For most visitors the best way to see Petra is to camp in Wadi Rum! An early morning start gets you to Wadi Musa, the Valley of Moses leading into Petra, well ahead of the coach-loads from Amman, so you see it all uncluttered. And if you're lucky you'll have a magical view from Ras al Naqb on the way there.
The cost is so high because of the Egyptians and Israels, who advertise holidays to their countries including Petra! Their tourist groups arrive totally self-contained and spend no money in Jordan, hence the high prices. Infact, if you can't prove you're staying in Jordan for at least one night you will pay even more, 90 JDs per person.
Once you arrive, in simple terms you walk or ride a horse to the entrance, then along the Siq, noting the Nabateans irrigation channels cut into the rock. Your first mind-blowing view of the Kasneh (the Treasury) catches most people unprepared.
After the exploration and photographs, you have to make choices. If you are fit and energetic, you should visit the Place of High Sacrifice; you'll walk in due course along the Roman colonade, past many more buildings carved into the red rock. Eventually, you have to decide whether to climb the hundreds of worn, stone steps to Ad Dayr (the Monastery).
A visit without this climb is just fine, Ad Dayr is a lot like the Treasury so you're not missing too much. On the other hand, if you can you should. Both to know you've done it and because the view from the top, down into Wadi Araba is pretty special.
After that, the towny-tourists who've come from Amman, scurry and limp back to their busses soon after 3pm and leave to be back in time for a hotel dinner. You can amble around a bit more, chat and enjoy and then return to Rum, or drive on to Wadi Dana, or take the best road in Jordan, down to the valley you've just been looking at from above, and stay the night by the Dead Sea. All is possible.
You will have noticed I don't advise staying the night in one of the dozens of hotels in Wadi Musa. Why would you? Most of them are not so good; they're full of tourists! and the local staff have come to view visitors as a source of income. For now that is quite unusual in Jordan outside Amman, and certainly the opposite of our experiences in Wadi Rum.
If you do want to stay the night, we strongly recommend Taybet Zaman, twenty minutes south along the Kings Highway; it's an old bedouin village of small stone houses, transformed into an atmospheric hotel. And if you want to embrace Petra and Wadi Musa for longer than we've suggested, you should contact Jessica, a Dutch lady married to a local bedouin. She has experience in incentive travel and can match that with her local knowledge to give you a special time.
If you are interested in archeology in general and the pre-pottery neolithic age in particular then you should certainly stay longer than one day in Petra. And at this point the entry-price structure could have been designed for you! 50 JDs for one day, 55 JDs for two and 60 JDs for three nights! Wonderful value.
We know of a local bedouin, who works at Petra, is a doctor of archeology and, if you arrange in advance, will show you everything. This includes a site at nearby Little Petra which is one of the oldest human settlements in the world, where humankind ceased being hunter-gathers and put down roots. All the evidence suggests that this momentus human development happened first on the hilly-flanks in Jordan. Contact us for more details.
So the exceptions to the initial go-it-alone advice, are to use a guide if you want to go much deeper than the rather good Petra guide books. And yes, stay in Wadi Musa (or Taibet Zaman) if one of the main reasons for your whole trip to Jordan is to understand about the Nabateans and their ancesters.
For many of us, there's so much to see in Jordan that one well-planned day in Petra is enough; and anyway, why not spend time with the descendents of the Nabateans, the Huwaitat bedouins in Wadi Rum and hear and experience how to this day they live in harmony with their harsh surroundings.