Driving to Petra on the King's Highway

3 Reasons Driving to Petra Will Make Your Jordan Trip Special

Find out why driving to Petra is the best balance of cost and convenience with this useful guide.
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When I decided to visit Daniel in Jordan during his summer in Amman, a trip to Petra was at the top of my wishlist. Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, might be the most well known destination in Jordan. I had several other things on my itinerary—including a couple weeks exploring Amman—but we decided to make the Petra trip first on our to-do list. Quite literally, Daniel and some friends rented a car in the morning, picked me up at the airport, and we were driving to Petra by noon!

P.S. When you book using my links, you help support Rachel IRL at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win!

Now, there is a lot of information online about planning a trip to Petra, how to get to Petra, etc. Some people recommend all-inclusive tours, either from Amman or Aqaba (or even from Jerusalem). I imagine these are great options for people with unlimited travel budgets or little time to plan.

For those of us with more limited means, however, there remain basically two options for getting to Petra. You can go by public transportation from Amman or Aqaba, using Jordan’s very reliable and fairly comfortable JETT buses. Or you can rent a car. There are definitely benefits to each option, but after driving to Petra ourselves and having a blast doing it… I can safely say there aren’t really many downsides to the car option.

I am going to take you through the main reasons why driving to Petra makes the whole experience that much better. Renting a car and driving to Petra is the perfect balance of cost and convenience. Here’s why:

View from the 'Edge of the World' at Dana Biosphere Reserve
The Edge of the World lookout at Dana Biosphere Reserve, seen on our drive to Petra

1. Driving to Petra puts you in control of your schedule.

Being in control of your own schedule is a major advantage of driving to Petra. It’s just one more way to embrace slow travel!

I don’t know about you, but my ideal way to visit any tourist-y attraction is with the smallest crowds possible. Big crowds get annoying very fast. They also have a way of making the whole experience feel commercialized and transactional. Even if those elements are an unavoidable reality of travel these days, it’s still nice to feel a sense that the experience is special and just for you.

At Petra, having the place to yourself means getting there early in the morning. And entering Petra as early as I’m recommending is going to be nearly impossible on a tour or if you travel by public bus.

There is only one bus per day from Amman to Petra. It leaves Abdali at 6:30am. This would mean an early morning because you’d have to get yourself to the station by at least 6am. The ride itself is scheduled to be four hours long, but could easily involve a delay of an hour or so. (Traffic could be a problem and the main north-south highway in Jordan is unpredictable.)

If you travel by bus, you’re realistically looking at getting to Wadi Musa, the town just outside Petra, around 11am. On a bus likely full of other tourists. And around the same time as dozens of tour buses arrive from around the region. Are we having fun yet?

On the other end, the singular return journey to Amman departs at 4pm. This would leave you with either a very short, 3ish hour day trip visit to Petra, or require an overnight stay where you wouldn’t return to Amman until quite late the next day.

Set yourself up for the perfect day in Petra instead.

Driving to Petra allowed us to arrive in Wadi Musa the evening before our visit. In addition to the beautiful drive detailed below, it also allowed us to get plenty of rest before our early morning entry.

We stayed overnight at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp in Little Petra, just about a 10 minute drive from the Petra entrance. Our tents were comfortable, the nightly price included both dinner and breakfast, and there was a great vibe around the campfire. I would highly recommend it for both the price and experience!

Waking up and entering Petra early in the morning gave us the opportunity to see Petra—especially the Monastery—unspoiled by the dozens of tourists who began showing up just as we were turning around to head back.

For a nice bonus, we arrived back at our car by 2pm after our visit. By this point, the day was as hot as it would get. We were dusty. And we were exhausted from waking up so early. Getting into the car immediately, firing up the air conditioning, and getting on the road was exactly what we needed and wanted. No waiting around for the only bus back to Amman.

The convenience and self-directed nature of driving to Petra just could not be beat.

Picnic spot above the Dead Sea
Picnic spot above the Dead Sea
View of the Dead Sea
Our gorgeous picnic spot above the Dead Sea

2. You can take the scenic route!

Let me paint you a picture of our lovely day of driving to Petra.

