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Out of doors in Jordan

CANYONING IN JORDAN
Photos supplied by Pierre Voignier who retains all rights to them
 

Wadi Kerak Wadi Ghuweir Wadi Hasa
 
This sport, comparatively new in most parts of the world, is virtually unknown in Jordan. It is a great pity, since the Jordan Dead Sea Rift is wonderful territory for it. Hundreds of steep canyons lead down to the Dead Sea from the central plateaux, and many of them contain hot springs.
 
Trekking here is on virgin territory, at least for tourists. Less than half a dozen canyons are known to "outsiders", and only the Bedouin are at home in the wilderness of rocks, precipices, cliffs, waterfalls and hidden valleys that lie to the west of the Kings' Highway.
 
 
Looking at the arid desert scenery, you can be forgiven for not realising how many of these hidden valleys contain streams fed all the year round from the underground springs, nor how many pockets of lush vegetation can be found concealed among the mazes of rocks.
 
The Bedouin here are far from the largely sedentarized nomads who can be found in Petra and in Wadi Rum. Many may own a small, roughly built house in one of the sparse villages, but they would invariably also spend much of their time in a traditional black tent, often far from any other dwelling, from where they move seeking pasture for their herds of goats.
 
 
Perhaps it is not so surprising that this territory remains unexplored by the tourist. The enthusiastic off the beaten track hiker is deterred by the complete lack of any maps or any information about this area. Transverse routes from east to west are few, steep and dangerous. Obviously, walking through flowing canyons, which were impassable to pack animals, was out of the question for the Bedouin. No tourist guide works out of these lands. It is only since the "mad" Western enthusiasts have arrived that any particular interest has been shown in them.
 

THE CANYONS

These are some quick notes on some of the canyons only - there are another twenty or so which are worth visiting! I have not tried to give a detailed topo in the space available, but have simply indicated the main features of each canyon. In the deeper areas, photos are unfortunately just not possible. It is too dark, and usually there is a lot of water around. I have therefore had to compromise between quality and missing out and ask your indulgence for some of the views shown here.

Several canyons need half a day only, and can be squeezed into limited time. Many of them are completely suitable for children. I have put details of a couple of these at the end of the other longer ones.

Wadi Hasa : "the big one"
 
 
Wadi Hasa is, with the single exception of Wadi Mujib, the longest canyon in Jordan. In all, the canyon runs for some 15kms and if you want to do the full length it will have to be in two days. There is a good spot for bivouacking some 10kms from the beginning, but you must be ready to carry all necessary material with you.
 
Most people prefer to do the canyon in two separate days. It is easily divided into two : the upper reaches are in a gorge, often narrow and with ample water. No ropes are necessary, but wetsuits definitely are! The lower reaches are no more than an easy and pleasant walk beside - or sometimes in - a stream and among bushes, palm trees and often hanging gardens.
 
Wadi Hasa, higher up
 
 
Start off with an enjoyable water slide, and continue through and under boulders and down several other slides, all the time in water which can be cold! Several times you might need to swim. After about two hours you reach Wadi Afra, which is the way to leave Wadi Hasa if you do not want to continue to the bottom.
 
Wadi 'Afra : the way out!
 
 
Turn left into Wadi 'Afra and continue upstream through a series of low waterfalls, each ending in a whirlpool in a small pool, and the water is warm making a great jacuzzi. There are a good many water slides, obviously in the wrong direction, but you can always climb up again afterwards. Water slides are FUN! Most of them are small, no more than three meters high, but there is one that must be at least 15 meters. The sandstone gorge, often dotted with greenery, is fairly narrow until you near the top, about an hour (if you haven't spent too much time playing!) from Wadi Hasa. You arrive in Hammamat 'Afra, on the road leading to Wadi Kerak and the Kings' Highway.
 
Wadi Hasa, lower reaches
 
 
The lower stretch of Wadi Hasa is a delight to walk. Bushes and flowering shrubs grow alongside the stream which is fed with warm springs, falling sometimes in cascades from the cliffs. The cliffs themselves are wider apart, tempting small side valleys reveal unsuspected pools and more cascades. The 8 hours or so that are needed to descend it can seem (almost) short!
 
The arrival point is close to the village of Safi, where you should ask your transport to wait for you alongside an aqueduct.
 
