Like an oasis in the wilds of Wadi Rum, Jordan sits as a calm refuge in the turbulence of the Middle East. The small, proud nation has worked to build a peace within and beyond its borders, as well as promote a safe and thriving tourism sector for visitors from around the world.
Jordan has no shortage of UNESCO World Heritage site-worthy attractions – Petra, Jerash, Wadi Rum. But it may surprise travellers to realize that some hotel operators also practice ecological sustainability as seriously as tourism sectors anywhere else in the world.
Feynan Ecolodge was built in 2005 as a model of environmentally sustainable and socially responsible tourism that also supports 45 families in the local Bedouin community. It is co-managed by EcoHotels, a privately owned Jordanian company that is a local pioneer in the ecotourism sector, in partnership with The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. This partnership offers travellers a unique opportunity to explore a relatively unknown area of Jordan’s wilderness, meet its native Bedouin people, and learn its ancient history with minimal impact on the local environment.
Feynan Ecolodge is located in the ecologically sensitive Dana Biosphere Reserve, an hour north of Petra’s historic ruins. It is the second largest nature reserve in the country. This biodiverse, mountainous area is unique in Jordan, encompassing all four of the country’s bio-geographic zones and including a variety of rare animals and plants. The area has been an ancient caravan trading route for thousands of years, and was once exploited by the Romans as a copper mine. Evidence of this mining activity can still be seen along many of the hiking trails from the lodge and throughout the reserve.
As the most advanced ‘eco’ hotel in Jordan, Feynan Ecolodge takes its sustainability to heart. Feynan is totally off-grid. The lodge generates 100% of its own electricity through solar panels on the roof, and stores excess power in batteries. Only essential low-wattage appliances in the kitchen and lobby use electric light, and yes, you can power your cell phone if necessary. Lodge rooms and the dining areas are all candle-lit, making for magical evenings perfect for rooftop stargazing.
Laundry is air-dried, and hot water is heated through the same solar panel heating system. The lodge’s architecture and thick walls promote cool air flow during hot desert days. Though heating is rarely required, olive pit charcoal – jift – is pressed and burned in two fireplaces to provide any necessary heat. This is a recyclable and natural by-product of Jordan’s annual olive harvest. No trees required.
Water is one of Jordan’s most precious resources, and it doesn’t go to waste at Feynan. Water supplies are sourced from a local spring near Wadi Dana, and use is controlled through low-flow faucets. Food and waste is composted into organic fertilizer. Water for drinking at meal times is communal, placed in locally-produced clay jars. Guests are encouraged to arrive with their own reusable water bottles for refilling.
Just as importantly as its environmental focus, Feynan Ecolodge promotes the local economic sustainability of the 45 families in the neighbouring Bedouin community. The lodge purchases local food and supplies, and employs young men as drivers, staff, and activity guides.
The activities that are included in a stay at Feynan range from the highly active to the historical and cultural.
Spending a day among the Bedouin in a goat-haired tent, learning more of their culture and traditions is one of the most insightful experiences you can have in Jordan. Feynan is one of the few areas where it’s possible to sit down and literally break bread with local people. You’ll learn to bake (and eat) delicious Arbood bread baked in ash, make Arabic coffee scented with cardamom pods from scratch, and learn to make and wear kohl eye makeup. These Bedouin traditions are taught by members of the local community, one of the few remaining in Jordan, and the additional stipend paid for these experiences goes directly to those families.
The Dana Reserve is the perfect place to test your hiking skills, with trails ranging from easy two-hour strolls to all day endurance hikes in the heat of Wadi Ghwayr. The guided sunrise hike is an ideal, intermediate choice. Guests watch in awe as the sun’s rays reflect the colours on desert mountains of Wadi Araba.
The mountain biking tours are more robust and may require guides and previous off-road experience. But the chance to bike past former Roman towns and the oldest copper mine in the world is not to be missed.
The candle-light evenings invite your lighting assistance as dusk falls, making for perfect stargazing conditions on Feynan’s rooftop terrace. Lay back on mattresses or sit and sip hot mint tea while the guide points out the night sky in a quiet navigation of the stars. Without light pollution, you may see planets and stars as you’ve never seen them before. It is a fitting end to perfect days at the entirely incredible and sustainable Feynan Ecolodge.
Note: The writer was hosted by the hotel, but all opinions are honest and her own. No one from the hotel reviewed or approved this article.
Claudia Laroye is an adventurous traveller and writer based in Vancouver, Canada. Claudia has written for a variety of online and print publications, with a focus on family and wellness travel. In addition to travelling with her family, she enjoys pineapple margaritas, guacamole and chocolate. Her future travel goals include Botswana, Japan and Peru. Read more of Claudia’s work here.