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10 Tips to Help you see Petra like a Local

March 14, 2016

I didn’t realise how much I wanted to see the ancient cliffside carvings of Petra until travelling to the Middle East became a reality for us… once our move to Abu Dhabi got locked in, however, it was almost all I could think of!  Everywhere I turned, I spotted incredible photos of the infamous Lost City and blog posts from travellers raving about Jordan and it’s amazing sights.

Petra, as expected, was a major highlight of our getaway to Jordan and though we were pleased with the way we explored the Rose-Red City, we also picked up a few tricks along the way that we’d like to share with you…


1.  Hire a guide.

Without doubt, we try to save money on our travels where possible; we spend money where we see value or when we’ll feel like we’re missing out if we pass, but save our hard-earned dosh if something doesn’t fit into one of those categories.  The last few times we’ve been to major historical landmarks we’ve spent the money on hiring a local guide and we’ve not once regretted it.  Tikal in Guatemala, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany and now Petra; a good guide will bring an area to life, sharing snippets of history in an engaging way.  Having visited Angkor Wat without a guide (and probably missing a huge chunk of the history and meaning behind the temples), we will always try to find the money to hire one going forward.

2.  Better still, book a local Bedouin guide!

Many of the local guides grew up within the caves of Petra and some still live there. Though we didn’t get the same level of information regarding the formal history of the area as we would have if we’d hired a guide through the information centre, we saved a tonne (a guide from the Visitor Centre runs 170JOD we were told, whereas we paid 60AED for our group of three) and more importantly, gained a level of insight into what life is really like in the region for the Bedouin people. It was also nice to know that our payment was going directly into the hands of a local, not to mention the fact that joining a local guide really allowed us to maximize our time there.

3.  Take the path less travelled.

Whilst the vast majority of travellers walk into Petra through the Siq and then make their way from the Treasury to the Monastery, they then need to allow enough time to double back, retracing their steps to the visitor centre.  This loop obviously takes up more time, potentially preventing you from soaking in all of the other marvels at Petra.

Instead, organise a local Beduin to take you through the back entrance.   You’ll take a relatively sedate 4WD trip to a mountain at the base of the Monastery and climb, skirting along the side of the mountain until you arrive at your first stop (by which point you’ll have climbed approximately 300 steps).


We were incredibly lucky to practically have the walk in to ourselves – these two lovely ladies were the only other tourists we saw in the 1.5 hours leading up to our arrival at the Monastery.


Enjoying the view out to the Black Mountain, Wadi Araba Desert and Israel in the far distance.


Hiking the back route to the Monastery.


What goes up, must come down!


A herd of goats. I was excited enough to see them, but little did we know our first major site in Petra was just around the corner!


The best payoff – avoid the crowds and make friends with a donkey!  The Monastery in the background.

Once you’ve spent ample time gazing at the Monastery, you’ll make your way down the main set of stairs (which most people walk up and then down again – all 900 of them!) and be free to head through towards the Treasury.  Not only will you benefit from having the Monastery practically to yourself, but you’ll gain extra time that you can spend exploring the rest of Petra.

Here you can see the path that you’ll potentially double back on if you decide to take the normal tourist route… save yourself the time and spend it exploring!

4.  Take the time to talk with the locals.

Though the sights around you will be amazing beyond belief, make the time to chat to the locals or even exchange a smile.  The people we met throughout Jordan were generally incredibly kind and welcoming and more than happy to welcome us to their country and share snippets of their daily lives with us.

We were surprised by the number of children that live in and around Petra; my heart broke a little as they approached us, grubby faced, asking for biscuits.  If I were to return, I’d be sure to pick up a few packets from the shops at Wadi Musa to share around.


5.  Everyone will tell you that you need 3-4 days there – fear not!

As long as you hook up with a local guide who can take you on the straight track, rather than the loop, seeing the major sites of Petra (and many of the minor ones) is absolutely do-able.  To gain yourself a little more time, try to arrive in Wadi Musa (the local town) on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday to gain a few sneaky hours in Petra and see it in a totally different light (read on for more info).

6.  Consider hitching a ride on a donkey, mule or camel (but don’t be tricked into it)

We were told by our guide that we really needed to hire camels to have any chance of seeing everything and at 30JOD each, these camels were over twice the price of the ones in Wadi Rum.  Based on this advice, and because of my massive desire to ride camels, we jumped on.

The promise was made to stop whenever and wherever we wanted, but because we’d been led to believe it was a long ride to the other side of Petra, we didn’t ask to stop.  Within half an hour or so, much to our surprise, the ride was over!  After a few quick photos at the Treasury, we were promptly offloaded and our camel wrangling ‘friend’ raced off back looking for his next customers.

I don’t for a second regret opting for the camel ride (as after all, we got to ride camels in Petra for less than it would have cost to ride a horse back home!) but we always appreciate people being straight up with us, and in this case, they weren’t.  If you want to ride a camel (or donkey or mule), by all means do, but be aware that it’s not required for you to see everything – especially when you figure out that they walk as fast as you would anyway!

As it turned out, we made it to the Treasury much earlier than expected as the camel ride wizzed us past many of the sights that we would have otherwise spent more time at, so we decided to walk back a bit and hunt out the lookout that we’d read about previously…

7. Get high and see the Treasury from a different angle

The Treasury is without doubt the most commonly visited sight at Petra but you can beat the crowds and enjoy your own private viewing if you’re willing to work hard to get there.  As you move away from the Treasury, keep walking past the Why Not shop, until you come to the Royal Tombs (which will be on your right, carved into the cliffs up relatively high).  From there, you’ll follow the steps up and curve over to the left (away from the Tombs) – follow the track until you reach the end and then walk off the path until you hit the edge of the cliff and track along to the left.  You’ll come to what looks on first impression like someone’s home – it’s really a wee shop/hut, though in the hour or so that we spent up there, we didn’t see a single soul.


Top left: The point where you turn off and begin your climb. Bottom left: Enjoying the ride on donkey-back. Main: Riding past the Royal Tombs towards the main part of the climb.

What a spot! Relaxing at the lookout over the Treasury after a day of exploring.

What a spot! Relaxing at the lookout over the Treasury after a day of exploring.


Do views get any better than this? With not another visitor in sight, we stopped to soak everything in.

You are able to walk up the steps to the lookout, but honestly I don’t think our legs could have taken it!  Instead a lovely boy took us up the path on his little donkeys – for 10JOD each, it was possibly the best money we spent all day!

and some practical information…

8. There are more lunch options than you may be led to believe.

We were surprised to find Petra an absolute hub of activity; initially we’d presumed we’d need to bring our own packed lunch for our day of exploring but that ended up being far from the case.  As we came to the bottom of the steps (at the base of the Monastery) we were informed by our guide that our two lunch options were either to eat in a local alcove for about 6JOD each, or to head a few hundred meters away to the (remarkably fancy) restaurant.  The restaurant was out of our budget and absolutely inauthentic so we decided to join the locals in the cave.  The food was pretty tasty but basic (I was provided with a plain egg omelette and Nathan and Avalon got a spiced tomato concoction, along with the standard flat bread) and even with the included tea and soft drinks, the meal ended up being one of the most expensive ones we had whilst away.  I’m not sure of the costs further along the trail (closer to the main entrance by the Treasury) but I suspect you’d get better food for a similar price, so don’t feel pressured into choosing this option if it doesn’t suit you.

9.  Wear good shoes – ankle support is a must.

On three seperate occasions I rolled my ankle on uneven ground; one more time and I think I would have done some serious damage!  I didn’t think to take hiking boots but if I were to make the trip again, I certainly would.

10.  Don’t miss ‘Petra by Night’

Each Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Petra is opened up to the public in the evening.  The light of thousands of candles lights your way as you meander through the silence of the Siq, reaching the Treasury after approx 1.5km; I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment the cavern opened up and revealed the candle let carvings that we’ve all come to know so well (albeit through photographs online).  Upon arrival, you’ll be invited to sit in rows, on mats on the ground, as you soak in the sounds of traditional Jordanian instruments and sip on Arabic tea.  I was lucky enough to be joined by the most gorgeous little ginger kitten for a large part of the evening, but I can’t guarantee you’ll be as fortunate!

Absolutely mind-blowing! Just be sure to take a decent camera as my iPhone didn’t pick up the low-light and my GoPro ran out of battery, so sadly, this photo isn’t mine.

NB: Petra by Night is not covered by your Jordan Pass or normal entry tickets so you will need to pay an additional 17JOD each as you arrive in the evening.

So there you have it – our ten tips to help you maximise your time at Petra, whilst hopefully helping you have the absolute time of your lives!

If you’ve visited the Lost City, please be sure to add any tips and tricks that you have to the comments below.

Happy exploring x



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