Hiking Petra: How To Experience the Best of the “Rose-Red City”

What pops into your head when you hear the word Petra? The “Rose-Red City?” Perhaps a certain building that was featured in “Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade?”

The Treasury

The Treasury

That’s the Treasury (also called Al-Khazneh), a jaw dropping sight. You get the first glimpses as you emerge from the seemingly never-ending Siq, a sort of canyon that forms the path into Petra. Yes, that is the most famous image (and the most stunningly preserved structure) but there’s so much more! Petra is a huge site and Jordan’s star attraction with good reason!

I really, really fell in love with the place during the 2 very full days I spent there. The sheer enormity of the site really makes it feel like you’re discovering the place for yourself. It is sooooo easy to step off the trail and wander off along the striking cliffs that run through the site, allowing you to find sheer solitude in this magical place.

Facades Off the Path

Facades Off the Main Trail

I took every opportunity I could to get away from the crowds. The Bedouin who live at the site (and also sell their wares and tea) are an excellent resource for suggestions of ways to do this and they won’t even ask for baksheesh in return (like folks in Egypt will)!

Here were some of my favorite more “out there” places!

High Place of Sacrifice

It’s quite a few stone steps to get up to the High Place where the Nabateaans (the people who built Petra) would perform sacrificial rituals. Not only is it an invigorating hike up, it offers a nice view of the Street of Façades (second photo below). It ate a solitary breakfast up there, perched on the edge of a cliff on the first day I was there, sharing some peace and quiet with my friend for the day, someone I had shared a taxi with from the border the day before.

High Place of Sacrifice

Opposing Obelisks at the High Place of Sacrifice

The walk down was just wonderful, taking us through a less-traversed back area. Passing carved classical-looking tombs along the way (that the Nabateaans were so famous for), it was impossible to not be gasping at the magnitude repeatedly!

Street of Facades

The Street of Facades

Ending up at a handy directional column, a stop at the conveniently located tea shop is a great way to recharge after the hike.

Tip: To get there, take the stairs going up by the Theater.
Roman Theater

The Roman Theater

The Monastery

The Monastery

The Monastery

Everyone will tell you to go to the Monastery, and with good reason! Second only to the Treasury in its grandeur and level of preservation, this high up site is a real gem! It’s a nice hike to get up there, but when you get there, don’t just hang around the Monastery like most folks do. Hike out to the various viewpoints, overlooking the vast valley below! It was on a precipice here that I had a picnic lunch on the first day!

Lookout Near the Monastery

A Lookout Point Near the Monastery

Getting there is not hard. Follow the signs, the throngs of people and the folks offering up donkeys for the journey up.

Above the Treasury

There’s no doubt that the Treasury is cool. It’s even cooler when you have the whole place to yourself…

Tip: Entering the park at 6:00am when it opens is a great way to beat the crowds and have a solitary moment with the Treasury! I did this and didn’t see another person for 2.5 hours!

But what if you could look down on it from above? Turns out, you can! This trip involves exciting off-trail hiking that gives you a vertigo-inducing look at the Treasury from the top of an opposing cliff. Your height makes the Treasury itself look rather tiny, but gives you a great opportunity to see a bit more about how wondrous the structure is! It’s a view you’ll never forget!

Treasury from Above

That’s Me Looking Down at the Treasury!

Tip: To get there, follow the path around the Royal Tombs. You’ll find a staircase that eventually dumps you on top of a cliff. Where you should just keep walking. When the cliff forks, take the one that goes downhill (I know, this is completely illogical since you want to go up). When you get to the end, you’re there! If you need directions, ask a Bedouin.
Silk Tomb

The Silk Tomb, one of the Royal Tombs

The Alternate Way In

I didn’t actually try this as it got to be too late in the day, but a tea shop owner pointed out to me that there’s an alternate way into Petra that doesn’t involve walking through that famous Siq (which gets kind of old after the 6th time you’ve walked it…).

