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September 13, 2019

Answered: What’s the best way to visit Petra from Israel in 1 day?

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Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s just over the border from Israel in Jordan! It’s worth a trip if you are extending your Birthright program or in Israel for a more flexible adventure. It’s literally only a few hours away from Israel and accessible by a safe, tourist-friendly (as much as that can be possible, especially with tour guides) border crossing in Eilat in southern Israel (which can be reached by bus or a quick 1 hour flight from Tel Aviv).

Still choosing a Birthright trip? Read the BirthrightGuru guide to trips and choose the perfect one for you.

About Petra

Petra is an ancient city and now one of the most famous archeological sites in the world. You might have seen the famous Treasury photo, an incredible building carved into the rose-colored rocks. Beyond this, there is a ton more to see. Our tour guide said you could explore Petra for a month and still not see it all.

How to Visit Petra

The good news is that you can see it all in just a few days or even a single day. We had some schedule limitations so opted for the single day, but after the experience wish we had spent the night in the area and seen some more. Another great option is to stay in the Aqaba area of Jordan, just over the border from Eilat, where there are beautiful beach resorts with great deals that can’t be found in Israel. The advantage of staying in Aqaba or Petra directly is that you can spend more time exploring as the disadvantage of a one day trip is that you spend a lot of time on a bus and going through border control, especially on the way into Jordan. But, if you’re limited on time or feel more comfortable staying in Israel, the one day trip is fantastic!

We went on a tour with Tourist Israel (who also operates petrafromisrael.com). It was the only one we found that offered a tour that started in Israel (Eilat for us, but also options in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), which meant we had a guide from start to finish, including during both border crossings. Now that we’ve done it, the border crossing seems doable without a guide, but it was comforting to have someone on your team who knew the language and seemed to have a great relationship with the border control agents!

The price was reasonable at $199/person for the trip, plus approximately $150/person in visa fees and tip. For pickup in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv the price is $299/person with the same additional fees.

Take note: The weather in Petra can be extreme. We had temperatures over 100 degrees and plenty of sand blowing in the wind! The site is open all year, but consider the time of year for your visit (summer is the hottest) as well as Muslim holidays.

Visiting Petra on a One Day Trip

Part 1: Getting to Eilat

To get to Petra, you have to get to the border crossing in Eilat. We chose to spend the night before in Eilat because that allowed us to meet our tour at an early but reasonable hour (about 7 AM). Eilat hotels are expensive, so consider this when making the choice. If you do stay in Eilat, consider arriving enough time the day before to snorkel in the Nature Reserve. You can rent snorkel equipment there, leave your gear in a locker, walk out onto the dock, and jump into the stunning waters of the Red Sea. The coral and fish are incredible!

You also have the option of leaving directly from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. This saves you a lot of money by avoiding Eilat hotels, but it requires you to start your trip at 3 AM and it means you get back around midnight, so it’s almost a 24 hour trip.

Part 2: Getting to Petra

The tour company picks everyone up from central points in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv around 3 AM and then proceeds to multiple Eilat pickups (our pickup spot was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel). If you go with a company that has staff for the entire trip (vs. meeting you on the Jordanian side of the border crossing), they can help explain the border process and be there to help. The crossing itself is interesting and a little bit unnerving because you do it on foot and walk between two countries. There can also be long waits while the officials process the entry forms and paperwork. Once approved, it’s approximately 2 and a half hours to Petra. The ride is long, but the views, even just from the bus, are great. On our tour there were some stops at stores along the highway for views, souvenir shopping, food, and restrooms. It seemed like almost all of the souvenirs, from the shops on the road to the shops actually in Petra, were selling the same kitschy items. There wasn’t much in terms of authentic items to buy and bring back.

Jordanian dessert

Part 3: Petra Tour

For a 1 day Petra tour starting anywhere in Israel, plan for approximately 4-5 hours of total time in the area. Tourist Israel organizes everyone on the bus for a guided tour into Petra (approximately 2 miles of walking from the bus parking lot to the main sites, and then another ~1 mile of walking around) for around 2-3 hours and then gives another 2 hours for free time to explore and walk back to the bus (another 2 miles of walking, this time up a medium grade back to the entrance and parking areas). We had plenty of time to see the main sites and do some unguided exploration, so one day is plenty to check this off your list.

Petra tour

Part 4: Getting back to Israel

After the tour the bus takes you back to the border crossing, repeating the same dessert road drive or sometimes taking an alternate route with different views. Getting back into Israel can also take some time with Israeli security, especially coming from Jordan, so save some energy. Finally, Tourist Israel takes travelers back to their hotel in Eilat or back to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Packing list

My experience at Petra was funny because of what we saw people wearing: Some people were legitimately wearing suits and ties while pushing baby strollers and others were were in hiking pants and boots. It’s important to be respectful to the local community and probably best to avoid extremely skimpy clothing while on the tour. Petra and the closest surrounding areas are generally tourist-heavy, and you are can comfortably wear normal sightseeing clothing without drawing unwanted attention or standing out. Selecting appropriate and modest clothes is even more important if you travel beyond Petra!

The good news is the most of the stuff you will want for Petra is the same as the key gear for your trip to Israel. A few highlights below, and be sure to check out the full BirthrightGuru packing guide.

