Before I started researching our 7 day trip to Jordan, I had never heard of seeing Petra by night. However, once I saw the beautiful photos of the Treasury lit up with hundreds of candles, I was hooked. I didn’t know anything else about the experience. I only hoped that it was as spectacular as the photos led me to believe.
Did the experience live up to my expectations? Absolutely. Was it perfect? No. In this article, I will discuss exactly what you can expect from visiting Petra by night and what I loved about it. I will also provide the tips and tricks that I learned that will hopefully, make your experience as magical for you as it was for me.
Brief History of Petra
Petra Jordan was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom from 6th century BC. It was chosen as a centre of trade for a number of reasons:
- It was a cross road. Petra was well positioned in the trade routes between the Arabian and the Mediterranean Seas, and Egypt and Syria.
- There was lots of water. Our local guide told us that at least 26 natural water springs supply the area.
- The mountains provided natural defensive advantages, such as outlook points and obstacles to successfully attack them.
Little else is known of the Nabataens except that they were nomadic, very business minded and incredibly wealthy.
Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Most of what you see at Petra was built by the Romans. Petra continued to flourish until an earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water systems in 749 BC. After that, Petra was largely abandoned.
Other than the local Bedouins, people forgot about the ruins. They remained hidden to the world until the 19th century when they were “discovered” by a Swiss explorer. In 1929, the first major excavation of the site occurred.
In 2007, Petra became one of the New Seven Wonders of The World and is now, one of the most sought after historical and cultural sites to explore in the world.
Why Do People Come?
I spent most of my time in Petra completely awestruck by what I saw. It was stunningly beautiful almost everywhere you look.
First off, we were completely surrounded by pink. The sand, the craggy rocks, and honey-combed mountains were all different shades of pink. In fact, Petra is commonly referred to as the “Pink City”.
Second, Petra is huge. Although there are mountains everywhere, it feels spread out and open. The only exception is the Siq, a 1.2 km narrow and windy path in a gorge that was naturally carved between two mountains. This was and still is the main entrance to Petra.
Then, over thousands of acres, and scattered here and there in the majestic mountains, are hand carved caves, temples and tombs. So, one moment, you are walking admiring the natural beauty of the mountains and then the next, you are face to face with a work of art that is several stories tall.
Our Time In Petra
Our family of 6 (3 adults and 3 teenagers aged14, 15, and 17 years old) visited Petra twice. First, we did Petra by night and the next morning, we visited Petra by day. It was a quick visit; however, we had one week to explore Jordan and I had a long list of sites and experiences that I really wanted to have during that week. After much consideration, I decided that this would have to be enough time.
Was it? That question will be answered in a future article. For now, I want to discuss our time in Petra by night.
Where We Stayed
We arrived in Wadi Musa, the town where Petra is located, around mid afternoon before Petra by night and checked in to our hotel, The Old Village Resort. The hotel is exquisitely situated. It is perched above Wadi Musa, looking over the Shahara Mountains, and around 1.9 km away from the entrance to Petra. It is not walking distance. However, that is far from being a negative. The town was very busy with narrow windy and busy roads that were built prior to the modern demands on the town. I liked being away from the hustle and bustle of it. The hotel will also provide shuttles to the Petra Visitor Centre, the entrance to Petra.
The hotel also has an interesting history. The site was originally settled by a local tribe in the late 1800s. The villagers used the abundant stones that they found to build their houses and establish a village. Over the years the village expanded and the surrounding land was terraced and planted with many fruit and olive trees. As Wadi Musa developed and expanded, the villagers moved into the town, finally abandoning the site in 1975. Before the site was developed into a hotel, they excavated the grounds and found many artifacts that show that the area was consistently inhabited since 1st century BC.
We really liked the hotel. It felt connected to the landscape with large rooms furnished to highlight local culture and handicrafts. The staff was very kind and helpful.
Petra By Night
The details of Petra by night
Petra by night is offered three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It starts at 8:30 pm, the time at which they open the entrance gates. Petra by night costs 17 JOD or 24 USD, although children under 10 years old are free. In order to purchase a ticket, you must have already acquired a valid day time ticket. There are unlimited number of Petra by night tickets so advanced reservations are not necessary. However, it is recommended that you purchase your Petra by night tickets at some point during the day to avoid long line ups or any delay in entering Petra.
Petra by night involves a 2.4 km (1.5 mile) walk from the entrance of Petra to the Treasury. Once you arrive, you sit on mats, are served tea and listen to live music – “the show”. Once that is over, you walk back the exact way you came. You do not go beyond the Treasury and explore more of Petra. That is only allowed during the day.
Our start to Petra by night
We were beyond excited to see Petra. We had no idea what to expect and since we arrived late in the day, had not yet seen Petra in daylight. Our first encounter was going to be in the dark.
We arrived at the entrance to Petra around 8:10 pm and found a large line up waiting at the gate. The entrance is actually quite a large complex with many things to do and see. There is a large Visitors Centre where you buy your tickets; a large covered seating area; cafes and restaurants; and small stores where they sold souvenirs or essentials, like hats and bottled water.
We stood in line and shortly after 8:30 pm, the line began to move. We were through the gates in about 10 minutes.
Once we were through the gates, it immediately opened up into a very wide and largely level path. Within minutes, the stores, cafes, restaurants, and everything else related to the Visitors Centre and the town disappeared. All that was left was the natural landscape of rock and mountains, a star filled night, and a luckily for us, a full moon. It was very very quiet.
The path was lit on either side by candles. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands of candles, from start to finish. It was dark, but the candles and the full moon cast enough light that we were able to see faint outlines of the landscape that surrounded us. We tried hard to see if there were carvings in the rocks or on the mountain sides that we passed, but except for faint glimpses, it was impossible to see too much detail. However, the candles and the moonlight created stunningly beautiful and absolutely magical scenes all around us. We walked along this path for approximately 1.2 km.