The Treasury

The Treasury, as seen at the End of the Siq

If you’re coming into the site, you have to get off the trail leading to the Siq and veer into the ancient Nabateaan water tunnel (right before the path enters the Siq). That lets out on a path (sort of) which winds its over some boulders (which apparently involve climbing) and ends up behind the Royal Tombs. To exit that way, follow the path around the back left side of the Royal Tombs (same way you get above the Treasury) but keep going!

Tip: As the tea shop owner mentioned to me, do not attempt this path after 3:00pm. The sun has already sunk low enough in the sky to shroud the way in darkness, making it a somewhat treacherous journey.

Umm al-Biyara

It was day two and I was at a loss for what to do. I’d already knocked off just about everything on my to-do list and ended up at a tea shop (do you see a trend here?). When I asked the Bedouin owner for suggestions, he ran down a list of places asking me if I’d been. When I answered yes to all he said, “Well, you could go there,” pointing off to a mammoth mountain in the distance.

Umm al-Biyara

Looking up at Umm al-Biyara

And so I set off for this place that he described as the highest point in Petra. With that height it was sure to be on heck of a view!

The trailhead is not easy to find. Go past a small Bedouin village (and ask for directions). Once you do, it’s a lengthy (and isolated) climb to the top as you traverse the seemingly endless stairs that have not been well maintained. You can tell from the lack of vendors that almost nobody comes this way.

Umm al-Biyara Trail View

The View from the Trail Up Umm al-Biyara

The rather plateau’d summit is a stunning viewpoint. You can see the Royal Tombs, the Street of Façades, Little Petra (a separate site a little ways away, which has free admission by the way) and yes, even the Monastery. There are also some ruins from a separate civilization up there, though they are not terribly impressive.

View From Umm al-Biyara

The View from the Top of Umm al-Biyara

The real selling point for me is that I was completely alone. I saw only one other person the entire time and it was a guy at the summit who was on his way down. It was pure bliss to lunch there on the rocks with the most incredible view ever! It’s moments like that which make you so very thankful to be experiencing, for the magic of the moment cannot be repeated!

The Summit of Umm al-Biyara

That’s Not All…

These were some of my favorite Petra hikes, but there is a seemingly endless stream of possible ways to get away from it all in the “Rose-Red City.” If you feel insecure, ask a Bedouin. Not only do they offer directions, but some also run tours to some further out sites (like Little Petra), so if that interests you, just ask! Tea shops abound and they’re great places to work up a chat with the owner.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you, but please let me know where you’ve found that you can get away, for finding your own way around Petra was absolutely the best part for me!

Happy trails!

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59 Responses to Hiking Petra: How To Experience the Best of the “Rose-Red City”

  1. Leigh August 13, 2012 at 4:09 am #

    Great suggestions and as much as I hate to be up really early it sounds like it’s so worth it. Enjoyed your photos too. This is one place I’d like to get too.

    • Aaron August 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

      It’s absolutely worth it. Trust me, I too am absolutely not a morning person but this was the best decision! And the best part is that the folks who worked at the hotel I stayed at tried to talk my friend and I out of it. They said to go at 8. I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, mornings suck. And yes, it doesn’t yet have the best light for photographs. But to have the entire place to yourself is a truly unforgettable experience!

  2. Escaping Abroad August 13, 2012 at 4:18 am #

    Excellent photos! Petra is on my bucket list for sure!

    • Aaron August 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

      Thank you! And you should definitely get there. Photos and words don’t even come close to doing the place justice. It’s simply mind blowing!

  3. Gillian @OneGiantStep August 13, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    We took the alternate entrance in on our second day – it was totally worth it. It went through some very narrow canyons and popped us out quite far back from the main site. We encountered some kids there who ‘guided’ us back to the site where we had tea with their mother. Unforgettable day!! Great pics Aaron!