Wadi Himara :
The highest waterfall in Jordan
 
 
Two spectacular cascades, each of over 80 meters high constitute the outstanding features of Wadi Himara. Remember that 80 meters is about the height of a 25 storey building!  The new road from Hammamet Ma'in to the Dead Sea crosses this Wadi fairly high up and now provides good access while omitting the rather dull beginning. The wadi is some 5kms long and will need about 6 hours. It can be walked without the abseiling, but you lose the most exciting part!
 
Wadi Himara is a wonderful canyon for people who enjoy abseiling and exciting water canyons. You begin with two small waterfalls (each about 15 meters) and after the first big waterfall (about 80 meters), you have a narrow canyon which needs about 30 minutes. Two more "small" abseils and an enjoyable water slide bring you to the "big one". This second huge waterfall has a wonderful approach between two tall redis sandstone pillars, each 50 meters high. A most spectacular gateway to the highest waterfall in Jordan!
 
From here a very narrow gorge brings you to the Dead Sea, where you should have arranged transport to pick you up.
 
Wadi bin Hammad :
a pleasant day's outing
 
 
Everybody enjoys a day at bin Hammad. No specialised equipment is necessary, and children can negotiate the terrain very easily, although the full trek is perhaps a bit far for them. It is about 6kms long, and to do it in both directions would probably need 5 or 6 hours at least. There is no way out from here, you have to come back to the starting point. You will be walking in the warm water for much of the time.
 
Just to the north of Kerak, turn west towards the village of Batir (the road is well signposted). This would cost about 10-15JD in a taxi from Kerak. Here you might need to arrange a pick up truck to drive 10kms into the wadi (and pick you up later at an agreed time). A hot spring falls into an artificial pool, good for resting at the end of the trip. Almost immediately you are in a lush world with hanging gardens, palms and ferns growing wherever you look.  You might see orchids and even sugarcane! Further down the cliffs are more visible, close together and brightly coloured, and there is a spectacular arch where the overhang has joined - such a shame that it is impossible to take a photo here! At the end of this stretch after you pass a small waterfall to the south, you might turn back - you have passed the best parts.
 
Wadi Kerak : bold and beautiful!
 
 
You enter this canyon from the road leading from Kerak to the Dead Sea. From the village of Mamuya, turn right and descend into the valley. Follow the stream down past several small waterfalls - water slides are possible. Then comes a 60 meter cascade to go down abseiling, in one or several abseils. Shortly after the waterfall the wadi turns lush and you are walking between walls of palm trees and vegetation (see the right hand photo). Another waterfall and after about 6 hours in the canyon, you arrive close to a dam and a reservoir, still reached from the road Kerak/Dead Sea. Here you should have arranged to meet your transport; if not, there are several houses nearby, and it is usually possible to persuade one of the men there to take you to Kerak for a small sum.
 
Wadi Feid :
the canyon with 12 waterfalls!
 
 
A strenuous trip with never-ending cascades and waterfalls. Abseiling skills are necessary and an ability to swim in cold water; this is certainly not a trip for novices, even with an experienced guide! The canyon is 8kms long, and although it can be done in a day, it might be advisable to consider bivouacking along the route. Certainly you need to organise transport to meet you at the bottom end at Wadi Araba. Full wetsuits are advisable here, the water is definitely cold!
 
Please note that two ropes of 70m are essential here, the waterfalls 10 and 11 are both over 60m high. Itai Haviv, usually so reliable, is wrong here when he says 2x50m ropes are enough.
 
This canyon is not far from Shobuk and can be visited if you are based in Petra. No lush vegetation here, but traces of the Nabateans along the route.

Wadi Ghuweir :
a
wonderful walk

Wadi Ghuweir is close to the Nature Reserve of Dana. The entrance is near the village of Mansura, not far from Shobuk and can be reached in a normal car (with a bit of persuasion, granted). The distance is 11kms and you should allow about 7-8 hours for the descent which finishes close to Feinan in Wadi Araba. It is possible to sleep in a Bedouin camp around there, and perhaps continue in climbing up to Dana itself.

A stream runs down the Wadi and you may well find your feet in water. In the spring the pools may be deeper, and it is possible you might have to swim for a few meters.

The wadi is beautiful - at the top there are magnificent formations and colours in the sandstone and lower down spectacular hanging gardens of fern and palms - see the introductory photo.

