Last November my childhood dream of playing Indiana Jones in Petra came true, and yes, it was just as amazing as I had hoped. Walking through that narrow Siq and having the carved face of the treasury suddenly come to view around the corner was just plain magical, and I couldn’t help but hum the Indiana Jones theme song when I saw it. I was one happy girl! But, while this had been a dream of mine forever, I actually had no idea that the City of Petra was as big as it is. Petra is HUGE and upon finding that out I wondered if I planned poorly. Was 1 day really enough to visit Petra? Turns out it is. One day in Petra is pretty busy and involves a lot of walking but it is oh so worth it. Wondering about how to make the most of the City of Petra in 1 day? Then this Petra guide is for you.
*disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours during my visit to Jordan. All opinions are, as always, my own.
The History Behind the Lost City of Petra
While the City of Petra is best known as being the epic set at the end Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it does actually have quite an interesting history. The City of Petra is believed to date back to 9000 BC and to have then been established as the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom around the 4thcentury BC.
Petra became a major trade hub and, therefore, became a rich city. There are historical references about attacks ordered on the city, but thanks to the location of the city; hidden within the mountains, it was near impossible for anyone to find. The Nabataeans were also geniuses when it came to re-directing water. So they had everything they needed to hide and protect their people whenever the threat of attack came near.
Eventually, though, the City of Petra did fall to the Romans. The population which, at one point was estimated to be 20,000, declined. An earthquake further reduced the population and by the early Islamic era, the City of Petra was completely abandoned and forgotten about by all but the local tribes until it was ‘discovered’ again in 1812 by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss traveller.
Since it’s re-discovery, Petra has fast become one of the most important ancient ruins in the world. It was declared a UNESCO site in 1985 and the treasury was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The City of Petra is the most visited spot in Jordan and has fast become a symbol for the country. After all, who doesn’t want to visit Petra?
How to Get to Petra
The City of Petra is located about 240 km from the capital of Jordan, Amman. There is a daily bus, the Jett Bus, that will take you from Amman to Wadi Musa (the town closest to Petra) in about four hours. The bus only goes once a day, early in the morning, so be sure to plan accordingly. You can find the up to date schedule for the Jett Bus here.
Another option is to rent a car in Jordan and explore on your own that way (many people say this is much easier than trying to rely solely on public transit). Or, you can arrange to take a day trip to Petra with a tour. To be honest, this wouldn’t be something I recommend as you’ll have plenty of driving to do both ways on top of having a busy day exploring the City of Petra itself. It’s best to arrive in the area the night before to ensure you can get a good, full day in to explore Petra.
That being said, there are some great multi-day tours which include Petra as well and are ideal for those who either don’t have a ton of time or who aren’t comfortable exploring on their own. I actually visited Jordan on a press trip with Abraham Tours which is based out of Israel. It was a short (but epic) three-day tour that allowed us to spend 2 nights in a Bedouin camp just outside of Wadi Musa so that we got a full, one day in Petra. Learn more about that tour here.
What is the Petra Entrance Fee?
Visiting Petra is not free, you need to buy a ticket in order to access the site. Entrance fee tickets to Petra can be purchased at the visitor centre and prices differ depending on whether you are a foreigner or a local, and how many days you plan on visiting Petra. Prices also depend on whether you are actually staying in Petra, or have just come for a day trip from a neighbouring country (ie Israel).
At the time this article was written, the 1-day ticket to Petra (for those staying in Jordan) is 50 Jordanian Dinar, which is equal to approximately $70 USD. Current Petra entrance fees for all tickets can be found here.
The Petra entrance fee can be purchased by cash or credit card. You may be asked for ID when purchasing your ticket so you’ll probably want to bring your passport with you as well.
Do I need a Guide to Visit Petra in 1 Day?
Do you NEED a guide to visit Petra? No, absolutely not. Will you want a guide to visit Petra? Well, you might.
