by Wilfried Colonna
Note from Ruth : Wilfried Colonna is one of the great authorities on the outdoors in Jordan. He has covered much of the country not only on foot, but also on horseback (and more recently on a trailbike!) He is also a dedicated climber and was one of the first climbers in Wadi Rum, making many of the first ascents there with Tony Howard and Di Taylor. I am very fortunate that he has taken the time to help me so much with this website and especially with this "Outdoors" section. His text was written in French, I have translated it and I apologise in advance for any mistakes in syntax or style - they come from me and not from Wilfried! All notes in green here are mine, and are additions to the original text.
For anybody wondering about the difference between hiking and trekking : a hike takes a day and brings you back to your starting point, and trekking means that you keep going, sleeping in a different bivouac each night until you have had enough, until your time runs out or until you arrive at your planned destination!
Photo Christophe Clais
Jordan is above all a country of the out doors. Although the greater part of the country is desert, it offers nevertheless some most beautiful natural contrasts, especially on the edge of the western plateau where the precipitous slopes descend abruptly towards the valley of the Jordan and to Wadi Araba.
From the border with Syria to the mountainous escarpment of the Saudi border, the best way to discover Jordan is on foot, going along the traditional tracks from one ancient site to another. Everywhere you will find sumptuous landscapes and beautiful views. I advise you very strongly to procure the guidebook written by Di Taylor and Tony Howard on Jordan which opens the door to a multitude of possible treks. It is deliberately incomplete, since they believe that the way to find the best walks is by going there and looking for yourself.
A superb book for the hiker : "Jordan: Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs, Canyons" by Di Taylor and Tony Howard (Cicerone Press 2000), available from Amazon UK. You can also find it occasionally in bookshops in Jordan. This book covers most of Jordan, including the Northern Highlands, Dana, Wadi Araba and Wadi Mujib and the Petra area, as well as Wadi Rum.
It is almost impossible to choose one area over another, but for a short stay in Jordan when you want to combine sightseeing with some trekking it is necessary to make a choice.
There are many old roads
connecting Iraq al Amir and Jerash, or from Ajloun to Um Qais and
Pella, often they are abandoned, and are difficult to follow for
their whole length. Walking is out of fashion in Jordan at the
moment, the four-wheel drive is king! Do not therefore expect
many concessions to the walker, no marked tracks or bridle ways,
no signposts, no large scale maps of any kind.
ON THE KINGS' HIGHWAY
It is difficult to recommend one area rather than another. On the "Kings' Highway" for instance, each valley which slopes down towards Wadi Araba to the south of Madaba is a precious jewel there to be discovered. See the web page on "Canyoning in Jordan"
If the whole of Wadi Mujib presents a fantastic sporting experience with very good canyoning and great water trekking, how can I pass over the thousand and one other ways of exploring the Nature Reserve of Mujib, without needing any particular technical knowledge or covering any great distance? (The entrance to the reserve is to the south of the Mujib-bridge, on the coast of the Dead Sea)
See the page on Nature Reserves for more information on trekking in Wadi Mujib and on how to get there.
How shall I not mention all the other deep valleys running through the mountains from Kerak and Tafileh towards the desert of Wadi Araba where paths are sometimes tricky but always reward your effort with enthralling views? Explore the sandstone labyrinths towards "Sela", about twenty kilometers to the south of Tafileh, towards Dana where you can find not only remains dating from Babylonian and Old Testament times, but also Nabatean sites and the remains of Crusader buildings.
Wadi Dana Nature Reserve
This is a "thumbnail image". Click on it for an enlargement.
you imagine when you look at these endless hills, that in
the deep shadows of the valley bottoms you can find
groves of palm trees and their accompanying luxurious
vegetation, and streams and pools where the bathing is
wonderful? The Bedouin women still come here to make
offerings to the benevolent Djinns!
