1938: The intrepid explorer Dr. Indiana Jones sets out to rescue his father, a medievalist who has vanished while searching for the Holy Grail, his adventure culminating at Jordan’s most iconic spot, the Treasury at Petra.
2019: Spunky traveler Rachel Orth sets off in search of delicious food, mysterious history and extraordinary culture in the very same place. (With a similar look!)
Thanks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the rose red city known as Petra had been on my bucket list for a long time. If you read my latest post about my time in Jordan with Club Adventures, you’d know that this trip in its entirety blew me away. From camel riding in Wadi Rum and floating in the Dead Sea to snorkeling in the Red Sea and walking the ancient Roman roads in Jerash, Jordan quickly became one of my favorite countries.
48 Hour Petra Itinerary
As excited as I was to see all of Jordan, I couldn’t wait to get to the Petra itinerary of my Club Adventures trip, starting on Day 3 of our weeklong journey. We had about 48 hours to explore Petra and I was pumped!
Standing outside the main entrance, I imagined seeing the Treasury for the first time. But first, a speedy history lesson on Petra’s origins from our guide.
What is Petra?
Petra is an abandoned ancient city carved into miles upon miles of sandstone rock formations. Petra means rock or stone in Greek, and it’s easy to see why once you’re inside.
Though it’s not certain, it’s generally accepted that Petra was settled around the 4th century B.C. by the Nabataean Bedouin people. They carved many of the city’s buildings out of the surrounding rocks and became successful and wealthy traders. In 312 B.C., the Greek Empire attacked the Nabataeans, but because Petra was so well protected by the rocks, the Greeks were not successful. Later, the Nabataeans were unable to defend Petra from the Romans. In 106 A.D. they surrendered to the Roman Empire. The Romans ruled for 250 years until an earthquake destroyed many of the buildings. After that, the Byzantines took over for the next 300 years.
Petra was mostly abandoned after the 8th century, except for nomadic shepherds who sheltered in the structures for hundreds of years. In 1812, Petra was “rediscovered” by a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. This discovery attracted architects and scholars, and an excavation soon began. The Bedouin people were forced to relocate by the government, but were allowed to work inside Petra. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was named one of the “Seven New Wonders of the World” in the 2000s.
Today, it’s an active archeologic site and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world. And there I was, standing outside the gates.
One thing you should know before you go: Petra is massive! If at all possible, don’t try to see and do it all in one day. The best thing you can do is plan at least 48 hours in the area so you can go at a reasonable pace and see more than just the Treasury and the Siq.
Day 1 in Petra – The Siq, The Treasury and The Monastery
I thought my Indiana Jones-inspired getup would help me stand out in a sea of tourists, but I wasn’t the only one with the same idea! The visitor center was lined with shops with Indiana Jones hats, whips and satchels. For just $10, I completed my look with a cute hat.
Pro tip: It’s easy and expected to haggle with the shop owners. My hat was originally $60, so feel free to ask for a lower price.
The walk down to the Treasury took about 30-40 minutes through the Siq, a narrow, curving canyon through 200 ft. tall, striated rock formations. Most of the nearly mile-long Siq is natural, but the Nabataeans did carve some of it. Our Club Adventures guide Musa stopped us along the way to point out carvings and structures. We would have missed to much info without him! As we got closer to the Treasury the road got rougher. I didn’t fall, but I sure did stumble a whole lot while looking up at the canyon walls – so be extra careful.
I didn’t expect to feel so anxious walking through the Siq, in some places as narrow as 10 feet, but I had so much anticipation each time we turned a corner. At any moment, I knew the Treasury was going to come into view. Was it around this corner? Surely the next!
Finally, the Treasury appeared.
I stood in front of the facade for a few minutes and just stared with my mouth open. It was bigger and more awesome than I ever imagined. It’s such a treat to be impressed and not disappointed when you’ve built something up in your mind for so long!
The Treasury is the most popular spot in all of Petra, and the area at the front, where the Siq open up, was full of people eager to take photos and get as close as possible. I’ve seen so many photos of this place on Instagram with NO people around. Either y’all are running down here first thing in the morning or people are Photoshopping like crazy. Musa came in handy again ushering me over to a place where we could avoid the crowds.
Fun fact! The Treasury is not a treasury at all. Its Arabic name is Al Khazneh, or treasury, because the 19th century Bedouins believed it contained hidden wealth. It may have at some point, but it’s actually believed to be the tomb of the Nabatean King Aretas IV.
I could’ve plopped down on a cushion for hours to people watch, but we had so much more to see. There are more than 800 carved structures in Petra, and the Treasury happens to be the easiest to access, thus the most famous and recognizable one. As we continued down the path, we encountered far fewer people and a whole ancient city I didn’t know existed.