It was packed with people. Everyone was let in at the same time, so that at least at the beginning of the walk, we were together in a huge crowd. As the walk progressed, the path got wider, and there was lots of room for people to move away from each other. However, how long that will take will depend on where you ended up in the line-up to start, and how fast you can walk.
A few people brought and used flashlights which distracted from the atmosphere that was created by the candles and the moonlight. Nonetheless, I totally understand why people felt the need for the flashlights. In certain places, the ground wasn’t quite level or there was a rock jutting up into the path. However, we decided that maintaining the magical quality of the walk was worth the small risk of tripping, so we chose not to use our flashlights and moved away from those who were.
The Middle of Petra By Night
After 1.2 km, we arrived at the Siq. Now, we had another 1.2 km walk in the narrow gorge between two mountains. The path was still level and relatively wide, although it was about half the width of the path from the entrance to the Siq. Thankfully, candles and moonlight still lit the path.
I loved walking in the Siq. We were able to spot some carvings in the mountains walls as we walked very close to them. We couldn’t see them in too much detail. However, that just sparked our excitement for what we would see the next day in the daylight.
The path was very windy and unpredictable as it followed the gorge that was naturally created over thousands of years. Accordingly, we never knew where we were going next, or what would open up to us as we rounded a corner. It was fun and exciting to experience.
The path remained wide and level: however, it was still half the size of what it was in the first half of the walk. So notwithstanding we had managed to break away from the crowd at the beginning, we felt crowded again in the smaller space. Since it was narrower, we also found it more difficult to walk past other people.
After 1.2 km through the Siq, we stepped out from the gorge into a wide open space right in front of the Treasury. What a spectacle. Hundreds more candles lined up in front of the Treasury next to mats lying on the ground. People were being directed to move along and find a seat on one of the mats. When we arrived, there wasn’t too many people there yet – maybe around 100, all seated in front of us. We found a spot, sat down, and looked in wonderment at this beautiful, huge, and majestic building carved out of the rocks and lit up by candles.
We arrived before most people and got to see the Treasury lit up by candles without much of a crowd. It was amazing.
We sat there for around 20 minutes and watched hundreds of people arrive. We were amazed by the numbers. The area became absolutely packed. Eventually, people had to stand directly in front of the Treasury, something that wasn’t allowed initially, after every other spot was taken. The magic that we experienced when we first arrived at seeing the Treasury lit up by candles with hardly anyone there, was gone.
After 20 minutes, the “show” began. A man played the flute in the darkness. I had no idea where. And yet still, droves of people kept arriving. As my husband and I watched, we began to think about what it was going to be like when the “show” was over and everyone left to walk back to the entrance, especially at the beginning through the narrow Siq. We could only imagine the crowds and the noise, and the lost opportunity to experience the astonishing beauty of the candles, the moonlight and the mountains around us. We decided to leave before the show ended and walk back.
The Exit of Petra By Night
That was one of the best decisions of our whole holiday! We started to walk back at the end of the first song. Apart from a handful of people still arriving, we had the whole Siq and the other pathway from the Siq to the entrance all to ourselves. It was magnificent end to Petra by night.
Recommendations For Petra By Night
After our experience at Petra by night, here are my tips for making the most of the evening:
Tips For Everyone
- Dress warmly and in layers. No matter how warm it is during the day, it is the desert and it cools dramatically at night.
- Wear closed-toe, comfortable, and reasonably athletic shoes. Running shoes is be enough. Hiking shoes would be better but not necessary to enjoy the hike.
- Walking sticks would be helpful. It is a gentle slope going to the Treasury, and an uphill walk on the return. The path is mostly level and unobstructed, but it is not perfect and it is dark. Walking sticks would provide a bit more balance.
- Bring a flashlight if you are nervous about tripping. It does impact the mystical feeling created with the candles, but that is a secondary issue if you are worried.
- Bring water.
- It is approximately 2.4 km or 1.5 mile walk EACH way. The walk is not difficult, although the return walk is all uphill (along a gentle slope), but it is long. You need to be in reasonable shape to do this walk.
- Unless you have a special camera/lens and expertise in how to photograph in the dark, it will be difficult to take good photos.
- The walk is suitable for young children provided they can walk the distances. Other than it being dark and the path uneven at times, there isn’t anything else that should be of concern to parents.
For those who want a truly magical experience
- Go to Petra by night first and then, see Petra in the daytime. I was almost tingling with excitement at what we were going to see as we walked in the darkness with the candles and the moon surrounding us. I don’t think it would be the same if you had already spent the day exploring Petra and knew what to expect.
- You need to avoid the crowds. One way is to arrive early to the entrance to Petra. We arrived around 20 minutes early. If I was going to do it again, I’d arrive around 40 minutes early. Once inside, be prepared to walk quickly to the Treasury.
- Then, I’d leave the show early and slowly walk back to the entrance, savouring the experience of the candles, the moonlight and the mountains around you.
- I can’t say for sure (as we did not do this), but I would think that the opposite would work as well. Start Petra by night much later than everyone else and walk slowly. We met a few couples on our return trip who were alone and very much behind schedule. Once at the Treasury, linger as long as you can and then, slowly return to the entrance. You will likely miss the show (a flute player or two), but you should be able to experience the magic of Petra by night.
We loved Petra by night. It is well worth organizing your time in Jordan so that you can experience Petra by night, especially if you can see it before seeing Petra by day. For sure, the way the night is currently organized is not ideal, but with a little bit of planning, it can be pretty special.
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