I don’t even know why I hiked the Jesus Trail. I am not religious at all. But I still loved every minute of it.
I fell in love with Israel the minute I set foot there. It started with an itch to get to know Jerusalem, get a better understanding of its history, of its many layers, of the people that live there, of the conflict over a city that is holy to the 3 biggest monotheistic religions in the world.
But it was when I finally made it to Tel Aviv that I understood that this country is a second home to me, to the point that it is the only place in the world, other than Cagliari (where I grew up), where I can see myself living long term. I was charmed by this city, learned about the many things to do there, got out of the city to get a bit of a taste of the rest of the country, but my visit was way too short.
To read more about what Tel Aviv has to offer, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”
I was still in Israel when I decided that I’d go back as soon as possible and visit more of it – and I usually keep my word. I started reading about more places to visit and things to do in Israel pretty much right after I came back after my first trip there. I knew that I’d want to explore more of Jerusalem (one is never fully done exploring it!!) and spend more time in Tel Aviv, checking out more things to do there.
Hiking is a great way to get closer to nature
I also knew that I’d want to head south and check out the Red Sea and the big hype about Eilat, which I ended up truly enjoying (as reported on my post “Why I love Eilat”). And there was no way I’d leave the Middle East without also visiting the West Bank and trying to learn a bit more about the Palestinian conflict – which is why I visited Ramallah, Jericho, Betlehem and Hebron.
To read about the impact Hebron left on me, read my post “Why I Took A Dual Narrative Tour Of Hebron.”
But there was more. On my second visit to Israel, I would not want to miss the chance to hike. After all, hiking is how I met most of my Israeli friends.
You see, I find hiking to be one of the best ways to explore a country. It gives me the chance of getting closer to nature, of learning more about the culture and the people of a place, of meeting new friends on the road who like sharing the experience, with whom I can complain about the fatigue and I can share a beer at the end of the day.
I enjoy all kinds of hikes – mountain and hill ones; those that offer coastal and lake views; those that go through the desert or through forests; those that allow me to visit villages and archeological sites; short day ones and multi-day hikes. As long as I get to walk, I am happy.
The Jesus Trail
Israel is packed with good hiking trails. The most famous one is the Israel Trail, which cuts through the country, all the way from the border with Lebanon to the south, through the Negev desert and to Eilat. It takes roughly 8 weeks to walk its full length. I would love to do it, eventually, but I didn’t have time for it on my trip.
So I looked for other multi-day hikes, and the Jesus Trail came up. It’s quite ironic that a self professed atheist like myself may consider hiking the Jesus Trail. But this appeared to go through a region of Israel that I was keen to explore, and to combine beautiful views with interesting cultural and historical aspects of the country.
The Jesus Trail is a 62 km long walk that can be covered in the space of 4 days. It starts in Nazareth, known as the city where Jesus grew up, and goes all the way to Capernaum via Zippori, Cana, Kibbutz Lavi, Moshav Arbel and Mount of Beatitudes. It pretty much crosses the entire region of Galilee, thought to be a crossroads of cultures and a gateway for trade since humans have been living there.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus – literally
Although it remains to be proved whether or not Jesus actually walked this trail, most of the sites the trail goes through have been identified as places visited by Jesus in the New Testament. What is certain is that Jesus walked this region.
Interestingly though, the Jesus Trail actually goes well beyond Christian holy sites, as it goes through Arab towns, Jewish archeological sites, Muslim shrines and even Crusader battlefields. An added bonus is the landscape of olive groves, hills, nature reserves and at the end of it the Sea of Galilee.
The idea of the trail was conceived in 2007 and the first group of hikers ventured on the trail in 2008. In 2009 the trail was officially recognized and fully marked with signs – incidentally, the same year Pope Benedict XVI visited Nazareth.
The idea of walking the Jesus Trail sounded fascinating to me – not to mention, totally doable in terms of time. I was pretty set on it: whether people considered it a religious and spiritual walk or not, I wanted to do it. I walked the Jesus Trail pretty much for the same reasons I walked the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela: for the views, for the culture, for the company, and for the adventure.
Speaking of company, I was delighted to have the company of my very dear friend Eyal, who’s like a brother to me. We’ve known each other for 7 years now. Apparently walking the Jesus Trail was also his dream, and when he found out I was planning to do it, he decided to join me. Needless to say, we had a blast.
However, we didn’t have much time to research the itinerary or the accommodation options along the trail, so we thought it may be a good idea to take advantage of a Jesus Trail pre-packaged tour. We saw that the Jesus Trail can be walked, either independently or with a guide; and it can even be biked (but I do not recommend hiking it alone: you can read more about why I think that hiking alone is a bad idea in this post). We opted for a self-guided tour which included all accommodation and meal reservations (breakfast and dinner); a Jesus Trail detailed guide book (which literally became our Bible) and updates on the trail (which we soon learned were very much needed); briefing before we actually started and regular support before and during the trail.
Hiking the Jesus Trail was an incredible experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. Following is a recollection of my experience, with some useful tips for those who wish to embark on it.
Splendid views along the Jesus Trail
Hiking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee
Day 0 – Tel Aviv to Nazareth
Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail. It is fairly easy to reach via bus from Tel Aviv old bus station, where there’s both direct buses and shared mini vans. It takes around 3 and a half hour to get there. Keep in mind that the bus doesn’t go to the Old City, so it is a bit of a walk from the final bus stop to hostels located in the centre.
Nazareth is the main city in the Galilee region. Around 70000 people live there, and pretty much 100% of the population is Israeli Arab (or rather, Palestinian), divided among Christians and Muslims. Due to its connection to Christianity, Nazareth is a major tourist spot for groups of pilgrims.
The Old City of Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail
Nazareth is an interesting city, though a bit more chaotic than I expected. The Old City boasts a beautiful market, though most shops have been closed as a result of the renovation works and owners haven’t moved back. I am hoping that more of them open again in the near future, because it would bring it new life (and more economic turnaround!).
