If there’s one vision that’s going to drift back to me from Jordan, when I’m 83 and laying on my chaise lounge in my nightie looking wistfully back on my travels, it’s this.
I’m standing in the middle of the desert in Wadi Rum, the tangerine sand beneath my Blundstones, that great empty nothingness wrapping around me, and a camel wanders up to me. I don’t coax it, it just arrives, sniffing my fingers, licking my arm, and staring at me with those gorgeous long-lashed brown eyes.
Jordan was full of these kinds of made-for-the-movies moments for me. It really is the Middle East you dream of: wild deserts, ancient cities, Bedouin encampments, eco lodges, hot springs and pristine stretches of the Dead Sea. Not only does it tick pretty much all the ‘exotic dream holiday’ boxes, but it’s also a destination you’ll feel like you have all to yourself.
Jordan is often described as having “noisy neighbours”, something that unfortunately for the locals, but fortunately for intrepid travellers, has been keeping tourists away since the Arab Spring in 2010. And while it can’t be denied that it is a nation often surrounded by conflict, the country itself is incredibly peaceful and filled with the most friendly locals and pristine landscapes you’ll find anywhere in the world.
We started our journey with two nights in Wadi Rum, staying at Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp, a clutch of traditional black and white goat hair tents set in the middle of the desert beneath soaring sandstone cliffs.
By day, we bumped around the desert in an old four wheel drive, exploring canyons, hiking up sand dunes, and stopping off for a campfire lunch and midday nap on the sand. By night, we feasted in the main dining tent, before sitting out on the warm sand with sweet sage tea, watching the sky fill up with stars. Our ride back to town at the end of our town was on the back of two camels (aka desert taxis), for the ultimate Lawrence of Arabia experience.
From Wadi Rum, we drove 90 minutes to Petra, the fourth century BC Nabatean city and one of the wonders of the world. Big ticket sights like this can often be a let-down, but this one exceeded all our expectations. We spent the day hiking through the wild hills, passing hundreds of cave dwellings and rock-cut monuments, lush oleander bushes heavy with pink blossoms, and some of the best dressed camels and donkeys we’d ever seen. Later, we returned for Petra By Night, to see the famous siq corridor set ablaze by hundreds of candles.
For anyone who’s as big a fan of a good eco-lodge as I am, Jordan is home to some of the world’s best, thanks to the existence of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). The society was founded in 1966 to rescue some of the country’s endangered natural beauty spots, and has since established six protected wilderness reserves throughout the country.
One of these is the Dana Biosphere Reserve, our next stop and home to Feynan Ecolodge, named one of the 25 best eco-lodges in the world by National Geographic. We spent two nights in this dreamy nook, which is completely solar-powered, staffed by local Bedouins, and lit by hundreds of candles each night. We spent a day hiking through ankle-deep water in a nearby wadi, learnt how to make coffee and bread with the local Bedouins, stargazed on the rooftop at night, and drank countless cups of sweet sage tea while doing nothing much at all.
By this point in our journey we’d been on the road for a few weeks and were desperate for a bit of pampering, so we headed straight for Main Hot Springs, an outstanding resort set inside a canyon at 400 metres below sea level and surrounded by mineral hot spring waterfalls. We soaked in them for hours (they were surprisingly refreshing, even in the 35 degree heat) and had excellent massages in their in-house spa. Blissfully, it was also just a 20-minute drive from our final destination, the Dead Sea.
Now most of the resorts along the Dead Sea are pretty crowded, the beaches are full and can feel a little theme parky. The Mujib Chalets though, also run by the RSCN, are different. There are just 15 small, minimalist chalets scattered on the clifftop across a pristine stretch of the sea, they all have direct access to the beach and the few times we went down for a soak we felt like we had the entire sea to ourselves. We slathered ourselves in Dead Sea mud, then spent the afternoon dipping in and out of the healing hyper-saline waters at the lowest point on earth.
The chalets were directly across the road from the Mujib siq, a stunning chiselled canyon where we hiked through the rushing water, and climbed up gushing waterfalls to swim in the belly of the canyon. I couldn’t have imagined a more fitting way to farewell to this wild, untamed country.