Wadi al Nakheel: From ridge to ravine

Our Digital Nomad forsakes travelling by camel or car to rely on good old-fashioned shoe leather for a trek through the Jordanian desert, and relishes the sights and sounds it reveals

By Will Hide
Published 2 Oct 2017, 16:00 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 11:46 BST
Hiking Wadi al Nakheel

Hiking Wadi al Nakheel

Photograph by Slawek Kozdras

Jordan is a bouncy country. So far this week I've bounced along on a camel at sunset and bounced in the back of a pick-up truck in Wadi Rum. Now I'm bouncing over boulders on my backside, two hours' drive north of Aqaba.

While my guide Atalla springs from rock to rock like a mountain goat, I'm taking a rather more cautious approach and slide down some of the bigger stones on my bottom. Graceful it isn't.

Today I'm hiking 16 miles, to near the ruins of Shobak Castle, built by Baldwin I of Jerusalem in the late 12th century. It's an impressive site, bathed in early morning light, but we can't stop because we — Attala and me, plus a small team from the Jordan Heritage Revival Company, which trains and manages the local guides — are here to walk. The hike to Wadi al Dathneh and Wadi al Nakheel will take us about 10 hours, but I soon discover the journey includes includes plenty of stops for sage tea, dates and selfies.

The start of the trek is breathtakingly barren; a vista of high, undulating ridges upon which I spot herds of goats and the occasional wild donkey. We walk up past hardy juniper trees and pause to look at brilliantly blue lizards warming themselves in the sun. If the key to survival here is blending in, then these little local reptiles certainly didn't get the memo from Mother Nature.

Once through a small natural gap in the mountaintop — which used to act as a kind of natural defensive gateway for the inhabitants here — it's downhill all the way. The colour of the mountains ahead of us changes, rich as they are in magnesium and copper deposits, and far below us palm trees and reeds betray the presence of life-giving water.

So too does the sound from the hundreds of birds. It's actually a very comforting noise, proving that life can flourish in this, the harshest of environments. As we get closer they take flight. I'm told they're a kind of small raven, and as they fly overheard I can see their wing tips are flecked bright orange.

Once on the valley floor, things get a lot soggier for our intrepid little team of hikers. There's no path other than through a stream, so we splash along it for the rest of the way. Sometimes it's not much more than a trickle, but at other times it comes up over our knees. Further on, the valley walls close in on us and soon we're walking in a narrow ravine, the sides of which tower several hundred feet above us. At some points we're forced to use a rope to haul ourselves up and over the giant rocks that block the route.

We chat briefly with a group of school children — they're hiking and cycling their way from Amman to Aqaba — and later we bump into another other small party, but they're the only people we see all day.

Having set off at 8am, and at 6pm we arrive back at the start point: sweaty, squelchy, happy. In the back seat of the minibus I bounce around some more. In about three minutes, I'm snoring.


Read more from our Digital Nomad in Aqaba here.

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