Exploring Inside Petra – Are Two or Four Legs Best?

Man at Monastery inside Petra
Explore inside Petra from the famous Treasury site on two or four feet
Inside Petra, there’s a slit in the vast rock they call the Siq. Narrow, sandstone walls rise in ribbons of grey then reds, and far above, the sky is a slice of blue. Ages ago the slim passage was lined with cobblestones and the Nebeteans shuttled guests through in red-carpeted carriages. Today you can still ride horse-drawn carriages but to really savor this noble entrance, walking inside Petra gives the heart time to adjust to continual awe.

Roman costume inside PetraA little history

By 250 BC, Petra was a flourishing trade and power center. By then the Nabateans had been trading throughout the Middle East, into China and the Mediterranean. They were master carvers who adapted much from other societies into their structures and buildings. They also devised ingenious tunnels and water systems to avoid flash floods and protect those walking through the Siq. One tunnel is 88 meters long and cut from solid rock.

One viewpoint inside Petra beyond the famous gate

One viewpoint inside Petra beyond the famous gate

Ride a camel from the Treasury site inside Petra

Ride a camel from the Treasury site inside Petra

Most travelers envision looking up to the beauty of the famous Treasury carvings at the end of the Siq, which opens dramatically to the carvings made famous by Hollywood’s Indiana Jones. But they don’t consider their options for getting to that point, into the vast city beyond and back out again. The Siq opens dramatically to the carvings made famous by Hollywood’s Indiana Jones. To really enjoy seeing Petra, plan for a day spent walking, hiking trails or up steps if that calls to you, or ride donkeys and camels when it doesn’t.

Carriages waiting to take visitors inside the Siq of Petra and back.

Carriages waiting to take visitors inside the Siq of Petra and back.

The best ways to explore inside Petra

  • Be prepared to walk for hours across the flat complex. Hikers will be happy to know there are optional challenges that include steep stairs and trails.
  • Near the entrance to Petra, you can hire a horse-drawn carriage and ride in style to the Treasury or return from there.
  • Whether you walk or ride, don’t miss all that lies beyond the most famous site. From the Treasury, you can negotiate a ride through the rest of the grand city.
  • The complex is laced with canyons and carved, not just for grand temples, but also homes. Many Bedouins still live in Petra’s canyons. They train the camels and donkeys, run the shops and many are guides.

    Make time to enjoy the delicious Jordanian tea and coffee.

    Make time to enjoy the delicious Jordanian tea and coffee.

  • There are grand avenues and vast stretches still waiting to be excavated. Tourism is helping Jordan discover all the ancient Nabataeans built around 250 BC after trading for centuries with the rest of the known world.
  • Do stop for Jordanian tea and coffee or a full lunch at the central cafe.
  • Explore the hills and trails beyond the Treasury site. There are many small shops and artifact collections to peruse on and off the main trail.
Partial excavation inside Petra

Partial excavation inside Petra

The steep hike up to the Monastery is well worth it but if you’re not up for the trail, hire a donkey as we did. I decided to follow my guide’s lead and rode a donkey up the steps – giggling nervously as he stepped close to steep edges or nearly rode other hikers off the trail. It was harrowing but fun. Walking down was a lot easier!
The Treasury light show inside Petra

The Treasury light show inside Petra

Not say goodbye Petra? Return after sunset to see the evening light show. It’s a bit woo-woo with traditional music and muffled narration echoing off the walls. Find a spot to sit for about 30 minutes. Watch for the trays of sweet tea that are passed out to the crowd.
Man and monastery inside Petra

Man and monastery inside Petra

More tips for seeing Petra.

  • Know your limits.
  • Come prepared with water and snacks.
  • Trust the Bedouin guides who know their donkeys, camels and horses. Negotiate but pay them fairly.
  • Wear sunblock, bring a hat and a long-sleeved shirt can be helpful too.
  • Explore side trails and you might find wonderful souvenirs. I brought home silver bracelets and bought spices in small shops hidden off the main trails.
  • Take advantage of the toilets when you see them.
  • Stop for tea often and admire the view.
Here’s a short video about exploring inside Petra:

Petra is one of the world’s wonders for good reason. (And Jordan is full of other wonders too. Here’s another post about that.) I hope these tips will help you to see as much as you can as comfortably as you can.
Many thanks to Jordanian Tourism and the International Food Writers and Travel Writers for making my Petra dreams come true.
Hope you found this helpful in planning your Petra adventure. Here’s a pin to share or bookmark.
Inside Petra with many lookouts and viewpoints

36 comments

  • Petra is a truly magnificent travel destination which I hope to cross off my bucket list, Elaine. How many days would be enough to explore it?

  • This is awesome post! You have a beautiful pictures of Petra! I will definitely use your article to plan my trip to Petra. stunning photos you shared of that beautiful place. Thank you.

