Ultimate Guide to Petra

Petra: One of the many highlights of Jordan. The iconic Treasury was featured in Indiana Jones and the last crusade and I don’t know anyone whose seen that movie and not dreamt of visiting this place since. Petra is so much more than the Treasury however; it’s miles and miles of wonderful archeological sites and definitely requires more than a day if you actually want to cover all the trails and see all the major points. Don’t worry though if you only have one day- just make it a full one and follow the tips below to get the absolute most out of visiting this once in a lifetime place.

Table of Contents:

Tips for visiting Petra:

  • Stay in town the night before so you can visit Petra (Wadi Musa) right at opening time! (Biggest tip of all)
  • Wear your comfiest walking/ hiking shoes. We hiked 8 miles on our visit and still barely scratched the surface
  • If the trail you are on is on the map you get with your ticket, don’t listen to the scammers who say it is “closed”
  • Beware scammers in general. There are lots of salesman camped out along narrow trails. Try not to engage with them unless you actually want to buy something. (or they won’t leave you alone)
  • Don’t pay more than $5 in a tip for the included horseback ride. Make sure to settle any prices or tips before getting on the horse.
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and snacks. You will be there ALL DAY. There are places to buy more if you need them, but the tents are very pricey.
  • Stay on the designated trails on the map- don’t pay the people who take you on dangerous and ILLEGAL trails to get a quicker view of the top of the Treasury.
  • Verify the days “Petra at Night” is offered when booking your trip. It is only a select few nights a week and if you’re interested in this, make sure you plan for it!
  • Hire a guide for at least the first walk to the Treasury and Street of Facades. It was very interesting learning about what life was like in ancient Petra as we were guided through.
Views from the high place on street of Facades we explored with our guide. You can see the main trail heading off in the lower right towards Monastery trail.

Practical Information:

  • Hours: Open daily from 6AM to 6PM in the summer; 6AM to 4PM in the winter.

Ticket price:

  • One day: 50 JD
  • Two days: 55 JD
  • Three days: 60 JD

*There’s no price difference for children. Plan ahead whether you’d like to visit for more than one day since the price is much cheaper then.

*You will need to submit your passport at the tickets office to purchase- make sure you bring it with you.

*If you don’t have a guide previously arranged, you can hire a licensed one at the visitor center when you buy tickets for around 50JD+ depending on how much of the site you would like guided.

Petra at Night Information:

Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week. It starts at 20:30 from Petra Visitor Centre and delivers you back by licensed guide to the Visitor Centre around 22.30pm. You must have daylight tickets for the day of your nighttime visit.  The nighttime ticket however is NOT included and is an extra fee of 17 JD. (Children 10 and under are free for the night time show)

Photo taken from Jordan Tourism board website. I wish I could’ve seen this myself!!

How to get to Petra:

By Car: It is a 3 hours drive south of Amman on the desert highway or 4 hours on the more scenic Kings’ Highway to Wadi Musa. (Modern town just outside of Petra archeological site)

By Bus: JETT Bus leaves from Abdali station in Amman at 6.30 and arrives to Petra around 10.30. And it runs back on the same day at 17.00 (Summer season) 16.00 (Winter season)

Main points of interest on their respective trails :

  • The Siq (main trail) – This is the picturesque slot canyon that is almost 1 mile in length and ends at the iconic Treasury. While the canyon itself is special and beautiful in its own right, the carvings done by the Nabateans make it one of the most unique slot canyons in the world. Running the entire length of the canyon on both sides is a carved canal that was used for transporting water from the dam into town. There are also a number of decorative carvings, shrines, and statue remnants so keep an eye out.
  • The iconic Treasury (main trail)– The reason anyone even plans a trip to Petra, this building is just as cool to see in person as the pictures make it seem. There is still some debate on what the purpose of the building was for: whether it was a tomb/ temple, or a place to store goods and information (hence the name). It’s comprised of 2 floors with a 3 chambers on each level and stands at an incredible 128 feet high. While you can’t go in, make sure to wander around and get the many angles as well as peer down at the recently excavated graveyard underneath it.
  •  The street of Facades (main trail) – This street makes up the portion of trail/ canyon you walk through after the Treasury as it opens up onto the town. It has tombs on both sides that were likely used for royal courtiers in the middle of the 1st century AD.
Follow the canyon right past the Treasury and you’ll be at the street of Facades! This is where other trails will start to branch off.
  • The theater– What makes this theater so incredibly unique compared to other ancient theaters is that it was CARVED instead of built up. It was carved into the mountainside between 4BC-AD27 and had capacity to sit 4000 spectators.
  • The Royal Tombs (Al-khubha trail)– Comprised of 4 main tombs that are high up on the right side as you leave the street of Facades. In order (from right to left on the photo below) they are the Urn Tomb, the silk tomb, the Corinthian tomb, and the palace tomb.

