A Bedouin guide takes a moment to reflect on his ascent to Jordan’s highest peak, Jabal um ad Dami. Photo / Juliette Sivertsen
The tall, wide and beautiful Jordan Trail can be a life-changing experience, writes Juliette Sivertsen
A naked woman could once walk from Ajloun to Damascus without anyone seeing her. At least that’s what local lore goes, dating back to medieval times, to describe the dense forest once known to hide parts of Jordan.
Bordered by conflict zones and war-torn countries, Jordan is a haven of peace in the Middle East, shaped by the Jebel and the Wadi – mountains and valleys that seem from another world and give depth , dimension and magnificence to the land.
Today, only about 1% of the land is forested – but existing reserves are home to hundreds of plant, bird and reptile species.
When international travel picks up and you’re ready to go on a wilderness adventure, hiking the Jordan Trail can be a life-changing experience.
To cover the entire 650 km, it takes about 40 days. But in 2019, I got to taste some of its highlights, with a shortened 10-day itinerary with World Expeditions. The expedition took us across the country, staying at local guesthouses, hotels and Bedouin camps along the way, experiencing the best Jordanian hospitality.
Here are some of the highlights of the hiking trails to inspire you for future adventures.
Hiking Trails in Jordan
Ajloun Forest Reserve
Before Covid, Ajloun was to be one of the next big hiking destinations in Jordan. The city is marked by the 12th century Ajloun Castle, one of the few Muslim castles in Jordan built to defend against the Crusaders.
Twenty minutes from these historic ruins is Ajloun Forest Reserve, known for its fertile soil and picnic spots. From our cabins in the woods, trails wind through and around oaks, pines, pomegranate trees and wild pistachio trees.
We did a nice short sunset hike along the Roe Deer Trail in cooler weather in the evening, but there are longer hikes in the park including a more difficult hike to Ajloun Castle.
From the highest peaks in the reserve, views stretch into the distance over the hills and highlands of Ajloun, with the distant haze of the capital Amman clinging to the colors of sunset to dusk.
It is the largest forest in Jordan at 25,000 km² but it is also young – only 150 years old, created to rejuvenate the land that had lost its green cover.
The hike in Bergesh Forest is rated as “medium” difficulty, and our hike was 8km. Our man-turned military trek guide Mohammed took us along dry riverbeds and near oaks, apple trees and maples, avoiding giant holes in the earth, where people tried to dig to find antique gold.
Digging up and taking antiquities is considered a serious crime for this archaeologically rich nation, with penalties equal to those imposed on drug traffickers. What lies beneath the earth is considered to belong to all the people of Jordan, not to one individual.
The last stage of the hike passes through the ruins of a Roman cemetery with around 500 graves, indicating a settlement of around 1,500, who lived here around 2,000 years ago. At the end, we found shade under an oak tree until our transport arrived.
We were taken back to Mohammed’s village in Orjam, where his wife, Maisoun, runs a host family for Jordan Trail travelers and hikers. She’s cooked up a feast of Middle Eastern food for hungry hikers.
Wadi Dana Trail
The Dana Biosphere Reserve covers 320 km², making it the largest nature reserve in Jordan. Formed by water and wind, Dana Canyon is so vast and diverse that it crosses three climates. It has characteristic wild plants and animals of the desert at its lowest point, as well as Mediterranean forests and dry Russian plains at higher elevations.
It is difficult to understand that there are almost 900 species of plants that live here. From our cliff top accommodation at the top of Wadi Dana, the canyon below looked like a vast abyss of rocky, dry and inhospitable land.
But on the slopes and between the crevices, the diverse flora is home to 190 species of birds, 37 species of mammals and 36 species of reptiles, including endangered species such as the Arabian wolf and the spiny-tailed lizard.
The hike through the Dana Biosphere Reserve was the most exhausting of the entire 10 day expedition – mostly downhill for almost 18 km with little shade from the Middle Eastern sun, starting from the abandoned village and stone of Dana.
A word of warning for those with shady knees – the constant descent on a gravel road will leave you in need of an ice pack and a good dose of anti-inflammatory at the end of the day.
Clinging to the side of a cliff, I finally understood the brief at the bottom of my brochure on the Nawatef trail stating “No fear of heights”.
Nawatef is a short loop trail in the Dana Biosphere Reserve and for the most part quite gentle. But the views are wild as the sandstone and limestone rock formations below resemble a rolling field of giant mushroom peaks.
But there are a few moments towards the end where scrambling is a necessity, as well as the confidence in my hiking boots’ grip on the sandstone. Our local guide promised us that the rocks were “sticky” and that we would not fall down a rock face at an apparently 45 degree angle.
The red rose city of Petra is an archaeological wonder, but exploring its many ruins requires good walking skills.
The journey to the famous Treasury takes at least an hour on foot, past old tombs and through a rocky ravine known as the Siq.
But the Treasury is just the beginning of the wonders of Petra, with thousands of other tombs and ancient settlements from the Nabataean, Byzantine, and Roman Empires waiting to be explored. The hike is mostly flat, sandy, and repetitive with little shade, but you have to climb to get to the Royal Tombs.
Just when you think nothing more could surprise you, comes the journey to the magnificent monastery – via a laborious ascent of 900 steps to the sculpted 45m high facade. But remember, what goes up must come down.
Jabal um ad Dami
We started early in the Wadi Rum desert to reach Jordan’s highest peak, before the harsh sun made the climb too unbearable without risking severe dehydration.
The trip from Sun City Bedouin camp started long before sunrise and it was the only time I felt freezing cold in Jordan.
After 90 minutes in the back of the ute, I snuggled into my party trying to stay warm, the desert finally started to clear up.
The hike itself wasn’t long, but it was the constant scrambling and climbing over the rocks and in the heat that took its toll. We were glad we left while it was still dark, as the early morning sun was still fierce enough to deplete my energy reserves and there was no shelter from the sun other than the rock in occasional overhang to hide under.
We had to stop frequently on our ascent to hydrate, the trip interrupted by spontaneous explosions from our singer Bedouin guide, Suliman.
From the summit, at an elevation of 1,854m, 360-degree views extend over Jordan, the Red Sea, Israel, Egypt and the border with Saudi Arabia. Standing next to the Jordanian flag fluttering on top of the mountain, my cell phone rang with a message welcoming me to the Saudi data network.
Suliman took out a burnt black kettle – the mark of a Bedouin who has traveled extensively – and lit a small fire on top of a mountain to boil the water for our sweet mint tea.
This was our last hike of the expedition and our knees tested us one last time on the way down to base.
CHECKLIST: JORDAN TRAIL
World Expeditions’ 10-day Jordan Trail Highlights itinerary is priced at $ 5,490 per person, with departures scheduled from March 2022. For more information, visit worldexpeditions.com