Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

Photo: EcoHotels
Photo: EcoHotels

You pause to catch your breath. You’ve spent the day following a stream through a deep gorge. You’re surrounded by huge boulders, unstable rock formations, and pink oleanders. Despite it being chilly in your shady spot, you’re sweating through your long-sleeved T-shirt. Earlier, you saw an Egyptian dab lizard and two turquoise Sinai agamas. A colorful, male Palestine Sunbird calls out to his mate above you. She’s out of sight, or maybe she just blends in with her surroundings. After a long sip of water, you’re ready to move on, again. You need to reach the top of the gorge before sunset, when the canyon will turn brilliant shades of violet, amber, and red. Keep going.

You’ve been hiking through Wadi Ghwayr in south-central Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve. It’s the country’s largest nature reserve, and it’s full of ancient ruins, old mines, Bedouin encampments, and breathtaking scenery. Nubian ibex roam the land. Lesser Kestrels circle overhead. Camels are everywhere. And the Feynan Ecolodge, your home for the next few days, is a candle-lit oasis in the middle of the desert.

Photo: EcoHotels
Photo: EcoHotels

After the spectacular sunset, you return to the now-glowing lodge in time for a cup of mint tea and a few minutes of relaxation in a hammock before dinner. The vegetarian meal includes shraak–the flatbread eaten with every meal–yogurt sauce, vegetable stew, and hibiscus juice. The evening’s entertainment: millions of stars against the black velvet sky. You could watch shooting stars for hours next to the roaring fire, but you’re exhausted from your hike. And the rooster’s wake-up call will arrive much too early. Begrudgingly, you retire to your room. It too is filled with candles. Solar power provides warm showers and heat when the temperature dips too low. And the balcony overlooks the courtyard; the mountains are your view on the other side.

That rooster does indeed wake you up early. You forgive him when you smell coffee and freshly baked bread. Besides, you have another long day ahead of you. Climb to the rooftop terrace for 360-degree desert views as the sun rises. Bike to ancient ruins to see a Roman aqueduct and mill. Keep going to see the remains of a Byzantine monastery and church. Explore 4,000-year-old copper mines, if you aren’t claustrophobic. Learn about Bedouin culture while sipping tea in a local home. You’ll see shepherds tending to goats and donkeys carrying heavy jugs of water as you approach the village. Don’t miss their leather and candle workshops.

Tomorrow, you’ll finally slow down. You plan to sleep later, relax at the lodge, enjoy the view, spend more time in that hammock, and eventually make your way to Wadi Dana in the afternoon. If the rooster lets you, that is.

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