These tombs were estimated to be constructed between 40-70 AD and a few of them were adapted around 446 AD to serve as Byzantine Churches.  All were used for burial and their names are derived from unique features of their appearance. These are fun to visit as you can go inside them and explore around. Our favorite was the Urn Tomb with it’s lower section of archways and the upper columned courtyard.

  • The Treasury overlook (Al-khubha trail)– Follow this legal and free trail to the viewpoint above the Treasury. There is a Bedouin tent perched right in the prime spot and evidently the tent charges 2-3JD for drinks in order to take photos there. We didn’t hike to this point but the concept doesn’t surprise us. If you plan to hike up here, I recommend having a small bit of cash on hand for the drinks.

  • The colonnaded street and Great Temple – The street was an original Nabataean creation that was refurbished (widened) during the Roman occupation. It would have been on of the principal shopping streets in ancient Petra. Excavations around the street indicate courtyard markets, fountains, and small temples used to line the street making it a primary part of the city center. The great temple which sits just beyond the colonnaded street, was colossal in size at an estimated 76,000 sq feet. Some of its columns and pavement were made of white limestone which would have made for a dramatic contrast to the red rock surrounding. The style and quality of the temple indicate it was built at the end of the first century BC and then used to a late point in the Byzantine period.

  • The Monastery – This is one of the largest monuments in Petra measuring 155 feet (47m) wide and 159 feet (49m) high.  It was built with niches to house sculptures and the interior is occupied by 2 side benches and an altar on the rear wall. It dates to the early 2nd century AD and would have been used for religious meetings.

  • The High Place of Sacrifice (Wadi Farasah Trail)– It is a steep half- hour climb from the theater to the high place of sacrifice which sits on the summit of the Attuf Ridge. The paths and stairs were part of the original processional way used by the Nabataean community. At the top, note the 2 obelisks standing 30 m apart in east/west alignment likely representing the 2 most important gods of the time. The high place of sacrifice is one of the best preserved of such sacred places and also provides a great view of the city center.  

  • The Garden Tomb (Wadi Farasah Trail) – Continuing past the high place of sacrifice and through the obelisks- follow the trail past more facades and tombs as it leads back down into the main parts of the town (see below on the map, it is the yellow trail)

*This is not a comprehensive list but it is the MAIN sites that you will see on the given trails. Unless you are incredibly fit, there’s no way to squeeze all of these into one day. It is recommended to visit for two days if you wish to visit them all.

Official trail map you get with your tickets

Trail Descriptions:

The main trail:

This trail travels from the main entrance to the start of the Ad-Deir (Monastery) trail. It is 2.5 miles each way and is relatively level- easy walking. (designated in red)

The Al-Khubha trail:

This trail branches off the main trail at the Royal Tombs and ascends up to a great overlook of the Treasury. It is a STEEP and exposed (so hot) climb rated as difficult. It will add 2.2 miles RT to your day if you go all the way to the overlook. (It is worth it to go on this trail at least to visit the Royal Tombs which is not a hard or long climb at all) (designated in green)

The Wadi Farasah trail:

Take this trail to escape the crowds and see the High place of Sacrifice, Garden Tomb, Tomb of the Royal Soldier, and more. It is 1.9 miles from the theater to the city center and will will skip parts of the main trail that you can see on your hike out. (designated in yellow)

The Ad-Deir (Monastery) trail:

This trail will add 1.6 miles RT to the main trail and is rated as difficult. It climbs over 800 steps but is absolutely worth the effort as the Monastery rivals the Treasury in terms of beauty and scale. (It’s also a lot less crowded) (designated in pink)

Follow the main trail with a short branch to visit the royal Tombs first. (2.5 miles + maybe 1 mile to see the Royal Tombs) Skip the Treasury overlook to preserve your strength and return to the main trail past the colonnaded street and city center. Take the Monastery trail up to the top and then back down. (1.6 miles) Then follow the Wadi Farasah Trail from the main palace up to the high place of sacrifice and then down which will take you to the theater back near the Treasury) (1.9 miles) Follow the main trail out from the theater (about 1.5 miles) back to the entrance.

This route hits the most major archeological points and will likely work with a guide for the first potion if you’ve hired one. It also ascends the Wadi Farasah trail more leisurely but then will be harder going down.

You could do this in reverse although I would hit the Monastery climb as early as possible since it is a longer/ harder ascent than the high place of sacrifice.

