Last week I wrote a piece about my recent visit to Jordan, in which I highlighted that country’s many historical, cultural and religious attractions. Places like Petra, the Greco-Roman city of Jarash and the biblically important Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Visiting those places can be both inspiring and incredibly humbling at the same time, but after a few days of exploring ancient ruins, I was ready to stretch my legs and enjoy a little adventure. Fortunately, Jordan has plenty of that too.
The early part of my journey through Jordan was spent in and around the capital city of Amman, which is a vibrant, modern metropolis with a population of more than two million. But a couple of days in and I was ready for some peace and solitude in the desert. Lucky for me our first destination after leaving the city was a quiet eco-lodge called Feynan located to the south.
is the perfect antithesis of the hustle and bustle of Amman. Quiet and peaceful, the lodge uses solar power to heat water and generate what little electricity that it actually uses. At night, the walkways and guest rooms are lit by candles that give the place a tranquil glow, and the almost exclusively vegetarian meals are made from locally sourced foods. It is all part of Feynan’s pledge to have as little of an impact on the environment as possible, and while you’re there you may lack for a few amenities, but you’ll also never notice. National Geographic called Feynan one of the 50 best ecolodges in the world and it doesn’t take very long understand why.
As if Feynan wasn’t amazing enough on its own, it also happens to sit on the edge of the the Dana Biosphere Reserve, the largest nature reserve in all of Jordan. Dana is nearly 192 sq. km (120 sq. miles) in size and consists of wildly varying landscapes. In the highlands of the Qadisiyah Plateau it reaches an altitude of about 1500 meters (4500 ft) but it also gives way to the sprawling desert flats far below. Sandstone, limestone and granite cliffs abound, and slot canyons slice through the rock, just begging to be explored.
I had the opportunity to take two hikes while in the area, one at sunset and another at sunrise, and both were spectacular. The red glow of the rising and setting sun cast the area around Feynan in a warm light that was both foreign and familiar at the same time. That light brought the reds, oranges and pinks of the desert alive in a gorgeous kaleidoscope that can’t be completely conveyed in photos, but will always stay with me in my mind. It was easily one of the quietest, most peaceful places I’ve had the opportunity to visit in my travels.
Unfortunately my stay in Feynan was far too brief and we were on the road once again the next day. But if if I had to pick one place to return to in Jordan, it would likely be here. I’m told that those mysterious canyons offer fantastic trekking and climbing, and that deep inside there are hidden waterfalls and rock formations that few are lucky enough to ever see. I would like to go back and spend a few days just trekking those valleys and enjoying the serene life at the eco-lodge.
I can’t say I was entirely happy to leave the Dana Biosphere behind, but another fantastic destination lay ahead. Located in southernmost Jordan is the Wadi Rum desert, which is another wide-open expanse that broken up by towering sandstone and granite formations. Wadi Rum is another one of Jordan’s premiere adventure destinations and visitors looking for a wilderness experience will not go away disappointed. There are trekking and climbing opportunities in abundance and camel safaris offer a unique way to explore the rolling dunes.
We took in the beauty of Wadi Rum from the back of a couple of 4×4’s and spent the better part of the afternoon following in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia. There we saw his Seven Pillars of Wisdom and learned how the British officer helped to organize and lead the Arab revolt agains the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Lawrence still casts a large shadow over Jordan, although his myth is not so grand as it is in the West.
Our drive took us past natural rock bridges, spiraling towers and granite walls that would leave many climbers licking their lips with anticipation. We plowed through deep sands and careened over sand dunes 20 stories high, while soaking up the stark beauty that has made Wadi Rum a favorite destination for travelers. And at the end of the day we stopped at a Bedouin camp that would be our resting spot for the night. That evening we partook in a traditional Bedouin meal, sang songs, danced and smoked the Hookah pipe, while overhead a billion stars twinkled brightly. It was one of the most breathtaking night skies I have ever seen, and well worth a trip deep into the desert alone.
The next morning a group of us were up at the break of dawn in order to get an entirely different perspective of Wadi Rum. Scrambling into a hot air balloon, we spent the early hours of the day drifting a thousand meters above the desert floor, watching from the perfect vantage point as the suns rays crawled across the landscape below. It was my first time in a hot air balloon, and I found it to be a wonderfully serene experience. When the flame wasn’t blasting hot air into the balloon above, we quietly drifted along wherever the wind took us. It was the perfect way to start the day and a reminder of just how vast and beautiful the desert truly was.
Once again, my time in Wadi Rum was far too short and it is yet another Jordanian destination that I would love to return to. Adventurous travelers can actually trek across the desert on foot, camping out beneath the stars each night. If you have the time, that is the way I would recommend seeing this place that has captivated visitors for hundreds of years.
My visits to the both the Dana Biosphere Reserve and Wadi Rum showed me a completely different side to Jordan than I had seen while visiting its historical wonders. It reaffirmed its standing as a great destination for adventure travelers as well. Trekkers and climbers will find plenty to love in both places, provided they schedule enough time in their itineraries to take it all in.
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