurants nearby.

I also recently stayed at the Al Anbat Midtown Hotel in Wadi Musa, which was just ok overall. The room was fine and the location for being in the town was good as many restaurants and shops were close by. I thought it was a little expensive ($65 a night) and the breakfast was, again just ok. Overall I would only stay here again only if the rate at Petra Palace Hotel was that much higher as it was during our recent stay. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and stay closer to the entrance.

 

Petra, Jordan

Petra’s strategic geographic location meant the city thrived as a center of trade and was easily defended, and thus is why much of the historic city has been so well preserved, making for an awesome visit. In my opinion, the most spectacular part of going to Petra is the first glimpse you catch of the Treasury, the most iconic image of Petra. What I love most is the winding walk through the Siq (canyon) and the anticipation of catching that first glimpse of the Treasury with each turn you make, until “pow” there it is.

One piece of advice is to get to the Treasury early or late in the day. This is when the crowds are fewer and the lighting better making for much better photos!

The first glimpse of the Treasury from the Siq

The first glimpse of the Treasury from the Siq

While the Treasury is the landmark that defines the image of Petra to the world, there is as you’ll discover so much more to see. Enough to easily spend more than one day exploring Petra. If you’re able and have time the Monastery, Petra’s largest monument is just as impressive but, it requires a moderate hike up a mountain. The views from up there though are well worth it if you can make it.

The impressive Monastery

The impressive Monastery

Before you reach the Monastery though you’ll walk past other impressive and often overlooked ruins of Petra. As you continue past the Treasury and walk along the Street of Facades you’ll find an entire city that can easily be explored. You’ll first encounter an impressive Nabatean Theater on your left while on the right-hand side you’ll see built right into the face of the mountain several ruins of tombs, known as the Royal Tombs. You’re able to climb right up to see several of the Royal Tombs up close. In fact, how much you’re able to explore Petra is really impressive and one feature I think may ultimately threaten the site. While you’re no longer able to go inside the Treasury or Monastery several of the lesser known sites can be explored. Which over time will erode the structures, especially as the foot traffic through the site increases. It’s worth mentioning many measures have been put in place to restrict access since I first visited 12 years ago. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before everything is closed off to the public.

The Royal Tombs

The Royal Tombs

After the Royal Tombs, you’ll enter a wide area where several other impressive ruins are spread out. There are two Byzantine churches, the Great Temple, the Winged Lion Temple, the Nymphaeum, and the Temple of Dushares, the most impressive and incredibly well-preserved of the ruins located in this area. To reach this point of the site it’s a fairly easy and flat walk. From here though, the walk starts to become a little more strenuous in either direction you take.

Overlooking Petra

Overlooking Petra

If you do make it up to the Monastery the location provides for some spectacular views of the mountainous rugged landscape of southern Jordan.

For those who love hiking, there are several great trails throughout the park which range anywhere from 4 - 7 hours and easy to difficult conditions. Getting off the main path is the perfect way to escape the crowds and see some of the lesser visited sites. For more on the range of hiking trails in Petra read here. You’ll also find a lot of information at the visitors center with a large map of Petra to give you a better idea of the hikes. Some of the trails are long and often strenuous hikes which means there are far fewer visitors to these parts of Petra. If you have time and are visiting Petra for more than one day I’d highly recommend checking out some of the trails.

Read: Why you should go to Wadi Rum

One part of Petra we have yet to explore, but from what have read and heard is a must is up to the Renaissance Tomb, The Tomb of the Roman Solider and The Garden Temple. Since this is a little off the beaten path you’ll find fewer crowds, but the hike is a little strenuous.

The view from the Monastery

The view from the Monastery

A trip to Petra really is a must for any first-time visitor to Jordan. Personally, I’ve been 5 times and still haven’t seen everything. One thing I highly recommend is experiencing Petra at Night (separate ticket can be purchased), which we also have yet to do, but plan on doing the next time someone comes to visit us. Go ahead and Google Petra at Night and check out the images. It looks amazing, doesn’t it? The other thing I recommend is getting a multi-day pass if you’re big into hiking and have time in your itinerary. While you can accomplish all the major attractions in one day, a multi-day pass will allow you to go a little off the beaten path.

Petra truly is an amazing site and one that cannot be overlooked. While it has become increasingly popular to visit we’ve given you some suggests and recommendations to help you have an enjoyable visit to Petra.

All photography by Albert Bond