When you are struggling through limestone and flint boulders, you don't expect to find the stretches of warm red sand and sandstone lying beyond these dark volcanic rocks. All kinds of eco-systems are to be found in the the Dana valley, stretching as it does from 1500 meters above the village of Dana to 300 meters below it, to the desert at Wadi Fenan.
Again there is more information on Dana in the Nature Reserve pages.
THE OTHER PETRA
Um al Biyara
When you arrive in Petra for a traditional visit escorted by the tourist guide brimming over with the usual information, you are immediately struck by the sandstone mountains to the north and to the south.
No dedicated walker can be indifferent to the wonders of the countryside, and you will be itching to plunge into the coloured ravines, the half seen gaps in the rocks which beckon as much as any sandy path. The whole place is simply enthralling.
You must realise that even the traditional visit to Petra, which must be made on foot, is already a sporting exploit! If you want to explore around from the Siq to the High Place or hike from Jebel Haroun to Wadi es Siagh, from Baida to Ed Deir (the "Monastery") you will certainly need a full day for each one. Be prepared for aching muscles! If this discourages you then just wander around the area near to "Little Petra" in Baïda for an hour or so. You will not be disappointed.
A great day's trek here is to climb "Um al Biyara" (see photo above). It's closer than Jebel Haroun, but possibly even harder going. There are the remains of an Edomite settlement close to the summit, and the ruins of number of Nabatean buildings. You absolutely shouldn't try to do this without a guide, the way can be dangerous if you don't keep to the track, and it is NOT something that anybody suffering from vertigo should attempt - there are several very exposed places and a sheer 300m drop from the summit on the eastern side! There is only one track, but it isn't always easy to pick out. Many of the young Bedouin could take you, they climb all over it as children "with the goats".
Find a local Bedouin guide from the tribe of the Amarin or the B'dool (ask in the village of the Amarin) and try following the route from the "Cold Siq" of Little Petra, through its valley, up towards Jebel Garoun from the north and return to the Neolithic site of Baïda past Silice (a volcanic gap giving a view onto Wadi Araba). This is a short day trek and a wonderful day out.
KEEP A CLEAR HEAD AND BE CAREFUL WHEN FACED
WITH THE WHIMS OF THE ROCK AND THE MOUNTAINS.
I advise you to employ a guide because the terrain is a complete labyrinth, and anybody trying this alone will certainly take twice the time, and very likely get completely lost.
This is true just about everywhere in Jordan. It is not at all easy to find your way through these twisting pathways and the rocky piles turn any forward movement into an exploration of unknown territory. Every kilometer is won after temporary retreats and fruitless forays which are quite likely to bring you to the edge of an uncrossable gulf!
When this happens (as it probably will) don't hesitate, but turn back patiently and try again. This is where you must remember which of the passages you have already explored.
It is on the whole a waste
of time to apply for a guide at the Visitors' Centre at Petra for
this sort of undertaking, they are seldom knowledgeable enough,
or care enough, to be interested in hiking. (But see below under
Mountains of Wadi Rum
a paradise for the hiker, the hill walker and the climber
You have to decide in which direction to go, how you will get away from the village of Rum the fastest and by what means.
From North to South, this valley of Rum offers only one obvious exit towards the desert: in a southern direction, where a walk in the sand of 2 or 3 kms bring you to the junction of several immense valleys. (Wadi Um Ishrin, Ghor Ajram, Khushkasha, Khazali, etc). If you take this way you will be walking in full sunlight for several hours; sometimes the way is boring, sometimes fascinating, but you are likely to be annoyed by the many four wheeled drive vehicles speeding past you. The ideal is to get away from the main pathways as soon as possible; you will see fewer and fewer vehicles as you go.
The best thing to do: if you are walking you should strike out into the mountains, the canyons and the rifts. To be able to do this you must either acquire and use the maps and the written descriptions that exist, or go with an experienced local guide who will provide you with good company as well as a good itinerary and general reassurance. Alternatively you can explore the pathways patiently as did the first comers - with the risk of losing yourself, of course, but that's exploration!
