Photograph by Lutz Jaekel, laif/Redux
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Hikers take a break amid the rushing water in Wadi Mujib, a river that flows through the Mujib Biosphere Reserve in Jordan.

Photograph by Lutz Jaekel, laif/Redux

7 Ways to Visit Jordan

With its desert mountains perfect for hiking, ecolodges run by Bedouin locals, and fantastically preserved reefs, Jordan has an adventure for every type of explorer.

Entering the great gorge of Wadi Mujib feels like stepping into the gaping jaws of some mythical monster. An ankle-deep stream quickly narrows, until the red-orange, wind-carved cliffs seem to swallow you up inside the belly of the beast. The smooth and flowing canyon draws you deep into the hidden earth, forcing you to gawk upward at the elaborate architecture of nature all the while you’re double-checking your step as the gushing white water grows deeper, faster, and louder.

A mile up inside the slot canyon, the din is crushing, with waterfalls that tumble down on every side, whipping you like a spin cycle, so that every step is a battle against the current. Ropes and ladders help you reach the next level, and just like a video game, each new level feels more intense.

The Mujib Biosphere Reserve borders the Dead Sea, some 1,400 feet below sea level—the lowest spot on land. In the warmest part of the year (from April to October), adventurers can brave the soaking hike up the canyon.

No doubt, Jordan is best enjoyed outdoors, among the vast wild spaces that define this desert nation. Clear and dependable skies guarantee 360 days of sunshine a year, so any day is ideal for camping, climbing, trekking, swimming, and just being in nature.

Hike and Bike the Mountains

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A wooden path leads to a desert campsite in Wadi Rum, a protected area in Jordan.

Perched on the sloping edge of an immense mountain, the Rummana campsite puts you at the edge of the world, high above the rippled pink horizon of the Dana Biosphere Reserve. Watch the heavenly sunrise from your tent, sip coffee around the campfire, then head out on some exotic day hikes. This is also stellar terrain for mountain biking, with trails that run from docile to heart-stopping—if you’re up for the challenge, bikers can climb or drop a mile of pure altitude on a single track.

Stay with the Locals

Those who prefer a tad more luxury, while still surrounded by nature’s fullness, must spend a few nights at Feynan Ecolodge—a sustainable stucco outpost in the untamed heart of Dana. Dedicated to strict principles of sustainability, Feynan is solar powered by day and lit by hundreds of flickering candles at night. All visitors are guests of the local Bedouin tribe, with 80-some locals employed directly by the lodge.

In the honest custom of the desert, the Bedouin open their lives and tents to all who pass. That means the bread you are eating was hand-shaped and baked over a fire by one of the women in the village—you can help out if you want. The all-vegetarian menu is prepared by locals, who also give cooking classes. Spend a day with the shepherds, corralling their family herds out in the great red land, or lie down in the shade of the family tent, taking part in the everyday traditions of your hosts.

Gaze at the Night Sky

When evening falls, grab a spot on the roof for absolutely unreal stargazing, guided by the Bedouin and the help of a telescope. Gape at Saturn and Venus, inhale the intense constellations, and experience the night like you’ve never felt it before: warm, glowing, and dancing with stars.

It may be hard to believe, but the stars shine even brighter in Wadi Rum, the adventure epicenter of Jordan. It’s the bold gateway into the Arabian Desert, with flowing dunes, sandstone arches, and table mountains that seem to poke straight up from the flame-colored sand.

Discover Movie Magic

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Goats move across the rocky landscape of Jordan's protected Petra.

Wadi Rum looks as mystical as it feels—this is the same wind-whipped desert where the real Lawrence of Arabia wandered on horseback, and where the 1962 movie of the same name was filmed. Thus began a long tradition of moviemaking in Jordan, with Wadi Rum as the exotic backdrop for other worlds. This same rusty landscape is planet Mars in The Martian and the lonely desert moon of Jedha from Star Wars: Rogue One.

Get Higher

By far the best way to explore the range of Wadi Rum is to join a jeep tour. Besides a camel, 4X4s are best for crossing the endless miles of sand, zipping you between each geological monolith. Casual hiking and scrambling allow pretty much anyone a chance to get some altitude and take in the splendor, while serious climbers should accept the challenge of Jabal Ramm.

At 5,689 feet high, the mountain’s iron-colored cliffs demand total focus and ample experience. Local Bedouin guides can show you the ropes (literally), or lead you to lesser known wall climbs, each with their own unique quirks. In Wadi Rum, you can never run out of interesting vertical terrain.

Hot-air balloon rides lift you even higher, above the scattered stone and ocean of sand, lit by the transcendent desert sunrise—the ultimate highlight for any visit. But Jordan is not simply desert and rock—this is a country with green forests in the north, and in the far south, exquisite coral gardens that reach up to the surface of the sea.

Dive into the Red Sea

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Sunbathers and boaters enjoy the beach in Aqaba, Jordan.

The port of Aqaba has the kind of breezy warmth and laid-back spirit of most seaside towns. With clean beaches, warm water, and outstanding visibility, Jordan is a diver’s oasis. Every mile counts on this wedge of coastline, with some of the best dive sites in the Red Sea.

King Abdullah Reef is a favorite spot, adorned with beautiful pastel corals that glow a soft yellow, purple, and orange in the sun. Farther down the coast, divers will encounter rare black coral and sunken ships and tanks, crusted over with sea life. As a protected marine park, Jordan’s coastline flourishes with biodiversity, with hundreds of fish species that call this water home. Jordan is also a terrific place to get certified—the sea is clean, never crowded, and packed with marvelous sights, while the many dive shops uphold the highest standards and are well regulated.

Trek the Jordan Trail

But the greatest adventure in Jordan remains on land—the nearly 400-mile Jordan Trail runs the full length of the country, from the ruins of Umm Qais (on the northern border) all the way down to the Dead Sea, though Petra and Wadi Rum, and finally to the peaceful beach in Aqaba. Most hikers take around 40 days to complete the full through-hike, passing through 52 villages, where families often host them.

“The Jordan Trail lets you connect with locals person to person. You see the whole of our nature—countryside, desert, mountains, and forest,” says trail guide Ahmed Alomari, “and you make friends along the way.” In this lies the true adventure of Jordan, and it is why no matter how often one visits, the adventure is never finished.