Jordan’s Nature Reserve of the size of Malta is still a secret for some. Discover the paradise for hikers and adventure lovers – Dana Biosphere Reserve.
Before I set off for my Jordan trip, I did extensive research on the places to see and things to do. I wanted to pack my Jordan itinerary with the amazing sights, local culture and history, and, of course, plenty of outdoor adventure and hiking in the Middle East.
This is how I found Diana Biosphere Reserve. It didn’t seem to be very popular, sitting a bit in a shadow of other attractions like Petra or Wadi Rum. Many people who I met on the way and later out of the country, didn’t even know about its existence. It made it even more special and interesting place to explore.
Table of content
- Dana Biosphere Reserve
- Hiking in Dana + hiking prices
DANA BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Dana Biosphere Reserve looks like a well-kept gem. The area of rich biodiversity, history and natural beauty doesn’t make it to many tourists itineraries. Thanks to that, the Dana reserve in Jordan offers tranquility and quiet time spent hiking in the landscape and discovering the local rural way of living. That being said, Dana Village is equipped for tourists and it mainly looks like a town for travellers. Be quick before it becomes the next top tourist attraction in Jordan.
Dana is the only reserve in Jordan, where you can find four different bio-geographical zones, with many rare plants and animals. It’s also the largest nature reserve in the country at around 300 square kilometers (almost the same as the size of Malta!).
The system of wadis and mountains extends from the top of the Rift Valley to the desert of Wadi Araba. The drop of elevation in the reserve reaches 1600 meters. The natural, biological, geological and historical significance make Dana nature reserve a part of the tentative list for the UNESCO Heritage Site. With around 100 archeological sites, it’s the most important archeological complex in southern Jordan (apart from Petra). The rich animals and plants species include rare and endangered animals like the sand cat or the Syrian wolf. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of them, but you might have more luck!
Apart from the fauna and flora, Dana is a great place for hiking in Jordan. The hikes range from short few hour hikes to multi-day hikes.
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HOW TO GET TO DANA NATURE RESERVE?
Dana Reserve is located halfway between Amman and Wadi Rum, near the King’s Highway. The turnoff to the village is north of Al-Qadisiyah village and is well-signposted. After the turn, you need to drive down a steep road. The roads in the Dana Village are quite narrow so you might need to give way for the coming car (or the other way round).
There are a few parking spaces further down the road with a big one where you can also turn the car around. The area can often be covered in fog, so you need to watch out for the difficult driving conditions.
It’s a bit harder to get to Dana Village by public transport, but you can walk or try hitchhiking.
Hanging off from the edge of the cliff surrounding the Dana Wadi Canyon, Dana Village has a great position for a settlement. Just a few steps from the hotel bed you can find the vast views to the canyon spreading as far as an eye can reach. I recommend going there for sunrise or sunset to watch the cliffs bathe in the orange and pink light.
The village itself is quite small and quiet. The crumbling place nearly has been left entirely abandoned. Luckily, thanks to the efforts of the local community some of the traditional stone houses have been rebuilt and families could stay in them. Locals still live in the village, however, there are not so many, so the place appears to be rather sleepy. Donkeys wander through the ruined buildings and the numerous puppies ask for attention. On the slopes of the valley, locals harvest fruits and herd the sheep.
The main attraction in Dana Village are the views. You can walk around and look for the best angles of the surrounding mountains. At the short drive up the road, you can find numerous viewing points overlooking the town with a backdrop of the canyon.
In the village a few of the hotels and restaurants cater strictly to tourists, so you need to be prepared for the touristy prices. For the cheaper food that locals buy, you need to drive back to the closest settlement Qadissiya.
Read more: Detailed Jordan itinerary
WHERE TO STAY IN DANA IN JORDAN
During our stay in Dana Biosphere Reserve, we stayed in two places. They are all included in the list of the best hotels in Jordan.
Initially, we wanted to spend the night in the Rummana campsite to have better access to the hikes around. However, due to the fact that we visited in winter, it was closed. If you travel to Dana when the campsite is open – from 15th March to 31st October, you can camp there and join some of the many hikes around. The campsite is located within the Dana Biosphere Reserve. Originally it used to be a Bedouin camping area. Check prices and availability here.