Wadi Siyagha : the Monastery trail

When you are visiting Petra in the dust and the heat, few people dream that a few short kilometers away there is a water canyon with great abseiling and swimming! Head out towards Little Petra, and after 3 or 4 kilometers there is a fork to the left. Even a 4x4 cannot get too far along this track and you will need to start with a couple of hours' walk. You will pass various Nabatean carvings and remains along the way; it is believed that this was a well travelled track in Nabatean times. A series of 5 waterfalls, all suitable for abseiling, brings you down to the bottom of the wadi - in some places here you might need to swim. The trail passes beneath the Monastery (Ed Deir) at Petra, but again, few people realise what lies below.

At the end of the canyon, about an hour and a half's walking brings you back to the original track and the car if you have left it here.

Wadi Mujib : the black gorge
(see the map of the Mujib Reserve with the walks)
 

 
This is the only canyon generally known to newcomers to Jordan. it is under the authority of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature who organises regular visits there, which are strictly controlled and supervised. It is a strenuous trek, with black cliffs 200 meters high, waterfalls and rock pools. It is perhaps a pity that this gorge, so much visited compared to the others, has no section with the lush growth and hanging gardens of - for instance - Wadi Kerak.
 
You would need ropes and abseil equipment which are supplied by the RSCN, and are included in the price (not cheap!).  It is necessary to book ahead of time and places on the trip are in great demand. The entrance is at the Dead Sea Mujib Bridge.
 
The more exciting trails here are very much booked up during the tourist season since the RSCN suffers from a chronic shortage of guides! If you are disappointed in your wish to visit Wadi Mujib, you still have the many other canyons that can be visited with TERHAAL (see lower down).
 
Wadi Hudeira :
from west to east in an afternoon
 
 
Wadi Hudeira is one of the rare canyons which run from west to east. The starting point is from the Dead Sea Highway some 4 kms north of the village of Safi. This is a one way canyon, when you have gone as far as you can, you return by the same route. The two way trek shouldn't take more than a couple of hours, and makes an interesting half day if you already have a crowded itinerary and little time to spare for canyoning.
 
The gorge is narrow and you pass between impressive sandstone cliffs which are often no more than a meter or two apart. This canyon is easy going and is completely suitable for children.
 
Wadi Weida'a : children love it!
 
 
This is another half day trip, entirely suitable for children. Wadi Weida'a is on the road from Kerak to the Dead Sea, and starts about 6kms before Mazra'a, reachable by bus from Kerak. About 100m from the road there is a small artificial pool that collects water from a small spring. Follow the water upstream into the gorge which is no more than 2 kms long. You will be walking through fragrant myrtle bushes which are very rare in Jordan. At the upper end of the gorge is a waterfall about 4 meters high; you cannot go much further. (Sorry about the palm frond which got in front of the camera in the first photo!)
 
Warning : the warm pool is popular with people from Kerak, and you should avoid the spot on Fridays and holidays. It might also be necessary to turn a blind eye to rubbish lying around near the pool - such a pity!
 
Equipment recommended :

It should not be necessary to say that it would foolishly imprudent to try to tackle any of these canyons if you are alone!

Besides bringing the usual hiking accessories, you should obviously include sunglasses, a heavy sunscreen and lipsalve. Remember that you are likely to be in water much of the time, and make sure that you are not carrying anything that won't accept that (watches, anything with a battery...)
 
Water : the water in the canyons is not recommended for drinking, remember that people bathe in it! The water dripping down from various sources is better, but it is still advisable to avoid drinking it as it is. Gather some twigs for a fire and make tea! If you are running short of drinking water (your guide will advise you as to how much you are likely to need), you can always bring the cold tea along with you afterwards! (Tea, sugar and something to boil water in should be part of every hiker's equipment in Jordan!!)
 
Light walking boots, and cotton socks, long cotton trousers for the daytime (carry shorts for walking in the water), cotton shirts with long sleeves and a hat of some kind. Bring sandals to wear when your boots are wet, but even trekking sandals are not recommended in the canyons. You will be in the mountains - you should bring a good sweater and a light jacket (or vice versa) and double that if you are there in December! If you bivouac out, the nights will certainly be cold. In the months of November/December, it might be a good idea to make that a rainproof jacket.
 
However, it is not a good idea to go into to the canyons when it even looks like rain, flash floods are only one of the dangers. This is one of the reasons that it is absolutely imperative that you should have good professional advice at least, before undertaking this adventure. The summer on the other hand is likely to be unbearably hot - I'm talking about 45 to 55C!!
 
The guide will have the necessary abseiling equipment with him - traditionally everybody lends a hand to carry it! If you are an experienced abseiler and would like to visit these canyons without a guide, you should know that these cascades are NOT already equipped for abseiling, there are no bolts in place.
 
