How to visit Petra with limited mobility and gently walk this ancient city

How to visit Petra with limited mobility and gently walk this ancient city

The ancient Nabataean city of Petra is by far the famous and  most visited place in Jordan. But can you visit and enjoy Petra with limited mobility?

When I read about Jordan, I read that the area is really hilly.  And the village of Wadi Musa, where most visitors stay, is on top of a hill.  So that after a long day exploring the ancient city, it would be a steep uphill walk. Unless you stay in one of the pricier hotels by the Visitor Centre. And before you reach the main sites, you would have to walk a fair bit from the entrance. So how would this all work out if you wanted to visit Petra with limited mobility?

The Ancient Nabataean City of Petra

This will be a subject of a more general Petra blog post so please bear with me! This post is about walking Petra with limited mobility.

What mobility issues am I talking about?

Limited mobility ranges from being unable to exert due to pre-existing condition to limited lower limb mobility. Whether one is able to walk distances on differing terrains is highly individual. These are my personal experiences. I’m a poor walker with terrible fitness. Put me on a bicycle or throw me in a lake, and I’m fine. Walking? Nah. I can walk, and I will walk, but I am careful and try to check out terrain and alternative transport options beforehand. I’m not shy to take my trekking poles but as I usually fly with hand luggage, they only spring into action in Germany. You certainly wouldn’t want to go mountaineering with me.

And to make things a bit harder, I missed a step, twisted my ankle and fell hard while walking around Madaba. I could still weight bear.  So I put a nice tight bandage on, kept walking and elevated and iced the ankle when I wasn’t walking. The next day, I was a bit sore, but better! I had three more days in Jordan.  The weather was getting worse and I wanted to see Petra! So I decided to give it a try, stick to lower ground and avoid any unsecured trails.

Walking Petra with limited mobility

But now, let’s take a closer look at the terrain and the major sights in Petra!

It’s a downhill walk from Petra Town all the way to the Basin Restaurant.  The bit from Petra to the Visitor Centre can be very steep depending where you stay. So if you visit Petra with limited mobility, get a taxi as far as you can.  From the Visitor Centre it’s a really nice gentle downhill slope you won’t notice much ont he way in but will on the way back. Just be aware that the return journey might be a little bit harder. Should you really flag, there will be horse cats at hand from the Treasury onward to bail you out, as well as other transport options – more about that later.

Al-Khazneh or The Treasury in Petra
Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) is an easy 2km downhill walk from the Visitor Centre

What to bring

First of all, don’t forget your passport as the ticket Office requires to see it.

I highly recommend sturdy walking shoes of your preference with a good profile. Petra is about 1000m above sea level and hot during the day for most of the year. Outside the Siq there is little shade while you are walking, although snack shacks with a bit of shade are plenty along the main route. I highly recommend some light breathable cover for arms, legs and head, as well as sunscreen and a sun hat. Take plenty of water – there is some for sale inside the site at much higher prices. When I travelled, in January, you definitely need some rain cover, too, and even studier and waterproof shoes, as parts of the Siq path were muddy.

Wadi Musa to Petra Visitor Centre and Petra Museum

Unless you travel by JETT bus or in a tour group, you are likely to stay in Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is a very large village/small town which provides some tourist infrastructures for visitors to Petra. They have been, somewhat unkindly, called the cash cow of Jordan.  Maybe I was lucky, maybe I did not stay long enough, but I experienced nothing but friendliness and kindness in Wadi Musa. My hostel was good, people were friendly, and yes, prices were higher than anywhere else, but as always, if you don’t like the price, walk away. It would be a good idea to buy a litre or two of water in town as everything inside the Petra site will be more expensive but not prohibitively so – more like standard Western Europe prices.

If the path from your hotel to the Visitor Centre is long or steep, consider taking a taxi. They are plentiful, including some unlicensed ones, and should be charging you no more than 3JOD per ride. You;ll miss some touristy restaurants and shops on the approach to Petra.

Petra Visitor Centre to the Treasury – classic approach to Petra (Main Trail I)

The main trail from the Visitor Centre by the site entrance all the way to the Basin Restaurant in 4,3km long and easy. The famous Al-Khazneh (“Treasury”) is approximately at the halfway point, with some inviting shops, benches and tea shops for a comfortable rest stop. After you pass the ticket barriers, walk down a very wide solid gravel path, really easy on the feet, just compact enough to feel secure but not as hard as tarmac. The left side is softer and reserved for horses and horse carts. Soon, you will see the Petra stables to your left, and by  now you will have been approached by people on horses, offering you a horse ride. I wasn’t sure under which conditions the horses were kept, so I politely declined.

