Petra itinerary: 2 days in Petra Jordan
This post is a self guided Petra itinerary that will help you make the best out of your 2 days in Petra.
Petra is Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction and the reason many travellers decide to visit Jordan in the first place. The ancient complex is famous for its stunning location in the desert mountains. Petra was a city carved out of the red sandstone rock formations in the area and archeologists still work on the question how it was built exactly.
With this Petra itinerary I will guide you in 2 days through the most important places in Petra. It is focused on independent budget travellers and therefore this Petra itinerary can be done without a guide.
Why visit Petra?
Petra is now one of the seven new wonders of the world and it has starred in famous movies like Indiana Jones. It wasn’t too long ago tough that people didn’t know about Petra at all. Only the local bedouins that lived in the carved out rocks knew about this city of a lost civilization.
It was only in the early 19th century that Western explorers got to know about the ruins. What they found was the ancient capital of the Nabateans. As early as 300 BC Petra was a wealthy city on the trade route that brought spices and other goods from Africa to the Arab world. What made it thrive was an advanced irrigation system allowing the Nabateans control of water in the desert environment.
Once the Romans took over, the city lost its importance. A series of earthquakes caused a lot of damage, but it was also a lack of water that made people abandon the city. Left in ruins, the Bedouin descendants of the Nabateans kept roaming around the area. Knowing all along about the wonder that was kept hidden from the rest of the world for so long.
The B’doul Bedouins
Nowadays, Petra is no longer a secret. Tourism is the main source of income for the local Bedouins, but has also forced them outside of their cave homes in the archeological site. For many generations, the B’doul bedouins of Petra, lived a semi-nomadic existence as goat herders. The relocation out of Petra to the new settlement of Umm Sayhoun has forever changed their traditional lifestyle for better and for worse.
At first sight, it looks like every Bedouin works in the tourism industry, but they are in fact a marginalized community in Jordan. Unemployment in Umm Sayhoun is high and the Bedouins are overrepresented in the lower paid jobs of selling souvenirs, donkey rides and tea. They are now trying to make a living in what was once their home.
A 2 day Petra itinerary
Any Petra itinerary will involve lots of walking over rocky terrain. The ancient capital of the Nabateans covers a large area and to preserve its monuments, motorized vehicles are not allowed. Even if they were, most trails would not be suitable for them. Petra is best explored on foot.
If the prospect of so much walking seems daunting to you. Don’t be too worried. Even if you are not an avid hiker, you can see most of what Petra has to offer. The key to enjoy any hiking trail in Petra is to take your time. Stop often, look around you and enjoy the views. You will notice details that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
It’s best to focus your Petra itinerary on the most popular hikes that go through the archeological park. In this post I will discuss 5 trails that will bring you along the best things to see and do in Petra. Most of them are just a few kilometers, but the time it takes differs greatly as there are some steep and scary climbs involved.
Petra itinerary Day 1
On the first day of your Petra itinerary I recommend the easy Main trail and the Ad Deir trail to the Monastery. This will guide you along Petra’s highlights in one day.
Distance: 4 kilometers one way
Time needed: 2 – 3 hrs
The main trail is the easiest of trails in Petra and one that everyone should take to enter. If you have limited mobility there is the possibility to go with a horse cart, donkey or camel. Do keep in mind though that there are serious concerns about the animal welfare in Petra and in general I would not recommend these options.
Petra’s main trail starts with the 2 kilometer walk through the narrow siq. As this is the only way to enter and exit Petra you will probably walk this more than once. Personally, I saw new details every time I went through. To truly appreciate the beauty of the Siq, I can recommend getting up early, at least once, to be there before the crowds arrive.
The Siq ends at the famous Treasury or Al Khazneh. Legends abound that it contained many hidden treasures, but so far, nothing has been found. Traces of bullet holes on the stone urn show that many people did try to find any. The Treasury is in fact a mausoleum of the Nabatean king Aretas and the impressive facade was carved out of the sandstone rocks.
Street of Facades
After the Treasury, the main trail continues through the street of facades where one can see more structures carved out of the sandstone rock formations. All of these were Nabatean tombs of senior officials. The higher the position, the more elaborate the rock carvings and decorations.
The Petra theatre was built by the Nabateans. Although it’s design is similar to that of a Roman theatre, it was completely carved out of the sandstone rocks and therefore its construction was distinctively Nabatean.
After the theatre you can continue the main trail to the center of Petra. As the road widens up to a large open space you can clearly see the collonaded street. This was the main street in Petra. It was already a shopping street during the Nabateans, but was refurbished by the Romans and hence the Roman feel. There are also a couple of Roman ruins in this area such as the Nymphaeum at the beginning of the collonaded street and the remains of the Hadrian’s gate at the end.