Al Nawatef Camp
Instead, we spent the first night at Al Nawatef Camp. The camp is located around 20 min drive from Dana village, directly on the cliff edge over the Dana canyon. It turned out to be a great experience. The food was served in the main Bedouin tent and we stayed in another tent with comfy beds and a small terrace. In winter it was still a bit chilly, but we used our sleeping bags, that we also had during our Wadi Rum camping and it worked out fine. I could peak into the Wadi Dana canyon from my bed! The views were breathtaking. Check prices and availability here.
Wadi Dana Eco Camp
Another place with very good reviews is Wadi Dana Eco Camp. We haven’t stayed there, but the place gets very good reviews and it supports the local community. You can check the prices and availability here.
Dana Castle Hotel
The next night we spent in the Dana Castle Hotel in Dana village. It was more like a family run Dana Reserve guesthouse, located on the entry to the village. The Dana village is tiny though, so it is still within a 5-minute walk to anywhere. The highlight here was delicious food prepared by the wife of the owner. They had some problems with the running water when we arrive, due to the leakage of the pipes but luckily this was dealt with before we came back for the evening shower. Check prices and availability here.
Further on along the canyon, an interesting choice is the Feynan Ecolodge. It costs a bit more to stay there and it’s harder to get to (either by hiking or pre-arranged transport), but it offers an interesting experience to stay in the candlelit rooms in the middle of the canyon. It also offers multiple hikes and local community activities.
BEST TIME TO VISIT DANA
Similarly to the rest of Jordan, the best time for hiking in Jordan (when it’s not painfully hot but the trails are accessible) is in spring – from March to May and in autumn from October to November. Days are quite warm and the nights can be cool, but it’s much more enjoyable than in the full summer when the heat is unbearable or in winter when temperatures drop significantly.
However, we visited Dana reserve in January and we had really nice weather. The nights were quite chilly, but we managed to stay in the Bedouin tent in the Al Nawatef Camp with no problems. One day was cloudy and a bit rainy but another one was sunny with blue sky and the temperature getting up to 18 degrees.
The only problem with visiting Dana Reserve and Jordan in winter is with the flash floods which are much more common at that time. The hiking in wadis should be avoided at any risk of rain.
WHAT TO PACK FOR DANA
If you came for hiking in Dana nature reserve, make sure you bring with you all that is needed. There are no big shops in town, so if you need anything else you would need to go to the nearest village. In terms of outdoor gear shops, the closest one would be either in Amman or Aqaba.
What you need to pack for hiking in Dana Biosphere Reserve:
- Good hiking shoes – you most probably came to Dana nature reserve to hike, so packing good hiking shoes is a must. Merrell has good hiking shoes. Check the price and models here.
- Reusable water bottle – save plastic and use insulated bottles like this one to keep the drink hot or cold for a long time
- Energy bars
- Small day backpack for the day hikes
- Bigger backpack for longer hikes
- Waterproof jacket/jumper, light scarf, socks – mostly useful in winter, but also at night in the summer
- Suncream – the sun can be strong at any time of the year and the suncream is typically more expensive in Jordan than in Europe. I can recommend this suncream.
- Camera and lenses – I use Fuji X-E1. For landscape photos I use and recommend Samyang 12mm, for photos of the wildlife the best is a zoom lens, I use Fuji zoom lens 50-230 mm, F 4.5-6.7. If you want to take photos at night I can recommend taking a tripod. For the bigger trips, I use Manfrotto tripod, for the smaller backpacking ones I use GorillaPod 500.
- Sunglasses – to protect your eyes. Check UV sunglasses in good price here.
- Hat or a scarf – go Bedouin style with this type of scarf to protect from the sun and heat
HIKING IN DANA RESERVE
Dana Reserve offers some of the best possibilities for hiking in Jordan. You can find many hiking trails from short hikes from just a few hours or longer ones ranging from a day to several days to even 40 days on the 600 kilometers-long Jordan trail.
Some of the hikes can be done unguided, like Wadi Dana, for others it is recommended to go with the guide. You can easily find a guide in Dana Village through your hotel or information center.
Below are some of the hikes in Dana Reserve that we’ve done and also a few others that we would like to do if we had more time or the weather would permit. You can find more trail descriptions on the official website for wildjordan.com (just watch out when you click in the links, as sometimes the site looks like it’s infected).
In terms of prices for hiking in Dana, you can find an official price list here. In theory, there is an entry fee to Dana Nature Reserve, which currently is 8 JD for non-Jordanians. However, nobody ever asked us for it, and there wasn’t really a place where we could pay it unless we took a guided hike.