This nice wide paths continues for about a kilometre to a small rest stop with two shops and a small cafe. About halfway, look out for the massive “Obelisk Tomb” carved into a solitary rock.

Parallel walking path and horse path from the Visitor Centre to the Siq in Petra in Jordan
Easy walking to the Bab-el-Siq… horses on the left, humans on the right
Obelisk Tomb at Petra, Jordan
You’ll reach the “Obelisk Tomb” shortly after setting off from the Visitor Centre

The Siq

At a small bridge, you will enter a narrow gorge known as the Siq. The change in scenery at this [lace also called Bab al Siq (“gate”) is quite remarkable! The compacted gravel path continues. At some places less than three metres wide, it widens in others and has a few simple benches all along its 1,2km. Here you sharing with the horse-drawn carts who sometimes hurtle down the path at crazy speed, becomes  a bit uncomfortable.

Surprise horse carts aside, the path is beautiful, usually shaded, and easy to walk. After much rain, it can be a mud fest. So while it is fine to walk it in flip-flops or trainers in favourable weather conditions, maybe not take the risk and take some walking shoes with a decent profile. After many a turn, you will finally get that iconic view – the Treasury framed by rocks.

Entering the Siq in Petra in Jordan, Petra with limited mobility
Entrance to the Siq
The Siq in Petra, Jordan
Some of the Siq is paved…
the Siq in Petra, Jordan
… some is compacted mud
View of the Treasury from the Siq in Petra, Jordan
And then, after the 100th corner, you see the Treasury!

Treasury to the Basin – the main route through Petra with limited mobility (Main Trail II)

The Treasury is the centre point of Petra and thankfully, one you can visit with most kinds of mobility issues. If you manage to walk 2km slowly, it will be possible. There are simple benches on the sides and one cafe in between, then more comfy seating by the treasury. You can probably sit here for a good few hours watching people. And if you could not bear the walk back, you would easily find a cart to take you back.

At the Treasury and onward to the Street of Facades

The bedouins I have met running some shops there were really friendly and they probably would help you with a suitable transport option, too. There are apparently electric carts you need to pre-book. They would take you in at a service entrance (at the basin) but you would miss the Siq entirely.

A wider path leads to the right of the treasury onwards and soon widens. Here, in the so-called Outer Siq, flat-fronted tombs were into the rock. This part of the Outer Siq, also called “Street of Facades” is part of the main path.

Petra, Jordan
View of the Treasury as you leave the Siq – truly a sight to behold

 

Street of Facades, Petra, Jordan
The Outer Siq opens up into the Street of Facades, with compact gravel to walk on
Street of Facades, Petra, Jordan
View from of the Street of Facades and the Outer Siq
Start of the trail to the High Place of Sacrifice, Petra, Jordan
Most higher trails start off the main trail – this one to the High Place of Sacrifice
cat at an open air cafe in Petra, Jordan
Plenty of rest stops are guaranteed – some open air, some sheltered
Cat in a souvenir shop, Petra, Jordan
More gratuitous cat content – but these cats were too cute
View of the Amphitheatre, Petra, Jordan
The main trail is well-trodden and easily walkable. Next stop: the amphitheatre

Amphitheatre and Royal Tombs

After about 300m, the Outer Siq opens into a wide valley and it dotted with cafes and souvenir shops for a long stretch, up to the point where you’ll see the impressive amphitheatre to your left and a little later the turn to the right to the Al-Khubta Trail (see below). Then it opens even further out on the final approach to the Great temple and the Qasr al Bint.

View of the amphitheatre from the main path, Petra
View of the amphitheatre from the main path
Cafes and shops line the main trail at Petra, Jordan
Looking back to the amphitheatre – the realistic view. Lots of small cafes and shops
Royal Tombs at Petra, Jordan
The Royal Tombs can be easily viewed from the main trail – or take a short side trail for a closer view

The Colonnaded Street

The further you walk on this trail, the wieder and looser-gravelled it gets. There are very few steps, but a part of the way is always step-free.

