Wadis, Wildlife and Waterfalls: On Foot in Jordan
Jordan has several nature reserves managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Two of our North Africa and Arabia specialists, Clair and Nadia, visited three of these areas to explore the walking opportunities away from Petra and the Dead Sea.
Walking the 'Feather Trail' in the Dana Biosphere Reserve
Dana Biosphere Reserve
The Dana Biosphere Reserve (see no. 1 on map) is the largest reserve in Jordan, and is home to an enormous range of species of birds, animals and plants. This incredible biodiversity is due in part to the varying landscapes within the reserve; from 1,500 metre high rugged mountains, through to lush valleys and dry, rocky desert. Endangered animals such as the Nubian ibex, sand cat, and Syrian wolf can be found within the reserve, although it is perhaps better known for its excellent birdwatching.
There are numerous walks here to suit any ability and we sampled a couple, but my favourite was the Shaq Al Reesh Trail (the 'Feather Trail'), which spans Dana's different bio-geographical zones and so presents brilliantly varied landscapes as you walk.
The trail begins at the top of a deep canyon, with excellent views out across the valley. Iniitally we descended on rocky paths through the steep walls of the canyon, through which many birds fly and nest, hence the name of the walk: 'Feather Trail'. At the bottom of the gorge, however, we abruptly opened out onto a wonderful fertile valley with a gorgeous array of colourful flora, open space and birdsong; it was heavenly.
Our guide was brilliant – extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the area, he was able to teach us all about the different species of plants and birds we saw along the way. At the end of the hike he set up a camp fire and made us traditional tea with freshly picked artemisia, a herb grown in the reserve that is similar to sage.
And at the end of our day walking, we were rewarded with an evening in the Feynan Ecolodge, which is located on the edge of the Dana Reserve. It has a simple but magical atmosphere, relying solely on solar power so in the evening the whole lodge is lit by candlelight. The food is delicious; all vegetarian and locally sourced, and the bread is made by a local Bedouin family.
We went to the rooftop after dinner to relax as the lodge has a telescope and the staff are knowledgeable about star constellations and planets, which are usually easy to see due to the low light pollution in the area – I was lucky enough to see Saturn and Jupiter.
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Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve
Located close to the Dead Sea, at 410 metres below sea level, Wadi Mujib (see no. 2 on map) is the Earth's lowest nature reserve. The mountainous landscape is cut through by several rivers that have enabled a rich biodiversity: some of the more remote mountain areas provide the habitat for rare species such as mountain cats and ibex.
This array of canyons and rivers offers more adrenalin-filled hikes that involve a higher level of adventure. We were lucky enough to try the 'Siq Trail', which followed the course of one of the rivers, ending by a waterfall.
The walk begins by traversing a walkway across the dam, then continues through the canyon actually in the river; we followed a rope to steady ourselves, wearing lifejackets as we splashed – and occasionally floated – through the water. It's not always deep enough to swim in but it had recently rained, so we were treated to an adventure.
As we began the trail, the morning sun was breaking through the siq (canyon) and illuminating the red stone and turquoise pools – beautiful. There is a daily limit of 80 people on this walk and this, coupled with the distance from any roads, made me feel like a real explorer – it was such an exciting and different way to explore the reserve and a real highlight of my trip.
Azraq Wetland Reserve
Located close to Amman, the Azraq Wetland Reserve (see no. 3 on map) is one of the smaller reserves. Once a vast oasis, over the years it has suffered overuse, which has reduced its size and caused the wildlife to suffer. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature are working to restore the reserve but it's currently only a fairly small wetland. Nevertheless, there are excellent board walks and a birdwatching station from where you can spot local, migratory and rare birds. We did a walk here but sadly didn't have time to try the cycling.
However, we did manage to combine our visit here with a trip to some nearby desert castles: Azraq, Kharaneh and Amra, which were originally built by the Umayyads as hunting lodges and palatial retreats.
Each castle has its own fascinating history and style but our favourite was Amra Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with highly impressive frescoes: the castle dates back to the Islamic Conquest and Islam forbids the depiction of humans and animals, yet the frescoes show hunters, revellers and a wealth of nature scenes, all of which have survived in relatively good condition.
Azraq is a great place to visit from Amman, and combined with the desert castles makes a really interesting and fun day out. We arranged a packed lunch and had this in the picnic area at the reserve, overlooking the wetland where we watched water buffalo graze and listened to the numerous birds in the area: quite idyllic.