Braden taking a break after climbing all that way to the Monastery and not being able to go inside.

*Unfortunately, since I had broken my foot 2 days before we left on our trip and I was still in a boot, we had to scratch off the options of the Wadi Farasah Trail and the Treasury overlook. That being said, we still did around 8 miles that day.

A Brief history of Petra

Petra, known as the “ Red Rose City” because of the color of stone, was settled and developed by the Nabataeans. These people were an Arab tribe who first appeared in the 6th century BC. Their culture was initially similar to other Arab tribes in that they had little interest in agriculture but were nomadic and lived in tents. By the 2nd century BC they developed into an organized society in the area where they quickly grew in power and wealth.

Many armies from the Seleucids and Ptolemies warred for control over Jordan however the Nabataeans remained mostly untouched and independent throughout. They resisted military  conquest but were greatly influenced by the Hellenistic (Greek) culture of their neighbors. Many of these influences are easily visible in art and architecture throughout Petra.

When Rome took control of Jordan’s northern territories (Jerash) and Syria, they had many military engagements with the Nabataean people until finally from 70-106 AD the Romans claimed the kingdom and renamed it Arabia Petrea. At this time the city of Petra was redesigned according to traditional Roman designs (most easily seen with the palace and colonnaded street area.) Under Roman rule, the city flourished and grew with an estimated 20,000-30,000 people living in Petra during its peak.

As commerce shifted to trade routes in Syria or expanded to seaborn trade around the Arabian Peninsula, the city of Petra declined. Eventually the Nabataeans left their capital although no one really knows exactly why. The few silver coins or valuable possessions unearthed in Petra indicate it was an methodical move away from the city.

About our visit:

We had 2 nights in Petra town which is the absolute best way to visit Petra. Because we were there in the “low” season and COVID we actually met our guide about 1 hour after opening at 7AM to sleep in a little more. We were at the Petra Guest House hotel right outside the main gate so we walked right in from there.

For the first 1.5 hours or so we walked with our guide as he told us the history of the site, about the culture of the people (then and now) and pointed out very interesting structures so eroded by time we maybe would have missed them. Being from the land of many reservoirs and drought, I found the dam they built and water canals in the slot canyon one of the most interesting inventions.

The camel shaped rock

After we took our time taking pictures at the Treasury and exploring around there (since it would get busier later) our guide lead us to some pretty cool cave houses around the street of Facades that weren’t called out on the map and walked with us to the colonnaded street where he told us about the rest of the trails. We definitely enjoyed having a guide so I’d recommend hiring one to walk with you at least through to the Treasury.

Looking back at the Royal Tombs with the beginning of the Colonnaded street in the right side.

After saying goodbye we ran into a small dog whom I absolutely fell in love with. (She was sooo sweet) The pup escorted us the rest of the way to the Monastery trail where we parted ways. Then up up up we went. To be honest with my foot, I was super grateful it was stairs! So much easier to manage in a boot. We saw very few other people on the trail and when we reached the top we had it completely to ourselves for over an hour.

On the way up and down we were a bit bothered by the various sellers. (read the tips up at the top on best way to deal) Otherwise while it was a lot of climbing we didn’t find it too hard and the view was absolutely worth it!

Once we got back down we wandered our way back towards the Royal Tombs which we climbed up and explored while I tried to decide if I felt good enough to climb up to the Treasury overlook. In the end, my foot was hurting and the day had become really hot so we decided to call it a day and start the 1.5 mile hike back to the entrance.

We could have gotten a horseback ride (since it is “included” in the ticket) from the mouth of the slot canyon back to the main entrance (about 1 mile) but they were doing it in groups and I didn’t want to wait for them to complete the group OR to have to negotiate our “tip” amount as our guide warned us we’d need to do. So we just walked out the rest of the way happily ending our day at our airconditioned hotel.

*I wish we could have experienced Petra at Night but it wasn’t running due to COVID.

Where to stay for your visit to Petra:

Best places for location:

  • Budget: P Quattro Relax Hotel : 1.6km from Petra, beautiful rooftop pool, great price and rooms (cheapest hotel/ best value out of this whole list)
  • Mid: Petra Guest House Hotel : 0km walk (closest hotel), no pool but comfortable rooms and still a good price. Really cool cave bar.
  • Luxury: Mövenpick Resort Petra : 0km walk (right across the street), again no pool but highly rated and well known hotel brand.
View from our room on the top floor of the Petra Guest House Hotel.

