Welcome, adventurers, to a land of wild deserts, of lost cities and of moon-like seas. My active guide to Jordan is here to show you where to hike, go canyoning and sleep out under the stars.
Jordan really is the wild and wonderful place you’re picturing it to be. Here are brick-red deserts where camels and 4x4s send up clouds of dust, majestic ancient ruins hidden deep in rocky valleys, clear coral-filled seas and huge skies of stars over the remote goatskin-clad camps of the Bedouin tribes, where you’ll find the warmest welcome and a cup of hot sweet mint tea. This rewarding and friendly country is the perfect place to plan an active adventure.
The active guide to Jordan
1. Go hiking and scrambling in Wadi Rum
The jewel in Jordan’s adventure crown is the huge desert that T E Lawrence once described as “vast, echoing and godlike”. Wadi Rum is the desert of storybooks, and this isn’t just miles of endless sand dunes – the desert is dotted with the tall and bizarre sandstone sculptures and pinnacles that make this a playground for climbers and scramblers. A guide is a must in the 280 square miles of Wadi Rum as it’s so easy to get lost in the curving maze-like sandstone formations, but follow a sure-footed local and you’ll get to explore incredible rock faces and climb high above the desert. The famed stone arch of Burdah Bridge is an experience – if you have a steady head for heights you can walk across this thin strip of rock high above the void. Just don’t look down. Back down on the ground, there’s no better time to explore the desert than at sunrise, when the morning light turns Wadi Rum’s harsh landscape soft pink and purple. Take a camel ride (it’s comfier than you think, and ours were surprisingly friendly, keen for a cuddle when we dismounted) out into the heart of the desert in time to catch the sunrise with a cup of strong Jordanian coffee brewed over a wood fire.
2. Go canyoning in Wadi Zarqa Ma’in
Cool off in the heat of the Jordanian sun by following this amazing scramble down a shady river bed, flanked by tall stone cliffs. It starts as a gentle scramble through cool pools and over boulders, then becomes more gnarly – you’ll abseil off massive rocks and plunge into deep water on your way down the valley. The final challenge are two enormous waterfalls that cascade down sheer cliffs. There’s no way back – you have to abseil down each one, one of the scariest and most adrenaline-fuelled things I’ve ever done. Terhaal Adventures‘ experienced guides will get you down in one piece on their day-long canyoning trips.
3. Scuba and snorkel in Aqaba
There’s a whole other world of lush greenery and wildlife to discover in Jordan – just head underwater. The laid-back coastal town of Aqaba at the southern tip of Jordan sits on the shore of the Red Sea and makes the perfect base for sticking your flippers on and exploring 25 local dive sites. We snorkelled over rainbows of coral and spotted a turtle lazily swimming next to our boat as we bobbed in the amazingly clear water. Dive Aqaba run daily snorkelling and diving boat trips – certified divers can also head down to the spooky wreck of a Hercules C130.
4. Wander in Petra
The iconic rose-red city built by the Nabateans in the 4th century BC lay lost to humanity for centuries. Now, though, Petra is busy. It’s the only place in all of Jordan where I felt like just another sightseeing daytripper in a busy crowd. But this ancient and once-powerful city is so incredible, so mesmerisingly beautiful, that you have to go to gaze upon the columns and tombs hewn as if by magic from rock. The more peaceful way to get to Petra is to hike there from the smaller ancient site of Little Petra (which as the name suggests, feels like Petra in miniature). The eight mile hike is part of the Jordan Trail and climbs into the hills and edges around cliffsides before spitting the dusty hiker out right by Petra’s treasury, a feast for the eyes.
5. Float in the Dead Sea
Ready for one of the weirdest wild swims in the world? The Dead Sea, stretching between Jordan and Israel, is the lowest place on earth at 400 metres below sea level, and its extremely salty waters mean that you’ll bob on the surface like a cork – ok, so you can’t really swim here, but the feeling of floating on the water is pretty surreal, and the water is a painterly pastel blue with the Israeli shore floating mirage-like in the distance. On the shoreline you’ll also find black mineral-rich clay you can plaster yourself with before washing it off in the water.
Where to stay
The Milky Way Bedouin Camp, Wadi Rum
A stay in a traditional desert camp with a Bedouin tribe is the perfect way to experience Jordan’s famously warm welcome to visitors. The ancient nomadic Bedouin tribes create their tented homes wherever they settle in the desert, and they’re now also open to travellers looking for somewhere to stay the night. The Milky Way camp is beautifully placed to catch the sun setting over Wadi Rum and then see the camp’s namesake galaxy light up the clear desert skies.
Ammarin Bedouin Camp, Little Petra
Hidden among the red rocks of Little Petra, this traditional, community-run camp makes the perfect starting point for a hike to Petra. Stay in your own little tent bedroom covered in striped goatskin and eat in the huge carpet-clad main tent, where members of the Ammarin tribe will regale you with stories of life in the desert, make traditional coffee and, if you’re lucky, play a few notes of music on the stringed rebab. The Ammarin can also act as local hiking guides.
Petra Bubble Luxotel, Little Petra
A little bit of luxury in the desert, this is the perfect spot for stargazing in comfort. Alien-like white bubble tents perch in a cluster on a hill, each complete with a huge double bed, a transparent roof for stargazing and a hot tub overlooking the desert. The big communal main pod houses a smart restaurant and bar.