12 Reasons the Jordan Trail Should Be at the Top of Your Travel Bucket List

The new cross-country trail weaves through some of the region’s most famous historic sites. On a recent trip with Experience Jordan, I hiked from Dana to Petra, the UNESCO World Heritage Center, and it was an incredible cultural immersion, physical challenge and peek into the past. Explore how to experience a hike along the Jordan Trail.

Photo By: © ATTA / Rupert Shanks

Photo By: Emad Aljumah, Getty Images

Photo By: © ATTA / Rupert Shanks

Photo By: © ATTA / Rupert Shanks

Photo By: © ATTA / Hassen Salum

Photo By: J. Burnham/wildland.com

Photo By: J. Burnham/wildland.com

Photo By: J. Burnham/wildland.com

Photo By: © ATTA / Rupert Shanks

Photo By: © ATTA / Rupert Shanks

Photo By: © ATTA / Rupert Shanks

Photo By: © ATTA / Rupert Shanks

Hike to Petra

The photos (and movies) you’ve seen of the Treasury in the ancient city of Petra aren’t even half of the experience: Barely 20 percent of the area has been excavated. Hire a local guide, or go with an outfitter like Experience Jordan, to make sure you always have someone near who can answer your hundreds of questions about ancient history and modern culture. Don’t skip the free visitors’ museum by the main entrance, which features detailed timelines paired with pottery, jewelry, tools and other artifacts thousands of years old to help you visualize what this cosmopolitan city looked like back in the Nabateans’ heyday of trading with cities throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Avoid riding the animals within the archaeological park—Petra has some animal welfare issues the government is working to resolve. Care for Petra has some tips for making sure you don’t further harm an already overworked animal.

Enter Through Petra's "Back Door"

If you approach Petra from the north, you can enter through the "back door," where the crowds of tourists are far more manageable. You’ll pass through Little Petra first, where you’ll get to climb into caves hand-carved into the sandstone once used by ancient travelers visiting the city. In one, you’ll see what’s believed to be an ancient dining room—with a restored fresco painted on the ceiling. Hiking first through Little Petra is an amazing way to build up excitement for the real deal the next day, where your first stop will be the Monastery (shown here). Bonus: from this entrance, you also get to go down the steep steps leading from the Monastery, rather than hiking up them. Between Little Petra and Petra, stay at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, where you’ll get a small taste of nomadic Bedouin culture (plus all the amazing traditional food you can eat).

Sleep Under the Stars

With relatively zero light pollution in many parts of the trail, the night sky is incredible. Do your best to rise before the sun in the morning and be back at camp before sunset every evening—you won’t want to miss the colors the desert has to offer.

Find Solitude

While Petra is always swarming with tourists, the vast majority of the Jordan Trail is not. For days on end, we didn’t see any other hikers. If what you’re looking for is a beautiful, challenging trail without the traffic of more well-known long trails like the Camino, Appalachian Trail and Via Francigena, this is what you’re looking for.

Stay in the Candlelit Feynan Ecolodge

If you need a few days off the grid, the Feynan Ecolodge, right on the Jordan Trail, is exactly what you need to prescribe yourself. They take that idea seriously here, powering only the lobby and bathroom lights with electricity at night. The rest of the lodge, including the bedrooms, is lit by thousands of candles handmade by local women. To really experience the transformation, go out for the guided sunset hike in the evening—when you return, you’ll think you’ve wandered into a magical palace. With no artificial light to get in the way, the night sky here is astounding. Be sure to go up to the roof to stargaze on comfortable mats and look at planets through the telescope.

Befriend Pack Donkeys Who Will Make Your Day

It’s impossible to be too prepared to have too much water with you in the desert. On the Jordan Trail, you can (and probably should) hire a local guide and a donkey to carry an extra supply of water. I went in early May when the heat is intense, and we were so grateful this donkey, Farhan (it means "Happy," in Arabic), was along with us to carry a few dozen liters of extra water. Farhan might have been the best-natured pack animal I’ve ever met and provided endless laughter and smiles in addition to twice carrying heat-sick hikers who needed some rest during the hottest parts of our hike.

Hike With Shepherds

You’re likely to cross paths fairly frequently with Bedouin shepherds leading their livestock to graze. One day, we hiked for almost an hour amid a massive herd of goats, most of them tiny, adorable kids. Watching them play hide and seek and Marco, Polo with one another was an unforgettable moment of pure joy. Resist the urge to take photos of people, unless you've asked first, and honor requests not to be photographed.

Take in Stunning Mountain Views

Climbing a mountain is one thing, but climbing it in intense May heat (read: don’t do this hike past April) is another accomplishment altogether. And the views were well worth all the sweat, pit stops under scraggly branches that barely passed for "shade" and lugging what seemed like more water every day than I drink in a week. Sometimes, we’d hike up for awhile, and then stare out at rocky peaks that seemed to go forever.

See Scores of Ancient Ruins

In some parts of Petra, it’s actually impossible to walk without stepping on ancient pottery shards. But throughout the trail, it feels like you’re walking in and out of the past and present. One minute, you’re taking photos with the smartphone you’ve just juiced up with a solar charger, and the next, you stumble on a Bedouin camp, where it appears not much has changed over the centuries. There’s history literally everywhere, even in the dirt you walk upon: the Jordan Trail officially opened in February 2017, but it traverses land Jesus, Mohammed and Moses are all thought to have walked.

Eat Amazing Food

One of the best things about Jordan is the hospitality, and there is no shortage of it on the trail. If you hike with a support team during the trail association’s annual thru-hike, or if you go with an adventure outfitter like Experience Jordan, you’ll have an amazing meal at camp every night, with homemade hummus, pita bread, fresh veggies, meat cooked over a fire and dishes like wheat soup (my personal favorite). Do not skimp on the food here, nor on pouring za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix made with sesame seeds, thyme, oregano and other spices, over your yogurt in the morning. Order mint lemonade at every opportunity—it’s basically fresh mint, lemons and sugar, and you won’t be able to beat it.

Drink Bedouin Tea

Imagine sitting under a shady tree for a lunch break on a 90-degree day and then seeing your guide gather sticks to build a fire. Every day of our hike on the Jordan Trail, our Bedouin guide, Mahmoud Bdoul, made hot tea in spite of the temperature. It makes you sweat, he told us, which ultimately cools you off. Bedouin tea is thick with more sugar than I thought possible to blend into a drink, and it has a rich, nutty flavor. Even in the heat, it’s an enjoyable break.

Do a Thru-Hike and Make New Friends

The Jordan Trail Association hosts an annual guided, supported thru-hike, walking the entire length of the trail over a little more than 40 days. You can sign up to join in for one section, one day or the whole trail, and you’ll meet Jordanian hikers and friends from around the world along the way. A support team will port your extra luggage so you can enjoy the hike. You’ll get a true cultural immersion experience by staying in a mix of campsites, hotels and homestays. Next year’s hike will go from south to north, starting at the Red Sea and ending at Um Qais.

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