Return to Jordan to Experience Its Hidden Wonders

People & Culture

Scenic valley of Dana Natural Reserve, Jordan

My first journey to Jordan in 2010 was a relatively quick visit that covered the entire country from north to south. Although brief, it began my obsession with the country and the region. At the centre of that first trip were my two visits to Petra, one during the day and the other at night, but my memories and love for the country went beyond that incredible landmark. My love came from the sights and experiences, the incredible food, and most of all the people. In my opinion, Jordanians are the most welcoming hosts and their country is one of the safest and cleanest you’ll visit in the region, while on a Jordan vacation.

In February, I was lucky enough to travel with a delegation from North America to Jordan, organized by Tourism Cares. The focus of the trip was to experience a side of the country that many visitors pass over, on their Jordan vacation, in their haste to snap pictures of Petra or float in the Dead Sea. To do this, we followed the Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan.

The point of entry in Jordan is the capital, Amman, which is one of the most progressive and growing cities in all of the Middle East. While Amman is a little more modern than you’d imagine when thinking of Jordan, it’s still a great city to spend a day at the beginning or end of your journeys in the country. You can enjoy the views and explore some of the history by heading to the Citadel atop Jabal al-Qala’a Hill or the Archaeology Museum. If you’re wanting a great introduction to delicious Jordanian cuisine, head to Wild Jordan Café. The food is wonderful and you’ll be treated to great views while you eat.

The first leg of the journey after Amman took us north to Ajlun for a quick stop at Summaga Café, overlooking Ajlun Castle. The café is a social enterprise run by 25 nearby organic farms and offers traditional home-made dishes as well as an on-site shop selling organic olive oil and sumac (a great spice for cooks, having a tangy lemon flavour that’s less acidic than lemon juice). A light meal or refreshing drink at the café is combined with meeting the locals who directly benefit from your visit, plus the opportunity to purchase great souvenirs!

Emma Cottis - View of Ajlun Castle from Summaga Café, Jordan
View of Ajlun Castle from Summaga Café | Photo credit: Emma Cottis

We then continued on to experience a short section of the Jordan Trail, which is a 650km trail from Um Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south. To walk the entire trail is a 40 to 45 day journey travelling through 52 villages and towns (documented by Andrew Evans on assignment for National Geographic). If you want to capture the essence of Jordan, there is no better way than walking even a short section of the trail, which will certainly become one of the most iconic hikes of the world. If you’re short on time, but want to experience a multi-day hike, one of the most incredible journeys is the 4-day section from Dana to Petra.

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Trekking Your Way to an Epic Jordan Vacation

Before the start of the hike from Dana, make sure to stay at Feynan Ecolodge in the heart of the Dana Biosphere Reserve. The ecolodge operates almost entirely on solar power; part of what makes it unique is that when you head out for a sunset trek, you’ll return to the lodge which is lit up entirely by candles (made by a local lady on site at the property). Note that due to the limited solar power, the menu at Feynan is entirely vegetarian, and it’s not licensed (so don’t expect a steak and red wine dinner). However, the stargazing and storytelling from the rooftop of the building more than makes up for any shift in diet for the night.

Emma Cottis - Arriving at Feynan Ecolodge in Dana Reserve, Jordan
Arriving at Feynan Ecolodge in Dana Reserve | Photo credit: Emma Cottis

The building also has a unique cooling system feature; the exterior walls feature lines of stone jutting out horizontally from the walls, creating shade to cool the walls. It’s certainly not a luxury lodge, but the benefit to the local community is immense. At least 80 families (400 individuals) benefit directly from the lodge, and 55 percent of the revenue stays in the immediate local community (all 100 percent stays within Jordan).

Emma Cottis - Unique cooling system of Feynan Ecolodge, Jordan
Unique cooling system of Feynan Ecolodge | Photo credit: Emma Cottis

Activities at the Feynan Ecolodge range from hiking and biking to cooking experiences and local community experiences, including visits with the Bedouin, which offer the rare opportunity to experience the daily life of the Bedouin, visit a goat-hair tented home, and perhaps witness a traditional coffee-making ceremony. This isn’t your local coffee shop so be prepared for a two-hour visit to the Bedouin as they roast and rhythmically grind the beans before boiling the coffee. There’s also an opportunity to learn more about serving and drinking the coffee, and the chance to ask questions of your hosts about Bedouin life.

Emma Cottis - Bedouin Coffee experience in Jordan
Bedouin Coffee experience in Jordan | Photo credit: Emma Cottis

The Dana to Petra hike passes through Little Petra before entering the main site at Petra. The arrival is quite spectacular as you pass around a corner and come face to face with the monastery (most visitors walk through the Siq to see the Treasury first, followed by a 45 minute hike to the Monastery). There is a great Bedouin café to sit in and reflect on the spectacular site before travelling down to the main Petra site.

Emma Cottis - The Monastery at Petra, Jordan
The Monastery at Petra | Photo credit: Emma Cottis

Side note: It’s really important when visiting Petra on your Jordan vacation to NOT purchase items from the children. Child labour is a major problem in the region and the school dropout rate is three times the average for the nation. Purchasing from children is damaging not only for the children but for the entire local community, as the future generations are being robbed of an education (there is even a sign before entering, requesting visitors not to hire donkeys or purchase goods presented by children).

Don’t think that you’ve seen it all in Jordan after visiting Petra. There’s a lot more to the country than this incredible archaeological site. It’s not far from Petra to Wadi Rum in the south of the country, where you can ride a camel and experience the iconic Middle Eastern desert complete with windswept sand dunes. As well, if you didn’t engage with the Bedouins during your time at Feynan Ecolodge, Wadi Rum offers plenty of opportunities to meet with them and learn about their traditional culture.

North of Petra, you can stop off at Karak, which was one of the most important Crusader castles in the Middle East during medieval times. The Dead Sea is also a must-do in the country. Beyond being the lowest geographic point on the planet, the Dead Sea is so saturated with salt and minerals that you’ll float in the water. Keep your head above water and don’t try to swim. Just float and relax. Afterwards, cover yourself with Dead Sea mud and let it dry before rinsing in the sea for the softest skin – nature can be the best moisturizer.

There is so much to savour and explore on a Jordan vacation. Beyond the archaeological sites that go back thousands of years and the stunning landscapes of rock and desert, it’s the people of Jordan that will work their way into your heart and make you fall in love with the country.

Watch the Tourism Cares for Jordan video for more inspirational stories of how travel benefits travellers, communities, and places across the world.