Petra, a great Ancient City, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and a photographers paradise is a destination that tops bucket lists of travelers from all over the world. This well known ancient Nabataean settlement dates back to the 1st century and was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
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Start in Little Petra
Little Petra, locally known as Siq al-Barid and literally translated as “the cold canyon”, is a small archaeological site located north of Petra that served as a suburb of Petra and used as living quarters for wealthy traders from Petra. Geologically, Little Petra is very similar to Petra, featuring a canyon and rock-carved dwelling, but it lacks the impressive sights like Petra’s famous Treasury.
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Many tourists visiting Petra miss a chance to explore Little Petra, but we found it a perfect way to start our time in Petra. After all, this was how traders from all over the world experienced the ancient city of Petra. It is believed that their Petra visit started in Little Petra where they set up camp and left their animals before proceeding onwards to Petra (at that time, on foot).
We think it is only fitting that as modern day visitors, we experience this destination in the same way and were grateful that our G Adventures Explore Jordan Tour included a visit to Little Petra the day before we were set to explore Petra itself.
Little Petra is free to visit and can be reached by car/taxi from Wadi Musa town.
Don’t Explore on Your Own
While you are not obligated to hire a guide while visiting Petra, we highly recommend joining a tour or hiring a local guide to get the most of your time in Petra. Unlike many other historical sites around the world, there are not a lot of signs in Petra and not a lot of information explaining the buildings and their significance.
We were so thrilled that our G Adventures Explore Jordan Tour included an exclusive archeologist talk the night before our Petra visit. We got a chance to hear the history of Petra and the fascinating insights about the ruins and the theories behind Petra’s biggest mysteries from an archeologist who has been leading excavations at Petra for the last decade.
This incredible presentation along with the explanations of our G Adventures guide, allowed us to notice so many more details and understand a lot of nuances while visiting Petra the following day. It certainly made our time in Petra that much more meaningful!
Start Early- It’s the Best Time to Visit Petra
Petra’s doors officially open at 6am and we highly recommend starting your Petra visit at the crack of dawn. Thanks to our G Adventures guide, we were the first group inside Petra on the day of our visit and had the privilege of exploring Petra without the crowds in the most beautiful morning light.
The day was just starting at Petra, so the sellers were friendlier and not nearly as aggressive as they were that same afternoon. The crowds were practically non-existent, which helped us get some great shots around the Treasury and beyond. Plus the cooler weather made it much more enjoyable to explore Petra in the early hours of the day.
Go Further and visit the Monastery in Petra
While many tourists consider the Treasury to be the highlight of their Petra visit, we tend to disagree and highly recommend to go beyond this famous landmark. There is so much more to see in Petra aside from the Treasury!
When you reach the Treasury, continue to follow the road on your right and visit the Theatre, the Royal Tombs, and continue onwards up some 800+ stairs towards the Monastery. The path is long and can be challenging for some, but go slow, drink lots of water along the way and you’ll be rewarded with a structure that in our opinion beats the Treasury every day!
The Monastery in Petra is less crowded and easy to enjoy in peace. Plus, if you continue even further, you’ll get a chance to experience the best view in the world (according to the locals, at least) – the view of the valley that lies beyond.
Pack a Lunch
While there are shops and little cafes scattered throughout Petra, none of them offer a great lunch experience. So pack your lunch along with some snacks, so you are not forced to eat an average overpriced meal sold at one of the Bedouin shacks.
We packed a simple falafel sandwich with some hummus, fruits, and veggies and enjoyed our delicious lunch in a cafe overlooking the Monastery in Petra. The cafe owner (and his adorable kitten) didn’t mind us eating our own food as we were happy to purchase some tea and mint lemonade to go with our lunch.
The weather in Petra ranges throughout the year and since this famous attraction is located over 1200m above sea level, the temperature here can be a bit extreme.
If you are visiting Petra in the summer, resist the desire to wear short shorts and tank tops not only as a sign of respect to the local customs and culture but also to keep your body protected from the strong sun. Lose airy clothing is best for Petra’s harsh summer weather. A scarf over your shoulders and on your head is not a bad idea either.
For footwear, good walking shoes are essential as you will likely end up walking close to 20-25km. We opted to wear our hiking boots, but running shoes would suffice as well.
Don’t Ride Animals
Camels, donkeys, and horseback carriages are plentiful in Petra. And while your Petra admission ticket cost actually includes a horse/donkey ride (albeit not the mandatory tip), we strongly discourage anyone from riding animals in Petra.
Our G Adventures guide was particularly vocal in encouraging our group to explore Petra on our own 2 feet, citing many stories of abuse and mistreatment of animals that he has personally witnessed inside Petra. Sadly, after just a few hours in Petra, we witnessed the abuse with our own eyes.
The animals were often forced to carry way heavier loads than they should, they looked tired and unwell. Many were hit by their owners, particularly by local kids. It was heartbreaking!
Be Careful About What You Buy
Souvenir shops line the main street in Petra with Jack Sparrow look-alikes selling everything from magnets and plates to scarves, bags, books, and other trinkets. Most of the stalls sell the same things, many items are overpriced and many are actually manufactured in China.
There are only a few stalls worth shopping at while visiting Petra: first is the spices stall where you can buy authentic spices that have traded in this region for thousands of years and second is a shop run by Marguerite van Geldermalsen, the author of an acclaimed book “Married to a Bedouin”. Aside from her book (which you can get a signed copy of on the spot), Marguerite also sells handmade jewelry and other souvenirs made by a local women’s cooperative.
If you are looking to purchase others souvenirs, we recommend that you do that in Amman, at the Wild Jordan Centre where products are 100% local and support small artisans around the country.
For a Different Perspective, See Petra by Night
Don’t miss an opportunity to experience Petra by night! Even if you’ve explored every nook and cranny in Petra, returning to Petra after dark is definitely worth it.
Entrance to Petra by night is not included in your Petra admission ticket, but the additional 17JOD is, in our opinion, well worth it. The show itself is not all that fascinating, but the opportunity to see Petra lit up by candlelight, is. Take your time walking through the Siq and enjoy the beautiful views along the way!
Extend your Petra Visit by an Extra Day
For an extra $5, you can extend your Petra visit by another day and enjoy seeing another part of Petra that you may have missed or were too tired to visit on Day 1.
A great way to split up the sights is as follows:
Day 1: Enjoy the Treasury, the Street of Facades, the Royal Tombs, and go on the 2-hour hike to the top of the Treasury. In the evening, return to enjoy Petra by night.
Day 2: Start early and head all the way to the Monastery and enjoy the views of the valley beyond.
Hope that our tips will help you have an amazing time visiting Petra! Have an awesome adventure!
Have you ever been to Petra? What other tips and advice would you give to someone planning on visiting Petra for the first time?
Disclaimer: We traveled to Jordan as guests of G Adventures and experienced the country on their 8-Day Explore Jordan Tour, but all opinions expressed in this article are our own. This post also contains affiliate links that allow us to earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) on purchases you make through links in this article.