Best hotels for a unique experience:

Swim in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most famous lakes in the world due to its high salination and low elevation. It’s actually the lowest land based elevation on Earth and that’s just the shoreline. The lake itself is almost 1000 feet deep at its deepest points making it the deepest saltiest lake in the world. The shores are 1400 feet below sea level and the salinity of the water is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean’s. The Dead Sea is split by both Israel and Jordan and can be enjoyed from both sides. It’s a popular place for tourists and locals alike to swim, float, relax, and cake on some mineral rich dead sea mud for your skin.

Tips for visiting the Dead Sea

There are several public beaches and resorts along the shore on both Jordan and Israel’s side and I would absolutely recommend choosing a location that has fresh water showers as a minimum necessity.

  • Keep in mind not all beaches have the “mud” although most of the resorts will gather it in a bucket for you.
  • Bring towels, sunscreen, and plenty of drinking water with you.
  • If you have bangs- try to pin them back before getting in the dead sea.
  • Water sandals are also very useful if your chosen location doesn’t have nice sand
A rest stop on the way down to the dead sea. It marks sea level which is fun as from this point you are still quite a bit above the top of the Dead Sea and still have a ways to go down to get to it.

Where we visited for our Dead Sea swim:

Holiday Inn Resort Dead Sea– We didn’t stay the night but the resort offers days passes that include towels and use of the poolside restrooms/ showers/ and of course- pools. We got an armband that allowed us to get the towels and prove we could be there. The resort also has little cabanas and beach chairs, showers, and waiters for drinks down by the lake itself.

About our experience:

We visited in summer so it was HOT and the sea was really warm too (not exactly refreshing.) We floated for a while and definitely did the coat yourself in mud thing (It does make your skin super soft!)

After a couple of rinses and swims, my hair had a lot of the salt water in it and I kept having issues of my bangs dripping into my eyes… which I then couldn’t wipe away because my hands also were covered in super potent salt water… so we didn’t last too long in the dead sea itself.

Luckily we had another hour after swimming in the dead sea to enjoy the resort pools and cool off before taking our full showers and getting ready to jump back on the road towards Petra for the night.

The drive along the Dead Sea is super beautiful and our driver pulled over in a couple spots to point out neat salt pillars or other natural and beautiful spots along the shore. It was really cool having some Biblical places or stories pointed out to us such as the city Jericho which is easily visible from Jordan. We definitely enjoyed this day in Jordan (split between Jerash and the Dead Sea) and even if we only spent a handful of hours at the Dead Sea itself- it’s a very memorable experience.

Guide to Jerash: The Pompeii of Jordan

When many people picture a trip to Jordan they picture: Petra. While Petra is an incredible and unique historical site, Jordan has so many other richly historical places to visit and one of them is the Roman archeological city Jerash. It’s a special city and archeological site and is known as one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. (It is second only to Pompeii)

Where is Jerash?

Jerash is a quick 45 min drive North from the capital city of Jordan- Amman.

How to get there:

We visited on a tour however if you want to visit by yourself, traveling via bus is doable and safe. The bus station at Tarbabour (just north of downtown Amman) has the most frequent buses however there isn’t a set schedule as buses leave when they are full. (so add waiting time to your trip if taking this route) The drop off in Jerash city is a quick walk from the ruins and the cost of the bus is just 4 JOD or $5.60 USD.

You could also rent a taxi for the trip which will set you back between $50-$60 for a half day or day tours from Amman are another great option.

Hours of operation:

Summer hours: 7:30-7:00

Winter hours: 8:00-5:00

Cost of admittance

12 JOD/ $17 USD

History of Jerash

The area around Jerash was originally settled as early as the Neolithic period (7500-5500 BCE) and became a major city during the ancient Greek rule (Hellenistic period around 2000 BCE) The Greek city was known as Gerasa. There is lots of evidence of the Greek foundations with specific temple architecture credited to that time period as well as ancient Greek inscriptions. There are additional inscriptions that allude to the Emperor Alexander the Great’s general passing through this city.

The Roman Empire

The Romans conquered this area in 63 BC and the city was then annexed to the Roman province of Syria as at the time it was mainly inhabited by Syrian people with a small Jewish community. The Syrian province worked mainly as semi-autonomous cities that relied on Rome for protection but otherwise maintained some degree of freedom from Roman politics. Around AD106, Jerash was absorbed into the province Arabia (which included the ancient city located in Amman and Petra.) The Arabian culture at the time was known as Nabataean and many of this culture’s coins, art, and other influences found within Petra are also found in Jerash. (one such example is a temple dedicated to a Nabataean god called Pakidas.

