Why I hiked the Jordan Trail (and failed)
Hiking the Jordan Trail quickly became a dream of mine, as soon as I found out about it.
I have always loved hiking. I enjoy the physical fatigue, the puffing, sweating, and even the cursing I go through until I reach the final point of the hike. I enjoy being close to my friends at times like this, and making new friends who are sharing the same experience as I am.
I like being close to nature; admiring the views along the way; stopping to catch my breath; having a packed lunch in the middle of nowhere and taking out a stove and making coffee. I appreciate the power naps in the shade under a tree, before I start walking again. The beer I sip once I make it back always tastes delicious; and the hot shower at the end of the day is pure bliss.
To me, all hikes are good – whether I get mountain views, sea views, or I walk through the forest or in the desert. But put an archeological site at the end of a strenuous hike, and my sense of achievement will be completely fulfilled. That’s why I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, in Peru and why I plan to hike to the Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. And that’s what drove me to hike the Jordan Trail.
To read more about the Inca Trail, check my post “Inca Trail dos and donts.”
The Jordan Trail
When researching about Jordan in preparation for a 5-weeks trip through the Middle East, I found out about the Jordan Trail. This is a hike that requires over 5 weeks of walking. It starts in the North of the country, in Um Qais, and goes all the way South, to the Red Sea, crossing places such as the tiny village of Dana and Dana Nature Reserve, and the more famous Petra and Wadi Rum.
Unfortunately, I had no time to properly study and plan the Jordan Trail, and I surely didn’t have the time to hike all of it. But the good news for me was that I could hike what would be the most exciting section: the 76 km walk from Dana to Petra, which takes 5 full days. I was hooked: there was no way in the world I’d miss on that.
It looked like I could walk parts of the trail by myself, and sleep in guest houses and lodges along the way. But for other bits a guide was required, as there is no real trail to follow, and the weather conditions may change suddenly causing flooding and requiring change of itineraries. I am adventurous, you see – but I have never taken a survival course. I’d have to look for a guided hiking expedition.
That’s how I came across the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan, an NGO whose work strives to protect the local environment and to help the local communities. They were pretty much the only ones that offered a hiking expedition, which was what I needed, and needless to say as a responsible traveler and a former human rights lawyer, I did like their mission.
A bunch of emails later, it was settled: during my trip to Jordan, I would be walking the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra. I was beyond excited for this, though I hardly knew what to expect. To be fair, there wasn’t much information online that I could read (and I didn’t dig enough looking for it). So I didn’t go in very well prepared.
Hiking the Jordan Trail was an overall great experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. Unfortunately for me, an accident along the way cut my adventure short and I had to change my plans.
Hoping that other people who wish to hike the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra don’t go through my same ordeal, I have decided to write about my experience and provide some useful tips.
Hiking the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra
Day 0 – from Amman to Dana
The starting point of my Jordan Trail was Dana, a small village at about 3 hours drive from Amman. Dana was founded in the 15th century and it is nowadays virtually abandoned. Only 3 families still live there, while the rest of its inhabitants have moved to the nearby Tafila.
I was one of the very few foreign visitors that day – the rest of the people I met were local students on a school trip, and a couple of families who gathered in the picnic area and whose kids were enthusiastic to meet me and made it a point to introduce me to their parents. It was a Friday, which is a day off in Jordan. It is safe to assume that there are even less people on a regular week day.
Dana is a lovely village, despite the fact that most of the buildings there have collapsed as a result of time and complete lack of maintenance. The only ongoing project to restore it to its original splendor is run by USAID.
It didn’t take me long to explore the village. After climbing some collapsed fences, I got to a viewpoint from where I could admire the valley. That’s Dana Nature Reserve. No more than 50 Bedouin families still live there: they can only herd their livestock in certain times of year, so that the vegetation in the area can recover.
I spotted a very steep dirt road that went along the edge of the mountain. It seemed to be the only way to the valley, and I followed it for a short while. By the look of it, that was the road I’d follow the day after, when I’d officially begin hiking.
