Looking for a change of scene on your hiking trail? If you’re used to wandering through tree-lined forests or scaling up snow-capped mountains but now you want to try something different, then the hike from Dana to Petra might be just for you. Expect desert landscapes, deep-cutting gorges and rich archaeological history.
Typical backdrop in the Dana Biosphere Reserve
So where is this mysterious trail? It’s in the country of Jordan, where they have recently created the Jordan Trail, a continuous route over 600km long crossing the entire country of Jordan from north to south. While the entire trek takes about 40 days to complete, the trail is broken into many segments that can be hiked individually, making it a bit more convenient for short-term travellers such as myself, and the best segment of the Jordan Trail is thought to be from Dana to Petra.
Starting in Dana, about a 2.5 hour drive south from the capital city of Amman, hikers enter the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This is the largest nature reserve in Jordan, home to a wonderful array of plants and animals, as well as several distinct bio-geographical zones each with its own unique climate. Steep sandstone cliffs surround the trail and the geologist inside me can’t help but take a moment or two to appreciate the stunning rock formations.
Stunning patterns carved out of the sandstone cliffs
The best way to learn about the landscape is from the Bedouin nomads who live out in the desert. They are an incredibly friendly and hospitable group of people, always eager to share some knowledge which usually also comes with a cup of tea. While most of the plants in the area are inedible, the Bedouin guides teach us about the other uses they have found for them over generations of living there, such as which plants can be used to help with fevers, stomach aches and headaches, and even one plant to determine when the winter is ending. They can also make a campfire incredibly quickly, usually using fallen branches from the local juniper trees which have high burning temperatures. While the Bedouins have lived in this area for many years, there has been a long history of human presence before them with artefacts found originating from the Roman Empire, Ancient Egyptians and stone tools from the Palaeolithic.
A Bedouin guide and his donkey show us the way
The next few days were spent hiking along Bedouin shepherd paths, a wild maze of interlocking tracks that can be followed up and down hills along the Sharah Mountains. The occasional desert fox is spotted gazing at us in the distance, as well as eagles and other birds of prey soaring above us. Hiking in spring is highly recommended, with moderate temperatures (avoid the freezing desert winters as well as the squelching hot summers) and wildflowers blooming along the path creating an incredibly pleasant hiking experience.
Remnants of a juniper tree at the top of a ridgeline
Eventually, the trail leads into Petra, the ancient city of the Nabateans. This is probably the most famous site in Jordan, featuring in movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where spectacular facades have been carved into sandstone canyons. The advantage of hiking to Petra is that you can enter through the back passage, avoiding the gauntlet of tourists at the main entrance which can be quite confronting after hiking in the wilderness for several days.
The narrow gorge entrance to the city of Petra known as the Siq
After exploring the ruins of Petra for a day, the hike is officially finished, but that doesn’t mean the adventure stops. We drive to Wadi Rum to explore the stunning desert valleys and admire the surreal, out-of-this-world scenes which most people would have seen as the backdrop to one of many sci-fi films. The landscape here is one of the most incredible ones I have ever seen, so be sure to drop by if you’re ever in the area.
Enjoying a day out in Wadi Rum before the sun sets
My main trail clothes consisted of an Abisko Trail T-shirt for general use, a Fjällglim Shirt as a mid layer, an Abisko Shade Jacket as an extra layer from both the sun and wind and a pair of Nils Trousers to protect my legs from the thorny scrub and jagged rocks. In the sandy desert, a pair of Ruaha Shorts were also handy for a bit more freedom and plenty of pockets. By mixing and matching these layers, I was able to stay comfortable despite the constant changes in bio-geographic zones.
Hiking through valleys and gorges all day
So if you’re running out of trails to tick off your bucket list, then I’d definitely recommend adding Dana to Petra to your queue, or for the more ambitious, you could even do the entire Jordan Trail. While I usually tend to favour greener mountain-forest trails and hikes, this desert trail was refreshingly different and really managed to show off the unique charms of the Jordanian desert.