There’s a few historical homes in Nazareth – the most interesting one is the Fauzi Azar, a beautiful traditional Arab home with a gorgeous living room and high ceilings that is currently being used as a guest house. The best part of it is that it also is a hotel!
Other places of interest are the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is the largest church in the Middle East, and Mary’s Well and Ancient Bathhouse. A place I absolutely loved and could have spent hours in is Elbabour: this amazing old mill sells all sorts of spices, teas and coffee, dry fruits and nuts. It’s where I also tried the za’atar, which is a mixture of herbs (mostly oregano and thyme) that is mixed with olive oil and spread on traditional Arab bread. I think I got addicted to it.
Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
Where to sleep and eat in Nazareth
The best place to stay in Nazareth is the Fauzi Azar Inn. There’s a range of private rooms with private bathroom (though they are not cheap) and of dorms with shared bathrooms. The place is incredibly charming, and quiet. The breakfast is good, the kitchen perfectly equipped and they even do occasional traditional cooking classes.
Having a good kitchen is a plus, considering that there aren’t many good options for food in Nazareth that are budget friendly. I tried Rosemary, a restaurant near Mary’s Well and the food was good and not too pricey. Other options are the various kebab places around the square – cheap and filling.
Day 1 – from Nazareth to Cana
The first day of the Jesus Trail is spent walking out of Nazareth and (literally) finding the way to Cana. The trail starts in Nazareth Old City, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, and goes through the Market, where it is well marked: it leads to a flight of over 400 steps that take to a nice viewpoint from where the city can be admired.
Once there, the trail it goes through a suburb of the city to eventually lead to Zippori village and Zippori National Park, Mash’had Village and eventually to Cana. It pretty much feels like an urban hike for almost the entire way.
The lovely view of Cana from a distance
The views around Nazareth Old City are pretty: narrow alleys with the odd cat walking by, or children playing football; back yards with lemon trees and pouring bouganvillea flowers. From the Promenade of Nazareth the view opens up to the rest of the city below.
Zippori National Park (for which there is an entrance fee) allows access to Old Zippori Village, with excavations of buildings from different time periods and which include a Roman Villa from around 200 CE and various mosaics. Eyal and I didn’t actually visit the ruins. We got lost on the way out of Nazareth (more on that below) and wanted to get to Cana before dark, so we pushed on.
My recommendation for those who are keen to visit Zippori is to leave Nazareth really early – we felt it was a pity to miss it, but we would have run really late if we visited.
Once past the National Park, the trail goes through a forest until it reaches Mash’had, a small town of around 7000 people, who are mostly Muslim. There, the main point of interest is the Central Mosque.
From Mash’had it is a shorter walk to Cana (known in Israel as Kfar Cana), the traditional site of the wedding party where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. The main attraction in Cana is the Franciscan Wedding Church, where it often happens that already married Christian couples go renew their vows.
The Franciscan Church is the main sight of Cana
Cana, a tranquil village, is also known for its pomegranates, whose seeds are pressed into a delicious juice or used in various recipes.
What to expect
The walk from Nazareth to Cana is by far not the longest of the Jesus Trail – it’s only 13.6 km. It shouldn’t even be the most difficult one, because it mostly goes through small cities and villages. Yet, for some reason, it is.
The main difficulty during the first day of the Jesus Trail is in finding the way out of the city. Once on the promenade, the signs to follow are not easily visible and the constant road works imply regular changes to the actual route.
I admit Eyal and I actually got lost after walking up all the stairs and once we got to the Promenade. After all, I am an unsuccessful backpacker, and I am starting to think Eyal is too! We took a right turn, instead of a left (which was the new route) and eventually went around in a circle and found ourselves back in the Old City, having to walk up the over 400 steps again. We had a good laugh when we realized where we were; but we laughed a little less when we went up the stairs for our second time!
The good thing is that the locals we met on the way were all really friendly – when they saw us walking with our backpacks, they asked us if we were walking the Jesus Trail and were keen to give us directions. Eventually, we bumped into a family that realized we were lost and would not be happy unless they could drive us to at least the junction to Zippori (they were going in that direction) and since we had already been trying to find our way out of Nazareth for a couple of hours, we decided to take advantage of their kind offer.
The garbage was one of the bad sights of day 1 of the Jesus Trail
One thing that we didn’t enjoy so much on the first day of the Jesus Trail is the amount of garbage we saw on the side of the road on the suburb areas of Nazareth and as we left the city, and at times thrown right between the bushes and under the trees near Zippori National Park. I am not talking about a plastic bottle here and there. I am talking about literally heaps of garbage, which at times included forniture and even home appliances.
I don’t know who’s responsible for that – the local authorities, the national authorities, the people? Either way, it was really sad to see that a place that would be otherwise beautiful is ruined by garbage.
Where to sleep and eat in Cana
There aren’t many sleeping options in Cana. Eyal and I stayed at Cana Wedding Guest House, we slept in dorms – they have separate female and male dorms, and also double rooms. It’s a nice, clean place and the hosts are really caring. They have a small communal kitchen for guest use, and they serve an incredible home cooked dinner for the guests for an additional charge. Other than that, there aren’t many options to eat in town other than a small falafel shop.
Day 2 – from Cana to Ilaniya
On the second day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Cana to Ilanya. From the main church in Cana, right by Cana Wedding Guest House, the trail exits the village past a lovely mosque and then goes down on a dirt road with views of the Tur’an Valley and of Tur’an town and through the forest of Beit Keshet.
It then borders an army base pretty much following the road, and takes a small detour to reach the lovely and peaceful Ilanya village.
On the second day of the trail, I fell down. I was happily walking and talking to Eyal while we were bordering Beit Keshet forest, and I didn’t notice a big piece of iron coming out of the dirt road. I tripped on it and fell, badly scratching my elbow. Luckily it was just a scratch and – coming from the Jordan Trail where I had injured myself quite badly – I had all sorts of medication with me.
To find out what happened while I hiked the Jordan Trail, read my post “Why I hiked the Jordan Trail.”
