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Clare Goes Off the Beaten Track in Jordan

Clare, one of our India and Arabia specialists, discovers Jordan a little more actively than the norm. Read on to find out all about her adventures.

Jordan is well-known for its highlights such as the world-famous Nabataean city of Petra, the Roman ruins of Jerash in the north, the epic desert landscapes of Wadi Rum made famous by the film Lawrence of Arabia, and the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth and the best place for a float.

What many people don’t realise is that Jordan is a wonderful destination for active and adventurous people, looking to get off the beaten track. In November, I visited with the view to exploring some of the nature reserves and protected areas, and doing everything a bit differently.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting Wadi Mujib which sits next to the Dead Sea and is great for wildlife enthusiasts as it is home to the ibex which, until recently, had all but died out in this part of the world. During the winter months, you can do the ibex trail with a private guide, which is what I did. During the summer is when it gets really exciting! There are a few water trails you can do, going either up or down the Mujib River through the gorge – I wish I’d been able to do this because it sounds like such fun! Wadi Mujib has quite a stark and dramatic landscape with views over the flat calm of the Dead Sea and, on a clear day, you can see Jerusalem in the distance. One thing to bear in mind is that guests have to be a minimum of 18 years of age to do any of the trails here (which shows how exciting they are!). It’s best to stay at one of the Dead Sea resorts to enjoy Wadi Mujib – I’d recommend the Kempinski Ishtar or the Movenpick Resort & Spa – or for a less ‘resorty’ feel, the Evason Ma’in which is home to hot springs and a Six Senses spa.

I think my favorite part of Jordan is the Dana Biosphere Reserve. It forms part of the northern end of the Great Rift Valley, with dramatic scenery passing through a number of different ecological zones meaning that it has very diverse flora and fauna – look out for the bizarre blue Sinai lizard! There are two properties we work with in the Dana Biosphere Reserve: Dana Guesthouse which stands at the top of the valley facing west which gives it the most epic sunset. It’s a very simple property yet I think it is probably my favorite hotel in Jordan. The views are stunning, the atmosphere is cosy, and the welcome very warm. Feynan Ecolodge is the other property, and forms the perfect base for exploring the reserve. The lodge has 26 rooms yet uses the same amount of electricity as a 2-bedroom flat in Amman. There are only electric lights in very few parts of the hotel meaning that after sunset, the lodge is candlelit giving it an atmospheric and romantic feel. Combining the two properties is ideal because you can do a walk down the valley from Dana to Feynan which takes 5-7 hours. You’ll be accompanied by a local guide from Wild Jordan (the company, a part of Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, which oversees the different nature projects in the country) and given a picnic lunch to have en route. I’ve done the walk a couple of times now, and you’ll probably meet goatherds who tend to share their Bedouin tea with you, see amazing birds and wildlife and learn about the ecosystems of the valley. Feynan Ecolodge also forms the heart of the local Bedouin community, so you can do fun things like spending a day with a shepherd, visiting the Roman copper mines, doing the sunset hike, mountain biking and a myriad of other activities.

The Ajloun Forest Reserve lies to the north of Amman, close to the Roman city of Jerash and is a complete contrast to the rest of the country. The trails here cover hills and its wonderfully green, so the views are beautiful. I also came across the Oriental Strawberry Tree which I’d never heard of before! I did the Soap Trail, finishing off at the Soap House where local ladies make soap out of olive oil which contributes to the community. It’s possible to combine Ajloun with a trip to Jerash, or to do a full-day trip from Amman.

It’s also worth being aware that you can do the highlights of Jordan in a more active manner – I hiked through the back of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, up to the Monastery, with a fantastic local guide. This is definitely the way to do it because you miss the crowds, and you really feel like you’ve earned a rest afterwards! I’d recommend doing Petra the ‘conventional’ way on your first day’s visit so you feel the full effect of the stunning Treasury, and then, for an active twist, head in the back up the steep rocky steps. I also did a hike through Wadi Rum, being met at the Bespoke Hideaways Camp by my Bedouin guide Mohamed – me in proper hiking boots, and him in his leather sandals! This was amazing, as I was taken away from the regular jeep routes and really felt quite far away from it all.

To sum up my trip, I discovered that you can still cover the highlights of Jordan – Petra, Jerash, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea – in a more active manner, as well as really getting stuck into the Dana Biosphere Reserve, and learning all about the Bedouin community so you get a feel for the ‘real’ Jordan.

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