Dana Biosphere Reserve: one of Jordan's best kept secrets

Before heading to Jordan, we didn't know much about Dana. It was always overshadowed by the more famous attractions. That's what makes it even more special. 

Perched on the edge of an epic canyon, quaint Dana Village has possibly the best location of any settlement we've ever been to. The canyon itself is equally stunning, with huge orange cliffs that flank a valley that goes on as far as the eye can see.

Put Dana in any other country and you would find it full of tourists. In the four days we were there, we saw only another eight tourists in total.

It is a great area for hiking and getting a chance to experience a bit of rural Jordan life. You're very likely to bump into Bedouins and be invited in to drink tea!

 

Dana Village

The best place to start a trip to Dana is the village itself. It's perched high on top of a cliff and is blissfully cool (even when we visited in June), especially in the evenings. It is a rustic and sleepy village, but offers some of the most breathtaking views we've ever seen.

Wandering around the village is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Whilst it is inhabited many of the villagers chose to leave and move further up the hill towards Al-Qadisiya, making it really quiet and an interesting place to explore.

Many of the houses are crumbling and you will round a corner to see a donkey or two wandering through the empty sandstone streets. It really feels like stepping back in time. There's plenty of places to climb the ruins and get even better views of the area.

The lookout at the end of the village (Dana is tiny so this is literally 5 minutes from the top of the village) is a perfect place to sit and watch the sun slowly sink behind the canyon. 

There are also quite a few viewpoints of Dana Village from the surrounding roads at the top of the hill which are great to give you a birds eye view of the village. 
 

Where we stayed - Dana Guesthouse

The balconies at Dana Guesthouse

We stayed at the stunning Dana Guesthouse. It has the best views in town and all of the rooms have balconies facing the canyon. The rooms are fantastic and the views even extend to the shower! It may be a little expensive, but it is by far the best choice in Dana and the wifi was the best we had in Jordan. 

It was a real relief to find as we had originally booked to stay at the Dana Hotel. If you value cleanliness don't make the same mistake we did. The Dana Hotel was filthy and despite the fact we've stayed in many $4 hotels in Nepal and India, we just couldn't stay in this one! Avoid. 

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The view from our balcony in Dana

Hikes near Dana Village

Rumana Camp

The Rumana Camp is the base for a few trails in the Dana Reserve. Most of these trails have great views and are pretty easy. .

Rumana Camp is a 30 minute drive north from Dana Village and is simple to get to. You'll have to park at the top of the camp (just by the gate) and walk down the road to the camp. The trail is around 2 km long all downhill, and when you return you can get a shuttle back up to your car.

This would be another good bet for accommodation if you prefer a tented option. They had simple and deluxe tents and the setting is out of this world. The shared toilets and showers were really clean. 

 

 

King Hussein Lookout - Rumana Camp

  • Short trail (about 30 minutes one way)
  • Easy 

The King Hussein trail is a very easy walk that starts from the road down to the Rumana Camp. It begins as a dirt track and the turning is on the left of the road as you walk downhill towards the camp (look for the Juniper Tree).

Then the trail is mainly flat and then undulates a little towards the lookout. Keep an eye out for the cairns to lead the way, but the trail is pretty simple to follow. The view (which King Hussein spent half an hour admiring hence the name) is beautiful and looks down into the canyon below. The lookout at the end was a truly amazing place to sit and take in those incredible views. 
 

Campsite Trail - Rumana Camp

  • 1 hour circuit
  • Easy

The campsite trail is a simple and very flat hike that takes in some more of the views of Dana. Starting next to the deluxe tents at the far end of the camp, the trail winds along the cliff edge.

There are quite a few off shoots where you can explore some smaller canyons so you can actually make this walk longer. We enjoyed that you could just venture off at will and climb up some of the many domes for even better views - hard to believe but it's true! 

Towards the end of the trail is a bird hide, just in front of a small pool of water. As well as providing shade from the midday sun, you can see several different bird species fly in to get a drink.

 

Cave Trail - Rumana Camp

  • Easy
  • 20 minutes return from the King Hussein lookout trail

The Cave Trail is nothing to write home about, but is a simple addition to the King Hussein lookout. You just walk up the road (away from the camp) until you find the sign for the trail.