The Great Temple
South of the collonaded street is the Great temple of Petra. Although called a temple it is not sure whether this large monumental complex, with its central location, was a religious building at all. It might also have been an administrative center. No matter its function it was an important building as findings and elaborate details suggest.
Qasr al Bint
At the end of the collonaded street one can find two ancient Nabatean temples that did have a religious function. The temple of the Winged Lions was dedicated to the supreme Goddess of the Nabateans and the Qasr al Bint to the main deity of the Nabbateans.
Al Deir trail
Distance: 2 kilometers one way
Time needed: 45 minutes up, 30 minutes down
At the end of the main trail you can continue exploring Petra with a number of trails that start from here. My recommendation for your first day in Petra is the Al Deir trail. Or the way to the famous monastery.
The Monastery trail is a 45 minute climb up, but if you take it step by step, it isn’t too difficult. It’s 850 steps to be exact, but believe me, that it’s worth the effort. Just take your time and bring enough water with you.
The reward is the largest monument in Petra. The impressive facade is 45 meters high and 50 meters wide. Like the Treasury it was a Nabatean tomb and it was never in use as a monastery. Once you have reached the monastery you can take your pictures, have a little rest and then choose to either go back or do some more climbing towards a viewpoint. If you have just a little bit of energy left, I would recommend the latter.
The Panorama views over Petra are spectacular and will probably motivate you to do more hikes on your second day in Petra. It will probably take you about 2 hours to walk back from the Monastery to the Visitor centre using the Monastery trail and Main trail. As the sun sets the siq looks quite different from the early morning hours.
Petra itinerary Day 2
On your second day in Petra, you will once more enter through the main trail. I must say that I really didn’t mind walking the main trail for a second time. With less photo stops than yesterday it took me about an hour to reach Petra’s main square
From there you can opt for some of the less popular hikes that will bring you to the more remote and quiet places in Petra. These hikes will include some steep climbs and I must be honest that they might be a challenge for those with a fear of heights.
Al Khubta trail
Distance: 1.7 kilometers one way
Time needed: 1 – 2 hours
Level: easy till the royal tombs, after that moderately difficult
I started my second day in Petra with the Al Khubta trail that starts opposite the theatre. The Al Khubta trail leads you past the royal tombs on towards a viewpoint from where you can see the Treasury from above. It’s 900 steps, but like the Al Deir monastery trail, it is doable if you take your time.
Insider tip: the Al Khubta trail leads you towards a free viewpoint from where you can see the Treasury from above. At the Treasury there will be lots of wanna be guides that will want to lead you to other viewpoints that are not free. These trails are not official and therefore not recommended. They might be less safe and you can cause unnecessary damage to the archeological site by going off the established paths.
Even if you don’t want to do the steep climb, the easygoing first part of the Al Khubta trail is still worth it, because of the royal tombs. These sets of tombs with elaborate facades probably belonged to the royal family of the Nabateans. The red sandstone rocks are particularly colourful here.
If you entered the Al Khubta trail from the theatre, the Urn tomb is the first one you come across. It has a large terrace in front. It probably belonged to the Nabatean king Malchus II and was later used as a church by the Byzantines.
The Silk tomb might have a simple facade compared to the others, but it might be one of my favourites because of the impressive colours. The Corinthian and Palace tomb facades are not that beautifully renovated as the Treasury and the Monastery, but one can see how large they must have been.
When you finish the Al Khubta trail you can either walk back to the Treasury through the main trail or take a back route by connecting the Wadi Al Farassa trail with the High place of sacrifice trail.
Wadi Al Farassa trail
Distance: 2.7 kilometers one way
Time needed: 1 – 2 hours
The Wadi Al farassa trail is an easy trail that starts at the Qasr Al Bint on Petra’s main square. Wadi Al Farassa was one of the more quiet areas where I met few other tourists. You come across several tombs that are relatively simple in style. It’s the scenery and landscape that is the true attraction here.
For the first 30 – 45 minutes you are walking through Zantur hill. At first sight there is not much to see, but archeologists found evidence of a residential area with rich merchant homes. After that you come to a valley with several monuments before the climb up to the high place of sacrifice.
This is one of the few trails that you can make into a loop. By connecting with the High place of sacrifice trail you end up near the Treasury.
Tomb of the Soldier
The tomb of the soldier is well preserved. As the name suggests it was thought to be the burial place of a Roman soldier, but this was not the case. Research shows that the tomb is much older. The three manly statues are thus Nabateans and not Romans. Whom the tomb really belonged to is unknown.
The Garden temple or Garden tomb was neither a tomb or garden. And that’s all that is known about its function. The wall right next to the monument might suggest something. The stone wall belongs to a water reservoir system. Actually the water and irrigation system in Petra that the Nabateans made is as impressive as its tombs.
Though less visibly stunning, it was the control of water that made Petra thrive. The channels that were cut out of the rocks not only allowed Petra access to sufficient water, it also protected the area from flash floods.