  • The history here is absolutely astounding. I know it’s a really famous site where I’ve seen so many photos, but I know I’d still be so amazed to see it in person for the first time. I will explore just on my own two legs though! I love the idea of exploring side trails and buying spices as souvenirs, too!

  • I would be the one who just hiked everywhere. I love getting to explore things on my own and take my time. I would be the adventurous one who does all the option side hikes that are narrow and steep.

    Although at the end of the day, I might hire someone to carry me home.

  • Petra is at the top of my bucket list and reading this just makes me wanna pack my bags and go! Personally though, I think I’d prefer walking than riding a horse-drawn carriage. I feel like with walking, you can enjoy the history at a slower pace and really fully take in everything. Jordanian tea sounds amazing too so I’ll be sure to put the central café on my list as well.

  • Great tips! I’ve not yet been to Petra but I’ve always wanted to go. My friend recently went and loved it. Your photos make me want to plan a trip ASAP.

  • I remember seeing Indiana Jones and thinking Petra was such a remarkable structure. I’ve wanted to travel there since, and it’s nice knowing there is so much to see. When I was younger I didn’t know there were more paths and structures to explore.

    • Your experience of what you think Petra is remains, sadly, what most people imagine. It’s so much more and that’s my mission with the post and video. I hope you can see it for yourself one day.

  • I LOVE PETRA. OMG. It’s been a few years since my visit and I still can’t get over it. I chose to explore it on my own two legs, I even ran all the way to the Siq the second time I went inside. We did stop for Jordanian tea and coffee, although I had the mint juice. So good!

  • Petra looks so amazing, I can’t wait to visit one day! I would love to hike around the sites, however it’s good to know the option to hire a donkey or camel is there. Faced with the steep stairs and trails, I’m sure I’d change my tune!

    • You might be happy to ride after all the hiking. We had one in our group who couldn’t walk as much as the rest of us and she loved the carriage rides. It would be a nice option for a multi-generational trip.

  • Petra is in my list of must visit for long now. Couldn’t help but worry a bit about the ride on donkey through the narrow steps. Yes I agree we must negotiate but pay fairly. They depend on tourists.

  • What an AMAZING experience…. soooo lucky you got to explore this ancient place. By the way, are those donkeys/ camels in good condition? They look so thin…. or not really?

    • I feel so grateful for the chance to see this amazing place and appreciate your concern for the animals. The donkeys seemed to be good, some more tired than others, and I never saw any mistreatment. The camels were thin but that seemed to be the case in the desert of Wadi Rum as well. The only one complaining was an adolescent who didn’t care for wearing a saddle. I felt that there was a relationship of care from the owners, and in some cases, tough-love. They depend on each other.

  • I had no idea you could ride horse-drawn carriages into Petra – though I agree I think walking would allow you time to savor the awe and really let it sink in! I can’t wait to visit Petra, though I actually didn’t know that Bedouins still live in Petra’s canyons. Very good tips to come prepared with water and snacks, and know your limits- really looking forward to making my dream of travel here a reality soon!

  • Petra is gorgeous and we are planning to go soon. You mention that there is a steep hike up to the Monastery. I’m inclined to go for that. Riding a donkey would be so awkward 🙂

    • How exciting that you’ll be going soon. I loved so much about Jordan and hope you spend some time wandering the other sites and cities. The Monastery site is deep in the valley, getting to those stairs can be tiring in itself, especially if it’s hot. The donkeys were a great option but I was just probably lazy!!

  • Petra looks out of this world. Imagine such grandeur in 250 BC and the skills of the people who bore tunnels through hard roc. i can see visiting Petra obviously the best way is to walk so that you take in as much as possible and also soak in the atmosphere. Lovely video too which captures the amazing grandeur of the place.

    • Thank you for the kind words. I really felt that video was the best way to relate the wonders of the sites. The Nebateans were incredible craftsmen and women. Prepare well for the walk. You’ll want to soak up everything in comfort!

  • These pics are beautiful! I would love to visit this area. The coffee also sounds amazing! Happy #WeekendWanderlust and Happy Holidays

  • Petra is definitely on my list. Thanks for a bit of the history and the suggestions on getting around. I would stay for the night light show.

  • This is fantastic, thank you! I am thinking of visiting Petra either next year of 2019. I definitely love walking when exploring new places, and the evening light show sounds incredible also!

  • To see Petra is still on our Bucket list. I don’t know if I’d dare to ride a donkey though 😀 Your pictures look so inspiring! I’d love to see this place 250 BC when Petra was a flourishing trade and power center! I didn’t know that Beduins still live in this area. I love your tip about the toilets, it’s something I had to learn the hard way 😀 Thank you for this informative article 🙂

    • Thanks, Thomas. You are so right about how incredible it must’ve been to be in Petra when it was flourishing. There are many sites scattered across Jordan that bring that to mind. Always happy to offer a few tips about taking care of yourself along the way. I really appreciate your comment!

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