Guides
 
Many of these canyons can be done without a guide, but most of them require at least some local knowledge in order (for instance) to arrange a pick up. Wadi bin Hamad is easily found and easily walked, Wadi Ghuweir is also easily walked but needs somebody to meet you at the other end. Several other canyons are not difficult. For many of these it is often possible to find a guide by asking at the local village or Bedouin camp - this doesn't mean that the guide you find will speak English!
 
The "difficult" canyons like Wadi Hasa, Wadi Feid, Wadi Himara should not be walked without a knowledgeable professional unless you are highly experienced - if you want to abseil, then you really need a professional mountain guide who knows the canyons and who comes with full equipment, including wetsuits when necessary.
 
Canyoning trips are organised by Hakim Tamimi in Amman who works with a team of enthusiastic young guides who work up to a seriously professional standard. His, website is at  www.tropicaldeserttrips.com email hakimito@tropicaldeserttrips.com, mobile phone +962.795.431.616. Hakim doesn't have the slick professional website that Terhaal has, but don't be put off by that, as I nearly was. His operations are serious, priced fairly and again he considers safety paramount. He has a Spanish mountain guide qualification, and is warmly recommended by both Tony Howard, Pierre Voignier and Wilfried Colonna, who are the "ancients" as far as adventure holidays in Jordan are concerned. These guys are not all "business" but enjoy themselves at the same time as they concentrate on providing a memorable experience for their clients.
 
Most interestingly he also guides caving trips to the Ad Daher Caves near to Ajlun.
 
A French guide and a canyoning specialist in France, Pierre Voignier, has been exploring the area for several years. He is hoping to "convert" some others to this sport in Jordan, and will be bringing some groups here in the spring and the autumn. He will also base himself in Jordan during these seasons, and will be happy to  guide anybody else who is in Jordan and who would like to see for himself. (Note that you should try to get several people together). Pierre is a professional canyoning guide, and has a website at www.lizard-life.com.  He would be pleased to guide you and to organise any expeditions, both in the easier and the more difficult canyons.
 
He works regularly with the tourist agency Jordan Tracks (www.jordantracks.com) which is based in Wadi Rum, and if you wish to contact him through them, either for a simple guiding contract or for a full visit to Jordan, you should call Saleem Ali at saleemali@jordantracks.com. Jordan Tracks can organise a full week's canyoning holiday with a variety of canyons, mixed in with visits to places like Petra and to Wadi Rum.
 
Several travel agencies offer trips to Wadi bin Hamad and would no doubt include other easy canyons on request. The agencies that I know of are Jordan Inspiration Tours (www.jitours.com) and Jordan Beauty Tours (www.jordanbeauty.com)
 
Guide books

To my knowledge there are only two guide books suitable for people wishing to do some serious trekking in this beautiful country. Although many of the trails described by these writers are comparatively straightforward, for the visitor to Jordan wishing to follow them, the principal difficulties are the lack of maps, and the lack of any local guides for most of these areas (see the section above).

Tony Howard and Di Taylor, (www.nomadstravel.co.uk) who are THE authorities on the Out of Doors in Jordan, describe in great detail the trekking possibilities from the north to the south of Jordan in their book "Jordan: walks, treks, caves, climbs and canyons", and this book is an indispensable resource for anybody interested in exploring off the beaten track in this country. For the main canyoning region they concentrated chiefly on the hiking possibilities and did not go into any detail about the longer and more difficult routes needing abseiling. It is certainly true that this is usually a minority interest.

A professional geologist, Itai Haviv from Israel (website at http://www.desertbreeze-press.com), who is very experienced in living in the wild and in the desert, spent several years exploring the area around the Dead Sea Rift, and in making friends with the Bedouin whom he met along the way. The book he wrote "Trekking and Canyoning in the Jordanian Dead Sea Rift" is the most complete description of these canyons in English, and is likely to remain so for some considerable time.

 

Both of these books are available from Amazon UK (www.amazon.co.uk)

 
┬ĘPierre Voignier is working on a similar book, based on his experiences in the canyons, and we are hoping to discover a book in French before too long!
 
 

Acknowledgements

First of all many thanks to Pierre Voignier for his ever present support and advice, not forgetting his photos which he updates regularly.

I should like to thank Todd Bolen of Moshav Yad HaShmonah, D.N. Harei Yehuda, Israel for the use of his photos of Wadi Mujib from www.bibleplaces.com. Many thanks for this, Todd!

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