Catching my breath after falling on day 2 of the Jesus Trail
Once leaving Cana, the path at first goes steeply downhill through the countryside. The views of Tur’an and the valley below are very pretty. It is incredibly quiet and peaceful, with nobody in sight. Once at the bottom, it becomes more gentle, with lovely hills and the Beit Keshet forest providing lots of shade.
The ending point of the second day of the Jesus Trail is usually the village of Ilaniya, a tiny community of no more than 500 people founded originally in 1899 with the name of Sejera. It was one of the earliest model farms founded by the Jewish Colonization Association during the First Aliyah – the first wave of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Ilaniya was briefly home to David Ben Gurion, famous Zionist who later became the first prime minister of Israel.
Solitary walking on the second day of the Jesus Trail
What to expect
The walk from Cana to Ilaniya is around 11 km, and mostly downhill. Getting out of Cana is easy, but once in the countryside it’s not so easy to actually follow the trail as in some parts the signs are missing. Do keep an eye out for them. In any case, Tur’an can always be seen in the distance so it is virtually impossible to get lost.
The good news is that once at the bottom of the hill, the forest offers a lot of shade, hence being a nice break from the strong sun.
Other than in Cana, there are no shops and no water fountains along the trail so buy snacks, lunch and water before you start hiking.
Crossing beautiful green fields during the Jesus Trail
Where to sleep and eat in Ilaniya
Eyal and I spent the night at Yarok Oz Ecolodge and Organic Goat Farm. It’s a family run business where they grow organic fruit and vegetables and they have a few goats and sheep that are used to produce milk and cheese. There’s even a couple of lovely cats and dogs that roam around the farm.
At Yarok Oz there are some very big huts with beds inside, which are also air conditioned, and they also have places to pitch tents. Toilets and showers are shared and there’s a super equipped common kitchen that guests can use. We didn’t bring our own food so we took advantage of the family cooked vegetarian dinner and breakfast – they were both delicious, very healthy and a real feast (so much food we were unable to actually finish hit).
Other sleeping and eating options are further along towards Lavi (which is passed on day 3 of the Jesus Trail), in Lavi Forest where there is a free campground where it is possible to pitch a tent, there are picnic tables, water and bathrooms (sometimes locked, however); and at Kibbutz Lavi Hotel.
Day 3 – from Ilaniya to Arbel
The third day of the Jesus Trail was great, despite being by far the longest. We walked from the village of Ilaniya, walking back to the main trail, all the way to Arbel. We walked on the underpass to Road 66 at the Golani Junction, then Road 77 and following the old Roman Road to pass right behind Kibbutz Lavi.
We then followed the trail to the Nebi Shu’eib and to the Horns of Hattin and eventually crossed some ancient olive groves to reach the lovely village of Moshav Arbel, where we spent the night.
The view of the Horns of Hattin from a distance
What makes day 3 of the Jesus Trail even better than the rest is the amount of interesting sights that can be seen. Right after the Golani Junction, there’s the ruins of an old Roman Road that used to connect Acre to Tiberias.
Close to Kibbutz Lavi there’s the remains of ancient wine presses and a cemetery and holocaust memorial. Pushing further along, the Horns of Hattin can be seen from a distance. It is a double volcanic formation that resembles the horns of a bull and from where there’s a fantastic view of the entire Jesus Trail. The Battle of Hattin took place right below the Horns in 1187: the forces of the Crusader army faced the Muslim ones under Saladin.
This was one of my favorite places along the trail. Eyal and I had the site to ourselves for most of the time we spent there. We were only interrupted when a small group of teenagers walked by to also enjoy the view. We took the chance to rest under the shade of a tree, boil some coffee (Israelis never go on a hike without carrying a small stove and coffee pot) and just admire the view.
The Horns of Hattin were one of my favorire sights throughout the Jesus Trail
Another place of interest on day 3 of the Jesus Trail is Nebi Shu’eib, a building which houses the tomb of Jethro, father in law of Moses and a prophet in the Druze tradition.
Not far from Nebi Shu’eib, there used to be the Palestinian village of Hittin. This was one of the more than 400 Arab towns and villages that were destroyed and abandoned right after the 1948 war. The remains of these villages are not immediately visible – quite often, the abandoned villages have been buried and forests were planted over the ruins.
What to expect
The walk from Ilaniya to Moshav Arbel is around 20 km, making it the longest day on the Jesus Trail. The path is a mixture of smooth uphill and downhill. The main difficulty is the long distance and the fact that for most of the trail there is little shade (there’s some at the Horns of Hattin).
The only place to get food and water is at Golani Junction, where there’s a gas station and a small shop, and at a fountain near the ancient wine presses. Other than that, there’s nothing on the trail and we hardly met a soul. So do make sure to refill water bottles and get food before getting on the actual trail.
Another difficulty is that the trail isn’t clearly marked in some places, and Eyal and I got so concentrated in our conversation that we missed a sign or two and got lost again. The good thing is that Moshav Arbel is actually visible from the hills around the Horns of Hattin, so we eventually cut through the olive groves to reach the village for the night.
Where to sleep and eat in Arbel
There are a few sleeping options in Arbel. Eyal and I stayed at Arbel Holiday Homes (Konowitz Family) and it was the best stay during our Jesus Trail. We had a whole cabin to ourself, with a cozy bedroom, a living room with a huge couch, a well equipped kitchen and a fabulous bathroom with a huge jacuzzi. Once again, however, we took advantage of the home cooking of the owners and had a scrumptious dinner and breakfast the day after.
From Moshav Arbel ancient synagogue there’s a lovely view of Mount Arbel
Day 4 – from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee
On the fourth day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee. The trail actually continues to Capernaum and Mount of Beatitudes, and from it is possible to actually continue to walk around the Sea of Galilee. But by the time we made it there Eyal and I were exhausted with the heat we had accumulated from the previous days of walking, and had to catch a bus back to Tel Aviv: it was the end of Pessach break and Eyal had to go back to work the day after.
The view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel is simply stunning
The sights and the views on the fourth day of the trail were amazing. We visited an ancient synagogue; we walked up to Mount Arbel and from there could admire the Sea of Galilee, and eventually made it all the way there (and Eyal also had a dip!).
