Visit Petra in Jordan: the complete guide

Petra, Khasneh, Trésor, Jordanie

Follow in the footsteps of Romans, nomads and Indiana Jones as you explore the ancient monuments of Petra in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert.

The city of Petra is the most visited tourist site in Jordan. You bet it is! One of the « New Seven Wonders of the World », Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you visit Petra in Jordan, with a historical and practical approach.

A little history and geography of Petra

An ancient city in Jordan, Petra was once the capital of the Nabataean people, merchants who came to dominate international trade in the Middle East 2,000 years ago. After a meteoric rise to power, they briefly challenged the might of Rome before succumbing. They then disappeared from history.

The Nabataeans were originally a tribe of Arab nomads who ventured into the desert around the 5th century BC and settled in the Shara Mountains in southern Jordan, at the crossroads of trade routes. In 350 BC, they gave up looting camel caravans in favor of charging merchants a tax for their safe passage. Standing at a crossroads of trade between Asia, Arabia and the Mediterranean, their base at Petra (a Greek name meaning « rock ») grew fabulously rich very quickly. Frankincense and myrrh arrived from Yemen. Pepper, sugar, ginger and cotton were traded with India. Merchants traded Chinese silks for gold and silver. When the Roman general Pompey arrived to attack Petra in 62 BC, the Nabataeans simply bought it.

Carte Petra Jordanie

Google Maps screenshot – Geographical location of Petra in Jordan

In the first century AD, Petra was home to perhaps 35,000 people. The Roman geographer Strabo described it as a cosmopolitan city, full of beautiful buildings and gardens. In 106 AD, the Nabataeans ceded power to the Romans, creating an era of prosperity that lasted until after the adoption of Christianity in 324. However, changes in trade patterns led to their decline. In 749, when another earthquake destroyed almost all the buildings, Petra was more or less abandoned.

This remained the case for a thousand years, until Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt persuaded the Bedouins to guide him to the ruins in 1812. The « rediscovery » of the legendary city fuelled a revival of interest among travellers and archaeologists that continues to this day.

Why visit Petra?

Petra is one of the world’s most fascinating historical sites, combining romance, visual theater and adventure. A first glimpse of the Khazneh, one of Petra’s treasures, which is the iconic façade made famous in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, will stay with you for a long time.

Petra, Khasneh, Trésor, Jordanie

Pixabay – stux

The Nabataeans built the Khazneh, the « Pharaoh’s treasure », and most of Petra’s grandiose edifices, such as the sculptures carved into the sandstone cliffs. It was this display of human creativity in this rugged environment that made Petra so remarkable. Ornate facades, in a unique Nabataean style with Egyptian and Assyrian elements, still line the valley, creating a panorama of architectural riches beneath rocks hundreds of meters high.

To this you can add a sense of the supernatural due to the events of history, Bible stories, local legends and tales that all converge in Petra, against a cinematic backdrop of hidden valleys, inaccessible peaks and bottomless ravines.

What to see and do in Petra

There’s much more to Petra than the facade we all know from films and photos. The entrance to Petra is a long, winding sandstone canyon known as the Sîq. Before entering this canyon, you’ll pass the Gaïa Tombs, the Nabataean necropolis in the present-day village of Wadi Moussa.

In the Sîq, whose path is sometimes no wider than an outstretched arm, you walk for 1.5 km between narrow, 100-metre-high walls. Along the way, you can observe the ingenious water storage and distribution system built by the Nabataeans.

Défilé, canyon, Siq, Petra, Jordanie

The parade or Siq – Flickr – Allan Grey

At the end of the parade, you’ll gradually catch sight of the façade of the Treasury or Khazneh, an imposing structure 40 metres high and 28 metres wide, said to have been erected around the 1st century BC and to be the tomb of a king or queen, probably King Aretas IV. It is also known as the « Pharaoh’s Treasure », because the Bedouins believed that the funerary urn contained a treasure. Bullet holes can still be seen from their attempts to break it.

Fin du défilé (siq) à Petra, en Jordanie

What you’ll see at the end of the Siq – Flickr – Jeff

After the « Treasury », you’ll see the Street of Facades, where Hellenistic facades alternate with traditional Nabataean rock-cut temples/ tombs such as the Urn Tomb, the Palace Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and El Deir, a monastery that bears a strong resemblance to the Khazneh. Even more astonishing, you’ll discover a Roman theater that could seat between 3,000 and 8,500 people.

Tombe Palais ou tombeau à étages, Petra, Jordanie

Palace Tomb or Tiered Tomb – Flickr – poplar

If you’re lucky enough to spend a second or even third day in Petra, you’ll have access to relics such as the High Place of Sacrifice or the Lion Fountain, as well as other tombs. You’ll also be able to spend more time on site and walk more slowly. A second day is excellent for hiking around the site and seeing Petra from a different angle.

How do I get to Petra?

You don’t need to be an adventurer like Indiana Jones to get to Petra. The city is easily accessible by road, located around 250 km south of the Jordanian capital, Amman. All group tour packages to Jordan devote at least one day to Petra, but you really need to spend more time there (if possible).

Hotels for all budgets are close to the city of Petra, in the town of Gaia(Wadi Moussa), and it’s easy to visit independently or with a guide.

When should you visit Petra?

The best time to visit Petra is in spring and autumn, when temperatures are not too high and there are fewer tourists. The ticket office is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer and from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter, and Petra closes at sunset. Ideally, you should arrive at the Khazneh early, around 6.30 – 7 a.m., when the sun is shining on the façade and there are only a dozen or so visitors with you. The least suitable time to explore Petra is between 10am and 4pm.

Entrance fees to visit Petra

Tickets can be purchased for 1, 2 or 3 days. Admission for one day costs JOD 50 (EUR 52.95), for two days JOD 55 (EUR 58.25), and for 3 days JOD 60 (EUR 63.54).

Once you’ve paid and passed the entrance, you’ll see that horses are available « free of charge », but once you’re on them, the person will tell you that the tip is a minimum of €20 (approx.). So it’s best to walk, and bring good, comfortable shoes.

It’s possible to visit Petra by night

Petra by Night, Petra la nuit, Jordanie

Wikimedia – Zhu tian2000

If you’d like to discover the ancient city of Petra by night, it’s possible. One tour is called « Petra By Night » and includes a magical candlelit walk through the Sîq at dusk. It takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm and costs 12 JOD (€13). The night tour ends at 10 pm. You can book this at your hotel, and there’s no need to take a day ticket to get it.

Have you visited Petra? Tell us about your stay in the comments!