Ah Petra, where to begin? Of the world’s many wonders, this ancient archeological site is a uniquely inspiring and aesthetic experience. To stand amidst the ‘red-rose city’ is to be in awe of the abilities of mankind. The stunning site of Petra was once the prosperous capital of the Nabataean Arabs. The city grew rich in trade but as history took its toll, through annexation by the Roman Empire and a disastrous earthquake, all that remained were the wonderfully intricate structures the Nabataeans had once cut out of mountain sides.

Lost in time with local Bedouins, the Petra that appears today is a testament to craftsmanship and artistry. It is an experience of such perceptual vastness you become emotionally captivated by it. The magnificent remains of the city, and traces of human settlement for over 10,000 years, should be marveled at without the struggles of traveling like a tourist. From an essential packing list to the best times to beat the crowds, here is the quintessential beginner’s guide to discovering Petra.

Landmark Musts:

Before logistics come into play, let’s paint a picture of the many must-see sights. Enter Petra through the Siq, a winding wave of reds and rock as tall as the eyes can see. This path will take you to your first site, The Treasury. You may recognize this rock-cut temple as Petra’s most photographed landmark. Take a moment to soak it in and of course, don’t forget to snap a selfie.

This is just the beginning. Petra has a seemingly limitless number of trails, caves and temples to explore. Discovery happens at every corner, and it’s worth allotting time to get a little lost and wander round. Of all Petra’s sights, make sure you don’t miss the Monastery. A picturesque hike 822 steps up the side of a mountain will take you to this grandiose, intricately carved façade that is surrounded by panoramic views of the neighboring valleys.

Other musts include a peek at the remaining pillars of Hadrian’s Gate that stand aside the Cardo, which was once a main street of Nabataean society filled with local vendors. Start this section at the Main Theater, the Cardo stretches from the remains of this ancient amphitheater all the way to the Temple of Dushares. You could scratch the surface in one day or spend a lifetime exploring the hundreds of tombs and sights of Petra. Every single one is worth the trip.

Getting There:

Petra is located 250 kilometers south of Amman, and the scenic route is a mere 2.5 hours by car from Queen Alia International Airport.  Similarly, the journey from Aqaba’s airport totals 1.5 hours, however a fewer number of airlines fly here. Arranging a driver or car rental is paramount before arrival, ensuring you won’t get haggled when you’re there. You can book a car in advanced using Rent a Reliable Car, with chauffeur driven rides at 100 JD from Amman and 65 JD from Aqaba.

Rent a Reliable Car Tel: +962-6-5929676 | Reliable@nets.com.jo

Accommodation Considerations:

As a result of increased interest in this often-overlooked world wonder, Petra’s nearest town, Wadi Musa, has developed to reflect the taste and needs of all types of visitors. The town is a mere five-minute drive from Petra, surrounding a road the stretches 5km all the way to the main entrance. This once-in-a-lifetime adventure can be tiresome, and luxury accommodations may help lessen the load. If a five-star situation is right up your alley, opt for The Mövenpick Resort Petra. This luxe resort, costing around 150 JD per night, mixes modern tastes with Middle Eastern traditions for a curated experience directly at the site entrance. Perhaps you are looking for more ‘lax’ accommodations, in which case, the Tetra Tree Hotel has got you covered with rooms from only 40 JD per night. With an emphasis on comfort and a rooftop with panoramic views of Petra, you can’t go wrong.

Mövenpick Resort Petra TEL: +962 3 215 71 11 | resort.petra@movenpick.com

Tetra Tree Hotel TEL: +96232155550 | info@tetratreehotel.com 

Timing is Everything:

Petra is picture perfect year-round, but it is best enjoyed during cooler spring and fall months. Avoid the summer heat and the end-of-year holiday season crowds by planning your trip sometime in March-May or September-November. Temperatures will still be warm (18-25°C) during this time.

As for the time of day to visit, if you’re particularly determined to avoid other visitors, go with the sunrise at 5am.  Not only will you have the ancient city to yourself, you’ll also escape the heat and have ample time to explore. If mornings just aren’t your thing, arrive around 3pm to miss the height of the heat and stick around for sunset. Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Petra also stays open after hours for the candle-lit Petra by Night tour.

A Petra Packing List:

There’s hardly any shade around the site, so a hat, sunnies and sunscreen are essential to protect the skin. If you’re going to stay and admire an unforgettable Petra sunset, bring an extra layer to stay warm as temperatures drop. While you will certainly be doing a lot of walking, your standard sneakers, or comfortable sandals will suffice. Put simply, dress comfortably.

You can’t go to Petra without posing for some epic pictures. Make sure to bring a camera, phone, and some extra memory cards just in case! At last, it’s always wise to bring a little bit of cash. You never know when thirst, hunger, or a special souvenir might steal your attention.

Food & Beverage:

While Petra is known for its consuming aesthetic beauty, it is not necessarily known for its culinary feats. Most hotels in Petra will provide you with a packed lunch if you ask in advance. Not to worry if this isn’t an option, once inside, there is a mixture of places to eat and drink ranging from Bedouin tea stalls, kiosks, and cafés. If the feat has left you famished, head to The Basin, a full-service restaurant complete with buffet lunches and bottles of wine. If there was too much to see and too little time, stop by Cave Bar at the Petra Guest House on the way out. This former 2,000-year-old Nabataean tomb has been transformed into a trendy bar.

Keep in Mind:

Unfortunately, waltzing into Petra unannounced in not an option. Tickets are available at the Visitor Center in Wadi Musa and can be purchased on arrival. Payment in Petra can be tricky, depending on whether you’re staying in-country for at least one night or just in town for the day, prices will vary. For overnighters, a ticket will cost 50 JD for one day, 55 JD for two days and 60 JD for three. Day-trippers can expect to pay a premium price of 90 JD, a rule put in place to encourage visitors to stay and discover Jordanian culture.

If you have the luxury of time, Little Petra should not be missed. While this site is certainly smaller, it is just as beautiful as its larger counterpart. Little Petra is only a short drive away from Petra itself and a visit can be arranged with any hotel or guide.

*Written by Natalie Stoclet for Conde Nast Traveller, Middle East