Off the beaten path in Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve, the Feynan Ecolodge is setting an example in sustainable tourism.
We’re coming from Petra, our driver pulls off the road into a car park where we wait for a Bedouin driver to pick us up in a truck and transfer us the rest of the way to an ecolodge. It’s only 5:30 p.m. but already it’s dark out – the pitch-black spreads across the vast desert around us.
The driver arrives in a beat-up pickup with decals along the side like a hot wheels truck. He greets us wearing a white robe and headdress in typical Jordanian red and white colours. He doesn’t speak English, and as we rumble through the darkness in the backseats of the truck, my friend and I are giddy. What have we have gotten ourselves into!
After 30 mins of twisting and turning through the darkness, flickers of candle lights at Feynan Ecolodge welcome us to this special desert lodge. Solar-powered electricity means few lights are available. Candlelight guides us to the entrance and dining room where a spread of vegetarian Bedouin cuisine awaits – eggplant, hummus, and cauliflower covered in tahini awaits.
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We have come to the lodge for a chance to slow down the pace and get off Jordan’s beaten travel path.
Ecolodge in Jordan
Days earlier, we were bobbing along the Dead Sea covered in therapeutic mud. And we clocked 22,000 Fitbit steps wandering the lost city of Petra for more than eight hours. Both of these once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences are what brought us, and most travellers like us, to Jordan.
While those bucket list experiences are alone worth coming for, there is much more to see. Most travellers add Jordan as an extension when travelling to neighbouring Egypt or Israel. But, on this trip, I discover that Jordan truly is a diverse travel destination with a roundhouse of experiences ranging from premium diving to eco-adventures like the one I am on.
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Feynan Ecolodge has racked up a series of international awards, including being named among Nat Geo’s top ecolodges in the world. The lodge, built in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, is the brainchild of Jordan’s Royal Society of Nature Conservation. These days, in the travel industry, it can be challenging to distinguish token environmental initiatives to those that are truly sustainable or working toward that goal. Feynan’s commitment is clear from the moment we arrive.
Feynan Ecolodge, Sustainable Travel
Tucked among sandy mountains, the lodge sits atop a wadi, a mostly dry riverbed. I say “mostly” because during heavy rains in other parts of the country, the area around the lodge is prone to flash floods. Local villagers tell us tales of herds of sheep swept up by the floods, and even elders who were swept up at one point in the wadi and manage to survive arriving at another point further down.
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The architecture of the lodge leaves guests feeling like they are truly a part of the surrounding desert – the lodge is carefully constructed with open-air courtyards, a rooftop, and a series of stairs that are all outdoors until you reach your room. Simple chunks of soap in the washrooms are made by local women using all-natural olive oils. Fresh drinking water is kept in pottery jars also crafted specifically for the lodge by locals. With only electricity in the bathroom, guest suites are lit with candles. Feynan Ecolodge goes through some 4000 candles a month which are made on-site by local women, and at dusk, guest visitors are welcomed to help light them.
For hikers, the surrounding desert mountains are perfect. One morning, lodge staff packs my friend and I a lunch box (cheese and zaatar sandwiches with dried apricot, figs, and dates), and we set out from Feynan Ecolodge walking a straight and easy path in the wadi.
We opt to hike alone without a guide for four hours on this particular day, stopping often to take in the majestic views and sip water. A handful of travellers pass us – they are on a longer eight-hour hike along the wadi from the Dana town to the lodge. The area is dotted with Bedouin camps, of which children rush to greet us and practice their English by asking us “what is your name?”. On the next day, we take a shorter hike with a small group from the lodge to watch the pink sunset over the desert.
Feynan Ecolodge is staffed fully by members of the Bedouin community – they are warm and friendly. It is said in Jordan that the Bedouin are known for their hospitality, and this is evident. On another day, we walk to meet local Bedouins for a demonstration to see how bread is made.
Further down is a school; a rare sight in the desert, and a legacy of the royal family.
Our host, Sulieman, tells us that his job at the lodge gives him the opportunity to work and stay with his family in the mountains. His income helps support his family, especially these days when the value of animals has gone down, he says. This integration of the Feynan Ecolodge, not only with the environment, but its people is a win-win situation.
A perfect day ends on the lodge’s rooftop under a blanket of stars where another staff share stories of Arab farmers’ interpretations of the constellations. We can see the Milky Way, Orion, and the Little Dipper, among others. At night, with no heat in the rooms, we tuck into bed with hot water bottles that offer more than enough heat. When night gives way to dawn, I awake to the sound of a donkey braying outside my window.
It’s peaceful and perfect.
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