Right outside the village of Moshav Arbel there are the ruins of an ancient synagogue which dates back to the 4th century. It’s a beautiful site, and we were lucky to have it all to ourselves – as pretty much all other sites on the rest of the trail!
From the synagogue, the view of Mount Arbel is simply spectacular. We exited the site from the other side, and from the parking lot the paved road goes steeply uphill until it reaches Arbel National Park (for which there’s a fee to pay).
The view of the Sea of Galilee and of the valley (including of the village of Wadi Hamam) from the top of Mount Arbel is breathtaking.
Taking in the view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel
Walking from Mount Arbel down to Wadi Hamam, we passed several ancient cave fortresses – some where actually being used by cows who were taking advantage of the shade!
Right at the exit of Arbel National Park, a few trees, some bushes and a creek offer a good break from the sun. We rested for a short while and then continued on the trail, crossing several agricultural fields and eventually crossing the road 90 to get to the Sea of Galilee.
Once on the Sea of Galilee, the trail leads to several small beaches where it is possible to relax and swim. I was too tired to even just conceive the thought of swimming, but Eyal sure took advantage of it.
The Sea of Galilee is an incredible shade of blue
What to expect
On the final day of the Jesus Trail we walked around 13 km. It’s an extra 5 km to get all the way to Mount of Beatitudes. The walk from Moshav Arbel to Arbel National Park is a short but steep uphill, and from there to Wadi Hamam a steep and somewhat difficult downhill.
There are several paths to get down from Mount Arbel to Wadi Hamam. The shortest one is the one that people afraid of heights should not take. It’s also possible to walk back to the main road and follow that to the village.
Eyal and I opted for the third option. We walked down a trail that leads all the way to the village. We had to go down an incredibly steep trail (good thing that there’s some very useful rails to hold on to) until the very narrow path got a bit easier and we could follow it all the way to the bottom where there’s a small creek and from there to the village.
Once down, the path is actually nice and flat until the Sea of Galilee. Please note that from Mount Arbel the Jesus Trail follows the path (and the signs) of the Israeli Trail until the entrance of Nakhal Amud, before Tabgha.
On the final day of the trail, we actually met more people – either tourists on Mount Arbel, or other people hiking bits of the trail, and even a family enjoying a day out at the Sea of Galilee. By this, I don’t mean that it was crowded at all. It was simply pleasant to cross path with others and exchange tips and experiences. Eyal and I walked part of the way with Tal, a truly nice guy we met coming down from Mouth Arbel.
Where to sleep and eat around Tiberias
Once down from Mount Arbel and past Wadi Hamam, the trail goes right by a village called Migdal. Right on the main trail there is a convenience store that sells snacks, drinks and meals such as schnitzel or falafel sandwiches and fries and salads.
Eyal and I didn’t spend the night in Galilee but there are plenty of accommodation options in Ginosar Village, Tabgha, Capernaum and Tiberias.
General tips for hiking the Jesus Trail
When to hike the Jesus Trail
Eyal and I hiked the Jesus Trail in mid April, right after Pessach (Passover). We had perfect, dry and sunny weather throughout. I would not recommend starting it any later than that, as it does get really hot. The temperature was around 24 degrees during the day, and we sure sweated a lot between walking and carrying a backpack.
What to pack and what to wear for the Jesus Trail
My packing and clothing tips for the Jesus Trail are meant to be applicable to any multi-day hike.
My first recommendation for those who intend to walk the Jesus is to pack as light as possible. Anything over 30 liters and more than 5 kg is going to be heavy to carry around, bound to cause back and leg pain in the long run. It is also important to make sure that the backpack fits nicely to the body, properly sitting on the hips.
My backpack was nice and small. Eyal had a bigger one as he also carried a sleeping bag and a tent (he intended to camp but ended up taking advantage of the accommodation available throughout the trail). He also carried a small camping stove, coffee and coffee cups, for which I made fun of him – except that I ended up drinking the coffee and truly enjoying it.
Comfortably dressed for the Jesus Trail in my Kuhl clothes
Essential items for the Jesus Trail are: good hiking boots with proper ankle support; a pair of hiking pants (or anyways, comfortable pants), and a pair of shorts (because the weather does get really hot). Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are very comfortable and lightweight – the top choice is the ones that have the zipper so that they can turn into shorts.
T-shirts and tank tops are a must. Kuhl has some light, colorful and comfortable ones. Summer hiking socks keep the feet comfortable and give extra padding which is a good way to obviate the pain that walking for a long time causes. I had a rain proof jacket and a light sweater too, which I only used at night. I also recommend wearing a hat to protect the head and face from the sun and heat.
As for the beauty items, I carried the basics: and toothpaste, soap and shampoo, deodorant and quite importantly so a good sunblock. I realized on the second day of the hike that my arms – to which I had forgotten to apply sunblock – were completely sunburnt!
Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antisepctic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.
Budgeting for the Jesus Trail and other general tips
Walking the trail together with Eyal, we understood that it is completely doable without a guide – though we’d need to read maps, use a GPS, and rely on the very few locals we’d encounter for directions. It is possible to sleep in local guest houses or camping grounds and eat at local eateries or take advantage of the food cooked by the hosts of the guest houses for a small fee.
Water is free in all of Israel. Whenever there is a tap, the water is drinkable. Personally, I found the taste of it quite strong so whenever I had a chance I preferred buying bottled water.
The Jesus Trail isn’t a strenuous hike. Provided that one pays attention at the sign and properly reads the map (which Eyal and I didn’t, but that is a different story!), it’s easy to follow and can even be done alone. There aren’t many people on the trail – in fact, we didn’t meet a soul on certain days. So this certainly isn’t the kind of thing that someone who’s keen on meeting other people should do.
More information on the Jesus Trail is available on the Jesus Trail official website.
Finally, here’s a few tips on how to plan the perfect trip to Israel.
Have you hiked the Jesus Trail? What was your experience?
Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours throughout my Jesus Trail. They kindly provided accommodation and meals during the 4 days hike, and offered the incredibly useful Hiking The Jesus Trail book. Eyal and I hiked completely alone and all the views expressed are my own.