As mentioned earlier, I visited Jordan on a three-day tour so we had a guide for half of the day and then free time in the afternoon. As someone who has been dreaming of visiting Petra for years, I was very grateful to have a guide for half of the day to show me the highlights and explain what I was seeing. That being said, I also enjoyed having some free time to explore on my own. If you are interested in history and learning more about Petra, I definitely recommend getting a guide for half a day.
Petra guides can also be hired at the visitor centre. There are different prices depending on where you want the guide to take you (length of time). If you are visiting on your own and are interested in hiring a guide, I highly recommended hiring one of the guides at the visitor centre or arranging something ahead of time with a trustworthy tour operator. You want to make sure you hire a professional who knows what they are talking about.
Getting Around The City of Petra
Technically speaking, there are multiple ways by which you can explore Petra. However, if you are a kind, normal, human being who actually likes animals and believes in their welfare, there is only one.
It’s a lot of walking with some hills and if you are feeling like an explorer, hiking. So wear appropriate footwear and, if you aren’t great at walking, take your time or maybe even consider getting a multi-day ticket. Please do not force the poor horses, camels and donkeys to carry your lazy ass around for you.
Once you leave the visitor’s centre, you will walk for about 10 minutes downhill to the start of the Siq. The Siq is the entrance to the City of Petra; a narrow pathway through towering rock walls about 80 meters high. The Siq is decorated with statues and carvings of the gods. While these artworks have been destroyed over time, they are still visible in some places (if you have a guide, he/she will point the best ones out to you).
While it’s easy to get excited and race through the Siq to get to Petra itself, (while, as much as you can race through a 1.2km gorge), do make sure to stop and take the time to look around the Siq itself, because it really is quite beautiful. There are so many colours swirled together and they change when the light hits them.
Also, keep a lookout for the elephant. Yes, I said elephant.
The Petra Treasury (Al-Khazneh)
The Petra Treasury (also known as Al-Khazneh) is the most iconic part of the City of Petra. As you come to the end of the Siq, stand on the left-hand side to get that Indiana-Jones view when the Treasury suddenly comes into site. It’s pretty incredible.
You can go inside the treasury, though there isn’t much to see, so your best bet is to stand outside and take photos. You’ll get the best angels if you go a bit towards the right (facing the treasury). There’s even a rock ledge you can climb on and get someone to take your photo so there aren’t quite as many people in your pictures.
Unsurprisingly, the area in front of the Petra Treasury is also the busiest part of Petra so expect crowds. If you are really keen on getting photos without dozens of people, you’ll want to arrive first thing in the morning. Check the schedule for Petra depending on when you are visiting and plan to arrive right at opening time. We didn’t go first thing in the morning, but our guide planned for us to arrive at the Treasury for around 8:15 am which is when the sun hit the face of the structure. The sun only hits the building for about 30 minutes in the morning and while it was crowded by this point, the lighting was really nice and you can see why it gets the name ‘the rose city’.
Despite being called ‘the Treasury’, this structure is really just a tomb like the other carved buildings in Petra. It is believed to have been the mausoleum for the Nabatean Kind Aretas IV but got the name ‘treasury’ from a local myth. As you look upon the façade of the structure you can actually see bullet holes at the top on the carved jug-type image. Legend said that bandits hid their loot in this jug-like urn but, clearly, it was just a myth as the carving is actually solid sandstone.
Sadly, the popularity of the treasure is actually damaging it. The structure is carved from sandstone and the humidity created by all the tourists as well as the fact that many people feel the need to lean on, touch, or rub the building, as actually wearing it down. It’s estimated that the façade of the structure has receded by 40mm already.
After you finish at the treasury, follow the main road to the right. You’ll pass a couple more impressive tombs on your left along with a few Bedouin vendors selling souvenirs and drinks. There will be a curve in the road going to the left. Stop following the curve and look to your right for the stairs in the rock. This will lead to some caves and towards the Royal Tombs.
