Africa & the Middle East

Jordan

written by | Posted on July 1st, 2010

One such spot ideal for eco-tourists is Feynan Ecolodge in the heart of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, near the city of Tafilah in central Jordan. Dana lies on the rim of Wadi Dana, a large natural gorge with a spectacular view of the larger Wadi Araba.

The lodge is touted as a place to be almost entirely self-sufficient and it is so efficient and ecologically sound, people at JTB allege that it could easily be the prototype for the shape of things to come in ecotourism. Most travel experts agree ecotourism is on the rise and tour operators and travel agents accordingly are constantly searching for new places to direct eco-conscious clients willing to travel to exotic and alluring countries like Jordan. For clients who love this type of thing, Feynan just might be the ticket.

Feynan sits in the middle of the mountains ringing the Dana Biosphere Reserve, nestled in the rugged Wadi Feynan, a small rocky valley, home to more than 300 nomadic Bedouins. Feynan Ecolodge at night is everything you’ve heard about. It’s a well-appointed building of a style not far removed from New Mexico’s Hopi culture. Lighted candles line both sides of a gravel path leading to the entrance reminiscent of the traditional luminarias that glow alongside Santa Fe city sidewalks during Christmas. Everything here is focused around conservation and sustainability.

Who comes here, anyway—halfway around the world to a place that springs from the arid sands of the Jordanian Desert? According to Nabil Tarazi, managing director, “About 80 percent of our clientele are predominantly European, with an increasing number of Americans and Canadians.”

Five years ago, when the idea of building an ecolodge in the barren emptiness of Jordan first came up, some thought it preposterous. The first hurdle was to analyze who the future clientele would be and then decide what type of accommodations to build. Feynan has shattered every preconception.

“We knew the luxury market was out of bounds,” says Tarazi. “We never aimed for a Four Seasons-style resort, aiming instead to build a lodge that would be as comfortable and luxurious as possible under the circumstances—and I am amazed by its success and by the diversity of our guests. At first, I thought our visitors would be mostly Greens. But on any given day, we have everything: honeymooners, travelers in their early 20s, families with kids and all types of nature lovers.”

As a result, Feynan offers a wide range of activities including hiking, archeology, soft and hard adventure, relaxation and romance—all orbiting around the ecological angle.

Feynan offers spectacular hiking opportunities, including a simple hike around the area, or a day-long trek to Dana. The latter winds through spectacular Wadi Ghwayr Canyon, passing through gorges as narrow as two yards and often crowned by waterfalls dropping more than 50 yards.

Other hikes are a walk through history. There are archaeological walks skirting sites dating to the Neolithic Era and then running near ruins of Byzantine churches and Roman aqueducts. Interestingly, Jordan’s only certified female Bedouin tour guide works at Feynan. She’s an anthropology graduate who proffers a deep love for her native desert.

According to Tarazi, vegetarians love the place and its creative chef’s repertoire of more than 120 dishes. He prepares mouth-watering meals that even confirmed meat lovers will find delightful. An interesting breakfast item is to order scrambled eggs (“We aren’t Vegans,” says Tarazi) to wrap along with, yes, fried beans in a thin bread called shrak (in essence, a flour tortilla). It’s the identical twin of a New Mexico breakfast burrito (there’s that Southwestern U.S. tie again).

Dinners are buffet style with vegetarian surprises at every step. Feynan’s 26 rooms (rates run from about $140 dbl including taxes and a 15 Dinar fee for transport from the main road to the lodge) are immaculate and appealing. The decor consists of furnishings and trinkets made by Bedouin women from tribes living nearby.

Guests are given hand-cranked flashlights (no batteries, of course) to light their way and the only—and very limited electricity—is generated by solar panels on the roof and used strictly for kitchen, telephone, water heating and to light guest bathrooms.

According to Tarazi, “More and more people want experiential travel and I think we’ve found the ideal combination for them.”