While Jerash flourished due to its prime location at the axes of several trade routes, it became even more affluent under the Emperor Tajan. He ordered new roads built within the city in order to support another major trade route known as the new Trajan road connecting Bosra to the Red Sea gateway in Aqaba.

The majority of the structures still standing today date from the rule of Roman Emperor Hadrian who actually visited and stayed in Jerash during the winter of 129 CE. (see photos below of the triumphal arch built for his visit known as “Hadrian’s Arch.” Jerash’s wealth during this time period enabled ambitious programs of public works including new temples. The population by 175 AD is estimated to be anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 people.

The Byzantine Empire

It’s unknown when Christianity arrived to the city, however Jerash flourished under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. As many as 15 churches were built by 600 AD. Many of the churches once contained amazing mosaics that were later damaged by earthquakes and invading Arab armies. (There are some amazing mosaics from this time period visible in the ruins still.)

The Fall of Jerash

Persian armies captured, plundered, and occupied Jerash between 614-630 weakening it so much that when the Arabs arrived in 636, the city surrendered immediately. This was the major start of decline for the city and while it still survived as a small and humble city for some years, the wealthiest citizens abandoned it (likely for the major city Damascus). This coupled with new trade routes bypassing the region altogether caused a steeper decline. By 1130 the city had long been abandoned and fallen to ruins.

Points of Interest:

*I recommend walking the loop in counter clockwise and ending at the south theater or temple of Zeus.

Hadrian’s Gate

As previously mentioned the Emperor Hadrian actually visited and stayed in Jerash during the winter of 129 CE and in honor of his visit, a colossal archway was constructed at the south entrance to the city. Hadrian’s gate is likely the first part of the city and monument you will see as you arrive from Amman and marks the start of your fore way into history.


This was a common sporting arena used or gladiator battles and most importantly chariot races. The Jerash hippodrome is anticipated to have had capacity for 15,000 spectators.

Forum (Oval Plaza)

The oval plaza served as the city’s forum and marketplace during Jerash’s Golden Age and is about 300 feet by 300 feet in width and diameter. It has 56 Iconic columns surrounding it and is an impressive place to take in from views on the above hillsides.

Colonnaded street

This was the main road through the city and overall region- it connected both the North and South gates. Admire how well the road has held up after all this time, including the visible wheel marks in the stone in some places.

North Theater

This theater is built similarly to the South theater but has a few more nooks and crannies open for exploring. The other very unique feature is the colorful mosaic floor in the center of the theater as it converted into a church during the Byzantine rule.

Temple of Artemis

As the daughter of Zeus, Artemis was a popular patron goddess among the people of the region. This temple was built in 200 AD and 11 of the temple’s 12 original columns are still standing.

One of my favorite spots was the short bit of walk between the temple of Artemis and Zeus. The views from that hill were just amazing! I’d def recommend walking that whole loop and climbing the hill to this view.

In the photo above you can see just how massive Hadrian’s arch is in the distance. To the right and closest on the path is the temple of Zeus and down to my left in the photo is the oval forum. I really loved this area’s views of the neighboring farms and vineyards. What a great area!

South Theater

This is the larger theater of the two and usually has a small band or guys playing bag pipes performing in there. If you notice this make sure you drop a coin or two. (Jordan is a lot better than Egypt in regards to tips as for 1: Bathroom tips are actually optional everywhere we went, so when your guide mentions it as bad form not to tip… you probably should)

Temple of Zeus

A great place to end your tour and take in more views of the colonnaded street and oval forum. You can explore around the edges or even climb to the top of the ruins through a stair case that was open when we were there.

The Jerash Souk

The marketplace is just outside the entrance to Jerash archeological site. (As we’d point out about any museum or tourist spot, you end with the gift shop) Souvenirs are likely to be cheaper here than Petra and the shop sellers were much more respectful and courteous. I highly recommend checking out things here to save yourself from having to buy any of your keep sakes in Petra. (They were much more aggressive and a la Egypt vendors there)

Summary of our visit:

We had a leisurely morning having one of the best breakfasts on our trip before being picked up by our driver at 9. We stopped and picked up our tour guide along the way as well and made the short drive to Jerash. Once there our guide walked us through some of the buildings pointing out significant architecture and unique features of Jerash and then we had over an hour to explore on our own. It was plenty of time to walk the whole loop and wasn’t very busy at all so we had the place in large part to ourselves.

Once we finished exploring and taking photos we met our guide and driver back in the Souk at the entrance where we got some delicious slushies, picked up a couple souvenirs and headed back toward Amman to continue south towards Petra. We were pretty impressed with the size and condition of Jerash. Considering how easy a place it is to visit, it’s absolutely a must see on a trip to Jordan.