Petra & Wadi Rum travel guide

A trip to Petra can be a box ticker or a deeper experience and if you have the chance to stay an extra day or two you’ll find there’s much more than originally greets the eye. For instance, the 800 sandstone steps that lead to Al-Deir (the Monastery) are definitely worth a couple of hours (if only to get your breath back) and returning after dark to see Al-Siq and Al Khazneh (the Treasury) bathed in candlelight will last long after wicks are wasted.
Chiselled sandstone structures and ornamental façades over darkened tombs add to the intrigue of this legendary former trading hub just two hours north of Wadi Rum.
Aside from the archaeological enchantment of Petra there’s much to be gained by furthering your knowledge and understanding of Bedouin culture with many memorable meetings held around campfires or after simply stopping at roadside stalls. Bicycles and 4x4s have become as common as camels and if you're hoping to explore Wadi Rum, get as far from the King’s Highway as possible and camp overnight for a truly exceptional desert experience.

Is Petra the vacation destination for you? Find out in our Petra and Wadi Rum travel guide.

Go to Petra if...

You’re into archaeology. You don't have to be Dan Cruickshank to get the most out of Petra but the more research you commit to current and previous archaeological excavations as well as the history of the region, the more you’ll ignite any smouldering amateur interests. You don’t mind a bit of walking. Petra is around 60km2; if you want to put things into perspective climb the 800 odd steps to the High Place for Sacrifice or the Monastery to experience the monuments from a whole new angle. You want to sleep out in the desert. The escarpments and rugged landscapes of Wadi Rum are every wannabe adventurer's dream and sleeping under the stars certainly heightens the experience. You’re comfortable saying no. For some local traders at least, you will be a walking dollar sign. If you're not able to politely say a short sharp ‘la’ then you might well lose it so learn to smile and practise your patience.

Don't  go to Petra if...

You don’t like tourist prices. Petra locals don't earn a heck of a lot, so when taxi drivers, shop keepers and restaurant owners spot a punter, they're more inclined to adjust their prices. Best advice? Fix a price first. You’re looking for hedonistic nightlife. Petra and Wadi Musa do have some cafes, bars and restaurants which sell alcohol, but don't expect to find much in the way of nightclubs. However, there are several outdoor terraces from where to enjoy a couple of sundowners. You can’t abide by the rules. Don't touch, stray from the path or stroll around in the midday heat are just a few of the rules to take into consideration. If you like to do things how you like them and prefer to dress or behave in a way that's deemed unacceptable to locals then don't be surprised by results. Camels give you the heebeegeebees. Although cars, buses and bicycles course down the King’s Highway, the most traditional way of getting around is by camel. If you’re not keen then stick your blinkers on and give them a wide berth.

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking

Petra’s location between Asia and the Med is reflected in its cuisine. Hummus, falafel, lamb kebabs and stuffed chicken tend to feature, accompanied by rice, Bedouin bread, salad and yoghurt.

If you’re invited to a traditional coffee ceremony it’s polite to accept the first cup prior to deliberating over a further two top ups.

Bedouin camps in Wadi Rum often include the national dish of mansaf (lamb with dried yoghurt and rice) and maqluba (meat and fried vegetables).
It’s generally considered that 85% of Petra is yet to be excavated even though UNESCO have already identified and listed well over 800 monuments.

Our top trip

Jordan vacation, a week in Jordan

Jordan vacation, a week in Jordan

A week to explore the spectacular sites and scenery of Jordan

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If you'd like to chat about Petra and Wadi Rum or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

People & language

In 1985 Jordan’s government (sponsored by UNESCO) relocated 250 Bedouin families from Petra’s caves and archaeological sites. Although many welcomed the move, several felt their livelihoods suffered by being away from their main source of income: tourism. Modern day traders, including children, speak English and some French and German; however, Arabic is the local language.

‘Shukran’ means ‘thank you’, although, confusingly, it can also mean ‘no thank you’ when used in a more forceful manner.

‘Salaam’ means ‘peace’ and is a typical greeting alongside ‘marhaba’ which translates into ‘welcome’.

‘Kee fak’ means ‘how are you’ when speaking to a man, whereas ‘Kee fik’ is used when addressing a woman.
Many of the musket marks that pock Petra’s solid stone urns and carvings on the Treasury walls were caused by Bedouins looking for treasure or target practise.

How much does it cost?

Wine and buffet dinner at a hotel restaurant: £25

Chicken/lamb stew or kebabs in a local restaurant: £5 - £10

Lamb shawarma or a falafel sandwich on the street: 50p - £2

1.5litre bottle of water at a kiosk in Petra: £2

Imported bottle of beer in a hotel bar: £5

A brief history of Petra

Although the Nabataeans (pre-Islamic Arabians) weren’t the first to inhabit Petra they were the first to take the Shera Mountains to task by sculpting the sandstone into the ornate façades and ceremonial chambers you’ll find today. The southwest Jordan location provided not only home to 20,000 Nabataeans but also a trading post between Asia and the Mediterranean featuring an ingenious series of waterways to form a highly functional desert oasis. Read more
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kyle Taylor] [Go to Petra if...: J Basiga] [People & language: Kathleen] [How much does it cost?: Ankur P]