We had some free time to explore, so I went off on my own to peep inside the tombs, monuments and amphitheaters. It’s not often the word “epic” describes any destination that’s truly deserving, but Petra fit the bill for me. I certainly got the Indiana Jones moments I was hoping for! (Though no one’s face melted off, fortunately.)
There are still excavations happening today, so if you’ve visited Petra in the last 20 years, there’s likely something new to see.
The walk back to the visitors center was 60-90 minutes of uphill slog. It’s probably not too bad for the average person, but if you’re from Florida (where it is completely flat), you might struggle a bit like I did.
You can’t walk 10 feet inside Petra without a local asking if you’d like a horse or donkey ride. If the walk is too much for you, you can take them up on the offer. However, this can get pricey so be sure to confirm a total before accepting. I walked the entire way back but I saw a few folks in my group galloping up the Siq, waving goodbye as I trudged uphill.
Pro Tip: Drink LOTS of water. I visited at the beginning of April and I was sweating a good amount. It’s a lot of walking and if you choose to go inside any of the royal tombs, there are lots of stairs!
Petra by Night
Petra during the day was incredible, if exhausting, but I couldn’t have imagined that the same place at night would be even better.
More than 1,500 candles light the way from the visitor center down the Siq. Petra feels like a completely different place at night. There are not nearly as many people. It’s almost completely quiet save for the sound of feet shuffling in the sand.
After the dark walk through the Siq, which felt somehow narrower and taller in the dark, arriving at the Treasury this time was even more jaw dropping than earlier in the day. The light from the candles cast a warm glow on the facade. We sat down among the others and were brought hot tea and waited for the show, a group of Bedouins playing flutes, singing songs in Arabic and telling ancient stories, to begin.
Pro Tip: I recommend visiting Petra during the day first and then attending Petra By Night after. You have such an appreciation for what you’re seeing, and you know your way around a little better.
The show only took about 25-30 minutes from start to finish, and then we quietly wandered back up the Siq. It wasn’t nearly as hard this time! The cooler night air and lack of crowds made for a more relaxing experience than the daytime.
Day 2 in Petra – The High Place of Sacrifice and the Royal Tombs
After the epic wandering of Day 1, I confess I was not totally prepared for our second day. Our itinerary said we’d have a free day in Petra, so I thought I would do some light exploring. Maybe take it easy on my sore feet… haha, no.
Musa told us he knew of a hike to avoid the normal day crowds and get an even more spectacular view of Petra. Everyone in the group wanted to go, so I agreed. How hard could it really be?
The unmarked trail begins a few hundred feet from the main entrance. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d never see it. We walked further and further away from the crowds until we were the only people around. After a few minutes, it didn’t even feel like the same place where tourists were snapping photos the day before. We were surrounded by rocks but not quite like those in the Siq. These were gigantic boulders with caves carved into them, no doubt once housing Bedouins before they left Petra.
The trail was classified as “moderate” and took about four hours across rocky terrain. Along the way, we encountered Bedouins herding goats, pieces of ancient pottery scattered on the path and a tea shop atop the ridge. We were the only people there and it truly felt like the top of the world. The view was unbeatable!
After another hour of hiking, we made it to our last stop. The High Place of Sacrifice was once an ancient religious ceremonial site that’s now one of the best vantage points of the royal tombs. I inched to the edge for the photo because I’m TERRIFIED of heights, but it wasn’t too scary once I relaxed. I sat there for about an hour feeling really accomplished. I was the only person up there for a while, and it really made me feel like I had experienced all Petra had to offer and not just the touristy spots. I don’t think I would appreciate the magnitude of Petra if I hadn’t spent two days hiking through it.
If you don’t have a guide to take you the scenic route, don’t worry! There’s an easier way to get to the High Place of Sacrifice. If you’re already inside Petra, there’s a staircase between the Palace Tomb and the Sextius Florentinus Tomb. I don’t recommend the route we took without a guide. We ran into a few people who took the trail alone and needed help finding their way.
My only complaint about the whole experience: I wish I wore real comfortable shoes and not the cute boots I brought. But I wouldn’t trade my 48 hours in Petra for anything in the world.
Even two days in Petra was not enough, but it was a great introduction to a place that would take weeks or months to really begin to comprehend.
Petra Entrance Fees (as of 2019)
1-day pass: 50 Dinar
2-day pass: 55 Dinar
3-day pass: 60 Dinar
Petra by Night: 17 Dinar
Would you like to visit Petra, the Rose Red City? Let me know in the comments!
*Special thanks to Club Adventures for hosting this visit. This content campaign was in partnership with Club Adventures, and all opinions and observations are mine. Always. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep Angie Away a free travel resource! Please note, AngieAway.com may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links, we earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for keeping Angie and Rae… away!
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