I figured that, which such beautiful mountains and a valley below, sunset would be quite a show. I walked back to my hotel and sat on the terrace to admire the view: it was indeed breathtaking.
Where to sleep and eat in Dana
There are three hotels in Dana. I stayed at Dana Guesthouse, which is run by the RSCN. It is a gorgeous structure, and all rooms have a balcony and views over the valley. It’s reviews are spot on. There are standard rooms, which are simple but cozy, with shared bathrooms; and superior rooms, which are incredibly large and comfortable, and have a private bathroom with a shower with a view.
I also ate all my meals at Dana Guesthouse. Dinner and breakfast are served buffet style and there is an incredibly wide selection of meat and vegetable dishes – so perfect even for vegetarians and vegans. Dana Guesthouse also provided my packed lunch for the day after.
Day 1 – from Dana to Feynan
My actual hike of the Jordan Trail started in Dana, from where I walked towards Feynan, along Dana Nature Reserve, considered to be one of Jordan’s hidden jem. This is the largest reserve in the country. The altitude here varies from the 1500 meters above sea level of Dana, where it actually gets quite chilly at night, to the 50 meters below sea level in Wadi Araba.
Dana Nature Reserve is home to some 600 species of plants, 180 species of birds and over 45 species of mammals. It is scattered with archaeological sites, such as the Copper Mines.
Feynan is a Bedouin village, with camps that get moved along the valley depending on the season, and no more than a handful of houses scattered around the school. It has a lovely, peaceful atmosphere and the surroundings are gorgeous.
The views along the walk from Dana to Feynan are stunning. Picture mountains all around, scattered with vegetation that is thicker in some areas, and sparser in others, when walking more into the desert. There are virtually no trees on the first part of the hike, but then more start appearing.
The silence is occasionally broken by the growling of a camel, by a donkey and by the bells of goats left free to herd. Towards the end of the hike, there are a few Bedouin camps. Children run after the visitors, to welcome them: they are always keen to pose for pictures.
A short hike from Feynan village takes to a viewpoint from where to enjoy one of the most amazing sunsets one could imagine. The setting is gorgeous too: imagine a local bedouin guide preparing a fragrant mint tea, and sipping this while the sun sets.
And at night, if the sky is clear, since it is so dark it is possible to go star gazing.
What to expect
The walk from Dana to Feynan is around 14 km, that can be covered in roughly 4 to 5 hours. It took me 5, because I stopped a lot along the way to take photos, drink water, and I took a long break to eat my lunch.
The walk would qualify as easy, though to be fair it is not nearly as easy as it looks and by the end of the day most people wish they had worn thicker socks. For the first hour or so, it is a steep downhill following a dirt road, and it then becomes a bit more gentle. There is virtually no shade along the way (I managed to find a tree under which I had my lunch), so wearing a hat, sunblock and drinking lots of water is vital – the weather is very dry and the sun unforgiving.
I wasn’t lucky with wildlife spotting, but those who are may be able to see lots of lizards, some of them turning blue during mating season.
No person was in sight when I hiked: I met literally two shepherds right outside of Dana, and nobody else until I was getting close to Feynan and crossed a few Bedouin camps.
Where to sleep and eat in Feynan
The only accommodation option in Feynan is Feynan Ecolodge. This is run by the RSCN, and it lives up to its name: only solar power is used to warm the water used for the showers, and no electricity is available in the beautiful, stylish rooms – just in the showers and in the reception area. When it gets dark, candles are lit to illuminate the passageways, the rooms and the beautiful dining room.
Dinner is served buffet style, and it is only vegetarian – meat needs to be refrigerated and this would take too much electricity, which is against the sustainability mission of the ecolodge. No alcohol is served on the property, so don’t hope for a beer at the end of a day of hiking. But there is plenty of good cold water and delicious lemonade and ginger.
Feynan also provides packed lunches for those hiking.
Day 2 – from Feynan to Al Bustan
The little information I had managed to gather about the Jordan Trail did mention that the second day of hiking would be a tough one. I braced myself, not knowing what to expect. After having walked it, and perhaps as a result of the circumstances I went through, I can say that difficult won’t begin to explain it.
