Propelled by the success of the Jordan Trail, a 650km cross-country hiking path, the adventure pros that set it up have turned their attention from two feet to two wheels. The 730km Jordan Bike Trail is divided into 12 single-day stages and has been thoughtfully scouted to take in the best of Jordan’s historic monuments alongside eye-popping terrain.
Starting in the far north among the sloping farmlands and olive groves of Um Qais and finishing along the salt-crusted shoreline at Aqaba in the south, the trail alternates between the Jordan Valley and the high plateau, crossing the canyons of the Dead Sea.
Physically this means twists and turns from 400m below sea level to highs of more than 1,000m. That’s 20,000m of ascents and descents, and what trail founder Matt Loveland describes as “some long climbs worthy of any mountain stage of a Grand Tour”.
He stresses that this is not a cycling trail for the faint-hearted. “People who have done it have said it’s one of the hardest routes they’ve experienced.”
“Because of the geography of Jordan, we have lots of amazing road climbs,” explains Loveland, whose company Experience Jordan carved out the trail and organises supported trips along the route. “We’ve had international road cyclists come and they’ve said the roads are better than where they do training camps in Mallorca.”
The going may be tough, but it’s guaranteed to be interesting. The northern section of the Jordan Bike Trail takes in the highland Ajloun Forest Reserve, waterfalls and the pilgrimage site of Mount Nebo, where legend has it, Moses is buried. It finishes in Madaba, famed for its sixth-century mosaic map – the world’s oldest cartographic depiction of the Holy Land.
The scenery becomes more dramatic in the central section, starting with Wadi Mujib, Jordan’s “Grand Canyon”, on stage six. The trail passes Kerak Castle and heads into the Dana Biosphere Reserve before tumbling onwards to Jordan’s headline attractions in the southern section of the route: Petra and Wadi Rum.
About 50% of the route is paved and the rest is dirt track. At points, the biking path harmonises with the Jordan Trail footpath. Overnight accommodation options along the route range from Bedouin camps and homestays to guesthouses and five-star international hotels.
“When we designed the route we realised there were certain points where we had to break it up and there was no accommodation, so we literally went and knocked on doors and spoke to Bedouin families and asked them if anybody would be interested in opening their home as a homestay,” says Loveland. “We then went and did some hospitality training with them, and US AID provided grants to buy beds and other equipment.”
At the end of the trip, roasted calves and quads can be soothed by the sea in the relaxed resort of Aqaba, a popular jumping off point for snorkelling and diving in the Gulf of Arabia.
“Cycling is still a small sport in Jordan but it’s growing in popularity,” says Loveland. “There are several small groups of Jordanian cyclists who go out, but previously nothing was public and there was no information about where to go. We hope the Jordan Bike Trail is going to put Jordan on the map as an international biking destination.”
Loveland’s company put in the initial groundwork for the trail from 2014 to ’16, but it wasn’t until the project received funding from US AID in 2018 that the trail could be fully developed. Now, the next phase of development will concentrate on expanding the network of biking paths beyond the main trail, and working with other local cycling and tour companies to promote Jordan as a cycling destination worth its Dead Sea salt.
“The challenge with the main route is that you move every day. We want to have more day routes, especially around the Dead Sea and Petra, so that, as well as having the option of riding the full trail north to south, cyclists can base themselves in one town for a few days, do some day rides and loop back,” says Loveland.