Off the beaten track – why you need to cycle across Jordan


08.11.17 at 3:16 pm

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As part of her epic cycle from London to Cape Town, YJ’s Emily travelled through Jordan. She shares her guide to exploring this fascinating but often overlooked country by bike.

Off the beaten track - why you need to cycle Jordan

Bordered by Syria, Israel and Iraq, there is a common misconception that Jordan is a dangerous place to visit. However, this peaceful oasis is not afflicted by the turbulence of its neighbouring countries. We were constantly inspired by all the country had to offer; stunning landscapes, a rich history and warm welcomes from everyone we met.

Here is an itinerary to give you a flavour of cycling in Jordan. Jordan’s roads are excellent quality so they are well suited to road bikes, but there are also a number of MTB tours you can go on. Use this guide to explore on your own otherwise there are a number of your companies who’ll carry your kit for you and follow in support vehicles.

Day One: Arrival in Amman

Amman, Jordan’s capital, is a friendly and buzzing city to give you an introduction to the Middle East. Bear in mind that it is a hilly city. Spend a few days in the city to explore either at the start or end of your trip. If you bring your own bike, I’d suggest pre-booking transport as it can be difficult to find a taxi once at the airport that can take your bikes.

Day Two: Amman to the Dead Sea – 59km

The driving in Amman is crazy and it’s built on a very steep valley, so you’ll find yourself negotiating some sharp hills as you make your way out of town. An early start means you can tackle these before the heat of the day really kicks in, and also means you have maximum time to relax when you arrive at the Dead Sea. The main roads have a large hard shoulder, which makes for safe riding, and as your destination is 420m below sea level, it is all downhill. A perfect first day on the bike.

Swimming (or rather, floating) in the Dead Sea is a novel experience and definitely one to tick off your bucket list.

Emily floating in the Dead Sea

Day Three: Dead Sea to Madaba 50km

This route is a tough climb. At 45km in length, it leads you from 400m below sea level to over 1,000m above, with absolutely no flat in between. Make sure you’re well stocked up with food and water as there’s nowhere to refuel en-route. That said, you will no doubt be offered sustenance (and a lift!) from other travellers – such is the hospitable nature of virtually all Jordanians and their incredulity that anyone might want to ride a bicycle through their country.

If you’re feeling super-fresh you might want to consider adding a loop up to the summit of Mount Nebo onto your day’s route.

Cycling in Jordan: The Dead Sea to Madaba

Day Four: Madaba to Karak 100km

The road out is mainly flat for the first section until you reach the top of the famous Wadi Mujib, referred to, at least by the tourist board, as “Jordan’s Grand Canyon”.

The ride down is spectacular and perfect if you like challenging descents – lots of sharp corners to put your weight behind but barely any cars to worry about. Once at the bottom you’ll ride across the massive, brutalist Mujib Dam before heading back up the other, steeper side. An epic climb in every sense of the word, it will will push you to your limit, but the views are reward enough. At the few cafes dotted about before the top you can quench your thirst with sweet tea and soak up the incredible views of what’s to come – and what you’ve achieved. From the top of the Mujib, there is another undulating 30km to Karak Castle.

Cycling in Jordan: Wadi Mujib to Karak

Day Five: Karak to Dana Nature Reserve 99km

On this section you will ride along the King’s Highway, one of the oldest trading routes in the world. The Highway offers a variety of smaller gorges and hills to climb and a dramatic landscape in return.

Your destination is the Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan’s largest protected area. Along with varied wildlife such as hyenas and eagle owls, there are also four separate ecosystems within it meaning in winter it could be snowing on the top and 20 degrees at the bottom! If you enjoy hiking then I’d recommend pressing pause and spending a few days here. There are a few hotels to choose from in the historical Dana Village and if you have some more time you can camp out in the canyon.

Cycling in Jordan: The Dana Nature Reserve

Day Six: Dana Nature Reserve to Petra 65km

The road from Dana to Petra is undulating but relatively straightforward with no major climbs – although you will still see around 900m of ascent on your Garmin at the end of the day. Wandering herds of camels are a common sight, and Shobak Castle makes a great midway stopping point.

The ancient city of Petra is in a valley accessed from the town of Wadi Musa, which itself is sprawled across a steep valley and home to some of the steepest roads I have ever cycled up or down. Definitely make sure your brakes are working before you arrive into town!

Day Seven: Exploring Petra

Petra is an ancient city carved into a valley of pink sandstone that dates back as early as 312 BC. As well as being the capital city of ancient people, the Nabataeans, you’ll no doubt recognise it as the lost city from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Top sights include the iconic treasury building, the Roman amphitheatres and tombs carved into the rocks. A climb up to The Monastery affords fantastic views over Israel.

You could easily spend a few days exploring Petra, but if you’re prepared for an early start and plenty of climbing it is possible to squeeze it all into one day. This is the only non-riding day of our itinerary, because there really is so much to see.

Cycling in Jordan: The Treasury at Petra

Day Eight: Petra to Wadi Rum 101km

Located at the bottom of the valley, there’s only one to way to exit Petra: up. After the tough climb however, you’ll be back on the King’s Highway riding undulating but good quality roads with a decent hard shoulder.

After 90km you’ll turn off the main road and follow the desert road to Rum Village, a dramatic desert wilderness. The striking red and pink coloured sand makes you feel like you are on Mars, it’s ethereal, beautiful and strange.

At the visitor centre you can buy a park permit for the protected area, where you can then arrange tours and accommodation, or meet a pre-arranged guide. Again, there is plenty to do in Wadi Rum such as sand boarding, camel trekking and rock climbing; perfect if you want to stay for a few more days.

Day Nine: Wadi Rum to Aqaba – 82km

This ride leads you south towards the Red Sea and its sandy beaches. The landscape changes yet again in the last 20km of this route, with a series of dramatic granite mountains. The Red Sea is famed for its beautiful coral reefs and is therefore a great location for scuba diving. If you don’t fancy a resort hotel, there are smaller guesthouses available to stay.

And so concludes a whirlwind ride through Jordan, one of the most captivating countries in the world, made all the more special for its kind and friendly people, stunning landscapes and remarkable history.

Planning a long-distance cycling trip yourself? Yellow Jersey’s bicycle insurance and travel insurance will be able to keep you protected on a cycling holiday in Jordan.

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