The Best Nature Reserves in Jordan
Jordan is home to a lot more than epic historic sites. Lesser-known but definitely deserving of wider exposure is the country’s collection of nature reserves, where you can splash through rivers, find oryx in the desert, go bird-watching in hidden green oases, or even hike through canyons on the back route to Petra.
Hizam Ring Rd, Amman, Jordan
An easy day trip from Amman, Shaumari Wildlife Reserve sits at the gateway to Jordan’s eastern deserts, where a pioneering conservation project is under way. The Arabian oryx, with its extraordinary, unicorn-like horns, was hunted to near extinction in the 20th century, but a captive breeding program overseen by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature is attempting to bring them back, reintroducing the dazzling white antelopes on Shaumari’s grounds. Visitors to the park can see several oryx, as well as other desert animals like ostriches, gazelles, and wild donkeys, during safari rides through the park. Tours take place in actual safari vehicles and are led by expert guides, who provide commentary on the park, its animals, and its ongoing conservation work.
محمية ضانا, Dhana 66666, Jordan
Dana Biosphere Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Jordan. For hikers and trekkers, it’s one of Jordan’s top places to get out into the wilderness, but even the less adventurous will enjoy a stop here simply to enjoy the tranquillity of Dana village, with its majestic views over the tumbling hills below. The reserve is dominated by enormous sandstone cliffs that guard the valley, creating a series of microclimates and ecosystems that house nearly 200 species of birds and most of Jordan’s mammals. Sightings of ibex, gazelles, and even wolves are not uncommon. At the entrance to the reserve in Dana village, you’ll find an excellent visitor center run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, which can recommend park guides. For a different way to experience the reserve, consider the five-day hike from Dana to Petra—deemed one of the greatest treks in the Middle East. It’s particularly pretty early in the year, when the route is laid with spring flowers.
Madaba Governorate, Jordan
An epic canyon, Wadi Mujib serves as the last gasp of the Great Rift Valley. Where one of its many mouths opens to the Dead Sea, you’ll find the Mujib Biosphere Reserve—the lowest nature reserve in the world. Within the park, there are a series of marked trails that lead through the canyon or over the hills from the reception center, as well as stylish chalets overlooking the water that guests can book for longer stays. Winter is a particularly good time to visit for bird-watching, as flocks stop here on their migration between Europe and Africa. That being said, most people come for the chance to walk, or wade, up the canyon along the Siq Trail, a nearly two-mile path that ends at a spectacular waterfall. Don’t bring anything that can’t get wet, and know that the Siq Trail is closed in winter and early spring due to the risk of flash floods.
الأزرق الجنوبي، Azraq, Jordan
You might not be surprised by an oasis in the middle of the desert, but you surely wouldn’t expect to find marshes and reed-fringed bodies of open water. However, that’s what’s waiting at Azraq Wetland Reserve, located on the outskirts of a town by the same name. The wetland is just a fraction of the size it was only decades ago, as many of its aquifers were diverted to Amman, but it still serves as an important stopover point on bird migration routes and offers the unique opportunity to see waterfowl in the desert (especially during the wetter months of December to April). Thanks to the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, which has worked to preserve what’s left of the area, Azraq also features a marsh trail through high banks of reeds and paths trod flat by water buffalo that makes for lovely hikes.
If you think Jordan is a country of dry, brown desert, get yourself to the gentle, wooded hills of the Ajloun Forest Reserve. It’s a relatively small park, but the slopes are studded with oak and pistachio trees, providing a green lung for the region and a home for roe deer, wild boar, jackals, a wide variety of bird life, and even the occasional wolf. Managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the reserve features a series of hiking trails through the hills, many of which pass the farms and olive groves of nearby villages and show a side of Jordanian life not typically seen by visitors. Visit in the spring to walk among the wildflowers, and book one of the delightful wooden chalets near the reserve entrance or a homestay with a local villager if you wish to spend the night.