Of all the places we visited during our 17-day tour of Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve was one of our two favorite places. Dana Biosphere is a wild, rugged and picturesque location that most people completely miss while visiting Jordan. This is a shame, as there are so many trekking, nature-watching and photographic opportunities jam-packed into one location.
We had to spend a night there, just to take it all in.
Located halfway between Amman and Aqaba, Jordan, Dana (pronounced dah-nah) is part of the Great Rift Valley. Its eastern plateau begins at about 4,000 feet, then the land descends through canyons and gorges down to the low-lying desert of Wadi Araba.
Such a variety of altitude means you will find all four of Jordan's four geographical zones in this one spot. Dana is probably the most biologically and historically rich areas in the country. Rare plants and animals, many of which are known to be endangered, exist here, in a protected environment.
Dana Reserve vs. Wadi Rum
In our opinion, Dana Biosphere beats out Wadi Rum – at least if hiking and nature are your game. The system of mountains and wadis make this a mesmerizing world, so be sure to carry your camera. You will want to capture it all.
Village of Dana, Jordan
The timeless tranquility of Dana Village is sure to draw your thoughts back into a less-complicated life. The grandeur of the red and white sandstone cliffs of Wadi Dana enhances the creamy white stones of this beautiful village. Its precarious perch atop a cliff's edge just adds to the drama.
Dana Village is about 500 years old, and in many ways is representative of Jordanian life from the 19th century. Preserving many aspects of Jordanian villages of the 19th century, a walk through town opens your eyes to the not too distant past. Its sun-weathered stone buildings are so close to the edge of the cliff, there's little room for expansion, let alone maintenance.
Walking around the town gave it a chance to reveal its charm and character. The townspeople have kept the exterior of their homes historically intact, though no doubt the insides have been refurbished with all the modern amenities. The quaint restaurants have maintained the atmosphere inside the courtyards, adding to the ambiance for diners.
Accommodation at Dana Nature Reserve
To be quite honest, there aren't a lot of lodging options at this nature reserve, but you do have a variety of styles:
- Rummana Campsite: 20 tents equipped with mattresses, blankets and pillows, as well as bathrooms, and barbecue grills for visitor use. Traditional Arabic meals are also provided upon request. (Open from March 15 to October 31.)
- Feynan Ecolodge: a 26-room, environmentally-friendly lodge that is completely off-the-grid. It is powered by solar energy and is lit by candles and stars at night.
- Dana Guesthouse: about 20 rooms (9 in the old wing; more in the new wing) with ensuite bathrooms and balconies. These are the best equipped of the three and there is full-time electricity in the rooms, but that's not why we chose to stay here. It was the view. Every room at Dana Guest House has a balcony with jaw-dropping views of the wadi, down through the reserve's main canyon and the town of Dana. (Booking info here)
Okay, another reason we wanted to stay here is because we wanted to support the work of RSCN, and they run this eco-lodge. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature is an independent national organization devoted to the conservation of Jordan's natural resources, and Dana Guest House began as a place to house researchers. As a result, there are also several educational facilities onsite, where they offer a series of presentations and exhibits on the biosphere's unique habitat.
The lodge's location is ideal, as it is only a short and scenic walk into the ancient town of Dana. We were glad our hotel wasn't in town when we saw how difficult parking seemed to be on the narrow street. (There are a few lodging options there as well.)
Bird's-eye views of Dana Preserve
We stood on the balcony again and again, marveling at the changes in the environment with the changing light. But the most absorbing experienced was watching a shepherd and his dog herding goats. We heard the goats' bells before we saw them. They led them out for grazing, then brought them back in the evening.
Shades of life in the reserve.
Experiencing Dana's wild side
Our bird's eye view from the balcony revealed another attractive feature of the reserve: we could see several trailheads nearby. Perfect for hiking, canyoning, and mountain biking, right? Many of the shorter trails can be explored unguided, but some of the longer trails require an experienced Bedouin guide.
Unfortunately, due to a knee injury we couldn't descend the bottom of the canyon and experience the nature and wild life up close. We couldn't visit Wadi Mujib for the same reason. Two huge disappointments.
Tip: You can find experienced guides through Dana Guest House.
Have you visited Dana Biosphere Reserve? If so, please share your experience with us. If you have not been to Jordan, don’t forget to put Dana Biosphere on your itinerary.