Ajloun - nature and history

I’m rarely enticed to revisit a place, Ajloun in Jordan is one of the exceptions. And so last summer, I revisited it not once but twice. On the second trip, I coupled the Ajloun forest hike with a visit to the Ajloun Castle , a must if you haven’t been. If you set early from Amman , you should easily be able to do both in a day or less if you take the short ( no more than 3 hour) hikes .

The cabins available for overnight rentals

The Hike

In recent years , hiking has picked immensely up in Jordan. There are many trails that can be taken around its many tourist sites like Wadi Al Mujib, Petra and Dana. For the avid hikers ,check one of the Hiking in Jordan pages.  For the more laid back like yours truly, a mini hike at Ajloun will allow you to boast that you took one without breaking a sweat or hearing complaints from the young ones.

Ajloun has the added bonus of being a short 90 minute drive away from Amman, depending when / where in Amman you head off.  Weekends are optimal for lighter traffic but you might find the reserve to be busier. Starting early is best, The route opens no earlier than 9 ; however the small restaurant at the visitor center where you will get your entrances opens at 8. The breakfast is lovely with a great view and a very reasonable price.

Once there, a center setup by Wild Jordan has an information center , a restaurant, restrooms and a small gift shop. There are different hike trails you can chose from . The one hour hike does not need to be prebooked and is great if you’re going with little ones. The 3 and 5 hour ones need to be pre booked as a guide must be present ; usually a day or two prior to your hike should be enough if they’re not busy .

Once you head out, you will notice the cabins which are available for rent overnight. The scenery is beautiful and therefore it looks to be worth a try if you have time .


The terrain is typical of Jordan’s green areas , red fertile rocky earth. Beautiful evergreen oak trees are the feature , though you will see some Carob, Pine and Wild Pistachio trees. If you go in the spring, there will be many wild flowers. If you’re lucky, you might come across a Roe deer which the Royal Society of the Conservation of Nature have been releasing into the reserve. I felt quiet nostalgic during the walk, reminded of the trips we took growing up in Jordan. The children were delighted at the sight of lizards crossing the trail at random;  so I skipped mentioning what we did to those when younger. They also immensely enjoyed scraping off the dry outer bark of a tree which after digging around, I found was called the strawberry tree, a native of the Mediterranean.

 

On the way back , we stopped at the adjacent soap, biscuit and calligraphy center also set up and run by Wild Jordan. There you can see , sample and purchase handmade items by the locals. Also available is a café/ restaurant with amazing views called Balloota.


The soap, biscuit and calligraphy center close to the reserve. I was impressed with the building and the products on offer, all made by local artisans.

 The Castle

The famous Ajloun Castle is a mere 20 minute drive from the reserve. I’ll start by saying, please do get a guide while taking the tour especially if you have little ones who might not have read about its history. It just makes the experience more memorable, with stories of what and how things were. Most are bilingual, veterans , ex army officers and locals who are passionate about the heritage.  The Ajloun Castle or Al Rabad Castle was built in the Ayyubids era on the remains of a monastery said to be dated to the Byzantine era.  It has been built to defend against the crusader incursions.

The minute I entered , my eyes were searching for those tiny slits in stone that the archers / guardsmen used for lookout. I had remembered hearing a recount of how they were used as a child, standing there imagining being that soldier waiting in anticipation.  In no time, I see my girl, Tamara, crouching from one window to the other.

The Castle is complete with its moat , catapult, prisons, food storage and meeting room. The castle also has a museum exhibition with many interesting artifacts from the various time periods of the region. It still is in good shape, having withstood two earthquakes. Onnce you head to the roof you will be able to see just how strategic the location has been. There’s no wonder that it has been used to get words across between Jordan , Syria, Palestine and Iraq.


After an easy hike in nature, we found the trip to the castle and its history a perfect way to end the day.

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Night under the Stars: Wadi Rum

A trip to Jordan is incomplete without spending a night or two at Wadi Rum. Some believe that you have be a brave camper to want to do this, I disagree. First of all, you don’t have to rough it up, use outdoor toilets and get sand in pretty much everything anymore. Alongside the traditional camping, there are many glamping spots available at Wadi Rum at the moment. So you’re technically neither roughing it up nor camping but that’ll be our secret. More importantly, who wants to miss out on gazing at millions of stars surrounded by comforting silence?

taken at camp, courtesy of Memories Aicha Camp

In fact I’ll start with this, the highlight of it all. I have seen a few clear night skies with a blanket of stars, but nothing came close to what I saw on that night. If you’re going, try to pick a non- full moon night for a better experience. The famous Wadi Rum Mars like terrain, chosen as the set location for a number of movies such as The Martian, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story , Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and others, will not disappoint.

Our campsite

The stars will be seen wherever you’re staying but most camps will arrange for group walks where there’s no light in sight for a more magical experience. This is one of these moments that old and young will remember.

Back to the start. The trip to amman is around a 4 hour drive give or take. After much deliberation we chose to hire a bus and driver, a great choice given that we were 3 families of 12 with little ones in tow. The bigger bus gave them space during the long hours as apart from snacking / playing there isn’t much to do en-route.

The drive is a fairly easy one if you prefer to rent you own car, but for a group trip; I think you’ll miss out on the fun of being together. Some companies, like Jett, offer bus transport but again, I think this will confine you with times of pick up drop off whereas we had the leisure of chosing when to start / leave. For a bit extra, the driver indulged us in taking the hour or so drive to Aqaba on our way back ; a decision we took on the go.

There are many camps to chose from; from the basic tent facility all the way to 5 star accommodation complete with AC and ensuite bathrooms. We opted for the latter , just for the kids sake :) 

The trip to camp starts after you park your transport at the wadi rum parking. You will ride in the iconic ”jeeps”; trucks fitted with makeshift steel benches. Needless to say, the kids and us had a great time riding the dunes in these. No belts being the bonus here. Drivers are native Wadi Rum bedouins.

We stayed at Memories Aycha Camp , a fairly new luxury camp nestled between 2 mountains. The rooms, staff and services were amazing. After settling in, the usual would be taking the jeep rides once again. Depending on the time you have, this will include many stopovers around the reserve. Make sure you agree with your driver on where to be once the sun sets, many chose the Valley of the Moon. The pristine sandy mountains that kids like to roll over at, the rocky cliffs to climb , the Valley of the Moon could all be done in a few hours. If you have more time, a trip to Burdah Rock Bridge, the highest in Wadi Rum, via the Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a full day by car or an overnight trip by camel. 

For the adventurous mountain climbers there are a few options to choose from, the vistors center on site will be able to assist you. Horse and camel riding, hot air balloon rides are also available but these are all best arranged beforehand especially if you want to trek/ ride for hours. For more on what you can do check their page.

 Once retired, dinner is served at camps and most provide the Arabic zarb, meet cooked underground eaten around campfire or in our case served along with a dinner buffet.

the restaurant dome at camp

 Nighttime, you can either just relax around the fire ( if weather allows ) , go stargazing , or  both. Next day, we opted to head early after breakfast  as it was hot to do more around . Aqaba with its beautiful beaches seemed more tempting. Many usually couple Wadi Rum with Aqaba or Petra, either is less than an hour away. However, once there , unless you’re short on time ; it’ll be good to spend another night or more at either site.

We have taken this trip in summer, but I think that spring and fall would make it an even greater experience since the weather would be just perfect for huddling around a fire and spending more time around.

If there’s one word to describe Wadi Rum for me it would be, timeless. It really is one of the few places I’ve been where only nature, not mankind, has worked havoc and beauty.

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