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Petra tours: Know before you go

Petra Treasury

Before you see Petra, Jordan with your own eyes, you may not know just how much you don’t know about this ancient city. I’m willing to guess it’s much bigger, busier, more expensive, hotter and awe-inducing than you ever imagined. As I learned on my trip this past April, there are definitely some things you can do that’ll make your experience vastly more enjoyable. Read on for everything you need to know about Petra tours and how to explore this amazing place!

PETRA TOURS: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Petra mountain
Camels

1. YOU CAN HIRE A GUIDE ON THE SPOT

Want a tour of Petra once you get there? Don’t worry about planning in advance. The site employs tour guides that you can hire through the visitors’ center when you buy your entry tickets, and there will be plenty of them there waiting. 

Our tour lasted three hours and our tour guide was great. He took us well past the Treasury and all the way to the colonnaded street and Great Temple. 

Carly on a ledge

2. BRING CASH

The biggest mistake I made in Petra, hands-down, was not bringing cash. I was told beforehand that you could buy things with a credit card within the site, which turned out not to be true at every single kiosk I visited. My friend and I literally had to leave midday because we ran out of water and continuing on without it was feeling dangerous in the heat. Not the thing you want to be determining the length of your visit!

If you do have cash, you won’t have any problem finding provisions. Just make sure you have enough to account for a bit of tourist markup and you should be fine. 

Note that you can pay for your entry tickets with a credit card at the visitors’ center. It’s after entering that you’ll need the cash. 

(And another note: The transaction coded for me as “bills and utilities” rather than entertainment, meaning I wouldn’t have earned bonus points by using a card such as the Citi Premier, which earns 2x points on entertainment. To learn more about earning and using points to travel for free, check out the 52 Cities free resource library or register for an upcoming points and miles masterclass!)

3. GO EARLY. REALLY EARLY.

Petra opens at 6 a.m., and I’m not saying you need to go when it opens, but there are a few reasons you should consider it. First off, depending on how much you want to do, you’ll need an early start: Petra fans out for more than a hundred square miles, which is not exactly day-trip material (see my ideal Jordan itinerary for a better option). If that’s all the time you have and you’re hoping to cram in even just the main sites, you’ll need a very, very full day.

Second, Petra gets extremely crowded. Going just after sunrise was the only way to get photos that weren’t swarmed with other people. And because most visitors to Petra go through the same entrance, if you’re among the first in, you’ll be among the first to many of the sites you visit, ahead of the others who come in behind you. And even if photos aren’t a concern, I can’t describe to you how different it was to stand in front of the Treasury nearly alone at 7:30 a.m. vs. at 2 p.m., packed in like a sardine with tourbus upon tourbus full of people. 

Third, as I mentioned above, Petra gets hot. Although I went in April—before temperatures really skyrocket for the summer—by midday the sun was extremely fierce. It got to a point where I actually got nervous about doing so much physical activity in that kind of heat, and we ended up leaving mid-afternoon. 

Petra rock carvings

4. WEAR GOOD SHOES

One thing about Petra that isn’t quite apparent until you get there: There’s a LOT of walking involved. Before I went, I had only really seen photos of the famous Treasury building, but even just to get there, you do about a half an hour of walking from the entrance. Then, there’s hours more to explore beyond the Treasury; you could spend days without seeing it all.

Besides the distance you’ll be doing, you also may be climbing around. There are legit hikes to do if you want to get up to points such as the High Place of Sacrifice or the Monastery, and so you’ll definitely want close-toed athletic shoes.

Another reason to leave your sandals behind, despite what you may see people doing on Instagram: You’ll be walking through a combination of sand that can get very hot beneath the strong sun, loose rocks, and droppings from camels, horses and donkeys. And none of those are things you want to be touching your bare feet.

Petra ruins

5. YOU CAN BRING FOOD AND WATER

Unlike some other tourist attractions and archaeological sites, Petra allows visitors to bring in food and water. Our hotel let us pack doggie bags at breakfast, which we tore through pretty early on in the day after a substantial amount of walking and hiking. In retrospect, we should have brought way more!

The ability to bring in your own snacks also helps with the nobody-taking-credit-cards problem. If you’re short on Jordanian cash like we were, you won’t have to burn through it buying food on-site. 

Petra temple

6. ADD ADDITIONAL HIKES

If you do a tour in Petra, which I highly recommend, it’ll take you past many of the main sites—but you’ll still just be scratching the surface of what Petra has to offer. Before you leave, there are additional hikes worth doing to see sites that are just as important and impressive as the Treasury. At the top of the list are the Monastery, which we did, and the High Place of Sacrifice, but there are tons of others to check out, too!

Just one word of caution: The hikes aren’t just long walks. You’ll be climbing major stairs, so get your stretching in beforehand. Our legs hurt for DAYS after just a couple hours of Petra hiking!

Petra ruins

7. GET YOUR SHOTS…FOR A PRICE

You’ll run into many a local inside Petra, and some of them may ask you if you want an escort to a “secret” photo op. For a price, they’ll take you to various overlooks that you may recognize from social media. 

We chose not to do any of these for a few reasons, not the least of which was that we had a limited supply of cash. But if you google around, you’ll find stories of people—particularly women—either getting scammed, receiving unwanted attention or some combination of the two. As two women, we didn’t feel comfortable going off alone with a male guide (aside from our official tour guide from the first three hours, who couldn’t have been more polite and respectful). 

That’s not to say you’re likely to have a bad experience if you hire someone to take you to a photo spot. In fact, I’ve heard from solo-traveling friends that they had great experiences doing exactly that! But as an alternative, you can ask your official tour guide for directions during or after your tour. 

Petra cave dwelling
Petra valley view

8. YOU’LL BE SHARING THE ROADS

While I think Petra is best explored on foot, if you need help getting around, there are horse-drawn carriages, camels and donkeys available to transport you. But what that also means is that you’ll need to keep an eye out for those animals as they pass through what can be narrow lanes, especially between the visitors’ center and the Treasury. The horse-drawn carriages in particular travel at what can seem like very high speeds considering the mass of people crammed into Petra, and they won’t slow down for you to get out of the way!
Horse and carriage
Donkey

CHECK OUT THESE POSTS FOR MORE ON JORDAN:

Staying at the Petra Marriott in Wadi Musa
Glamping in Jordan: The best Wadi Rum camp
The perfect Jordan itinerary for first-timers
Crossing the Israel-Jordan border at Wadi Araba

Hope this post helps you prepare for Petra! What other questions do you have about Petra tours? Let me know in the comments! >>

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Must-know tips for Petra tours
8 things you should know before Petra tours

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