Exploring Petra in winter

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
10
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
9
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
6
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
10
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
10
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
87 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia / Middle East
country
Jordan
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 150
Time of year visited
January
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
6th/359 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 5% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

We’ve all seen the famous Treasury building that sits within Petra – yes, the one from Indiana Jones – but the Treasury is only one small piece of a vast network of ancient buildings that sit within a labyrinth of dramatic red stone canyons, and all surrounded by equally dramatic mountains and deserts.  To combine a visit to one of the Wonders of the World with an exploration of the broader area makes this a truly unforgettable experience

I’ve written below some tips for how to get the most out of a visit to Petra, but my #1 tip is to get  local guide to walk with you from Little Petra through the back entrance of the mountains, via the Monastery, and to the main Treasury / Siq (the famous bit).  You won’t be disappointed as the views are world-class and the crowds less keen to stray so far from the Treasury.  We visited in winter, which naturally thinned the crowds, but the site is so vast that even in the busy periods you will be able to get away

highlights

#1 Taking in the world-class scenery of mountains, deserts, canyons and quiet ancient ruins as you walk through the "back entrance" from Little Petra to the famous Treasury area

#2 Walking through the winding towering Siq to then see the world famous Treasury of Petra peaking through the gap

#3 Looking on The Monastery, the bigger cousin of The Treasury yet with less crowds and even better views

#4 Taking some tea with local Bedouin along one of the rocky view points

#5 Taking the time to see Little Petra, the smaller cousin of The Treasury

#6 Seeing the views and learning about the significance of the High Place of Sacrifice

#7 Starring in wonder at the sheer size of some of the construction carved out of the rock

#8 Petra by Night. If you can see this show from above, it is a truly otherworldly experience)

Background

  • The site of Petra and the surrounding area was actually first settled way back in 7000BC and was one of the earliest known farming communities in the world.  But, it is the Nabataeans from western Arabia who made the place so famous by building the monuments in the ancient city
  • The Nabataeans arrived around 500 BC.  They were traders and over the next 500 years used their wealth to build the city of Petra that reached a population of 30,000.  The city’s tombs and monuments are impressive, but just as  impressive is the sheer engineering required for things like cisterns and water channels needed in such a dry part of the world
  • Around 100AD the trade routes that had been the lifeblood of the Nabataen empire had started to move north and at the same time the Romans took control of the overall empire.  The Romans maintained the city, introducing their Roman way of doing things, including the columns for the streets, amphitheatres etc. But a major earthquake in 363AD initiated a decline that, by the time of the second major earthquake in 551AD, meant that Petra was a forgotten city
  • The local Bedouin tried to keep it that way until in 1812 the Swiss explorer, Jean Louis Burckhardt, disguised as a muslim pilgrim re-discovered the city and the legend spread, bringing fame, and Indian Jones, to the former city

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1 – we arrived in the early afternoon for our first day, so had 3 hours or so to enter through the main entrance, walk along the Siq, see the Treasury, walk up to the High Place of Sacrifice to be able to look on the Royal Tombs and generally the view across the main plain.  Up to you if you do this bit as you will see all of this in the full walk from Little Petra to the main entrance.  We just did this because we arrived a bit earlier than planned and were excited to see the Treasury
  • Day 2 (full day):
    • Start at Little Petra for 7am.  Check it out for 30mins or so
    • Take “the back entrance” to the Monastery (the guide will know).  The walk takes around 2 / 2.5 hours and goes through a flat valley and then for a few steep parts for unreal views of the surrounding mountains and distant desert
    • Give yourself 30mins at The Monastery and for some of the views around you
    • Walk down to the Petra “City Centre” for lunch in one of the only restaurants on site (its a fairly touristy buffet but will be welcome for a break)
    • Take your time wandering through the “City Centre”, but don’t really go out of your way.  The sites are interesting, but the main ones don’t lie here.  Making your general way towards the Treasury / Royal Tombs is what you’re really looking for
    • Should be around 2ish now and you can spend 2 hours or so checking out The Royal Tombs, the Theatre and the world-famous Treasury.  For the Treasury, its worth taking the 5mins to walk up to the viewing platform for a great photo opportunity (in the far left back corner if looking out from the temple)
    • If you still have the energy, make your way up for 20mins to the High Place of Sacrifice.  The views are stunning and reading about what the area was used for really gives an insight into the significance of this spot
    • At this point you have two options:
      • SIMPLE – make your way back to your hotel via The Siq for some rest before Petra by Night
      • PUNCHY – ask your guide earlier in the day if you can eat dinner high up by the High Place of Sacrifice or similar.  You can then hang out there under the stars and make your way to watch Petra by Night from above, practically on your own
  • Obviously in summer adjust the above, potentially by spreading over 2 days / starting earlier / taking a break when it is hottest / taking a camel to help

Travel tips

  • The whole site is vast so pace yourself.  Worst thing you can do is rush around tired to try and check everything off.  We managed to have one of the best day experiences I can remember in our walk from Little Petra and in seeing Petra by night from above, but it was a 15km / 30,000 steps day and we didn’t see even half the sites
  • The key world famous site is the walk along The Siq to the Treasury.  In my opinion, next would be the Royal Tombs, Theatre, The High Place of Sacrifice and, if you have the energy for the hour walk or so, the Monastery.  Little Petra is certainly worth checking out, but mainly because of the adventure walk from there to the main site area.  The remainder are cool and add to the vibe, but not musts
  • The itinerary above allowed us a chilled out afternoon to see the famous stuff at a leisurely pace and then a day of adventure the next day from Little Petra.  I would suggest doing it that way rather than being super tired and trying to cram all into one day.  Could be done for sure, but you’ll be tired
  • Your guide is key.  We met ours in the park just while having a chat over tea and he was a big factor in making this such an outstanding experience.  His name was Mohammed and couldn’t recommend him more highly (+962 776161091).  Will leave up to you to haggle over price, but don’t pay more than JD70 for the full day (including car pick up)
  • Stop for tea as often as you can – good for refreshment and for getting a chance to chat with the local Bedouin who seemed overwhelmingly to be such lovely people
  • Staying up in the high points of Petra for dinner under the stars is allowed, but be aware that the park closes at 430pm so you need to get up there before that or the park staff will try and stop you
  • It helps to have a hotel by the entrance to the park.  Even if you have a car, the extra 15mins or so driving through town is a bit unnecessary.  Better to have a hotel you can get to easily after a long day
  • We thought we had a sweet deal by staying at the Movenpick Resort right by the entrance, but turns out it was the Movenpick Nabatean Castle Hotel 15mins away. Doh!
  • Nothing to see in the town of Wadi Musa, just the place to stay for Petra
  • Petra by night is only on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday
  • The stunning scenery around Petra is not unique to that spot.  Driving around, and especially to Wadi Rum ( see the travel entry 4WDing around Wadi Rum and spending a night in a desert camp for more tips on this experience), shows you that there are many more vistas to gawp at.  I’d suggest getting a car and exploring for yourself
  • The online Jordan pass is worth getting if you plan on visiting a few sites and staying in Jordan for 3 nights or more.  JD75 includes 2 days in Petra, entrance to most sites in Jordan and covers your visa fee (note though – it is not a visa.  You still need to apply for one, this just covers the fee)

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone