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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.

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-lit 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.

Pro tip: 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!

10 Tips to help you see Petra like a local. Don't get taken for a ride - know what to do (and what to avoid!) 10 Tips to help you see Petra like a local. Don't get taken for a ride - know what to do (and what to avoid!)

1 Comment

  • Reply carrieemann June 18, 2017 at 3:23 am

    Great post! I had no idea you could hike behind the monastery. I also loved the alternative hike in through Wadi Muthlim — it ends at that path you took to hike above the Treasury.

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    Itineraries Jordan Middle East Petra The Dead Sea Tours Wadi Rum

    Your Essential Four Day Itinerary in Jordan

    February 14, 2016

    There really are not enough superlatives to do Jordan any level of justice when describing it!  The people were incredibly warm and friendly and we enjoyed soaking up the landmarks that until then, we’d only dreamed of being able to visit.

    We had the absolute time of our lives on our recent trip to Jordan, and though more detail will follow in upcoming blog posts, I wanted to pop together this basic rundown of our itinerary.

    Tourism in Jordan is down on years gone past, largely due to safety concerns in neighbouring countries… contrary to what some imagine, Jordan is unaffected by the unrest in the area and remains absolutely safe to visit.  This of, of course, bad news for locals but means that you’ll potentially have their awe-inspiring sights pretty much to yourself. Now is definitely the time to head to Jordan; they need your tourist dollars and there is no doubt, you need Jordan in your life!

    We made the decision to join a tour as we had limited time, having to work within a short school break  (as I teach in Abu Dhabi) and wanting to maximise what time we did have there.  Though there’s no doubt we probably could have done it cheaper ourselves, the cost saving would have been very minimal and to be stress-free, it was absolutely worth booking the tour.  It ended up being just the three of us along with our guide and worked out to 190JOD each, including all accommodation, breakfasts and dinners, transport and our tour at Wadi Rum.  In addition to the tour cost, we picked up a Jordan pass which included our visa and the entries to key sites (such as Petra and Wadi Rum) for JOD70 each (+ fees) and elected to pay for a guide in Petra to bring our experience to life.

    Though you could carry out the following itinerary yourself, you’d want to be well equipped with road maps and a sat-nav as though the locals were friendly, Jordan was certainly appeared more difficult to navigate as a traveller than most places we’ve been.  To be honest, though I wouldn’t normally jump straight on a tour, I would recommend doing so in Jordan, especially if you have a limited timeframe.

    So, without keeping you waiting any longer…

    Our Four-Day Itinerary in Jordan:

    Day 1 (day of arrival)

    We arrived into Jordan at 9.30pm at night and made our way to Madaba. We made the most of an early night but did enjoy a shawarma (AKA kebab) before popping off to bed; at only 1.90JOD for three of us, it looked like we were onto a good thing in Jordan!

    Day 2 (our first full day)

    We swung past St. George’s Church to visit the oldest map of the Holy Land, created in gorgeous mosaic detail back in the 6th century AD.  Jordan doesn’t get much further removed from New Zealand but upon noticing the gentleman manning the church was wearing an All Blacks beanie, we couldn’t help but ask… Imagine our surprise when he pulled out his camera and proudly showed us his two sons who had immigrated to Aotearoa with their families! It was the sweetest interaction and reminded us that when travelling, the simple things really can have the biggest impact.

    On we travelled, via Mt Nebo where Moses first saw the Promised Land (and where we enjoyed fantastic views of the area), to the Dead Sea.

    We went through the Amman Beach Resort which provided basic but adequate access to the Dead Sea and some associated facilities.  The showers were freezing, the beach chairs cheap and the bathrooms very simple, but we were there to swim in the Dead Sea and it didn’t disappoint!  We each paid 20JOD to enter through this resort and had been told that hotels were at least double that rate… I don’t doubt that if you’re planning on spending the entire day at the Dead Sea (and have an endless budget), that a fancy hotel would be the better option, but this ‘resort’ was more than enough for us.  We opted to pay the 3JOD each to lather ourselves in Dead Sea Mud but that was our only additional cost (just be sure to take your own towel if you’d rather not rent one and don’t forget your soap to wash the salt off).

    We spent a good hour floating about, having a great laugh!  Though I was excited to visit the Dead Sea, I was a bit nervous about the water temperate at this time of year; as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about – it was warmer in the water than it was out.  Our visit to the Dead Sea ended up being a massive highlight of our time in Jordan – be sure to include it on your itinerary!

    Following our time at the Dead Sea, we quickly stopped to take in Lot’s Statue (another biblical connection).  The history in this area is immense and regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it’s interesting to soak it all in.

    After a few additional hours of driving through farmland and mountainside, we arrived at the Shobek Castle which we enjoyed exploring as the day turned to dusk.  Health and safety doesn’t seem to be much of a consideration in Jordan, which just makes doing these things all the more fun!


    There was no charge to enter (either the small museum or the castle itself) and it was a great way to spend thirty minutes or so.  On our way out we stopped to chat to a Bedouin selling his wares and each walked away with a headscarf (for 5JOD each) having had another awesome interaction with a friendly Jordanian – Afish (which I’m probably spelling wrong!) tied our headscarves for us and chatted away about his life, before taking some quick photos as we headed off to check out the Moses Spring in Wadi Musa.


    Just as it felt like we couldn’t fit much more into one day, off we went on our way to Petra! Three days a week, the track into the Treasury is lit by candles and guests are welcomed into the area to marvel at the sights whilst sipping sweet Arabic tea and listening to traditional Bedouin music.  Though I wouldn’t recommend seeing Petra only at night, it ended up being a fantastic addition to our visit to the area and was a truly magical experience.  To get in, you’ll need to arrive at the Visitor Centre by 8.15pm, ready for an 8.30pm departure on Mon, Wed and Thurs of each week.

    Unfortunately, my GoPro ran out of battery and my iPhone didn’t pick up the lack of light very well, but the following image gives you an idea of what we were greeted by!  Keep in mind, however, that the camera has picked up more light than the eye does, so expect it to be a lot darker for your visit.


    Thanks to Colby Brown Photography for the use of their photo when my camera wouldn’t play ball!


    Day 3 (our second full day)

    I’m going to keep this part of the post relatively short as more detail will follow in a coming post.  Be sure to check back as we picked up lots of tips and learnt a fair few lessons from our time at Petra which will help ensure your visit maximises both your time there and your budget.  Everyone will tell you that you need a minimum for 2-4 days there but we were happy with our one full day (+ nighttime visit), so don’t let that put you off.

    Until I manage to get that post sorted, let me just say that you have to add Petra to your bucket list right away!  I don’t think I’ve ever been as awestruck as I rounded the corner after our hike and saw the Monetary peeking out from its rock backing – get there and get there soon.

    For now, I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

    Day 4 (our third full and final day)

    Into the car, we piled for our last final day in Jordan.  The sleep in was much appreciated and after a 1.5-hour drive, we arrived at the little village just past the visitor centre.  We were welcomed into the home of our host, where we enjoyed more sweet tea (a real tradition in Jordan) before transferring to an open-backed ute for our tour of the Wadi Rum Desert.

    Our tour saw us take in rock carvings that were over 3,000 years old, depicting the role that camels and snakes played, whilst ancient pools that were used for childbirth still sat, holding fresh water from the occasional rains.  The vast history of Jordan makes it so much more than just a pretty place to visit.

    Arriving at camp, we climbed the little mountain out back to marvel at the sunset before retiring inside to chow down on the traditionally cooked zarb, which consists of meat and vege cooked underground, much like a Maori hangi or traditional Pacific Island meal.


    The stillness of the desert was fantastic to experience and provided a great background for reflection on our last night in Jordan.

    Day 5 (day of departure)

    Our 1pm flight required us to be at the Amman airport not long after 10am, resulting in a 6.30am departure from our campsite.  After a rough few nights sleep, I’m a little ashamed to say we all dozed on and off through the drive, but we did thankfully enjoy lots of gorgeous scenery on our previous road trips.

    As we bid farewell to Jordan, we knew without a doubt how lucky we’d been to experience all that we had. I think I may just have left a little of my heart behind – better plan the next trip back sooner than later!

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    Jordan is full of history, amazing scenery and bucket list moments. If you're short on time, this itinerary will help you plan your perfect holiday. Jordan is full of history, amazing scenery and bucket list moments. If you're short on time, this itinerary will help you plan your perfect holiday.


  • Reply Diya February 16, 2016 at 12:07 am

    Thanks for sharing this great post. Jordan has been on my bucket list for a while and it is reassuring to know that it is a viable option for a quick break. So glad you guys had a great time and I’m looking forward to your future posts. Cheers!

    • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis February 16, 2016 at 7:15 am

      Thanks Diya! It was a spectacular spot and well worth the trip. Of course more time would be fabulous but it can be done in four days comfortably.

  • Reply Cherene February 17, 2016 at 1:47 am

    This is fantastic and I’m planning to visit Jordan in the next year or so. Happy to have this post as a guide!

  • Reply Best of Brač February 17, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I hope m< life takes me to Jordan some day! 🙂

  • Reply Anika Mikkelson February 17, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Haha Your dead sea mask face is great! I’ve got a few Jordan posts as well – what a beautiful place it is! Here’s a video I created during my most recent trip there – enjoy!! xox- Anika (Miss Maps)

  • Reply Nikki February 22, 2016 at 12:33 am

    It looks incredible! I’ve wanted to go for so long. Great informative post. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Anemary March 2, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Petra , one of the most beautyful places in the world.Now it is number one in my destinations list.

  • Reply Our First Monthly Round-Up: Dreaming and Doing – Exploring Kiwis March 5, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    […] (with the exception of the tail end of our European holiday) would undoubtedly be our visit to Jordan over the mid-term break.  Whilst there we visited the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum and enjoyed […]

  • Reply Rah Ul May 10, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    I have always wished to go to Jordan and this post is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Tausha June 27, 2016 at 11:19 am

    What your group did you go through?

  • Reply Therie April 14, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Petra looks breathtaking in every photo, probably even more so seeing it up close. Definitely need to travel to Jordan, there’s just a lot of fascinating places to see. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

  • Reply Orient yourself with these 8 tips from the best travel blogs around - WebCorrectly June 16, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    […] want to hear the real stories, authentic stories — they want to hear your stories. Exploring Kiwis has a fabulous example of this with their account of a four-day itinerary in Jordan. It was […]

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