What to wear

Hat
It’s extremely sunny and hot in Petra. You’ll want a hat that blocks the rays of sunshine from your eyes and protects your face, scalp, and neck. Columbia makes great baseball hats, which are a good start. What you really want for this trip is a wide-brimmed hat. The best on the market is the Tilley series (the LTM6 is the most common model), but is expensive. Columbia also makes some great and affordable hats with much more protection, including the go-to Bora Bora hat.

Sunglasses
Also critical for the sun in addition to the sand blowing in the wind. Our favorite affordable pairs are from Knockaround (read the full review), which sell for less than $30 but come with great style and high-quality lenses. In the dessert climate, you might even consider the aggressive wrap-around style popular with Oakely sunglasses.

Breathable, moisture-wicking, sun-protection shirt
You’re going to want some sun protection, but also not burn up in a shirt so a breathable fabric is necessary. Columbia makes great options for women and men that have high UPF ratings, meaning they block the sun’s damaging rays, and are super breathable so you won’t feel the heat even in long sleeves. This is the safest way to stay in the sun and the protection won’t wear off like sunscreen. If this is too much, at least make sure you’re wearing some performance fabric instead of plain cotton like the classic Under Armour breathable t-shirts (women’s, men’s)

Breathable shorts or pants
Same goes for shorts or pants. Sun protection is important here too, but you’ll see more people wearing normal shorts or athletic wear (Amazon has some top-rated leggings for less than $15 with free Prime shipping). For the most protection and technical features, pick up anything that you like the style and fit of from REI (women’s, men’s)

Hiking and moisture-wicking socks
Pattern continues for your feet. Wool socks are great here and you can’t beat Smartwool or Darn Tough lightweight hiking socks for this kind of activity (women’s, men’s). You’ll pay almost $20/pay for quality socks like this, but they’re worth it for the comfort while you’re wearing them, especially in a punishing climate like a dessert, and for the durability (you can rinse these in a sink while traveling and wear them multiple days). Also, this is one time to sacrifice some fashion for practicality: get some taller socks than stylish no-shoes that won’t slip down and cause your shoes to rub against your sweaty feet. That’s the recipe for some rough and painful raw skin that might turn into a blister!

Sturdy shoes
You can do Petra in sneakers or even comfortable sandals, assuming you want to walk ~4 miles in them (we saw plenty of Tevas, Keens, and even a few Birkenstocks). But the best option is a lightweight, breathable hiking shoe or even boot. The path in and out of the tour is uneven and sandy. Solid shoes with some ankle support and grippy-soles are even more important if you want to start climbing up thousand-year-old rock staircases or climb up the rocks for a better view.

Some of the best are Salomon hiking shoes (men’s, women’s). They’re GORE-Tex, which means they are completely waterproof but still breathable so you’re feet won’t overheat in the dessert sun. They also have a great “Quicklace” system that makes it super easy to tighten and loosen the shoes, which is great for putting them and and taking them off, but also for adjusting the tightness when your feet swell up in the heat.

What to bring

Water bottle
Do not forget this! Petra is in a dessert and you will want to drink a ton of water. You need to drink a ton of water. Our tour gave us one small bottle, but that wasn’t nearly enough. Grab a few disposable water bottles from your hotel, from the tour company, etc. but you won’t want to carry all of the water you need and it’s much easier to fill up a reusable bottle (and way better for the environment) as you go. Hydro Flask makes a durable bottle that also has some insulation built in so cold water stays colder. This design is also great because it has a smaller mouth, which makes it easier to drink while hiking without spilling everywhere.

Camera
As with most places you go, your camera phone will work well here. Consider bringing a separate camera to Petra and any other dessert adventures because anything you take out in the open will end up covered with sand, the heat depletes your battery fast and it’s nice to have it for the bus rides there and back, and sometimes they actually take better pictures. Canon makes top-rated cameras in the ~$400 price range that also include wireless connectivity to your phone, so you can still post Instagram stories without waiting to get back to your computer. It’s a big expensive, but it may be worth it for an adventure trip to Israel, especially if it includes Petra.

iPhone case
If you’re not bringing a separate camera, instead consider spending only about $20 for this Amazon Editor’s Choice waterproof camera case. It completely seals up your iPhone X (other models fit other phones) while still allowing you to use it. Even if it gets covered in sand, you can wash it right off!

Comfortable daypack
You’ll want something to hold your water bottle, snacks, extra iPhone battery, extra clothes layer, camera, etc. while you walk around Petra. You don’t need to bring much gear, especially if you are on a day trip or staying in the area. But with the heat and climbing, make sure you bring something that is comfortable to wear for a long period of time in high temperatures. For example, this Osprey bag is 20L, which is the exact right size, has a chest and waist strap to keep the weight from crushing your shoulders, and comes in tons of color choices. Osprey is a great brand and you can count on this bag to hold up well for a day trip to Petra and throughout your Israel travels.

Snacks
Definitely bring food and make sure it’s something you can eat easily while on the go. Also make sure it’s easy to eat, such as simple flavors of bars. The heat can make you feel like you’re not hungry, while simultaneously sucking out your energy. You need to eat! Rx bars are perfect for this. They come in many tasty flavors, have a soft texture that is easy to chew even if beaten up in a bag all day, and the bars are made only of basic, natural ingredients.

Go visit!

Petra was an awesome trip. It was a long and exhausting trip, and we came back with everything covered in sand, but worth it. If you’re looking to expand on your Birthright or Israel experience, this is a gem that’s easy to add on, even if you only do it for the day.

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