    • Aaron August 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

      I really wish I’d taken the alternate entrance. I even paused at the old water tunnel on my way into the Siq on Day 2 (I’d also done Petra by Night my first night there) and decided against it. Sounds amazing! Next time!

  4. Daniel August 13, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Aaron,

    Great post and pictures. It is extra magical to experience it alone or at least without the crowds. Awesome you got to experience Petra this way.

    The alternate entrance you mentioned is a fun way to come in if you are visiting Petra for more than a day. Like you and Gillian said, there are some small boulders to crawl over and narrow in some places, but a great way to enter.

    There is another entrance too. There is a path from Little Petra that takes you on an amazing hike that ends at the Monastery. Like your experience, if you leave in the morning you are often the only one there because everyone else enters through the front.

    If interested here are some pics of our ‘Off the Beaten Path Petra’. http://www.engagingcultures.com/blog/beaten-path-petra-photos

    Glad you had such a great trip. What else are you hoping to see in Jordan?

    Best,

    Daniel

    • Aaron August 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Hi Daniel,

      Getting to experience Petra with a sense of solitude is absolutely priceless. I mean, being able to spend some contemplative time at the Treasury without folks mulling around taking photos is really something I’ll never forget!

      I didn’t actually try the alternate way in described in the post (and by Gillian), I just heard about it. I’d love to head back to the site as there’s so much more to see and I’ll definitely try it next time.

      I hadn’t heard about the way in from Little Petra. From the looks of your photos, it too seems fantastic. I assume the same expensive admission fee applies when coming in the back way?

      I was actually in Jordan back in January and unfortunately saw very little of it. I had planned to spend several weeks there but then on a whim ended up in Egypt instead (more on that decision here: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2012/04/travesty-christmas-eve-in-bethlehem-2-very-wet-night/), which left me without much time to spare. I basically went from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula to Petra for 2 days/3 nights and then on to Amman for 2 days/2nights before heading to the West Bank. My latest travels were actually in Turkey and Iraq. More on that here: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2012/07/travel-in-iraq/

      All this gives me a very good reason to return to Jordan. I missed so much!

      Best,
      Aaron

      • Daniel August 14, 2012 at 2:00 am #

        Aaron,

        Yes, you are required to have an entry ticket for the back entrance. You don’t have to worry about it if the person has a two day ticket, but if you are doing the hike on the first day you have to go to the main gate first and purchase an entry ticket.

        You have to come back, as you know there is so much more than Petra.

        Best,

        Daniel

        • Aaron August 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

          Good to know Daniel, thanks! Yes I definitely have to come back… and stay for a week or so!

  5. Ava Apollo August 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    Incredible photos! It looks so beautiful.

    • Aaron August 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      Thanks Ava!

  6. Julie McNamee August 15, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    Many thanks for posting your tips and your photos. The place looks even more stunning in them than it did in Indiana Jones!

    • Aaron August 15, 2012 at 8:23 am #

      Haha well, Indiana Jones just uses the exterior of the Treasury (you can’t actually go inside) but there’s SO MUCH more than just that! It’s a huge site filled with surprises around every corner! Glad you enjoyed the photos!

  7. Charu August 16, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Lovely photos Aaron! I’m inspired to do mine…I have SO many of Petra.

    • Aaron August 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

      Thanks Charu! I too have SO many more than what made it into this post… Looking forward to seeing yours!

  8. Teresa G. August 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Are these seriously your pictures? wow…. I can’t imagine what it looks like in person… probably 1000x more of a wow factor.

    • Aaron August 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

      Haha yep! It’s AMAZING in person. Legitimately, words and images do not even come remotely close to doing the place justice. And having been to Machu Picchu, Angkor and the Pyramids before, I can definitely say that none of them quite had the “wow” factor that Petra did!

  9. Samuel @ Teach English Travel Overseas August 19, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    These are phenomenal pictures Aaron! I love your colour composition here. I’m dying to visit Petra myself – hopefully soon 🙂

    • Aaron August 22, 2012 at 12:35 am #

      Thanks Samuel! I HIGHLY recommend Petra. Legitimately, it’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve been in the world!