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Hiking the Jordan Trail quickly became a dream of mine, as soon as I found out about it.
I have always loved hiking. I enjoy the physical fatigue, the puffing, sweating, and even the cursing I go through until I reach the final point of the hike. I enjoy being close to my friends at times like this, and making new friends who are sharing the same experience as I am.
I like being close to nature; admiring the views along the way; stopping to catch my breath; having a packed lunch in the middle of nowhere and taking out a stove and making coffee. I appreciate the power naps in the shade under a tree, before I start walking again. The beer I sip once I make it back always tastes delicious; and the hot shower at the end of the day is pure bliss.
To me, all hikes are good – whether I get mountain views, sea views, or I walk through the forest or in the desert. But put an archeological site at the end of a strenuous hike, and my sense of achievement will be completely fulfilled. That’s why I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, in Peru and why I plan to hike to the Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. And that’s what drove me to hike the Jordan Trail.
To read more about the Inca Trail, check my post “Inca Trail dos and donts.”
Taking in the gorgeous views on the Jordan Trail
The Jordan Trail
When researching about Jordan in preparation for a 5-weeks trip through the Middle East, I found out about the Jordan Trail. This is a hike that requires over 5 weeks of walking. It starts in the North of the country, in Um Qais, and goes all the way South, to the Red Sea, crossing places such as the tiny village of Dana and Dana Nature Reserve, and the more famous Petra and Wadi Rum.
Unfortunately, I had no time to properly study and plan the Jordan Trail, and I surely didn’t have the time to hike all of it. But the good news for me was that I could hike what would be the most exciting section: the 76 km walk from Dana to Petra, which takes 5 full days. I was hooked: there was no way in the world I’d miss on that.
It looked like I could walk parts of the trail by myself, and sleep in guest houses and lodges along the way. But for other bits a guide was required, as there is no real trail to follow, and the weather conditions may change suddenly causing flooding and requiring change of itineraries. I am adventurous, you see – but I have never taken a survival course. I’d have to look for a guided hiking expedition.
That’s how I came across the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan, an NGO whose work strives to protect the local environment and to help the local communities. They were pretty much the only ones that offered a hiking expedition, which was what I needed, and needless to say as a responsible traveler and a former human rights lawyer, I did like their mission.
A bunch of emails later, it was settled: during my trip to Jordan, I would be walking the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra. I was beyond excited for this, though I hardly knew what to expect. To be fair, there wasn’t much information online that I could read (and I didn’t dig enough looking for it). So I didn’t go in very well prepared.
Hiking the Jordan Trail was an overall great experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. Unfortunately for me, an accident along the way cut my adventure short and I had to change my plans.
Hoping that other people who wish to hike the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra don’t go through my same ordeal, I have decided to write about my experience and provide some useful tips.
The Jordan Trail is only for expert hikers and real adventure lovers
Hiking the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra
Day 0 – from Amman to Dana
The starting point of my Jordan Trail was Dana, a small village at about 3 hours drive from Amman. Dana was founded in the 15th century and it is nowadays virtually abandoned. Only 3 families still live there, while the rest of its inhabitants have moved to the nearby Tafila.
I was one of the very few foreign visitors that day – the rest of the people I met were local students on a school trip, and a couple of families who gathered in the picnic area and whose kids were enthusiastic to meet me and made it a point to introduce me to their parents. It was a Friday, which is a day off in Jordan. It is safe to assume that there are even less people on a regular week day.
Dana village is one of the wonderful sightings along the Jordan Trail
Dana is a lovely village, despite the fact that most of the buildings there have collapsed as a result of time and complete lack of maintenance. The only ongoing project to restore it to its original splendor is run by USAID.
It didn’t take me long to explore the village. After climbing some collapsed fences, I got to a viewpoint from where I could admire the valley. That’s Dana Nature Reserve. No more than 50 Bedouin families still live there: they can only herd their livestock in certain times of year, so that the vegetation in the area can recover.
I spotted a very steep dirt road that went along the edge of the mountain. It seemed to be the only way to the valley, and I followed it for a short while. By the look of it, that was the road I’d follow the day after, when I’d officially begin hiking.
I figured that, which such beautiful mountains and a valley below, sunset would be quite a show. I walked back to my hotel and sat on the terrace to admire the view: it was indeed breathtaking.
Perks of the Jordan Trail: fabulous sunsets like the one I saw in Dana
Where to sleep and eat in Dana
There are three hotels in Dana. I stayed at Dana Guesthouse, which is run by the RSCN. It is a gorgeous structure, and all rooms have a balcony and views over the valley. It’s reviews are spot on. There are standard rooms, which are simple but cozy, with shared bathrooms; and superior rooms, which are incredibly large and comfortable, and have a private bathroom with a shower with a view.
I also ate all my meals at Dana Guesthouse. Dinner and breakfast are served buffet style and there is an incredibly wide selection of meat and vegetable dishes – so perfect even for vegetarians and vegans. Dana Guesthouse also provided my packed lunch for the day after.
The only people I met on my hike from Dana to Feynan, along the Jordan Trail
Day 1 – from Dana to Feynan
My actual hike of the Jordan Trail started in Dana, from where I walked towards Feynan, along Dana Nature Reserve, considered to be one of Jordan’s hidden jem. This is the largest reserve in the country. The altitude here varies from the 1500 meters above sea level of Dana, where it actually gets quite chilly at night, to the 50 meters below sea level in Wadi Araba.
Dana Nature Reserve is home to some 600 species of plants, 180 species of birds and over 45 species of mammals. It is scattered with archaeological sites, such as the Copper Mines.
Feynan is a Bedouin village, with camps that get moved along the valley depending on the season, and no more than a handful of houses scattered around the school. It has a lovely, peaceful atmosphere and the surroundings are gorgeous.
The views along the walk from Dana to Feynan are stunning. Picture mountains all around, scattered with vegetation that is thicker in some areas, and sparser in others, when walking more into the desert. There are virtually no trees on the first part of the hike, but then more start appearing.
