The Dana Nature Reserve is one of Jordan’s hidden gems. The focal point of the reserve is the charming 15th-century stone village of Dana, which dangles beneath the King’s Highway on a precipice, commanding exceptional views of the valley below. The reserve is the largest in Jordan and includes a variety of terrain, from sandstone cliffs over 1500m high near Dana to a low point of 50m below sea level in Wadi Araba. Sheltered within the red rock escarpments are protected valleys that are home to a surprisingly diverse ecosystem. About 600 species of plants (ranging from citrus trees and juniper, to desert acacias and date palms) thrive in the reserve, together with 180 species of birds. Over 45 species of mammals (25 of which are endangered) also inhabit the reserve, including ibex, mountain gazelle, sand cat, red fox and wolf. In addition to the natural wonders of Dana, there are almost 100 archaeological sites in the reserve, most still being excavated by British teams. The ruins of Khirbet Feinan, at the mouth of Wadi Feinan and Wadi Ghuweir, are particularly interesting: the copper mines here date back 6000 years, when they were the largest metal- smelting operations in the Near East (they are mentioned in the Bible). The Romans later worked the mines using Christian slaves. You can explore the ruins of three churches, a Roman tower and slag heaps where the copper was mined. The main mines of Umm al-Amad are visited on a 13km return hike in the hills surrounding Feinan Lodge. The hills still contain copper, but despite lobbying from mining companies, the Jordanian government has agreed not to allow mining in the reserve. A growing cement factory which quarries along the rim of the reserve is the nearest incursion permitted in this wildlife haven. Dana village itself dates from the Ottoman period but was largely abandoned less than a generation ago as locals moved to nearby Qadsiyya in search of jobs. The village, home to only a handful of remaining residents, is in need of some care and attention. The neighbouring terraces, however, grow abundant produce, including pistachio, almond, walnut, pomegranate, lemon and apple crops. About 50 Bedouin families remain inside the lower reaches of the reserve. They are only permitted to herd their livestock in the Dana Valley at certain times of the year to allow the vegetation to recover. The RSCN assumed control of the reserve in 1993 in an attempt to promote ecotourism, protect wildlife and improve the lives of local villagers in an integrated project. The reserve directly or indirectly employs over 40 locals, and income from tourism is helping to rebuild Dana village and provide environmental education in local schools. Villagers also make quality local crafts (organic herbs, fruit rolls, jams, olive-oil soaps, candles and silver jewellery) that are sold by the RSCN throughout Jordan. The leather goods and candles produced by local Bedouin women at Feinan Lodge, in particular, give local women a degree of economic independence and an incentive to move away from goat rearing, which is detrimental to the fragile environment. In short, the reserve is a wonderful place to spend a few days hiking or simply reading and relaxing en route from Madaba or the Dead Sea to Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. The visitor centre (8am-3pm) in the guesthouse complex in Dana village includes an RSCN shop, nature exhibits, craft workshops (closed by 3.30pm) and a food-drying centre for making organic food. This is also the place to obtain further information about the reserve and its hiking trails, and to arrange a guide. The staff at the centre is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly, and you sense a genuine commitment to the cause.