Azraq Wetland Reserve

Azraq is a unique wetland, located in the heart of the arid Eastern Desert, which takes its name from the Arabic word for ‘blue’. A migratory stopover for birds from three continents, Azraq is becoming increasingly popular for bird-watching. From the walkways and hides, visitors get the chance to observe birds close at hand, including local, migratory and occasional rare species.

The Azraq area also has a rich cultural history due to its strategic location and water resources. It was used as a station for pilgrims and camel trains and Lawrence of Arabia was stationed in Azraq Castle during the Arab Revolt. The local people are also unusually diverse, coming from three different ethnic origins, Bedouin, Chechen and Druze; each of which has distinctive beliefs and traditions. Bedouins have lived a nomadic life style in the area for generations, whereas the Chechens are descendants of settlers from the Caucasus and the Druze stem from Arab tribes in Syria and Lebanon.

Many interesting archaeological sites lie within easy reach of Azraq Lodge, including the famous but misnamed ‘desert castles’: Qasr Amra, Qasr Kharana and Azraq Castle. Qasr Amra is one of the best preserved Umayyad bath houses in the world and a World Heritage Site. Its interior walls are covered in lively frescos dating back to 700 AD. There are also many dramatic desert landscapes to discover, including moon-like plains of black basalt and white valleys of chalk.

Where to Stay:

Azraq Lodge

A converted 1940’s British military field hospital, located at the edge of the Eastern Desert, only a short distance from the Azraq and Shaumari nature reserves. It has an authentic period atmosphere, combined with a modern twist, and provides comfortable and characterful accommodation from which to explore the Eastern Desert.

There are 16 fully equipped 1940's style rooms, air conditioned with private bathrooms and terraces, overlooking Azraq Village and sand flats of the Azraq Basin. The rooms can accommodate up to 60 people at full capacity. All the staff members are from local Bedouin, Chechen, and Druze communities and the kitchen and restaurant are under the management of a local family, who provide home-cooked Chechen food. The Lodge is open all year.

Food and Beverage:

Azraq Lodge Restaurant

At Azraq Lodge’s Chechen Kitchen, guests will enjoy exquisite, authentic local cuisine. The kitchen is managed by a local Chechen family who continue to cook their ancestors’ tasty homemade recipes. Visitors will quickly succumb to the delicious and traditional delights that they conjure up on a daily basis. 

Eat with local residents:

To experience a truly authentic cultural experience, guests at Azraq Reserve can enjoy home-cooked meals at local residents’ homes. Local hosts can also teach guests how to cook these meals!

Hiking Trails:

Marsh Trail

  • (Year-round), guided or self-guided
  • Grade: Easy
  • Distance: 1.5 km
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Open times: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (winter); 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (summer)

Description:

This easy walking trail gives you an excellent introduction to the Azraq Wetland Reserve. The boardwalk leads you through dry and wet areas to a viewing platform overlooking the artesian pools that once released millions of cubic meters of water into the marshland. After leaving the platform, the trail takes you over an ancient black basalt wall, most likely constructed by an Umayyad Caliph. The trail then leads to a bird hide made of local mud brick where you can observe the migratory birds and perhaps catch a glimpse of the water buffalo. Follow the trail back to the Visitor Center, passing yet another part of the ancient basalt wall.

Cycling:

Mudflat Biking Trail

  • (Year-round, except during Ramadan), guided only
  • Grade: Easy to Moderate
  • Distance: 12 km
  • Time: 2 - 3 hours

Description:

The tour starts from Amra Castle and ends at the Azraq Lodge. The tour passes through the desert area that links Amra Castle and Azraq Lodge and stops by a desert well for snacks and juice, then continues to the local Azraq farms area to finally reach Azraq Lodge. On the way, visitors will learn about the nature, the history and the people living in the area.

Azraq Village Biking Trail

  • (Year-round, except during Ramadan), guided only
  • Grade: Easy to Moderate
  • Distance: 22 km
  • Time: 4 - 5 hours

Description:

This tour gives visitors a glimpse into the history and culture of Azraq. Starting at the Azraq Lodge, the trail passes through the Wetlands, the mudflats of al Qa’a and al Madbaa’a, the Old Druze Village, Qasr al- Shaér, the modern Azraq village, and Azraq Castle before ending at a local’s house for tea and a light meal.

Bus Tours:

Azraq Bus Tour

  • (Year-round), guided only
  • Grade: Easy
  • Distance on foot: 2 km
  • Distance by bus: 7 km
  • Time: 2 - 3 hours

Description:

This is an easy way to explore the desert castles around the Azraq Reserve. From the Azraq Lodge, our shuttle bus will take you to the nearby Azraq Castle, which was used as a military base by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) during the Arab Revolt. Next, travel to the Old Druze village and learn more about the first Druze settlement in the area. From here, the tour continues on foot, hiking 2 kilometers to Aines-Sil, a farmhouse built by the Umayyad. The bus will be waiting to take you to a local Druze home for tea and a light traditional meal before returning to the Lodge.

Usaykhim Bus Tour

  • (Year-round, except during Ramadan), guided only
  • Grade: Easy to Moderate
  • Distance on foot: 5 km
  • Distance by bus: 40 km
  • Time: 5 - 6 hours

Description:

From the Azraq Lodge, our shuttle bus will take you to a desert entrance to begin your hike to Wadi Usaykhim, where you will view inscriptions written by humans thousands of years ago. Continue hiking two kilometers to the top of the highest mountain, where the Usakhim fortress stands, marking the eastern-most point of the ancient Roman Empire. Here, the shuttle bus will wait to take you to a local home for tea and a light traditional meal before returning to the Lodge.