The silence is occasionally broken by the growling of a camel, by a donkey and by the bells of goats left free to herd. Towards the end of the hike, there are a few Bedouin camps. Children run after the visitors, to welcome them: they are always keen to pose for pictures.
A short hike from Feynan village takes to a viewpoint from where to enjoy one of the most amazing sunsets one could imagine. The setting is gorgeous too: imagine a local bedouin guide preparing a fragrant mint tea, and sipping this while the sun sets.
And at night, if the sky is clear, since it is so dark it is possible to go star gazing.
The sunset from Feynan, along the Jordan Trail, was stunning
What to expect
The walk from Dana to Feynan is around 14 km, that can be covered in roughly 4 to 5 hours. It took me 5, because I stopped a lot along the way to take photos, drink water, and I took a long break to eat my lunch.
The walk would qualify as easy, though to be fair it is not nearly as easy as it looks and by the end of the day most people wish they had worn thicker socks. For the first hour or so, it is a steep downhill following a dirt road, and it then becomes a bit more gentle. There is virtually no shade along the way (I managed to find a tree under which I had my lunch), so wearing a hat, sunblock and drinking lots of water is vital – the weather is very dry and the sun unforgiving.
I wasn’t lucky with wildlife spotting, but those who are may be able to see lots of lizards, some of them turning blue during mating season.
No person was in sight when I hiked: I met literally two shepherds right outside of Dana, and nobody else until I was getting close to Feynan and crossed a few Bedouin camps.
Where to sleep and eat in Feynan
The only accommodation option in Feynan is Feynan Ecolodge. This is run by the RSCN, and it lives up to its name: only solar power is used to warm the water used for the showers, and no electricity is available in the beautiful, stylish rooms – just in the showers and in the reception area. When it gets dark, candles are lit to illuminate the passageways, the rooms and the beautiful dining room.
Dinner is served buffet style, and it is only vegetarian – meat needs to be refrigerated and this would take too much electricity, which is against the sustainability mission of the ecolodge. No alcohol is served on the property, so don’t hope for a beer at the end of a day of hiking. But there is plenty of good cold water and delicious lemonade and ginger.
Feynan also provides packed lunches for those hiking.
Worth the trip: Feynan Ecolodge is one of the places to visit in Jordan and a real jem along the Jordan Trail
Day 2 – from Feynan to Al Bustan
The little information I had managed to gather about the Jordan Trail did mention that the second day of hiking would be a tough one. I braced myself, not knowing what to expect. After having walked it, and perhaps as a result of the circumstances I went through, I can say that difficult won’t begin to explain it.
The manager of Feynan Ecolodge introduced me to my guide at 8:30 am. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was going to be a long day. I said hello to him and asked a few questions but he just muttered something in Arabic, to the manager – who when I protested reassured me that he was a very good guide. I pushed any negative thoughts to the back of my mind. But I wasn’t enthusiastic at the thought of having to spend 5 full days alone with a person I could not communicate with.
As the guide explained in Arabic, and the manager of Feynan translated into English, we’d be walking an alternative path as opposed to what had been planned for that day – the already difficult Wadi Al Nakheel Trail. The overcast sky promised rain, and he feared that the canyon would flood and we’d be stuck in the water with no way out. He knew alternative routes and we’d follow that.
“As long as you get me to Al Bustan,” I thought to myself. “In one piece,” I should have added, with hindsight.
We set to walk, and for the first hour or so things went very smooth – except for the fact that really, I could not communicate with my guide. Truth be told, aside from the fact that we could not communicate, he was nothing short of a gentleman, and he obviously knew the region inside out. I knew we wouldn’t get lost and I trusted him completely.
Walking started to be a bit harder as soon as we reached the river. There was no trail, so we kept jumping from one side to the other of the river. It was ok, if only a bit difficult.
The Jordan Trail became truly hard on my second day of hiking – there was no trail at all
At some point, it looked like if we cut through the bushes, we’d get to the river bank and walking would be easier. I followed my guide through the bushes. That’s when a thick, hard branch went right to my leg and I badly injured myself.
I blacked out. The pain was so sharp that I screamed, and had to lay down for a good ten minutes to catch my breath before I could start walking again. And even then, I could feel blood running down my leg. I had nothing to bandage my wound, or to medicate it. I had close to zero notion of first aid (now I do, thanks to this post by Bemused Backpacker). I made a mental note to write a recommendation to carry a first aid kit to anyone setting to hike the Jordan Trail.
I checked my cell phone for network, wanting to call for help, but we were in the middle of nowhere and there was none. We had been walking for 3 hours by then. I asked my guide how far it would be till we reached Al Bustan camp (or anywhere where there’d be some form of civilization) but I don’t think he understood me.
So I kept walking, not really knowing what to expect.
Between the pain in my leg, the fact that there was no path at all that we could follow (at some point we actually walked inside the creek), the steep ascent and the fact that I had nobody to talk to, if only to find a bit of comfort, I had a really hard time.
When I finally made it to Al Bustan camp, I was physically and morally exhausted, and completely disheartened. Besides, I needed to see a doctor. So, as soon as I managed to make myself understood by the rest of the people at the camp, I hopped on a car and was taken to the nearest clinic, in Shobak.
Against my request, the doctor decided that I didn’t need stitches (except later on the doctors I saw in Jerusalem did ask me why I hadn’t gotten any… so I figured I should have gotten stitches like I thought), but gave me a shot for tetanus, medicated my wound, put me on antibiotics and recommended that I take it easy.
Sadly, that was the end of my adventure on the Jordan Trail. I spent that night in Shobak, which by the way is one of the nicest places to visit in Jordan, and got some much needed rest at Montreal Hotel.
To read more about what to visit in Jordan, check my post “All the places to visit in Jordan.”
Shobak represented the end of my Jordan Trail
After visiting Shobak and resting for a couple of days, I made my way to Petra, where I hiked the entire site.
To read more about Petra, check my post “11 things to know before visiting Petra.”
