Eco-tourism is hot right now. Tourists increasingly want their travels to make a positive impact on the regions and communities they visit. This has given birth to a whole new sector in the global tourism industry.
New, at least, in most places. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has long structured its tourism industry in a way that connects visitors with its cultural and natural wonders. The country’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has worked toward that end since 1966, and in that time it’s developed some pretty cool infrastructure.
So if it’s eco-tourism you want, consider one of these sites in the middle eastern kingdom. And check out Petra while you’re there.
The Dana Bioshpere Reserve
Jordan’s 112-square mile Dana Biosphere Reserve is one of the country’s most popular hiking spots. The reserve houses four ecosystems, which range in elevation from 150 feet below sea level to almost a mile above. Those ecosystems are home to more than 600 species of plants, 180 species of birds, and 45 species of mammals.
The Dana Reserve offers a variety of trails—hikers can explore wooded highlands, rocky slopes, sand dunes, and even stony desert.
We chose to hike the Wadi Dana Trail, which winds downhill for about 10 miles before reaching the reserve’s Feynan Eco-Lodge. It’s downhill, but not a walk in the park. The hike starts with a steep scramble over large boulders, and eventually levels out to a smooth walking trail. Even then, though, parts of the trail expose hikers to the blazing heat of the sun.
The eco-lodge, which is solar powered and lit by candles in the evening, is worth the journey. Once there, we enjoyed a delicious vegetarian feast and spent our evening listing to Bedouin folklore under an expansive sky of stars.
There are many ways to explore the reserve on foot, from short hikes to overnight trips. Guides are required on many trails, though, and typically cost 10-18 Dinar ($14-$25 USD) per day.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is probably the best-known eco-experience in Jordan. It sits almost 1,400 feet below sea level, and is filled with water nine times saltier than that of the Mediterranean Sea.
The extra salt in the water changes its texture and makes floating effortless. Bathers often cover themselves in mineral-rich mud before swimming in the Sea, which feels a bit like floating in oil.
Because of the pressure on water sources in Jordan, the Dead Sea levels drop by up to three feet each year. Experts estimate that the lake will dry up entirely by 2050, so see it now if it’s on your bucket list!
The Mujib Nature Preserve
Located just west of the Dead Sea, the Mujib Nature Reserve is the lowest nature reserve on the planet. Almost 1,350 feet below sea level, the preserve’s Wadi Mujib Gorge offers amazing hiking trails for serious adventurers and casual hikers alike.
Among the gorge’s highlights are its river trails, which require guides and meander along the water-filled canyons that flow into the Dead Sea. The gorge’s three wet trails are open from April 1–October 31, and are only open to hikers 18 years old or older.
The combination of swift and slow-moving waters can maki a challenge, so it’s not unusual for hikers to slip and wind up drenched. That’s often a welcome respite from Jordan’s sweltering heat, though.
For those hikers who aren’t into getting wet, the park’s dry trails offer views of the Nubian Ibex. These lean ungulates can be spotted along the area’s towering sandstone cliffs. Keen eyes will also spot the Caracal: a medium-sized cat capable of catching prey still in flight. Dozens of birds, carnivores, and more than 300 species of plants can be spotted in the reserve.
Oh, and you can rappel down waterfalls there. Just in case you’re into that.
The Gulf of Aqaba
In Jordan’s south, Aqaba is the Kingdom’s only coastal town. It’s famous for its bright sun, warm temperatures, and water sports—for water lovers like me, it’s a dream.
Just off the shore, the Gulf of Aqaba offers the world’s most northern-most coral reef ecosystem. The reefs draw divers from around the world, who come to see the more than 1,000 species of corals, fish, crustaceans and mammals.
The town is also renowned among non-divers, who spend their afternoons floating on the town’s many tour boats or who just relax on the sandy shores of the Red Sea.
The Wadi Rum Desert
I truly fell in love with Jordan when I spent a day in the Wadi Rum Desert, known simply as “Rum” to the locals.
The expansive desert is home to popular tourist sites like the Seven Pillars of Wisdom rock formation (see the feature photo above), and many prehistoric petroglyphs etched into the rocks. In between sites, visitors often share tea with local Bedouin tribesmen.
The best part of my own trip was found on the back of a camel, walking towards the sun setting over the desert dunes. I wasn’t able to enjoy the desert’s many camping options when that sun went down, but many tourists opt to spend a night or two in a canvas tent eating local foods and hiking the Rum’s nearly untouched trails.
For adventurous travelers, desert merchants can organize hot air balloon rides, guides climbing expeditions, or camel rides that last for an hour or several days.
Do you love a Jordanian destination that wasn’t mentioned in this article? Email [email protected] to let us know. Just don’t say Petra, please… we already know about that one.