One of the most delightful wilderness areas in Jordan, Mujib Biosphere Reserve, lies just around the corner from the Dead Sea resorts. Unfortunately, this is partially why there are concerns for the long-term viability of the reserve, as the water that flows through the wadi is siphoned off to supply the demands of tourism. Whatever the future of the reserve, for now the area offers waterfalls, canyon adventures and a chance to catch sight of the elusive ibex.
The Dead Sea Highway also gives secondary access to the spectacular Dana Biosphere Reserve and to Dana’s Feynan Ecolodge. The main entrance to Dana Biosphere Reserve, however, is via the village of Dana off the King’s Highway.
Best Drives for Panoramic Views
The switchback roads that link the high ground with the low ground (often below sea level) are a highlight of Jordan, especially if you are driving and can stop to admire the panoramic views. The roads twist through terraced fields of onions, hug contours of sheep-cropped hills and edge past nomadic communities of Bedouin with their black tents and attendant goats, before spiralling into a painted desert, vermilion with iron ore, olive green with copper oxides and laced with hanging gardens. You won’t find the roads indicated on all maps, but they are all well paved, suitable for a 2WD car (beware sharp bends) and usually marked ‘Dead Sea’ or ‘Wadi Araba’ on signs. Remember to carry your passport with you as there are numerous checkpoints along the roads to the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea Highway.
Salt to the Dead Sea
- 1½ hours, 23km descent and 60km along the Jordan Valley
A varied drive along a busy road of Aleppo pines, red-barked strawberry trees and gardens of early-summer hollyhocks, giving way to tamarisks and acacias. Let your brakes cool at the sea-level marker and enjoy the view of the fertile Jordan Valley, lit up with flowering flame trees in May.
Follow signs for Zay National Park and Deir Alla on Hwy 30 from Salt. Watch out for truck drivers on their mobile phones on the hairpin bends! Add a 14km detour (well signposted) to Mountain Breeze Country Club for a tea break. Notice the humidity and heat as you approach the Dead Sea.
Mt Nebo to the Dead Sea Resorts
- 30 minutes, 21km
An easy drive, passing wildflowers and clumps of prickly pear, going through Bedouin grazing grounds before descending to a colourful, semi-arid desert with spectacular Dead Sea views.
The start of the descent is to the left of the Mt Nebo entrance gate. After 14.5km, turn left for the Dead Sea resorts or right for Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan.
Madaba to the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex
- 50 minutes (half-day with stops), 30km plus 5km return trip to Hammamat Ma’in
The best of the Dead Sea drives, through avenues of windswept junipers and firs, vines and olive groves, and alongside a wadi decorated with flowering oleander. Don’t miss the steep descent of the sulphurous hillside to Hammamat Ma’in. Recover at the aptly named Panorama Restaurant. Follow signs for Hammamat Ma’in from King’s Highway, 1km south of Madaba. The road, sometimes referred to as the ‘Dead Sea Parkway’, is incorrectly shown on most maps. Use low gear if you’re making a detour to Hammamat Ma’in. Continue to the Dead Sea resorts (7km), Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan (25km) or Amman (60km).
Karak to Safi
- 30 minutes, 40km
This is an easy drive along a steep-sided wadi, with expansive views of potash production. Take a side trip to Lot’s Cave.
Time this drive for mid-afternoon, when the sunset turns the sandstone to molten gold. Follow signs from the King’s Highway in Karak to Mazra’a or ‘Dead Sea’ along Hwy 50. Turn left at the Dead Sea Highway for Safi.
Tafila to Fifa
- 40 minutes, 26km
Descend from cypress woodland, through weather-beaten rock formations and palm oases to tomato fields at Fifa.
Give extra time to this trip – it’s a veritable geography lesson in habitats at different altitudes. Take Hwy 60 from the centre of Tafila, following signs for Wadi Araba; take care on the sharp bends.
Little Petra to Wadi Araba
- One hour 15 minutes (half-day with stops), 45km plus 2km return to Little Petra and 20km return to Feynan Ecolodge
This fantastic drive begins with Nabataean sites such as the Elephant Rock and a side trip to the Siq at Little Petra. Look out for rock-cut wine presses and dams through Siq Umm Al Alda, decorated with ancient carob trees. Pass through the psychedelically green landscape surrounding a reclaimed-water project and visit a pre-pottery Neolithic tell (ancient mound) – look for a wire fence on the left of the road – at Shkarat Msaiad. The mountain road thereafter twists through magnificent rainbow rocks before gliding into Wadi Araba, dotted with Bedouin camps, acacia trees and sand dunes.
Head through Umm Sayhoun to Little Petra. Turn right to Hesha and Bayder and immediately left, following signs to Wadi Araba. The road, which doesn’t appear on most maps and isn’t numbered, is damaged but not impassable at the bottom. At the junction in Wadi Araba, turn right to Qurayqira to stay at Feynan Ecolodge or left to reach the Dead Sea Highway. From the highway junction, it is 130km to Aqaba.