Driving to Petra meant that we were able to leave Amman around 11am on Friday (the first day of the weekend in Jordan). We first stopped at probably one of the most beautiful lookout points I’ve ever seen, above the Dead Sea. Technically this was like an outdoor shisha place, and the attendant wanted us to order shisha. However, he settled for a small 5 JD fee and let us set up our picnic at one of the shaded tables.

Swimming in the Dead Sea While Driving to Petra

After, we tried to take a quick dip in the Dead Sea at a place called Herodus Spring. In the end, this wasn’t super successful. We underestimated how long it would take to make the (slightly perilous) hike down to the water, swim, come back up, and wash off in the spring, and we wanted to arrive at our accommodation near Wadi Musa before nightfall. I’ll also note that the spring itself had some litter in it, so it wasn’t actually that fresh-seeming.

If swimming in the Dead Sea for free is a priority for you while driving to Petra, I hear that there is another place located just a few hundred meters south of Wadi al-Mujib. Just keep in mind that this one doesn’t have any fresh water to wash off in… so you will be salty. Like, unbelievably salty.

To be honest, if I were to do this again and the Dead Sea was high on my priority list, I would pay a small fee to do it right. For example, the Holiday Inn Dead Sea offers a $40 ticket that includes lunch an afternoon dip in the Dead Sea. I would say this would be totally worth it for the ability to clean yourself off afterwards!!

Driving to Petra on the King’s Highway

Finally, we had the chance to drive the magnificent (and I do mean magnificent) King’s Highway from the Dead Sea to Wadi Musa. This stretch of road is truly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. And not to brag, but I’ve seen some nice roads! We couldn’t stop marvelling at the dramatic rock formations and wide valleys. As a bonus, the King’s Highway also passes through the stunning Dana Biosphere Reserve.

Going out of our way to drive all day didn’t even feel like a chore! This was pretty much my one chance to see ‘more’ of Jordan than Amman, so I was extremely grateful for the opportunity.

Plus, leaving the Dead Sea early allowed us to arrive in Petra during sunset, which I high recommend if it’s possible. I mean honestly, this photo doesn’t even have a filter on it – I’ve never seen anything like it before.

The sunset upon arrival in Wadi Musa
Sunset as we entered Little Petra, just outside Wadi Musa

If you decide to take the faster route on your way back to Amman…

It’s worth noting that, as beautiful as the scenic King’s Highway drive to Wadi Musa is, it’s much longer than the main north-south Desert Highway. If you’re tired and just want to get home after your Petra visit, you may consider taking this faster route home.

We did. I can tell you that it is absolutely fine, but probably a driving experience you’ve never had before and slightly more stressful than driving to Petra. There are three lanes. The ones on the outside go one in each direction, and the middle lane is used for passing in both directions. Yes, that means you will sometimes witness two cars (or trucks!) accelerating directly toward each other in the center lane as they each try to pass another car in their own lane.

Let me say it is not for the faint of heart. If whoever is driving your car is daring, you yourself may even be in that terrifying center lane at times. I definitely was. All I will say is, make sure that the person driving is confident, a very good driver, and has strong nerves. If none of your group fit the bill, I recommend taking the longer King’s Highway drive back to save yourself the stress.

Chaotic driving on the Desert Highway
The Desert Highway headed back towards Amman – peep the “middle lane”

3. Driving to Petra is actually very cost effective.

As I’ve already pointed out, guided tours from Amman or Aqaba might take care of logistics, but they’ll cost you. In just a quick skim of the internet, I found day trips priced over 100 JD ($141 USD) and overnights at 200 JD or more. No thank you! As for JETT bus tickets, they are be relatively inexpensive on their own. Amman to Petra will cost each person 11 JD each way, for a total of 22 JD.

The thing is, though, renting a car isn’t even going to set you back that much farther—especially if you’re in a group of 3 or 4 like we were. Cars are relatively cheap to rent in Jordan.

I recommend searching for a car with Discover Cars. They will show you the most up-to-date comparison of different rental companies along with the ability to filter however you need. We found a great deal on Discover Cars with Enterprise, which offered us by far the best balance of value and trust.

There are definitely some local budget car rental companies in Amman, but you never know what condition the car will be in. We knew exactly what to expect with Enterprise, having used them many times in the past. Their customer service is always on point, but their rental prices (and especially their fees) feel like the fairest on the market.

This was two years ago though, and you never know if another company is going to have a better deal. Discover Cars is your golden ticket to the best possible deal on the days you’re booking.