It ends in by a rock face where you’ll find the modern but pricey Basin Restaurant a small museum and the start of the Al-Deit (Monastery) trail. I really recommend to continue on the main trail until you get a gorgeous panorama of the Royal tombs. Apart from the last bit which takes you along the Colonnaded Street past the remains of the Great Temple (great in square footage, not much preserved) and the Qasr al Bint (a smaller temple, better preserved), you will find a little shack every few metres to seek shade or shelter.

My friends said even on the higher trails there were tea shacks and souvenir stalls all the way  –  not great for uncluttered pictures, but great if you’ve not one of the fastest movers and want to take a break regularly.

View of the Royal Tombs, Petra
Beautiful view of the Royal tombs somewhat spoiled by shacks and people not observing trail boundaries
Petra with Qasr al Bint and the Basin in the background
The main trail stays wide and easily walkable. That’s Qasr al Bint to the left
Colonnaded Street at Petra with the Royal Tombs far in the background
Ancient paving, Colonnaded Street
The Basin at Petra, Jordan
Approaching the Basin – where the main trail ends. The path to the Monastery is to the right

Al Khubta Trail – proceed with caution

The beauty of this trail is that it’s relatively short, takes you past the beautiful Tombs of the Kings before getting harder, making it safe to return if you feel you’re not up for it. If you walk the enture 1,7km you will be rewarded with a less crowded view of the Treasury.

It is signposted off the main trail and will take you past the Royal Tombs. It is as far as I would proceed.  And then – it will to take you up 900 steps to a rather precarious looking spot overlooking the Treasury. More often than not, it is occupied by some locals who will encourage you to buy snacks in order to get to the ” most instagrammable spot” overlooking The Treasury. So I gave that one a miss.

Other Trails? You better be fit

There are many other trails in Petra but you better be fit and steady on your feet for them. Apart from the aforementioned Al-Khubta Trail, there is a trail leading from the Outer Siq to the High Place of Sacrifice, leading onwards to an alternative Treasury viewpoint. There is the much-trodden (by humans and donkeys) path to Ad Deir (Monastery). These trails are fine to do without a guide, as they are fairly popular. For all other trails, including those from Little Petra about 10km away,  it is advised to employ the services of a local guide for safety reasons.

Alternatives to walking

I recommend none of them.  But  – these options are available and I leave it to you to decide on your own.

Horse Riding

Theoretically, a horse ride from the Visitor Centre to the entrance to the Siq, about 800 metres, should be “included” in that pricey entry ticket. Indeed it is, but trust me you will not be able to get of that horse until you paid a hefty tip. By hefty I mean the guys sniffed at the 10JOD a friend of mine was offering. Since I was uncertain of the condition the horses were kept in, I declined anyway and spared myself a discussion about tips and parting with more money. There are also horse riding tours around Petra, which need to be pre-booked, and they request that riders weigh no more than 85 kilos.

Horse Carriage

The horse carriages  are two-wheeled carriages and they look very bumpy. They can go from the Entrance Gate through the Siq to the Treasury but will not go further. They may well be legal restrictions to keep them from taking tourists further. When I visited, they seemed to congregate at the treasury to take people back to the Visitor Centre, as the path slopes gently uphill and is  a bit of a slog.

They are most simply built two-wheel carts, and I have heard that people who rode them found them really bumpy and uncomfortable. Drivers usually flog their horses to go fast, so they get you back quickly and can pick up more customers.

Drivers usually go at great speed through the Siq. You would need to tell your driver to go dead slow.  Also, I am doubtful on how the horses get treated so I do not recommend them.

Donkey Rides

Especially tracks leading higher up and out of the valley are prime hunting territory for donkey drivers and their charges. It is very tempting to just skip the exercise and go see the Monastery without breaking into a sweat but…

I am sure donkeys are sure footed and are essential in the daily livelihood for the bedouins by carrying supplies and firewood. Whether they should be kept in masses to transport tourists up and down mountains remains to be discussed. The increased use of these rock paths by donkeys makes them wear out faster, resulting in more erosion and paths being less safe for those on foot.

Bear in mind an average donkey should carry no more than 50kg in weight. You weigh less than 50kg?  Good, you’re maybe not a big strain to a donkey then. If you weigh more, don’t kid yourself that the donkey offered is a “big strong one” and do the donkey a favour and either walk or leave it if you’re not up to walking.

