Wadi Mujib, the home to the world’s lowest lying nature reserve
Imagine a passage cutting through steep red cliffs, such as the iconic Siq Canyon that leads to the ancient city of Petra. Now imagine it flooded with water. That’s exactly what the Wadi Mujib gorge is, and what makes it such a mecca for adventure-seeking travelers and princes alike. “It’s one of my favourite places, I urge everyone to visit”, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein of Jordan has said of the canyon that was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2011.
The organisers ask you not to damage the environment, and to respect the flora and fauna of the area. Photo: © RSCN or The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature
SLEEPING “UNDER THE SEA”
To prepare for the trail, you can stay overnight on the Mujib Reserve. There is a choice of chalets or double rooms, all offering excellent views of the Dead Sea coast. All accommodation is just metres away from the Visitors Centre, the departure point for all the trails, easy or challenging.
Just before it enters the Dead Sea, the River Mujib cuts through the Wadi Mujib gorge, one of the top tourist destinations in the Kingdom of Jordan, along with Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and, of course, Petra itself. In biblical times the river was named Arnon, a Hebrew word meaning “noisy”, in reference to the roar of its many waterfalls. Here, the Karak and Madaba mountains reach a height of 900 metres, while, at its lowest, the Mujib is 416 metres below sea level, a variation in elevation of 1,300 metres.The Wadi Mujib runs right through the year. Excursions through its gorge are usually in organised groups, keeping to the bed of the river whenever possible. The gorge is quite wide and the waters are rarely fast-running, but, as it ascends, the gorge narrows and rocks begin to block the way, making navigation increasingly challenging. There are four possible routes, three of which – the Siq trail, Canyon trail, and the Malaqi trail – are water trails and are open only from April to October, The fourth, the Ibex trail, is a dry trail and can be taken at any time during the year, except during Ramadan. The Siq trail is the most popular, largely to its accessibility, being catalogued at the easy to moderate difficulty level. It takes over two hours to complete, and welcomes first time gorge hikers who want to combine their visit to Petra or to the Dead Sea with a small dose of adrenaline. On this trail, groups of up to 80 are led by expert guides each day, while all the other trails through the gorge only allow a maximum of 25 hikers a day.
The Ibex trail follows the Dead Sea Highway before climbing up to the Reserve. Photo: © RSCN or The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature
BIRDS OF PASSAGE
As the river Mujib has water the year round, the area is rich in biodiversity. Over 100 species of migratory birds stop off in the Reserve that is managed by The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). The RSCN has been responsible for biodiversity programmes in Jordan since 1987.
The Canyon trail also follows the lower reaches of the Mujib gorge. It is more demanding – catalogued at moderate to challenging difficulty level – and at one point there is a 20-metre waterfall to be negotiated. This is made possible by a series of ropes as well as the expert guidance of trained guides. The third trail, the Malaqi trail, starts in the soft rocky hills that lead down to the Mujib and also has a difficulty level of moderate to challenging. It continues, this time up river to the confluence with the Hidan River. A short drop down leads to a series of picturesque natural pools, before arriving at the waterfall.
The Canyon Trail takes about four hours to complete. Photo: © RSCN or The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature
The fourth trail – and the only one on which you don’t have to get wet – runs parallel to the Dead Sea and is ideal for hill walkers and ramblers. It is classified as moderately difficult and takes its name – Ibex – from the wild goats that were a once a symbol of the Moon God in the ancient kingdom of Saba. After decades of being hunted, Ibex remain in danger of extinction, though the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature now runs a captive breeding programme and numbers are on the rise. Though they are famously shy, some lucky visitors do see Ibex, the true kings of the canyon, scrambling the gorge’s steep rock walls, so keep your eyes peeled!