The track takes you to a set of small caves. We think you could go further on this trail as there was faint markings for a while but we reached a bit which was narrow along a fairly sheer and slippery section of cliff and decided to turn back. 
 

Wadi Dana Trail to Feynan Eco-Lodge

  • Moderate
  • 4.5 hours
  • Approximately 14km

The Wadi Dana Trail to Feynan Eco-Lodge is the main reason people visit Dana. The trail starts at Dana Village and winds through the canyon until reaching Feynan eco lodge.

The track starts by going steeply down a gravel track for approximately 45 minutes until you reach the valley floor (you could probably do it quicker but it was quite slippery). Once here, the path winds alongside a dried up river bed (which comes back to life briefly after some rain). We would advise keeping to the jeep tracks as there are a few single paths that go off to Bedouin settlements. However, if you keep walking west - and away from Dana - you will eventually see Feynan.

The track is beautiful and takes you into a wild part of Jordan which few people visit. It gives glimpses of a more simple life with nomadic bedouins tending their goat herds and inviting you in for tea. We hiked during Ramadan, and despite the fact that they can't drink during the day, the bedouins kept offering to make us tea. It was a beautifully selfless act of hospitality. 

All along the track there are epic views of the canyon and the cliffs which change at every turn. We were told that it would take 5-7 hours, but we managed to do it in less with plenty of stops for drinks and photos.

It is best to start the Wadi Dana Trail as early as possible as the track has very little shade. In the midday heat, it becomes exhausting and we were really happy to stumble upon Feynan when we did! They is the odd tree or cave you can take some shelter in but when you are walking it is never shady. Take 2-3 litres of water and pace yourself. The sun in Jordan can become surprisingly intense.

Overall it is well worth doing, the trail is easy and beautiful, only the sun makes it a slight challenge. 

 

Feynan Eco-Lodge

Your final stop on the Wadi Dana Trail is Feynan Eco-Lodge, a place that was listed in the top 25 eco lodges in the world by National Geographic. It is hard to think of how they could be any more eco-friendly with solar panels, candles that are made on site instead of lights (there are lights in the bathrooms but not in the bedrooms or communal areas), a recycling program and clay bottles to serve water to guests, eliminating the need for plastic. 

It isn't cheap, but it is an experience we really enjoyed. The food was great, the star gazing was spectacular and we really felt like we were able to disconnect. Due to the price (120 JD per night) we had debated not visiting the lodge. In the end we are very glad we did, it was a special place and we felt lucky to have experienced it. 

They offer a range of included activities, although less are available during Ramadan. We loved the sunset hike and star gazing. They have a great telescope and we were able to see the rings on Saturn and the moons around Jupiter, as well as a billion other stars. Magic. 

 

Sunset hike at Feynan

You're probably thinking: "you just did a four hour hike in the blazing sun, why on earth would you do another?"

You would be right for questioning this madness! However, the sunset hike is well worth the little extra effort. It is only a short walk up to a viewpoint to watch the sunset behind the mountains on the horizon. 

We were lucky to see the sky turn golden and the views were incredible. It was so quiet and you felt like you were a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of city life. If you are looking to disconnect from the modern world, then this is the place for you (although they do have wifi in the lobby if you can't go a few hours without internet!).

To cap off a brilliant sunset, we shared bedouin tea while the sky was still golden. The bedouins make their tea with sage and a lot of sugar (one person we met called it "Type 2 [diabetes] Tea" because of how sweet it is). After the heat and tiredness we felt after the hike (and no lunch due to Ramadan), it was a great pick me up to power us through to dinner.

On the way back we met up with a bedouin family who invited us in for more tea and also some delicious home made bread. It is these kinds of natural interactions that make Dana really special. Unlike some other parts of Jordan, we felt welcomed as guests by the Bedouin here, rather than them hoping to make money from us. In fact we felt they were willing to share all that they had, it was an extremely humbling experience. 

Feynan offers a lot of other activities including cooking, koleh (Jordanian make-up), arabic coffee making and other walks, but the schedule was reduced for Ramadan and we were there for just one day.


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