I understand the bedouins need to make money for their families but I prefer if they didn’t do ita t an animals expense -I’d rather buy an overpriced tea.

 

Here is another walk in my “Hiking for the Unfit” series, on how to hike up to Gergeti Trinity Church in Georgia!

Practicalities

Visa to Jordan

Most nationalities, including EU nationals and US citizens are eligible for a visa on arrival at a cost of currently 40 JOD (approximately 60 Euro). If you arrive in Aqaba Airport or have a Jordan pass, the visa fee is waived. If in doubt, contact your nearest Jordanian Embassy.

How to get to Petra

Normally, and when I say, normally meaning weather conditions allowing, you can easily get to Petra or the nearest town, Wadi Musa, by public bus and JETT bus.

JETT Bus

At present, there is a JETT bus once a day from Amman leaving from Abdali at 06:30 and picking up at 3rd Circle and 7th Circle. You will arrive about three hours later. It will return at 16.00.

There is also one daily JETT Bus from Aqaba leaving at 07:30 from Tala Bay and picking up at various hotels as well as the JETT Office. The journey to Petra should take less than 2 hours.   It returns at 16:00.

There are also less frequent buses from Wadi Rum.

All JETT buses will drop off and pick up at the  Petra Visitors Centre. You can find these trips on the JETT website under the “Tourism Programme”. Bear in mind the “tour” consists of just the transport, do not expect any guiding. I took a JETT “tour” from Aqaba to Wadi Rum and got a nice air-conditioned minibus which left and departed on time. I went to the JETT office the day before to buy my ticket and was told to come back half an hour before departure.

Local bus

I took a bus from Petra to Aqaba. It was really easy! I asked my hotel reception the night before and was told to come back in the morning just before I wanted to leave, as there would be no need to travel into Wadi Musa.  So I did! I waited about an hour, and the bus (a new-ish coaster) picked me up at my hotel. I paid 8 JOD for the trip.

Otherwise, buses leave throughout the morning from Wadi Musa Bus station to Aqaba and Amman and possibly other destination. Buy your seat on the spot. Buses leave when full.

Coming from Aqaba, there are one or two buses in the early morning from the the bus station near Princess Salma Park. Coming from Amman, most local buses to Wadi Musa leave from Wehdat or “Southern” Bus station.

Taxi

If everything fails, you can rely there will be taxis outside the Petra Visitor Centre which will take you almost anywhere. If I remember right, the quoted about 45JOD per car to go to Aqaba and roughly 100JOD to go to Amman.

I travelled in January, which meant surprise weather, an in my case, snow-covered roads and poor visibility. Hence, all public buses stopped running for a few days. I booked a private car and driver through my hotel in Madaba. He took me along the Dead Sea Road (Jordan Valley Highway)  cross come really scenic back route via Little Petra. God only knows what road that was – it’s there, its a small tarmac road in good condition, but couldn’t find it on a map.

Where to stay in Wadi Musa/Petra

I stayed at the Nomads Hotel and Hostel Petra. As usual, I booked it on Booking.com a day or two in advance, although I recommend that during the season, you book well ahead! Booking.com usually offers free cancellation if your plans change. I paid bout 23JOD in total for a double room with breakfast – a bargain for pricey Petra! I noticed that the final price was higher than on my confirmation, so I recommend pay in advance and if there are any extras, get the hotel to explain what they are, like local taxes etc.

View of Nomads Hostel Petra
Nomads Hostel – complete with faux Treasury facade and a Jack Sparrow mural

 

private room at Nomads Hostel Petra
The rooms, in contrast, were surprisingly restrained but comfortable

The hotel was fabulous for the money. It has a really nice little reception-lounge with tea, coffee and water and a small bar. Internet was strong in the  lounge. My room was moderately sized, spartan but extremely clean. Most importantly: the essentials like good bed, somewhere to hang clothes, and bedside lights as well as a clean bathroom were all there. I even had a Petra view. The only thing that was really, really forgettable was the breakfast. No clean plates, tiny amounts of rather unappetising foods, no fresh coffee. I just ate hummus and cucumbers and was fine for a few hours but I went for an early lunch as soon as I got to Aqaba…

Nomads Hotel Petra is only about 600m from Petra Visitor Centre, but it’s on a hill with a very steep road. After tottering down to visit Petra, I took a cab to take me back up. I asked around and 3JOD appeared the going rate for a taxi inside Wadi Musa.