  10. Rease August 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Great photos. This is something I’d be willing do to some hiking to see for sure.

    • Aaron August 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

      Thanks Rease! It helps to have a stunning subject!

  11. Kieu August 31, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    I’m not much of a hiker.. but this is the one place I’ll make the journey for. This is a very helpful post and those pictures are pretty awesome. Can’t wait to get here one day.

    • Aaron August 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      Do it! Photos don’t even remotely do Petra justice! Glad to hear you found this to be helpful!

  12. [email protected] August 31, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    I’m going to Jordan in November and your fabulous photos have me very excited about the trip. Petra has been on the bucket list for a while now- I can’t believe it’s finally happening!

    • Aaron August 31, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

      How exciting! Do yourself a favor and spend at least two days there. It’s got a hefty entrance fee, but the price to stay additional days is a pittance if bought in advance. And do yourself another favor and get there right when the park opens. It’s absolutely worth it. Have fun!

  13. Robertjm September 15, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    I was in Petra back in April 2008, and wish our church group had been able to spend more time. We actually stopped there on the way between Aqaba and Amman.

    As I recall there were some sort of shops set up in a rustic-looking building, across from the Royal Tombs. Is that still there? What do they actually sell there? At that point I had no interest in buying anything to carry around all day so didn’t venture in.

    • Aaron September 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

      Hmmm, I don’t remember a rustic-looking building across from the Royal Tombs. There were some little stands set up in select areas along the “main road” and a little museum and gift shop at the cafe by the trail to the Monastery. I’m not one for buying much on my travels, so I tended to not look either.

      • Robertjm September 16, 2012 at 12:20 am #

        Perhaps it was the little museum and gift shop I was talking about? That’s in the valley just before you get to the Colonnade Street, right?

        • Aaron September 16, 2012 at 12:22 am #

          It was basically past everything where the main path sort of ends. If you go straight, there’s a cliff with a glass-encolsed something in it (is that what you’re talking about?). The Monastery trail is to the right and turning left takes you to a column where a number of paths join meet up.

          • Robertjm September 16, 2012 at 12:33 am #

            LOL! I’m not sure anymore. Guess I’ll just have to go back and check it out again. 😉

          • Aaron September 16, 2012 at 12:34 am #

            Haha now gosh that’s just a TERRIBLE thing to have to do!

  14. Sacha & Jmayel October 14, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Great post & photos Aaron- I really can’t wait to go to Jordan, its top of my list of places to go next & reading this made me want to go all the more!

    • Aaron October 15, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

      Thanks! Make sure you try and maximize your time at Petra! Trust me, you won’t regret it…at least if you’re the adventurous type!

  15. Ruth (Tanama Tales) November 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Hi Aaron,

    Awesome pictures and information on all the neat things to see in Petra. I understand why more than one day is needed to explore the site.

    • Aaron November 3, 2012 at 2:20 am #

      Glad you found this useful Ruth! And I’m not kidding when I say I literally could have spent a week there! It’s heaven for anyone who likes to explore!

  16. sandi March 12, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    Hi – beautiful pictures! I am heading there in 2 weeks and plan to do the Treasury from Above walk. I have 2 days, but both not full days so I have some time constraints. Any chance you remember how long it took you to get up to the Treasury vantage point from the entrance? And then where from there, do you just backtrack down?

    • Aaron March 13, 2013 at 12:39 am #

      It really depends on your level of fitness, as it’s a lot of uphill walking. From the Royal Tombs I think it took about 30-45 minutes to get up there. From the entrance, you’d pass through the 1.2km Siq and end up at the Treasury. It’s probably another 10-15 minutes to the Royal Tombs where the trail to the overlook is. And yes, you have to come back down the same way you went up.