Petra’s Royal Tombs
Some of the most impressive buildings in Petra are the tombs and while they no longer contain any treasures or bodies, they are still pretty awesome to explore. Getting around these tombs will require leaving the main path you’ll have followed from the Treasury and if you are feeling a bit adventurous, doing some scrambling up the rocks and through the caves (this is where it comes in really handy to have a guide). If you do it right, you’ll find this awesome cave.
There are several tombs that make up Petra’s Royal Tombs: the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, and the Palace Tomb. You’ll need to climb more stairs to see them, but they are worth it.
The Tombs are definitely worth exploring up close but are also pretty incredible to see all lined up together from a distance as well. You can see a great view of them when you are back on the main road by the Theatre.
The Petra Theatre and Street of Facades
From your viewpoint up by the Royal Tombs, you can look across and down at the Petra theatre and the Street of Facades. The Street of Facades has a number (approximately 40 or so) small tombs built into the mountain. It is believed that these smaller tombs belonged to wealthy officials. You’ll also find some caves here as well that are quite rough compared to the neat, carved tombs. It is thought that these caves served as a place for family members to grieve for their loved ones.
As you walk past the Street of Facades, you’ll come to the Petra Theatre. It is built in a Roman design but follows the Nabatean tradition of being carved out of the rock. The theatre is quite large and it is estimated that it could hold around 8500 people.
Continuing along the main road past the theatre, you’ll come to Colonnade Street which is really the last main section on the road in Petra. You’ll walk on ancient flagstones and past the ruins of a number of arches and temples. There are plenty of excavation sites still being uncovered along this part of Petra as well as the Byzantine Church and Winged Lion Temple. At the end of the street, you’ll find two of Petra’s restaurants, the Al-Habees Museum, the Archeological Museum, and the path to the Monastery.
The Petra Monastery
I was told that is there is one hike you do in Petra, make sure it’s to the Petra Monastery. I was also told that it’s quite difficult and that the 900 steps in the heat can be pretty hellish. So, clearly, I was super excited about that and really looking forward to it.
Actually, to be honest, I was pretty worried about the hike. A few days before, in Israel, I failed at climbing the Snake Trail at Masada for sunrise. I made it about ¾ of the way up before I had to stop because I couldn’t stop wheezing and coughing (thanks asthma).
Thankfully I had no issues doing the Petra Monastery. It took me a little longer than others (50 minutes total) but I took breaks every 100 steps or so and didn’t rush. It was totally worth it and it really wasn’t as hard as everyone makes it out to be-honestly. Although it did involve dodging quite a bit of donkey shit and a number of donkeys (and the idiots who used them).
The Monastery is one of the most impressive sites in Petra, probably the second most impressive for me (nothing can beat the Treasury for this Indiana Jones fanatic). The best part? It’s not super crowded. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely people- a lot of articles I read online made it seem like I’d escape the crowds totally and that was not at all the case, but there’s more space so it definitely feels quieter and less busy.
Of course, getting to the Monastery itself isn’t the end. You can keep going higher for more views. There are several signs along the way that will tell you this is the best view, no, THIS is the best view. Just go however far your feet will take you, get your photos, and prepare to head back down because, in total honesty, that’s the scary part. Those 900 or so stairs may seem hellish coming up but they are slippery (partly because they are worn, partly because of donkey shit). So take your time!
Once you get back to the beginning of the path for the hike to the Monastery, you have an hour to an hour and a half of non-stop walking back to the Visitor’s Center, so plan your timing accordingly.
For more on the Petra Monastery Hike, check out my non-hiker’s guide to the Petra Monastery.
Other Petra Hikes
At this point, I’d walked about 25,000 steps and was ready to take it slow and focus on taking photos as I headed back to the visitor centre for the 4:30 pm closing time. However, if you still have lots of energy (and time) and are ready to see more, there are a couple other hikes that you can choose from. Or, if the idea of climbing about 900 stairs to the Monastery sounds like your personal hell, you may want to consider one of these Petra hikes instead (though I’m not sure any of these hikes are leisurely).