The views along the (alternative) Wadi Al Nakheel Trail are beautiful. The first part of the walk is pretty much in the desert, and nobody is in sight except the odd Bedouin and a herd of sheep. I think I met one along the way.
Eventually, the desert gives way to a creek that runs through a canyon, and the vegetation becomes a bit thicker: bushes, trees, palm trees and some very interesting rock formation.
Towards the end of the hike, there are some hot springs. They are incredibly difficult to reach, so hardly anybody goes. There were maybe two persons when I was there. By the time I made it there, I was so exhausted, so frustrated by the incident, and so worried about the wound in my leg that all I wanted to do was to keep on walking and reach a place where I’d be able to make a phone call and find a doctor as soon as possible.
Dana Nature Reserve is a gorgeous place to visit along the Jordan Trail
What to expect
I can only speak for the alternative trail, and not for the Wadi Al Nakheel Trail I was meant to follow. I don’t hike every single day of my life, but hiking is quite a thing in Sardinia, where I am from, and I have done several hikes, a few multi-day ones, and some very technical ones, where the issue wasn’t the altitude or the actual drop (which I can actually endure), but the terrain. I am quite fit (I swim 4 times per week and I take every opportunity to exercise) and I don’t mind physical fatigue.
Having said so, I found this to be one of the most challenging hikes I have ever done. The lack of an actual trail, the constant change of terrain – from rocky, to sandy, to actually having to cross the river and walk inside a creek; the steep uphill and downhill: I won’t deny that it was hard.
Where to sleep and eat
There literally is nowhere in terms of accommodation and food along this portion of the Jordan Trail. I carried a packed lunch and lots of water (I recommend a minimum of two liters) with me from Feynan and I had planned to sleep in Al Bustan, a Bedouin style camp that was put up for the occasion.
I only spent enough time in Al Bustan to gather my thoughts, make a phone call and arranged to be taken to the nearest clinic.
I observed the setting and it looked quite simple: a large tent, with blankets and carpets being used as walls and thus creating 3 smaller “rooms;” each of them had a mattress on the floor and blankets for the night. There was nothing to actually close the tent so it would pretty much have been like sleeping in the open air. The camp had no facilities – no toilet and no sink.
A fire had been lit to boil water and cook the meals.
General tips for hiking the Jordan Trail
When to hike the Jordan Trail
With cold winters and incredibly hot summers, there is no doubt that the best time to hike the Jordan Trail – or at least the portions of it that I did – is in the spring time. I walked it at the beginning of April, and the days were dry, if only a bit overcast.
In terms of temperatures, they were pleasant during the day – although obviously, walking and working out, the body does feel warmer than it would otherwise. The temperatures dropped at night, especially in Dana which is at around 1500 meters above sea level, and in Shobak.
What to pack and what to wear for the Jordan Trail
Once again, I can only speak for those parts of the Jordan Trail I actually hiked, but the tips I am about to provide will generally be applicable to any multi-day hike.
The first recommendation I have for anyone hiking the Dana to Petra portion of the Jordan Trail is to pack as light as possible. Don’t carry any backpack over 30 liters, and even then make sure that the backpack – which has to fit nicely to the body – doesn’t weight more than 4 or 5 kgs, including the water for the hike.
Essential items for this portion of the Jordan Trail are: good hiking boots that hold the ankles properly; a good pair of hiking pants, and a pair of shorts, just in case the weather gets really hot. I find that Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are incredibly comfortable, performing and lightweight. I also recommend taking a couple of t-shirts.
Dressing comfortably is key on the Jordan Trail
Kuhl cotton shirts are light, colorful and comfortable. I would take a thermal t-shirt too, which helps keep the body temperature even when sweaty. Hiking socks are necessary: with all the walking, keeping the feet comfortable and having that extra padding is important. Finally, a wind and rain proof jacket and a light sweater (it does get chilly at night) and a hat against the sun and heat are a must.
Other than the basic toothbrush and toothpaste, do make sure to carry some laundry soap which can be used to wash clothes (whenever water is available) and to shower; a good sunblock is fundamental unless planning to get sunburnt.
Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antiseptic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.
To find out more about what’s in my backpack, read my post “My ultimate packing list.”
Final tips for hiking the Jordan Trail
Hiking the Jordan Trail isn’t a walk in the park. Whoever plans to walk it, needs to research as much as possible about it, and plan it carefully. It requires a good sense of adventure and an even better willingness to adapt to the sometimes harsh conditions and to the physical fatigue.
My recommendation is to also not do it alone. I don’t just mean to hire the services of a guide: that goes without saying, because some of the trails are virtually impossible to find, and there is no phone network and no way to talk to anybody if lost.
What I do mean, is to plan to hike the Jordan Trail in a small group of friends, for companionship, and to have someone to talk to and entertain each other, and to support one another during the hardest bits. In any case, I hardly recommend hiking alone anywhere (you can read more about it in this post).
Have you hiked the Jordan Trail? What was your experience?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Jordan Tourism Board, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
How to make the most of your Machu Picchu Inca Trail
There is no better, more adventurous way to fully experience the ancient Inca culture of Peru other than doing the official Inca trail. This is the only way through which you will be able to walk on the sacred Inca ground, to visit sites that are otherwise not accessible to travellers, and to view the sunrise on Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku. The other hikes may be great, hard, you may get to see amazing landscapes too. But nothing can compare to the experience you will have when puffing and struggling on the only real Camino Inca to Machu Picchu. This is definitely among the best things to do in Peru.
Best things to do in Peru – viewing Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku
Places to visit in Peru: one of the many hidden sites, only accessible via the official Inca Trail
Doing the Inca trail is no easy thing, so here are a few tips to fully enjoy it.
Do your research: Various companies can organise your trekking to Machu Picchu. Among the most recommended ones there are Llama Path and SAS. A Lima based agency which is also highly recommended is Peru Tourist Information, whose chief is a real superstar. Prices vary, depending the company you pick and on what you want to include in your trail. They can vary from 450 US dollars for the vary basic, to 800 US dollars for the most pricey company and including a number of extra services.
