Introducing Dana Biosphere Reserve
The Dana Nature Reserve (adult/student JD6/3) is one of Jordan's hidden gems, as well as its most impressive ecotourism project. Down off the King's Highway, and the main gateway to the reserve, is the charming 15th-century stone village of Dana, which clings to a precipice overlooking the valley and commands exceptional views. It's a great place to chill out and spend a few days hiking, reading and relaxing. Most of the reserve is only accessible on foot.
The reserve is the largest in Jordan and includes a variety of terrain, from sandstone cliffs and peaks over 1500m high to a low point of 50m below sea level in the Rift Valley of Wadi Araba, about 14km to the west. The red rock escarpments and valley protect a surprisingly diverse ecosystem, including about 600 species of plants (from citrus trees and desert shrubs to tropical acacias), about 180 species of birds, and over 45 species of mammals (of which 25 are endangered), including ibex, mountain gazelle, sand cat, red fox and wolf. The lower western areas of the reserve can be very hot in July.
There are almost 100 archaeological sites in the reserve, most still being excavated by British teams. Of most interest are the ruins of Khirbet Feinan, at the mouth of Wadi Feinan and Wadi Ghuweir. The copper mines here date back 6000 years, when they were the largest metal smelting operations in the Near East (they are mentioned in the Bible). The Romans later worked the mines using Christian slaves. You can explore the ruins of three churches, a Roman tower and the remains of slag heaps where the copper was mined. The main mines of Umm al-Amad are a 13km return hike up in the surrounding hills and you'll need a guide from Feinan Lodge to reach them. The hills still contain copper, but despite intense lobbying from mining companies, the Jordanian government has agreed not to allow mining in the reserve.
Dana village itself dates from the Ottoman period but was largely abandoned less than a generation ago as locals moved to nearby Qadsiyya in search of jobs. About 50 Bedouin families live inside the reserve.
The reserve was taken over by the RSCN in 1993 and was the first of its kind in Jordan - an attempt to promote ecotourism, protect wildlife and improve the lives of local villagers in an integrated project. The reserve directly or indirectly employs over 40 locals, and income from tourism has helped to rebuild Dana village and provide environmental education in local schools. Villagers also make excellent local crafts (organic herbs, fruit rolls, jams, olive-oil soaps, candles and silver jewellery) that are sold by the RSCN throughout Jordan. The leather goods and candles produced by local Bedouin women at Feinan Lodge, in particular, give local women economic power and an incentive to move away from environmentally damaging goat herding.