Before heading up to the place of High sacrifice you pass by the lion fountain. You can still see remnants of its body, although the head is missing. It’s possible that it was built in a way that water gushed from the lion’s mouth and provided drinking water to the people in Petra.
After the Lion fountain you will start the somewhat scary and steep climb up to the High place of sacrifice.
High place of sacrifice trail
Distance: 1.2 kilometers one way
Time needed: 1 hour
The High place of sacrifice trail is another steep climb that will reward you with more panorama views over Petra. In this Petra itinerary you start the High place of sacrifice trail from Wadi Al Farassa making it into a loop that ends near the Treasury. The other way around the High place of sacrifice trail starts near the Theatre and involves a 1 hour climb up.
The high place of Sacrifice is a high plateau where animals were sacrificed to the gods. You can clearly see the structures on which animals were sacrificed including channels to drain the blood. To be honest, the High place of Sacrifice trail alone wasn’t as spectacular as the other trails I mentioned here. It really is the possibility to connect with the Wadi Al Farassa trail that makes it worth the climb. For the best views I do recommend the Al Khubta trail or the viewpoint at the monastery.
More than 2 days in Petra
If you have more than 2 days in your Petra itinerary you can choose to do some of the less popular trails such as the 2.5 kilometer Umm al Biyara trail or the 9 kilometer Jabal Haroun trail.
I can also really recommend Little Petra that is located not far from Wadi Musa. It’s less crowded and not that big and therefore does not require a full day. Entrance is free and therefore a quick visit before or after the real Petra is definitely worth it.
Petra itinerary travel tips
Sustainable tourism in Petra
With more than a million visitors per year, sustainable tourism in Petra is of utmost importance. The Care for Petra campaign specifically focuses on the prevention of child labour, animal abuse and the preservation of the fragile sandstone structures.
Be a responsible tourist. Don’t climb on the monuments and make sure not to damage them. Don’t litter. Do not buy rocks or antiquities, especially not from children. At last, try to avoid the donkey rides. Not only are the animals not always taken well care of, their hooves increase the erosion of sandstone steps made by the Nabateans.
How to get to Petra
Petra is easy to reach from either Aqaba or Amman. I wrote a separate post about how to travel from Amman to Petra. Jordan is more than Petra alone and if you plan your journey wisely the way to Petra could be almost as spectacular as Petra itself.
How many days in Petra
Entrance to Petra does not come cheap. If you plan a visit to Jordan, you should consider the Jordan Pass. You can buy a one day, two day or three day pass. Initially I bought a three day pass, but due to a flash flood raging through Petra the day I arrived, I could only go for two days.
In the end I think 2 days in Petra was enough to see the most important things and I was able to do the four most popular trails. That said, they were two long and exhausting days. Especially the Al Khubta trail and the High Sacrifice trail are difficult unless you are really fit. For a more relaxed and easygoing program you might want to spread these trails out over 2 days instead of one.
Petra itinerary tips
The archeological complex of Petra is huge and excavations are still going on. As recently as 2016 a massive monument was discovered. No matter how you visit, you will probably do lots of walking over rocky terrain. Sturdy shoes with ankle support are recommended.
There are only a few restaurants in Petra and considering the distances you will walk, there might not be one near you when it’s lunch time. Plan accordingly and bring some food with you.
When you are in Petra don’t forget to drink enough water (at least 3 liters per person per day). While you can buy bottled water in Petra itself, it is expensive and adds up to the plastic bottle problem. There is no recycle program in Jordan, so think about bringing a refillable bottle. The tap water in combination with a water filter, steri pen or water purification tablets is safe to drink.
Although there is some shade on the trails, you will also walk in the sun a lot. Bring sun protection (sun screen, sun hat, sun glasses) with you.
Safety and scams in Petra
Solo female travellers should be aware of the Bedouin love scam. Bedouin hospitality does exist, but no longer in Petra where tourism is big business. Don’t accept invitations from Bedouin men for ‘free’ rides, tours, walks, meals at their family homes or a night at their desert cave. Remember, nothing is for free in Petra.
The above doesn’t mean Petra is dangerous for solo female travellers. I had a great trip to Jordan and felt perfectly safe as a woman. I found the love scammers to be pretty obvious. Most are young men starting with an innocent conversation before moving on to some kind of invitation. It was easy to sense where it was going and after a firm, no thank you (la, shukran), most of them left me alone.
There are other scams in Petra too. As soon as you enter Petra there are lots of wannabe guides that want to show you ‘secret’ trails and viewpoints. Remember that the official trails are easy to find without a guide. Other trails are generally not recommended, because they are not safe or because of preservation of the fragile sandstone structures. Therefore stick to the official trails and if you really like a guide for more information, negotiate a price beforehand.
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