Do plan ahead: there is no such thing as showing up at an agency in Cusco and asking to do the official Camino Inca. The most it will be able to offer you are alternative routes, such as the very challenging 5 to 7 days Salcantay Trek, or the 3 days Jungle Trek. If you think hiking the Inca Trail is one of the things to do in Peru, you should know that the official Inca Trail permits are issued by the Peruvian government each January, and they are sold out very fast. Only 180 visitors per day are admitted, so if you think this is an experience you want to live, plan ahead, make your reservations well in advance. To give you an idea, I did my trail in April and I had it booked by the end of December. In April, everything was sold out until October.
Top things to do in Peru: hike the Camino Inka-Inka Trail
Do pick a date and stick to it: Inca Trail permits are not refundable – once you pick a date, you have to stick to it and arrange the rest of your travel itinerary accordingly. So, think well before deciding. What I can say is that, no matter the season, you will at some point get the typical inca train weather: rain and extreme chill. April and May are the best months for nature lovers – flowers (especially orchids); September to November are less crowded and December to March rainy, and the trail may be very slippery (but, really, it does rain in any season).
Lush nature on the Inca Trail
Do arrive fit: the Inca trek is challenging for anybody. The altitude, the long walks, the fatigue and the little rest you may be able to get sleeping in a tent will eventually hit anybody. So, do train yourself by exercising and eating healthy food well before you embark on this adventure.
Do arrive in Cusco a few days before the starting date: this will allow you to get adjusted to the altitude. Cusco is located at 3300 meters above sea level and the trail starts at around 2800 meters. Being adjusted to the altitude will give you a good advantage. Not to mention, Cusco is a lovely city to hang out, there are numerous interesting sites to see and things to do in Cusco and in its surroundings, great restaurants and an amazing vibe.
Do wear appropriate gear: good hiking shoes, technical pants and a good rain coat are a must; carry along some thermic sweaters and t-shirts against the chill. Paths get slippery because of the rain, and you will surely want to avoid slipping down and breaking a leg: hiking shoes give you extra support; plain running shoes may be comfortable but are not geared to support your feet and ankles in hard conditions. The same goes for the rain coat: it does rain at some point or another and the last thing you want is getting wet and catch a cold, as it would ruin your experience. A good sleeping bag will save you from the freezing night of day 2, when you reach the highest point on the trail.
The Inca tunnel
Inca weather at the back!
Do carry medications, especially prescriptions: there is no easy way out once you are on the trail. You can walk back after day 1; from day 2, the closest emergency centre would be in Aguas Calientes, and if you do get sick you will have to be carried by porters along the trail and down to the village (this actually happened to somebody in my group). It is definitely not pleasant to be sick while there, and not pleasant for the porters either. Remember that helicopters can’t access the trail as there is no landing point.
Do pack light: whether you decide to carry your own stuff or hire the services of half a porter, do not carry more than 7 kg. Should you chose to give your stuff to the porters, your bag will be weighted. If you want to carry your own stuff, you will want to keep the weight to a minimum. Days are long, and carrying around a heavy backpack will increase your fatigue, especially on day 2 when you will have to walk uphill most of the day and reach the peak of 4200 meters above sea level. All you need is a small bag with a change of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a small towel, prescription medications and a headlamp.
Do carry some snacks: food is provided on the trail. You will have 3 main meals per day, plus two snacks. However, you will need some extra energy and having that bar of chocolate or that bag of peanuts will help you to keep walking.
Do carry some cash: you will use it to buy drinks on day one and two of the trail, and to tip the porters at the end of the trail. This is a sort of tradition: remember those porters are the last part of the chain and any extra help matters to them; besides you will want to reward them for their help!
Do be prepared for the “rustic” accommodation: tents are comfortable but they still are tents, and even if you have a mattress, you will still feel like you are sleeping on the floor. Dining tents are tight: you will be sitting elbow to elbow with your companions. Bathrooms are challenging, to say the least: expect filth, terrible smell, and freezing cold water.
Campsite on day 2
Do expext amazing views and spectacular sites: mountains, glaciars, nature, waterfalls, clouds, flowers, jungle and hidden sites you didn’t even know existed. You will get to see all of this, and much more.
Glaciar views on day 3
Could it be any better?
Another breathtaking view from the Inca Trail
Do make new friends: this is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world, share anecdotes, cheer each other up when it is really hard to walk, when the food is not as good as you would have wanted and when all you want is to rest.
Tired but happy, we reached the Inti Punku just in time to see the sunrise!
Do consider your extra options: you can add an extra hike to Huayna Picchu, and enjoy yet another spectacular view of Machu Picchu. You have to book this in advance too, as only 180 visitors are admitted, twice per day.
Do book a dorm bed in Aguas Calientes for the day when you terminate the trek: you will be exhausted and the last thing you will want will be to walk around looking for a place to stay. Denny’s House has decent bed and great showers.
Tired but happy, I finally reached Huayna Picchu
Don’t forget your camera: you most certainly want to take pictures of the views, of the sites, and with your new friends.
Don’t underestimate the difficulty: it is hard, really hard. While day one is relatively easy (you will be rested after having slept on a proper bed in your hostel), day two is challenging as you will reach extreme altitude and will be going uphill most of the day. Day three is the longest day – 16 km: guides will tell you that you will be going through “inca planes”, which, you will discover, consist of continuous going up and downhill. By day four, you will be exhausted. This is when you will have to wake up at 3 to start walking towards Machu Picchu to get to see the sunrise from the Inti Punku.
Intipunku is reached before dawn on day 4 of the hike
The highest peak, reached on day 2
By all means, do not despair if it seems too hard: following my advice, you will make it till the end and will feel a huge sense of achievement.
Don’t worry if you stink on the trail: everybody eventually will stink. You will sweat just like anybody else!
Don’t expect to shower: Showers are out of the equation until day two, but don’t get too excited: they are only cold, freezing cold. Do not shower unless you are ready to risk pneumonia.
Don’t forget to have fun: this is a once in a lifetime experience, and you must fully enjoy it!
If you are interested to find out about more things to do in Peru, click here.
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