Managing alone: why not? If you go for this option you must learn all the human "signs" which remain there on these traditional paths: "cairns" (heaps of stones, sometimes coded by the number of stones and the shape of the pile), "bedouin steps" (stones piled up in the form of steps to help both you and the herds of goats, with their shepherds), "logs" (wood ends wedged in the cracks to get up a short slope), "handholds" cut in the rock for the same reason, etc
Don't forget to look out for the traces of the passage of herds of goats - by which (to put it crudely) I mean the goatshit! Yes indeed - everything helps one not to get lost in the mountain, EVERYTHING!
But these fortresses of sandstone and the great baroque facades in which you can read all kinds of phantasmagorical forms: these are the quintessence of Wadi Rum.
It is simple enough to take notes about the routes and the traditional passages which you can find described in the trekking books mentioned below or in the "Climbers' Book" in the Resthouse.
But knowing that the walker, the hill walker and the visionary dislike being assisted and seldom take the easiest course, we are sure that you will be able to find your own way through one of the routes without this expedient.
It is always more expensive to take a guide with you: but how much more rewarding, how much less worry. Look for some others of the same mind and share the price among the participants. Obviously you will need to limit them if the route is difficult. But just sometimes it is better to be less penny-pinching and go for the more expensive and much more enjoyable solution. A good guide isn't just there to point out the way, but will tell you a thousand things about the countryside and its inhabitants, both human and animal.
SOME SUGGESTIONS ABOUT THE BEST ROUTES FOR WALKING
WHICH INVOLVE VERY LITTLE OUTRIGHT CLIMBING, NO DANGER OF FALLING,
AND WHICH TAKE IN THE BEST VIEWPOINTS:
Abou Ainah where the suggested circuit of Jebel Rum begins
(see also the photo on the page on Trekking in Wadi Rum)
Photo Bernard Domenech
Rakabat Um Ejil Canyon:
This takes you away from the village of Rum by the most unlikely of routes - straight through the mountain. The entrance to it is immediately opposite the village to the east. You come out in Wadi Um Ishrin and from there you can either continue elsewhere, or you can return to the village by rounding the massif on its southern point. There is a very little easy scrambling, a little bit tricky in one place but nothing difficult!
Photo Bernard Domenech
Siq Makras at the beginning of the actual valley of Rum (between Jebel Rum and Jebel Um Ishrin):
You enter the canyon just to the north of what is called the "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" (a modern name given to this landmark and taken up by all the guide books, even those supposedly serious!). You come out towards the south of Wadi Um Ishrin. Go straight across it towards the east and through the sand. Go in front of the north of Jebel Barrah through the mysterious valley of "Rad al Beidha" and into the Barrah Canyon through its northern entry. Walk up it to the north and come out in the west through the passage of "Um Zeliga". (This is sometimes pronounced "Um Zeyga", a lot of people slur the "l".) Again you cross a branch of Wadi Um Ishrin at its northern end. From there you can return by the Ghor Ahram or (better) zigzag between Jebel Annafisshyia (see photo), and the foot of the Towers of Nassranya, to return by the southern side of the valley of Rum. This is a great hike through the heart of Wadi Rum with no climbing or scrambling involved.
Much further south you can go across Jebel Khasch
(you must have a guide here):
A marvellous hike over a high plateau and its summit pyramids dominating immense Wadi Sabrat and the Saudi mountain tops. This is a classic hill walk with no climbing necessary: you would need a full day and a jeep to take you there.