Most hotels and guesthouses in Wadi Musa are well uphill from Petra except a small cluster around the Movenpick Resort Petra and Petra Guest House hotel, but they are really pricey. I’d rather factor in money for the cab!

Petra Entry Fee

Hold on, this will make your trip a whole lot more expensive! At present, a day ticket is 60JOD, a ticket for two days 65JOD, three days 70JOD. If you are on a day trip from Israel or cannot prove that you will spend at least one night in Jordan, they will charge you shy of 100JOD. Yup. Pretty much anywhere else, including Madaba, Amman, Desert Castles, Wadi Rum, you can expect to pay between 1-5JOD entry fee.

Royal Tombs from a distance, Petra, Petra with limited mobility
Another View of the Royal Tombs from the main trail

Now, the flip side of this is that Petra is single-handedly the most visited site in Jordan, and that absolute masses visit it – about a million visitors  in 2019. This requires a lot more preservation and maintenance work. And by setting these high fees, the government applies some sort of crowd control. If you just visit for the day off a cruise or from Israel, you are punished with an even higher fee. Jordanian citizens pay less – which is fair given the lower income.

I bought a pass for two days because of the fickle weather. I only spent one day in Petra though, as there was snow forecast my second day, and I preferred to squeeze Wadi Rum into my short itinerary.It’s really important to take your passport when buying the tickt, as they check your identity and Jordan entry stamps. If you happen to visit Petra on your first day in Jordan, they might even charge you the daytripper fee – but you could go back on the next day and demand a refund.

Structure of the rock around Petra, Jordan, with some of the Royal Tombs, Petra with limited mobility
Natural vs. man made structures

Recommended Reading

I had a current (2019) edition of the Rough Guide to Jordan for my trip. It may be a little out of date on hotels and transport.  Mostly I  use the Rough Guide for restaurant information and detailed information on sights is what and was excellent for that. It does not have much on Petra with limited mobility, though.

I always like to take a bit of the local cuisine home with me. On this trip, I bought a years supply of sumac and different types of za’atar. Pomegranate molasses would have made it too, had it not been for the hand luggage liquid restriction. I like the Middle Eastern Cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi – my current favourite is “Plenty” a vegetable-heavy book of delicious Middle East-inspired recipes. I now have also “Jerusalem” which concentrates on the interwoven culinary traditions of the people of Jerusalem. It is better on Middle Eastern staples, but much more meat-heavy.

The small print

Disclosure: This trip was entirely self funded. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking aside from some affiliate links to Booking.com. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in unless otherwise stated. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth.  More details on my affiliate link policy are here.  I visited Jordan in January 2020 pre-COVID-19 and hope this post will inspire you to visit Jordan once it is safe again. 

More Middle East?

The Middle East is a rather exciting and culturally diverse region for us living in Europe. A of airlines, including no frills airlines, now well-priced flights, to Eilat and Aqaba. It comes as no surprise that I have travelled the Middle East a few times. I feel the Middle East is really underrated as a holiday destination. This may be partially owed to the volatile security situation and perhaps the fact that many Middle Eastern countries are more conservative than Europe.

I personally have never been in any unsafe situation on my trips, most of which were solo and independently arranged. However, please do consult foreign office advice and use your own healthy judgement what you will feel comfortable with before you travel. If you want more information on travelling the Middle East safely, feel free to drop me a line or visit on of my other Middle East posts.

Jordan

I visited Jordan for a week in January 2020 on a trip organised and funded by myself. Winter is perhaps the least popular season to visit Jordan.

Read about arriving in Amman and exploring Jordan’s capital!

And find out if you can enjoy Wadi Rum on a day trip!

Read some of my Middle East posts

Here’s my post on visiting Jerusalem for the first time.

I am fascinated by Holy Land sites, and  have spent plenty of time walking the Via Dolorosa, Temple Mount and up the Mount of Olives. Very briefly, I gingerly stepped into Palestine to view the birthplace of Jesus Christ, next door to a huge separation wall and some rather good street art. I have also been to Rachels Tomb, not a tourist but revered by many believers of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith, and a painful reminder of the separation between the states of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Petra with limited mobility pin



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