Honest Guide to One Day in Petra
First off: Petra is a fantastic place to visit and often appears on wonders of the world. This post is not to downplay how fantastic a visit to Petra is for most people. Instead, it is my attempt to give a real overview of what your experience will be if you are visiting for a day — not just what you would see on Instagram influencer’s posts — along with some of my tips based on my experience.
I won’t get into the history, there are plenty of other resources for that. Basically Petra was a Nabatean city along a trade route approximately 2000 years ago.
Visiting Petra is expensive. The entrance fee (as of 2022) is 50 JD ($70 USD) for one day if you are not a Jordanian citizen. You can purchase a 2 or 3 day ticket for just 5 or 10 JD more. However, you will want to purchase the Jordan Pass instead. This gives you entry to Petra and covers your visa to Jordan and gives you various access to other tourist sites. The cost of this is 70 JOD and saves you money even if you use it for nothing but entry to to Jordan and Petra. You can purchase it online here.
Getting to Petra
I rented a car and drove from Amman which is a bit scary. There don’t seem to be any rules to how to drive in Jordan. You might want to consider either hiring a driver or taking the Jett Bus. There is no airport at Petra.
I decided to stay for one night in Wadi Musa, the town that is at Petra. Petra itself is the name of the historic site; you can’t actually stay overnight in Petra.
I picked the Mövenpick Petra and highly recommend it. It is literally across the street from the entrance plaza to Petra. More than that, it is a really fantastic hotel. I figured it would be a basic tourist hotel but it offers nice rooms and great service. It is part of Accor’s ALL loyalty program.
I decided to get an early start. Petra opens at 6:00am and I arrived around 6:45am. I wanted to beat the crowds and heat and am extremely happy that I did. Make sure you have a good breakfast, put on sunscreen and bring a large bottle of water with you. Also make sure you are wearing good closed-toed shoes that will get very dusty. I wore shorts and saw both men and women in shorts. I would probably advise against wearing really short shorts but I don’t think it is necessary to wear long pants. Most people you will encounter are other tourists.
Your first stop is the ticket office. You must show your passport and Jordan Pass with QR code to get a separate physical ticket. There was a group ahead of me so I had to wait about 10 minutes. Grab a free map from here as well.
You could try picking up your ticket the evening before — I don’t think you would have an issue with that but you should confirm at the ticket window. It might save you a few minutes in the morning.
I would skip the museum and shops; if you want to do those after your visit go for it. I didn’t feel the need.
You will then head down to the entrance gate where you will show your ticket. Remember that you can’t show your Jordan Pass here; you must first exchange it at the ticket office.
I walked/hiked the main route from the entrance all the way to the Monastery. There are other side hikes you can do if you hire one of the guides, but unless you really want that famous overhead Instagram picture, I think the standard main route will do. If you have more days, you could explore other options but I didn’t feel like I missed anything during my visit.
I also didn’t hire a guide; though not for lack of the guides trying. If you want to hire one, go for it. I am sure it would add to the history (but also time) of your visit. I would not recommend hiring a horse or mule — they will tell you that it is free but then expect a large tip at the end. Plus the animals don’t really look like they are having a great time.
I spent 4 hours during my visit (2 hours to the Monastery, 30 minutes to rest and take it in, then 1.5 hours back). I logged 8 miles on my phone app. If you want to stop for a bit longer or take things slower, you could easily spend another couple of hours. If you really booked it and are in great shape, you might be able to do the route in 3 hours but that would be really pushing it.
Below is a graphic that I made of the approximate elevation change of the hike. This isn’t a map that shows the route, instead think of it as downhill/flat/uphill. There are three sections: Entrance to Treasury which is all downhill; Treasury to the end of Colonnaded Street which is completely flat and exposed to direct sun; hike to Monastery which is all up ancient steps.
If you don’t feel like you want a more strenuous hike, you could go to the Colonnaded Street and turn around when you get to the restaurant (The Basin). I did see people of all ages and abilities go all the way to the Monastery, but it is approximately 800 steps up to the site. If you are very limited on time you could just walk to the Treasury and back in about an hour.
Entrance to Treasury
The first section from the Entrance to the Treasury is all down hill. The first section is fairly boring and exposed meaning it gets direct sun. Speed through this until you get to the start of The Siq. If you choose to ride a horse, make sure you agree on a price (it is NOT free even though they will tell you it is included).
The Siq is a narrow gorge that was cut through the rock by river over thousands of years. Petra was a city along a trade route so travelers would have come through this slot canyon 2,000 years ago. It was paved even back then. The Nabateans built a dam to prevent flooding and built water ducts into the canyon walls that you can still see. Where the ancient pave stones are gone, fresh paving has been added to make the trek easy through this section.
At the end of The Siq, the Treasury appears in an opening. This is the most famous part of Petra — if you have seen Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade you will recognize the stone carving.
There are also plenty of locals vying for your money. The main thing that I kept being offered was a guide to take me to a view point where I could get a good photo. There is a well known photo spot so if you need it for your Instagram, go ahead and pay. Otherwise skip this. There is also a small shop/restaurant at the Treasury. Note that you cannot enter the structure so just enjoy it from the outside.
Treasury to end of Colonnaded Street
From the Treasury you head down hill a bit more to the Theater. The canyon begins to open up at this point. There are stalls selling trinkets all the way down the walk.
After you get to the theater, the canyon completely opens up and you are once again in direct sun.
The next section is the Colonnaded Street. This is a completely flat section fully exposed. It starts with the four Royal Tombs on the hill above and is a straight shot to the end where the most legitimate restaurant, The Basin, is located. There are places to explore along the way if you are in to archeological sites; but a good amount can be seen just walking the main road.
Once you get to The Basin, get a bottle of water if you have run out. You’ll need it for the climb ahead to the Monastery or if you are heading back through The Siq.
Hike to the Monastery
Here is where things get real. It is 800 uneven steps up to the Monastery. The good thing is that in the morning there are plenty of shady spots to rest and take a break. There are also plenty of locals with goods and water to sell along the route.
Some people hire donkeys to take them up about 2/3 of the way. I wouldn’t suggest this for various reasons but it is up to you.
The first section is fairly level through sand.
Quickly the elevation begins and the stairs get steeper and steeper the higher you go. The views are great so take breaks to catch your breath and enjoy them. Just try to take a break away from the donkey poop.
I never felt unsafe; it is a well established path and there is never a fear of falling over an edge. There aren’t hand rails so you should be steady on your feet or at least bring a walking stick. With standard running shoes I had no problem with feeling like I was going to slip on the stone steps.
There are many locals that will offer you tea and want you to buy something. Some can be quite pushy but again, I never felt unsafe. Just tell them a polite “no” with a smile and keep walking; once they realize you aren’t going to purchase anything they will leave you alone (or tell you to stop by on the way back down).
Finally you will make it to the top and will immediately forget about the 800 steps behind you.
While not as dramatic as the Treasury with the high canyon walls surrounding it, I found the Monastery to be much more impressive — partially because of the work it took to get there but also because there are no locals trying to get your money. Relax for a while and take it in.
There is a small shop/restaurant opposite the Monastery where you can get tons of types of cold drinks or a snack.
Once you are ready to head back, you’ll retrace your steps and it is much easier on the way down.
When you are done in Petra, you will need to walk back up hill through The Siq to the Entrance. If you are exhausted after the hike, you can hire a golf cart that will take you up through The Siq and back to the main entrance.
Have you visited Petra? What tips do you have that I missed?