  17. Sam @ Travellingking.com May 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    What an incredibly beautiful place! WOW! Great photos thanks for sharing

    • Aaron May 9, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

      My pleasure! I really loved Petra! You really have to see it in person to believe it!

  18. James May 13, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    This motivated me to spend an extra day in Petra; great post!

    • Aaron May 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Thanks! And enjoy Petra! It’s such a wonderful place! Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions!

  19. CJ September 2, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Hi Aaron,

    Thank you for the great tips.

    I am enroute to Jordan next week so very excited.

    May I pick your brain and ask as a complete beginner how did you get to Petra. I’m going to book all once there but I’m assuming a hotel close by. I will have a hire car with my partner.

    We will have one full day and then next day are heading to Wadi Rum.

    As it’s not far we probably wont venture off so may return to check out the site again.

    Do you know how long the hike to top of High place should take as a rough guess. We are moderately fit young adults. Won’t be running but not crawling either 🙂

    I also heard there is a nice hike from Little Petra to Petra as something different. Do you know anything about this.

    Also regarding the Petra by night option, any suggestions as we would like to do that the first night after we arrive in afternoon.

    Thank You so much for letting me pick your brain Aaron and your amazing blog.

    Smiles, Cj

    • Aaron September 9, 2013 at 2:46 am #

      I hiked both to the High Place and to the Monastery on the same day. Start early (like when the site opens) and you can accomplish both. It wasn’t so long a hike up to either…maybe 20-30 min or so.

      Wadi Musa is the town directly next to Petra and it’s small enough to navigate by foot or by taxi. You won’t need to hire a car. I arrived in Wadi Musa via taxi from the border with Israel at Aqaba (there’s also a bus, which I missed thanks to my rather wild experience getting from Egypt to Jordan. More on that here: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2012/05/leaving-egypt-crazy-taxi-ride/)

      I also did Petra by Night the day I arrived and it was wonderful! Sure, it’s a bit kitschy, sitting there by candlelight as they play traditional music and serve you tea, but it’s REALLY cool! Well worth it! Booked it on the spot at the hotel I was staying at right when I arrived. There’s not much else to do in Wadi Musa at night except sit back and watch Indiana Jones, which every hotel seems to air nightly (the final scene was filmed at The Treasury).

      Yes you can hike from Little Petra to Petra and I THINK you can even avoid paying the entrance fee if you go this way. However, I don’t know if you’d be able to find the way without a local guide. There are many Bedouin around that you could hire to lead you, especially from Petra to Little Petra (find them in the park). I didn’t make it to Little Petra so I don’t know if the same is true in reverse. May not be as Little Petra sees a tiny fraction of the tourists who go to Petra.

  20. The Roaming Coconuts November 9, 2013 at 5:51 am #

    We’re headed to Jordan in the spring and oh man, the post is making me excited. Guess we’ll be having some early mornings though. Might be pestering you later with some Petra questions!

    • Aaron November 10, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

      Yes, absolutely get up early and get there as soon as the gate opens. It’s an unbelievable experience to feel like you’ve got the whole place to yourself! Enjoy!

  21. Jer January 16, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Love, love the pic and awesome post! I used ur pic and story as part of my blog, List of Living (http://wp.me/p4fLip-l) Thank you for your stories and keep being an inspiration! 🙂

    • Aaron January 17, 2014 at 12:42 am #

      I saw, thanks! Have you been to Petra yet? It’s just incredible!

  22. Amber January 31, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Aaron, thank you so much for commenting on my blog about Petra. I wish I had seen this before going. Although I stick to my guns that we are not hikers, so I am not sure how much we would have explored, I love that you climbed to that vantage point over the Treasury. My question is, how did you know that vantage point existed and how did you know where it was? I understand you can ask for directions, but it is the first time I have seen a photo of a blogger up there. So, where did you learn about it? And, why isn’t Visit Jordan promoting this sort of thing. And, how did you know what to explore, and where to go. Did you get a special map? Where did you do your research before going?