The manager of Feynan Ecolodge introduced me to my guide at 8:30 am. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was going to be a long day. I said hello to him and asked a few questions but he just muttered something in Arabic, to the manager – who when I protested reassured me that he was a very good guide. I pushed any negative thoughts to the back of my mind. But I wasn’t enthusiastic at the thought of having to spend 5 full days alone with a person I could not communicate with.
As the guide explained in Arabic, and the manager of Feynan translated into English, we’d be walking an alternative path as opposed to what had been planned for that day – the already difficult Wadi Al Nakheel Trail. The overcast sky promised rain, and he feared that the canyon would flood and we’d be stuck in the water with no way out. He knew alternative routes and we’d follow that.
“As long as you get me to Al Bustan,” I thought to myself. “In one piece,” I should have added, with hindsight.
We set to walk, and for the first hour or so things went very smooth – except for the fact that really, I could not communicate with my guide. Truth be told, aside from the fact that we could not communicate, he was nothing short of a gentleman, and he obviously knew the region inside out. I knew we wouldn’t get lost and I trusted him completely.
Walking started to be a bit harder as soon as we reached the river. There was no trail, so we kept jumping from one side to the other of the river. It was ok, if only a bit difficult.
At some point, it looked like if we cut through the bushes, we’d get to the river bank and walking would be easier. I followed my guide through the bushes. That’s when a thick, hard branch went right to my leg and I badly injured myself.
I blacked out. The pain was so sharp that I screamed, and had to lay down for a good ten minutes to catch my breath before I could start walking again. And even then, I could feel blood running down my leg. I had nothing to bandage my wound, or to medicate it. I had close to zero notion of first aid (now I do, thanks to this post by Bemused Backpacker). I made a mental note to write a recommendation to carry a first aid kit to anyone setting to hike the Jordan Trail.
I checked my cell phone for network, wanting to call for help, but we were in the middle of nowhere and there was none. We had been walking for 3 hours by then. I asked my guide how far it would be till we reached Al Bustan camp (or anywhere where there’d be some form of civilization) but I don’t think he understood me.
So I kept walking, not really knowing what to expect.
Between the pain in my leg, the fact that there was no path at all that we could follow (at some point we actually walked inside the creek), the steep ascent and the fact that I had nobody to talk to, if only to find a bit of comfort, I had a really hard time.
When I finally made it to Al Bustan camp, I was physically and morally exhausted, and completely disheartened. Besides, I needed to see a doctor. So, as soon as I managed to make myself understood by the rest of the people at the camp, I hopped on a car and was taken to the nearest clinic, in Shobak.
Against my request, the doctor decided that I didn’t need stitches (except later on the doctors I saw in Jerusalem did ask me why I hadn’t gotten any… so I figured I should have gotten stitches like I thought), but gave me a shot for tetanus, medicated my wound, put me on antibiotics and recommended that I take it easy.
Sadly, that was the end of my adventure on the Jordan Trail. I spent that night in Shobak, which by the way is one of the nicest places to visit in Jordan, and got some much needed rest at Montreal Hotel.
To read more about what to visit in Jordan, check my post “All the places to visit in Jordan.”
After visiting Shobak and resting for a couple of days, I made my way to Petra, where I hiked the entire site.
To read more about Petra, check my post “11 things to know before visiting Petra.”
The views along the (alternative) Wadi Al Nakheel Trail are beautiful. The first part of the walk is pretty much in the desert, and nobody is in sight except the odd Bedouin and a herd of sheep. I think I met one along the way.
Eventually, the desert gives way to a creek that runs through a canyon, and the vegetation becomes a bit thicker: bushes, trees, palm trees and some very interesting rock formation.
Towards the end of the hike, there are some hot springs. They are incredibly difficult to reach, so hardly anybody goes. There were maybe two persons when I was there. By the time I made it there, I was so exhausted, so frustrated by the incident, and so worried about the wound in my leg that all I wanted to do was to keep on walking and reach a place where I’d be able to make a phone call and find a doctor as soon as possible.
