The Jordan Trail
The 650-kilometre Jordan Trail spans the full length of the country, from Um Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south, and can be completed in around 40 days. It takes in the full breadth of Jordan's landscapes, as well as connecting some of its major historical sites like Um Qais, Jerash and Petra.
We only had a week so chose to tackle possibly the most spectacular section of the Trail, from Dana to the global tourist-mecca of Petra. This section takes four days and offers some breathtaking scenery: the vast and desolate Araba valley, a crossing of the remote Jordanian highlands and the dramatic 'backdoor' path to the ancient sandstone city of Petra. Be aware this is an unmarked trail - a GPS device is essential - and the hiking conditions are fairly tough - the path can be rough in places, the walking is hot and unshaded and water is scarce. So if you are travelling without a guide, this is one for more experienced and confident hikers. However, while it may not be the most comfortable of trips, the rewards are great: dramatic and rugged terrain, deep yellow rock and blazing Arabian sunsets, tea with Bedouin nomads and arriving from the desert at one of the wonders of the modern world .
It's very likely you will want to start in Dana and finish at Petra (i.e. travel north to south). Both ends of the trail are accessible by public transport. I took a direct flight from London to Amman, from where we took a bus to the town of Dana (around 3/4 hours) and then a short taxi ride to Dana Reserve, where the trail begins. We thought we would need to get a bus to At-Tafilah, the largest nearby town, and then catch a local bus or taxi but in fact there is a bus that goes directly to Dana from Amman. The bus station is in the south part of town (tell your taxi driver you are heading to Dana and he should know which station to take you to). Be aware that most of the buses in Jordan don't have a set timetable and simply leave when full - we waited around an hour for our bus to set off - so ensure you leave enough time. The town of Dana is set back a little from the reserve - the bus should drop you at the turn-off - and you can catch a taxi for the short drive to the hotels and campsites at the rim of the valley. Our bus driver had actually (without our knowledge) called ahead and there was a driver waiting for us. Jordan has a way of providing.
Dana, on the edge of a valley carved into sandstone, is a lovely spot to spend a night. After arriving, we spent a couple of hours wandering along the rim and enjoying a spectacular sunset - the sun sets at the end of the valley. There are numerous accommodation options - we stayed in Dana Guesthouse, which is a pricier option but extremely comfortable. Bear in mind that Dana is fairly high and was quite cold when we were there (in March) - layers and a coat are definitely recommended for the evening.
Once you finish the hike at Petra, there are plenty of transport options back to Amman. We actually hired a private driver to take us so that we could made a number of stops on the way. The main, and most direct, highway back to Amman only takes 3/4 hours. It's a pretty dull and monotonous road. The road we took, via the Dead Sea, takes a little longer but is far more interesting. Our driver charged us 75 JOD, which was actually below the usual rate as he was already making the return journey. Suffice it to say, hiring your own driver is a lot more expensive than the bus.
In terms of accommodation, there are only a few options at Dana so you should definitely book ahead. We camped the first two nights of the trek at 'campsites' marked on the GPS, at the base of the mountains near Wadi al-Malaqa and by the spring in Wadi Feid. In reality, there is nothing at these 'campsites' except for the fact they are pretty suitable spots for camping. On the third night we stayed in a touristy Bedouin 'camp' just outside Little Petra. In an ideal world, we would have camped again but we hadn't been able to pick up any water during the day and once we arrived at Little Petra it was late and our options were becoming limited. At Petra, the main tourist hub and brimming with hotel options is Wadi Musa. We stayed in another small town near to Petra, Uum Sayhoun, in a homey b&b. Wherever you stay at Petra, there are plenty of options but you should book ahead in high season (April - May).
The main issue you'll have is water. Unsurprisingly, it's quite scarce and you need to plan carefully. There isn't any reliable water after Dana until you reach the spring at Wadi Feid, which you should reach toward the end of the second day. So we arranged a water drop with a local Bedouin (whose contact details are listed on the Jordan Trail site) at the Wadi al-Malaqa campsite. He also brought us some cooked dinner, which was actually one of the best meals we had in Jordan. There does appear to be a small artificial lake near the campsite but we did not explore this and I am sure not whether it's usable.
Elsewhere on the trail, there are a few springs marked on the GPS. However, we found these to be mostly dry or non-existent - and we were walking during the wettest time of year. The only reliable source is the spring at Wadi Feid - the spring itself wasn't usable but we could drink from the stream. As always - always always purify the water you drink! From Wadi Feid, there was no water until Little Petra - a very long day's walk.