For reference, we booked at Enterprise in Shmeisani (central Amman) and paid 35 JD per day for 2 days, plus 10 JD for an additional driver, 14 JD of VAT, and a (shockingly tiny) 8 JD young renter fee.

The total for the weekend was 103 JD, just under 26 JD each! Sure, we did have to fill the gas tank once, but that added only about 40 JD total (10 JD each!).

I will say that the initial calculation of 36 JD each did make us think twice about renting a car. We really considered going by bus to each save those 14 JD! In the end, though, this is where we really got creative and where a car can seriously come in clutch.

Save money on food when driving to Petra

In our (admittedly obsessive) research, we realized that renting a car would actually save us money.

First, it’s important to keep in mind that Wadi Musa is essentially a giant tourist trap. In fact, if you do have the means, it is great to support local Wadi Musa businesses. The town’s economy basically runs on Petra tourists, and the pandemic has hit it hard.

However, if you’re like us and really trying to save money wherever possible, then eating will seem extremely expensive there. There is one restaurant just inside the entrance to Petra (near the Visitor Center) which charges 17 JD each for a buffet lunch. Nope! Then there are a few in town where you will probably end up spending well over 10 JD each. Either way, though, you’re going to spend a good amount.

On the other hand, having the car allowed us to bring all our food for the weekend with us. We brought fruit, pasta salad, pita and hummus, cookies, and lots of water. This supplied the fare for our picnic while driving to Petra, and our food inside Petra the next day. The nightly price for the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp we stayed at just outside Wadi Musa included dinner and breakfast.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Surely that food was disgusting by the second day. Nope! We bought cooler bags at the grocery store in Amman, and filled them with plenty of ice packs. By the morning, when we loaded up our backpacks to take into Petra, the ice was about halfway melted… but still keeping our food cold!

Overall, we split about a 40 JD grocery bill, for a total of 10 JD each. This is in contrast to 40 JD that we would easily have spent each if we had taken public transport and had to buy all of our food in Wadi Musa.

Avoid foreign transaction fees and save MORE money

If you’re visiting from abroad, remember to factor in foreign exchange and transaction fees to the cost of your Petra trip!!

Now, you may have a travel credit card that boasts no foreign transaction fees — in which case, great! However, these can be difficult to obtain, and expensive if you’re not able to stay on top of payments.

If you try other options, such as ordering cash before you leave for your trip or using your regular debit card, you will definitely have to pay some hefty fees. They may be hidden, but trust me – they’ll be there.

Want to avoid these annoying and, frankly, unnecessary fees while driving to Petra?!? 

The best way to pay for your trip while keeping your bank account happy is with the Wise multi-currency account debit card!

Wise offers a free “multi-currency account”, which is basically an account where you can securely load your own currency, but then you can pay in local currency (with Transferwise’s extremely low exchange fees) as if you had a “local” card. It automatically converts your home currency to the local one at the current exchange rate as you’re making a transaction!

There are three main reasons I think this card is your #1 must have for traveling:

  1. You are gonna save so much money. At the end of the day, it’s never going to be completely free to change currencies. But after living abroad for four years now, I can speak from experience that no other service has ever exchanged my money for cheaper than Wise has. There is literally no better way to spend in a foreign currency.
  2. This card is no thoughts, just vibes. Gone are the days of stressing about whether your bank will lock your card, limit your withdrawals, or otherwise add stress to your trip. This card is made for travel.
  3. It’s extremely secure. Your money is held with big-name financial institutions and everything is two-factor authenticated. Wise boasts that their customers move over $8 billion every month, so they know what they’re doing.

If you’re planning to visit Jordan any time soon, you (and your bank account) will thank yourself for getting a Wise debit card.

Learn more about how Wise can save you money:

No matter how you travel to Petra, you’re going to enjoy your visit.

I hope my experience has helped convince you that the convenience, beauty, and relatively low cost of driving to Petra makes the trip even more magical than it would be otherwise. All in all, each of the four of us spent around 120 JD total for the weekend. That’s as cheap or cheaper than any other option, and we had control over every aspect of the trip.

That said, Petra is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and no matter how you get there I am sure you’ll enjoy your trip. Honestly, I don’t know how you wouldn’t!

P.S. When you book using my links, you help support Rachel IRL at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win!

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