What to expect
I can only speak for the alternative trail, and not for the Wadi Al Nakheel Trail I was meant to follow. I don’t hike every single day of my life, but hiking is quite a thing in Sardinia, where I am from, and I have done several hikes, a few multi-day ones, and some very technical ones, where the issue wasn’t the altitude or the actual drop (which I can actually endure), but the terrain. I am quite fit (I swim 4 times per week and I take every opportunity to exercise) and I don’t mind physical fatigue.
Having said so, I found this to be one of the most challenging hikes I have ever done. The lack of an actual trail, the constant change of terrain – from rocky, to sandy, to actually having to cross the river and walk inside a creek; the steep uphill and downhill: I won’t deny that it was hard.
Where to sleep and eat
There literally is nowhere in terms of accommodation and food along this portion of the Jordan Trail. I carried a packed lunch and lots of water (I recommend a minimum of two liters) with me from Feynan and I had planned to sleep in Al Bustan, a Bedouin style camp that was put up for the occasion.
I only spent enough time in Al Bustan to gather my thoughts, make a phone call and arranged to be taken to the nearest clinic.
I observed the setting and it looked quite simple: a large tent, with blankets and carpets being used as walls and thus creating 3 smaller “rooms;” each of them had a mattress on the floor and blankets for the night. There was nothing to actually close the tent so it would pretty much have been like sleeping in the open air. The camp had no facilities – no toilet and no sink.
A fire had been lit to boil water and cook the meals.
General tips for hiking the Jordan Trail
When to hike the Jordan Trail
With cold winters and incredibly hot summers, there is no doubt that the best time to hike the Jordan Trail – or at least the portions of it that I did – is in the spring time. I walked it at the beginning of April, and the days were dry, if only a bit overcast.
In terms of temperatures, they were pleasant during the day – although obviously, walking and working out, the body does feel warmer than it would otherwise. The temperatures dropped at night, especially in Dana which is at around 1500 meters above sea level, and in Shobak.
What to pack and what to wear for the Jordan Trail
Once again, I can only speak for those parts of the Jordan Trail I actually hiked, but the tips I am about to provide will generally be applicable to any multi-day hike.
The first recommendation I have for anyone hiking the Dana to Petra portion of the Jordan Trail is to pack as light as possible. Don’t carry any backpack over 30 liters, and even then make sure that the backpack – which has to fit nicely to the body – doesn’t weight more than 4 or 5 kgs, including the water for the hike.
Essential items for this portion of the Jordan Trail are: good hiking boots that hold the ankles properly; a good pair of hiking pants, and a pair of shorts, just in case the weather gets really hot. I find that Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are incredibly comfortable, performing and lightweight. I also recommend taking a couple of t-shirts.
Kuhl cotton shirts are light, colorful and comfortable. I would take a thermal t-shirt too, which helps keep the body temperature even when sweaty. Hiking socks are necessary: with all the walking, keeping the feet comfortable and having that extra padding is important. Finally, a wind and rain proof jacket and a light sweater (it does get chilly at night) and a hat against the sun and heat are a must.
Other than the basic toothbrush and toothpaste, do make sure to carry some laundry soap which can be used to wash clothes (whenever water is available) and to shower; a good sunblock is fundamental unless planning to get sunburnt.
Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antiseptic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.
To find out more about what’s in my backpack, read my post “My ultimate packing list.”
Final tips for hiking the Jordan Trail
Hiking the Jordan Trail isn’t a walk in the park. Whoever plans to walk it, needs to research as much as possible about it, and plan it carefully. It requires a good sense of adventure and an even better willingness to adapt to the sometimes harsh conditions and to the physical fatigue.
My recommendation is to also not do it alone. I don’t just mean to hire the services of a guide: that goes without saying, because some of the trails are virtually impossible to find, and there is no phone network and no way to talk to anybody if lost.
What I do mean, is to plan to hike the Jordan Trail in a small group of friends, for companionship, and to have someone to talk to and entertain each other, and to support one another during the hardest bits.
Have you hiked the Jordan Trail? What was your experience?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Jordan Tourism Board, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.