A full circuit of Jebel Rum:
The first option is a simple hike with no climbing needed. Start from the Bedouin camp of Abou Ainah (see photo) at the southern point of Jebel Rum. Turn into Wadi Ruman and follow the western slope of Jebel Rum through a system of terraces between the steep cliffs above and the heaps of fallen scree, first of sandstone and later of granite, below. Many wadis are crossed, each offering the possibility of a difficult ascension of Jebel Rum (more than 10kms long and between 3 and 4 kms wide). For the return : option hiking through Wadi Leyyah (at the extreme northern end of the valley of Rum) or take the climbing option and use short abseils to descend through Wadi are Sid and then to Wadi es' Bach behind the Rest-House. This is a hill walk with no real climbing. It is quite a long day, which you can shorten by a jeep ride to Wadi Ruman for the beginning. (You might like to look at the map of Jebel Rum indicating the climbing routes - this would give you an idea about the distance and topography).
There are many many more possible routes like these. You might like to look at the page of "Tours of Wadi Rum" for details of some guided tours.
If you are a hill walker and you know something of handling ropes, then if at all possible you must try the "Bedouin routes" to the summits! But this is another story and an enthralling one. Try to read the more specialised books and articles on the subject or check the web for "climbing in Wadi Rum"!
Wilfried Colonna also runs a travel agency, specializing in organising "adventure holidays" in Jordan. Here are his contact details if you want to go trekking, riding, climbing or trailbiking with him!
Colonna & The Desert Guides" at Trans Desert & Sea
For Tourism Co.
Alcazar, PO Box 392, 77110 Aqaba, JORDAN Email office email@example.com Fax office +962 3 201 41 33
Phone Alcazar: 00962 3 201 4131 Contact in Europe Telefax: +33 450 90 1929 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Guides for hiking/trekking
Petra : while I agree with Wilfried's strictures about the guides there in general, I have named some guides who would be happy to take you into the "badia" whenever you like. Here are their names again :
- Sofian Amarat : phone/fax +922.214.171.12475, mobile +962.795.581.644;
- Mohammed Hassanat phone/fax +9126.96.36.19967 mobile +962.795.603.114,
I agree too with his suggestion about a Bedouin guide for the terrain around Petra, as I have already said they are cheaper than a fully licensed guide for this kind of thing and quite as knowledgeable.
Wadi Rum : many of the guides in Wadi Rum are entirely happy and able to guide hikers (or trekkers), the best thing to do is to apply to the office of Wadi Rum Mountain Guides phone/fax +9188.8.131.5244 who would find you a competent guide speaking English. Their email is email@example.com
For camping and accommodation in Wadi Rum, please see the page on Wadi Rum in the Visiting Jordan section.
You might like to look at Bernard Domenech's detailed maps which cover the whole region of Wadi Rum, rather than the very small part shown in the tourist maps online in the "Visiting Jordan" section. The map of the RSCN Nature Reserve is also a useful one for the central area.
Tony Howard and Di Taylor have also written the "definitive" books on climbing and trekking in Wadi Rum. They are "Treks and climbs in Wadi Rum" by Tony Howard published by the Cicerone Press (available from Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk) and "Walks and scrambles in Wadi Rum" : this one is a smaller pamphlet type book, which goes very well into a pocket, and which describes the "simpler" ie the non-climbing routes.
This last is only available in Jordan, in fact it is usually to be found in souvenir shops selling guidebooks, (in Petra for instance, but I have never seen a copy on sale in Wadi Rum!), and it would be a good idea to look out for it if you are planning to do any independent walking around. These books are highly detailed with sketchmaps and are invaluable for anybody wishing to visit Wadi Rum in any detail.
Photo pages : Wadi Mujib and Dana, "Wadi Rum off the beaten track" and Wildlife in Jordan
previous - top of page - next (On horseback around Wadi Rum)
Out of doors in Jordan - home
Links to Wadi Rum references and information in this site :
Introduction - Sleeping in Wadi Rum - Getting there and away again - What to see there - prices and tours (including horses and camels) - some longer trips in 4x4 - Reliable contacts and guides - "ripping off" - Nature Reserve - Trekking, hiking and climbing : short notes- - Trekking in Jordan - Riding around Wadi Rum - Tours of Wadi Rum - Wadi Rum climbing information - Climbing "El Habla" -