Wadi Dana Trail
Wadi Dana Trail is what visitors to Dana come for. This most popular Dana hike stretches from the Dana Village down to the Feynan Eco Lodge. It’s 16 km long (one way). For one way trip, you need to allow from 4-5h to 7h hiking time depending on your fitness.
The start of the trail is in Dana Village just in the back of the Dana Tower Hotel. It’s very easy to find. Just walk towards the canyon through the village until you see the opening. Then follow the path down. The trail follows the main path and it’s easy to spot – you don’t need a guide. The end of the trail is in the Feynan Ecolodge.
From the Ecolodge, you can return by pre-arranged car, which takes around 2 hours and cost around 45 JOD. You can also stay in the lodge and return the next morning by car or again by hike. It’s also possible to just do a part of the hike and come back to Dana village. However, due to a big terrain drop between Dana village and Feynan ecolodge the return hike is mainly uphill and very steep. You need to be fit and take a lot of water if you want to do it. The elevation difference is around 1500m.
We were planning to do a bigger part of the hike and then return back, unfortunately, I got sick the day we arrived and only got better in the late afternoon. This allowed us to do just a part of the hike – the views of the setting sun were spectacular though!
The Feathers Canyon – Shaq ar-Reesh hike
Another great hike in Dana Reserve is the Feathers Canyon Trail, called Shaq ar-Reesh (which means Canyon of the Feathers). It’s a circular trail (but you can just do a part of it and come back the same way as we did), that goes through the beautiful Siq. It allows for great views and the walk on the sandstone and limestone boulders creating interesting shapes. The eroded rocks on the trail reminiscent the feathers with their appearance.
The total distance of the hike is 8 km, which can take around 4 hours. The trail is moderate to difficult as it involves scrambling and walking on the big boulders. The first part of the trails is, however, relatively easy and it already offers great views to the valley and the rock formations.
To get to the beginning of the Feathers Canyon hike, you need to either drive, take a taxi, hitch-hike or walk. If you drive, then go out of the Dana Village, turn right to the road that leads into the main junction and then follow the next fork on the right. The start of the hike is located a few hundred meters behind the building with very noisy dogs. You can park your car on the layby near the building and walk down the road, past the sign.
You can clearly see the hike and the starting point on the maps.me, so I recommend downloading the app. The maps work offline. However, if you plan to do the whole trail, the best is to find a local guide, who will help you in navigating. The trail is not marked and the path is hard to be found in places.
Feather-like rock formations in the Shaq ar-Reesh Canyon, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan
The Wadi Ghuweir hike was very high on my list of hikes in Jordan. Unfortunately, during the time that we were in the area, it was inaccessible due to the rain, the risk of flash floods and a lot of mud. I am hoping to go back one day to Jordan and to try it out, as it really looks spectacular.
The walk leads through the narrow valley along the flowing stream. It looks a bit similar to the famous Siq in Petra, however, it is much richer in vegetation. The stone formations and unique tropical lush scenery create a unique landscape.
You can start the hike in the valley below Shobak Castle. The full one-way hike is 16 km and the grade is difficult. It can take from 5-8 hours. It’s possible to do a part of the hike through the most spectacular part on the beginning and come back. The hike ends near the Feynan Ecolodge.
This challenging hike, a 600 km long Jordan trail, follows the Great Rift Valley, along the rugged wadis and cliffs. The route starts in Um Qais in the north, passes through Ajloun Salt Three Wadis, Karak, Dana, follows the trek to Petra, Wadi Rum and it finishes in the Red Sea. The trail typically takes 40 days to accomplish. It can be also done in parts. Especially a part of Jordan trail covering Dana to Petra trek must be an amazing adventure and wonderful views. Maybe I’ll come back!
Feynan Ecolodge hikes
When you decide to stay in the eco-lodge you can join some of their guided hikes and activities. They include sunrise or sunset hikes and allow for the discovery of a beautiful landscape near the lodge.
Dana Rummana Campsite Hikes
Rummana campsite offers some of the shorter unguided hikes in Dana Reserve, such as Campsite Trail, Cave trail and Rummana mountain trail.
Would you like to visit Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan? Have you done any of the hikes in Dana or can you recommend any other ones? Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments!
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