The other thing to prepare for is the sun. There is very little shade along the entire route so make sure you have a good hat and scarf as well as sun cream. Even though the temperature when we were walking in March only rose to the mid 20s (centigrade), the sun was quite punishing between 12:30pm and 2:30pm and it felt a lot warmer (especially given the weight we were carrying). On balance, it was a great time of year to hike in Jordan because it was warm enough at night (I didn't end up needing my sleeping bag liner or my second sweater) and not too hot during the day. I personally would not want to hike any later than mid-April and it simply wouldn't be possible in summer.
The most useful resource is the official Jordan Trail site, which has essential local information, descriptions of the various stages, maps and - crucially - GPX files.
As previously mentioned, the trail is unmarked and at many places quite unclear. A GPS device is therefore essential. I'd previously used my mobile but it's not overly reliable, both in terms of battery life and picking up GPS signal. So in this case, where we were hiking in quite isolated and potentially dangerous conditions, a GPS device was crucial.
We hiked from Dana to Petra over 4 days, crossing the southern highlands at Wadi Feid. Dana is a beautiful place to start a trek and the first day's walk is fairly straightforward, as you descend gently into the valley of Wadi Dana and then continue a level pace for a few hours into the expanding desert. The track is in fairly good condition and after a few hours you pass the Feynan Eco Lodge, where tourists can spend a comfortable night in the valley. I didn't find the area immediately around the Lodge particularly attractive but it provides a good base for exploring (if you are not travelling further). Another kilometre or so beyond the Lodge is a small village and a school and further on you pass some scattered Roman ruins (the area was used for copper mining).
Wild camping isn't allowed inside Dana Reserve but there is a good spot at the base of the mountains near Wadi al-Malaqa (marked on the GPS). The camping area is at the base of a small hill, from the top of which you can enjoy an absolutely breathtaking sunset.
The second day is a tougher walk as the path is rocky and rough-going in places and you also make an 800-metre ascent. There is very little shade until you enter the mountain pass, so make sure you set off early. After a couple of hours following the base of the mountains, you reach what feels like the end of the row of peaks and from there a clear switch-back climbs steeply to afford expansive views of the Araba valley. From there, you then hang a left and follow a dry gully to the top of the pass. The view at the top, into Wadi Feid, is stunning. You then drop down to the stream - a nice lunch and resting area is just through the bushes to the right - and follow the stream to the spring where there is a great camping spot.
The third day was a long killer. You leave Wadi Feid via the dry river bed and then ascend a gentle climb to gain the ridge edge. The views for the next few hours are amazing as you follow the edge of the mountain ridge, with expansive views into the valleys below. The scenery really was fantastic along this section, although without any shade and some rough track it was pretty tiring. Further on, once we passed a plateau and entered another strange, rocky landscape, we stopped a a Bedouin tent where a man gave us sugary tea. Beyond, there was still plenty of distance to go. Ideally, we would have camped at the GPS 'campsite' about 30 minutes before Little Petra - this would have been a good distance for the day and it looked like a great sleeping spot. However, we had not passed any water all day so needed to push on to Little Petra. Keep an eye on the map during this section because the narrow gap in the sandstone, which is your backdoor to Little Petra, is easy to miss.
Little Petra gives you a taste of Petra itself - stunning sandstone carvings and an established tourist vibe. After a long walk, we had a comfortable stay in one of the touristy Bedouin camps nearby. The following day we made a much more relaxed walk along flat ground to Petra, a section of the trail which is more heavily trafficked then elsewhere. After crossing desert flats, you then enter Petra 'by the backdoor' - a stunning path that hugs a cliff edge - and eventually reach the Monastery, one of the largest monuments on the site. A pretty memorable moment after several days in the desert.
Day 1: Dana to Wadi Malaga (23.5km, 7 hours)
Day 2: Wadi Malaga to Wadi Feid (13km, 7 hours)
Day 3: Wadi Feid to Little Petra (24km, 10 hours)
Day 4: Little Petra to Petra (13km, 4 hours)
Petra can come as a small shock after the isolation on the hike - it's one of the world's biggest tourist attractions and the donkeys, camels and store sellers add a chaotic, circus atmosphere. We took a full day to properly explore and enjoy Petra. Despite the large number of people, it is a huge site and there are many areas where you can escape from the tourist masses and explore alone. Without doubt, Petra makes an unforgettable ending to a long-distance walk.