The Place of High Sacrifice
I’m actually a little mad I didn’t do this hike (easy to say now as I sit on my couch with my feet propped up) after climbing the Monastery because some in our group did and said it was much easier. That being said, I read online ahead of time that it was tricky and took a long time so I really don’t know what to think. Either the people on my crew were total powerhouses or someone online got really, really lost.
The Place of High Sacrifice takes (apparently) about 40 minutes to climb and offers an amazing viewpoint of the City of Petra (though not the treasury) as well as some old ruins. The entrance way is located by the Theatre and there are signs that mark the way.
Petra Treasury Overlook
When I was planning my visit to Petra, this was the hike that I wanted to do. Being a die-hard Indiana Jones fan, I wanted that overhead view of the Treasury. However, after spending the morning with our guide, I changed my mind to go to the Monastery instead for 2 reasons: firstly, he said the Monastery was better (after all, we had already seen the treasury) and 2) he didn’t sound too keen on the hike. He told me there were a couple of different ways. The first was a long round-about loop that would take an hour each way. The second was to go up with one of the Bedouins which would be faster but- it was hard and steep. As he described this option he repeatedly added the words ‘at your own risk’ which was enough to convince me to skip it. Especially since another tourist slipped, fell, and died while hiking through Petra just a couple days before we arrived.
Given that I am not an avid hiker; I am the Queen of Clumsiness, I decided to pass. I didn’t really know where I was going anyways. However, since I’ve come back I have found a couple of very detailed blog posts for the route that, while exhausting, doesn’t sound like a death trap. You can check those out here and here.
Petra By Night
Another popular activity in the City of Petra is to do the Petra at night tour. This occurs only a couple times each week (Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday) but is not included in your Petra entrance fee; you do need a separate ticket.
Essentially, Petra by night involves walking back through the Siq in the dark and coming up to the treasury which is all lit up by candlelight. The photos are absolutely magical and it looks stunning.
My friend that went told me it wasn’t quite as magical as it looked. He said the crowds were INSANE trying to get in and out of the Siq (which is only 3 meters wide at some points) and he was exhausted from already hiking and exploring Petra during the day. So, I didn’t feel too badly about not getting to go, especially since I got to see his photos.
That being said, if you do plan on going maybe take his advice and don’t do Petra at night the same day as you visit Petra. Your feet will thank you.
Food and Drink in Petra
Wondering about snacks and food in Petra? Don’t worry, there are some spots for both. Not too far past the Treasury, you will find several vendors offering souvenirs as well as tea and cold drinks. There are also two buffet-style restaurants for lunch at the end of Colonnade street, close to the start of the path to the Monastery. That being said, prices are higher here and there aren’t places to get food and drink on all of the hiking trails so I definitely recommend bringing your own drinking water (plenty of it) as well as some snacks. If you do plan on buying food and drink in Petra (or any souvenir shopping) make sure to bring cash.
What to Wear and Bring for 1 Day in Petra
In case you haven’t figured out yet, Petra is big and means a lot of walking and hiking. So you’ll need to pack and dress appropriately.
Please, ladies, skip the flowy dresses and cute shoes. You’ll look ridiculous (trust me, our group saw a couple struggling to climb around in their strappy sandals and maxi skirts and it was painful to watch). Yes, you probably want epic photos but pick something cute AND practical to wear. That won’t result in blisters, heat rash, or chub rub.
You’ll want to choose something to stay cool, but also to keep covered. Remember that Jordan is a Muslim country and while Petra is a popular tourist attraction, it’s always best to dress modestly and respectfully.
I wore my dressy sweatpants from encircled (my favourite travel pants) and a longer, tunic style t-shirt that covered my bum. The neckline was a little low on the top, so I paired it with a light-weight scarf like this one.