    • Aaron February 1, 2014 at 1:41 am #

      I had a Lonely Planet guidebook and such a hike was listed, albeit the directions were a bit confusing. The place I stayed in Wadi Musa also gave out advice, not to mention that I had the opportunity to interact with the other travelers at the guest house and got their tips (the best of which was the enter the park at 6am when it opened). I’m also a wandered by nature and Petra is something like 40 sq km of wandering opportunities. Even if the facades weren’t there, the rocks themselves are beautiful. So I wandered around and explored what I came across. Also, if I remember correctly, there are signposts pointing towards many more things to see in Petra than the map you have posted on your blog (heck, even the map on the Wikipedia entry for Petra has a lot more on it than the one you shared). Since I went in so early, I didn’t get a map from the park, just something my guest house gave me.

      As for why Jordan isn’t promoting it, I’m not sure, though, to be fair, they promote very little of what you can actually see in Petra. Another blogger who did go on a press trip told me that the Visit Jordan folks told him the Treasury overlook was “off limits,” though there are no signs in Petra telling you where you can and cannot go, and the Bedouin who live there will happily tell you how to get anywhere (and offer some wonderful suggestions). If Lonely Planet lists it, the folks at my hotel talk about it and there’s nothing saying you can’t go, then as far as I’m concerned, you’re allowed to go… There’s even a trail that partially leads up there, though you have to branch out at a certain point to get there (it’s fairly easy to figure out).

      Another way to look at it is that Petra is still being actively excavated, which may explain why it lacks signage and whatnot. Not to mention that the Treasury overlook hike is rather dangerous. Once you get to the top of that ledge, there is nothing to stop you from falling over the edge. It’s possible that they don’t advertise it for this reason. Then again, I can think of a few National Parks in the U.S. that have some dangerous hikes and they advertise them, but with a hefty warning (Angels Landing at Zion National Park has a sign indicating that 6 people have fallen to their deaths). Or maybe they don’t promote some of the offbeat hikes because they don’t want certain areas overrun by visitors. If the map said, “hey look, you can get an overhead view of the Treasury” suddenly everyone would be doing it. Maybe it’s an attempt at some conservation or something.

      I will say, though, that the lack of signage at Petra was probably one of my favorite parts. In many ways, it really felt like I was discovering it for myself and there aren’t all that many major tourist sites left in the world that are quite like that.

  23. Ashwin March 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    That is awesome..I’m going to Petra next week..looking orward to atleast some of these hikes. How did you hike upto Umm Al Biyara? Did you take a guide with you?

    • Aaron March 20, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

      Nope I did not take a guide. I merely asked a Bedouin how to get there and once on the trail it’s pretty straightforward. The path is past an active village which is also rather cool to see. Good luck!

  24. Nataly July 21, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Hi Aaron,

    Thank you for the useful tips and amazing pictures.
    I am planning to spend about 2 weeks during Xmas time in Israel and wondering if it would be a good time to hike around Petra. I know that it could be heavy rain at this time a year..

    Appreciate for Your opinion and suggestions.

    Cheers,

    • Aaron July 22, 2015 at 11:53 pm #

      Hi Nataly,

      Petra is in the desert, so they don’t get much in terms of rain at all. I visited in early January and the weather was quite nice. Definitely don’t miss Petra, it’s quite the sight!

  25. rupal May 15, 2016 at 11:46 pm #

    I am going to Jordan end of this month and Petra has been a dream for a long time. One of the best written blogs so far. And love your pictures. I’ve been to Machu Pichhu, Angkor, Bagan, Cappadocia amongst others and was wondering if it will still have the “wow” factor. Reading your comments I am reassured it will! Thank you!

    • Aaron June 9, 2016 at 11:35 pm #

      Having been to Machu Picchu, Angkor, the Pyramids and Borobudur, I can assure you that it will! The best thing you can to do is get there early. Like really early to beat the crowds. And if you think you’ve seen everything, just ask around. There’s always something else to see!

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