Leggings also work for women, again I do recommend the longer shirt and a higher neckline (similar to this). Men have it a little easier; most in our group wore shorts and t-shirts. Just make sure you keep your t-shirt ON throughout the day.
For more packing tips, check out my article on what to wear in Jordan.
Another important thing to bring is good footwear. You don’t necessarily need hiking boots but good running shoes with traction are important. I also recommend a thicker pair of athletic socks (like these ones that help absorb the sweat) so you don’t get blisters.
You’ll also want to bring some waterproof sunscreen and apply it regularly, (I went in November and still burned a little bit thanks to sweating my brains out), sunglasses, and maybe a hat. Depending on the time of year you visit, it can also get quite cool as well so it’s a good plan to bring a light sweater or jacket that you can easily take off and put on.
Finally, don’t forget a small day bag to carry your water, your wallet and sunglasses or coat if you aren’t wearing them. I really like this water-resistant day bag that folds up into a tiny pouch when you aren’t using it.
For more on what to wear in Jordan, check out my Jordan packing guide for women.
Petra Hotels and Accommodation Options
The closest town to Petra is Wadi Musa, which really exists thanks to tourism. You’ll find plenty of accommodation options in this area with options to fit all budgets. Some of the top-rated Petra hotels include:
If you have a car, you might want to consider staying in one of the nearby Bedouin camps instead. As with Petra hotels, there are camps suited for different prices. Staying in a Bedouin camp offers a fun and unique experience. Camps have individual tents with proper beds and offer breakfast and dinner. However, they are located about 15-20 minutes away from Petra by car so you will need a vehicle. If that sounds of interest, take a look Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp which is where I stayed.
Final Tips for Spending 1 Day in Petra
My 1 day in Petra was amazing and while I was absolutely exhausted by the end, I’m so glad that I had a full day to explore. That being said, I did learn a few things along the way that I want to pass on to anyone else planning their visit to Petra.
First off, Petra can flood. Like really flood. Like people die kind of flood. So if it rains heavily, the site will be closed to visitors. This happened two days before we arrived and when I heard that, I stressed out quite a bit. After all, the main reason I wanted to go to Jordan was to see Petra and I probably would have full on ugly-cried if I missed it. So, with that in mind, I highly recommend giving yourself some wiggle room just in case. Spend two nights in the area, not just one, and plan another activity for the second day that you can switch around if needed.
There are also plenty of stories online about Petra’s romance scammers. As you explore the City of Petra you’ll notice plenty of Bedouin men who basically look like Captain Jack Sparrow (minus the rum) who will offer to take you on hikes, or to viewpoints etc. Plenty of solo female travellers report that these men try to go further with them. To lure them away, plan romantic activities that include inviting them back to spend the night in Petra (the local Bedouins are the only people who can stay in the City of Petra at night), and introducing them to their family. It’s a game of seduction with the end goal of being a cash grab.
I didn’t experience any of this- mostly I think due to the fact that I was with a guide in the morning who knew everyone. I did have a few local men in one of the café-type tents ask my friend and me to take a photo with them (which we did- we had stopped earlier with our guide and they remembered us) but that was it. Another woman on our tour, however, walked back by herself as she did not do the Monastery hike and she said she was approached regularly by men commenting that she was alone. While nothing happened, she did say it made her feel somewhat uncomfortable.
So, ladies, be wary and on guard. I’m not saying don’t talk to the locals. If you are looking for a specific trail and they offer to take you, that should be fine. Just be smart and don’t get caught up in the moment- treat them like a guide and leave it at that. For those curious, you can read more about one woman’s experience with a local here.
Visiting Petra truly is a bucket-list-worthy experience, and while 1 day in Petra may seem short, you can absolutely see and do a lot in that amount of time. At least enough to feel like you embraced your inner Indiana Jones!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Jordan
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.