Like the surface of Mars, the vast and beautiful Wadi Rum desert is a captivating place. Forget the Lawrence of Arabia association for a while (although I have to admit, that was a big part of my interest in visiting) and enjoy the silence, the tough beauty, and the calm. Wadi Rum is breathtaking and according to UNESCO, is recognised globally as an iconic desert landscape. The protected area is recognised as a World Heritage Site since 2011. The Bedouin (nomadic tribespeople) in Wadi Rum live off tourism but still preserve many of their traditional ways. Overtourism has not reached this part of the world so you can take a breath of fresh air and enjoy the silence.
I spent a few days in Wadi Rum on an 8-day trip to Jordan. Here are my thoughts on this stunning place and some travel tips for anyone thinking of visiting.
One of the most captivating places I’ve been to in over 25 years of travel
Where is Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum (Rum Valley) is a desert valley in the mountains to the south of Jordan, near Aqaba and the Saudi Arabia border. It’s a barren, red place mainly populated by geckos, eagles, and camels. When it rains, hibernating desert plants spring out of the sand changing the landscape from red to green.
It’s a quiet and empty place. And that’s part of the charm. The Jordanian government has done a good job of keeping the national park as untouched as possible. There are no hotels and westernised shopping malls inside the national park. Traditional Bedouin camps and tourist camps are the only man-made features. All are low-key and located in inconspicuous spots around the valley.
The Wadi Rum desert area lacks any kind of infrastructure. You won’t see any true roads apart from the one heading to the village from the highway. Four-wheel drive vehicles buzz around the landscape and leave tracks in the sand. But the tracks are temporary and do little damage to the environment.
How much does it cost to enter Wadi Rum?
It’s free to enter Wadi Rum. But without a guide or transport and without somewhere to stay at night, you won’t have the best experience. (If you’re the kind that likes to make your own adventure, go right ahead)
You can’t enter the valley (past the Bedouin village) in your own (or rented) vehicle. So if you plan on going it alone in Wadi Rum, you’ll be on foot from that point. At the risk of sounding obvious, this is the desert and it can be hazardous to your health. Be prepared.
Most of the travellers I met had pre-booked their entire stay and activities in Wadi Rum. I’d advise you to do the same as it makes things easier to manage and it can work out cheaper. You can book accommodation in advance and just turn up but you’ll find it harder to bargain and find the right activity deal for you. You might also find that everything is booked.
There are limited spaces across all of the Bedouin camp operators and tour providers so avoid disappointment and check it out in advance. Everyone else is doing it.
Everyone should camp overnight in the desert wadi. It’s a fantastic experience and inexpensive. The camping grounds are scattered around the valley but are inconspicuous and low profile.
A word of warning: unscrupulous tour operators that don’t have a licence to lead groups in Wadi Rum often trick visitors into camping outside of the UNESCO World Heritage area. I haven’t seen these areas, and by all accounts, they are beautiful places to stay. But if you’re here to visit the real Wadi Rum, make sure you stay with a reputable guide. The GPS on your phone will also show you if you’ve strayed too far off track.
Most of the camps will provide food in the form of a traditional underground bbq, called a zarb. That’s the food that goes underground, not you. Your evening’s entertainment will be traditional Bedouin songs, played by musicians who also double as cooks, guides, and most likely, your driver for the Wadi Rum tours.
The tents range from square framed shacks with material stitched onto the outside to luxury tents good enough for the likes of Elon Musk.
I stayed at the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp, which by all means, is similar to the other camps. There are few differences between the aesthetics of the Bedouin camps dotted around the Wadi. This is a basic place but it’s fine for solo travellers as it forces you to get out and meet people.
My accommodation was a little more modest. A tiny square box with a hole in the wall (a window that wouldn’t shut) and a thin mattress gave the place an air of prison cell, albeit with free entry and exit. But who was complaining?
If you want something a little different, and are prepared to pay for it, the Sun City camp might be your thing. This is glamping at its most glam (for the desert, at least). If you’ve been researching Jordan you might have seen images of the camp’s domed tents. The one’s that look like something Matt Damon inhabited in the movie The Martian. That’s the place. #instagramfriendly
The Desert Night Sky
At night in the desert, there is little light pollution and you’ll have almost uninterrupted views of the night sky and the stars. This part of the world has been inhabited for almost half a million years. The only thing that has changed is the people. The scenery and stars look similar to how they did when the first inhabitants arrived.
If you’ve seen the movie The Martian, with Matt Damon, you’ll recognise the scenery here. How about Rogue One (Star Wars) or Prometheus? Yep, this place is Hollywood’s “go to” spot for Mars or other world scenery shoots.
Lawrence of Arabia
In the movie of the same name, the legendary T.E. Lawrence fought with the Arabs and the Bedouin against Turkish rule back in 1917. The movie of Lawrence’s life (based on the 7 Pillars of Wisdom book) was partly filmed here and Wadi Rum stands in for, well, Wadi Rum.
One of my favourite movies, Lawrence of Arabia kickstarted the Jordan tourist industry. Word has it that the man himself is not popular. In fact he’s reviled by a lot of Jordanians. But it hasn’t stopped tourist dollars from softening his image. If you believe the press, the man’s a hero to the Bedouin.
And some creative naming around the valley means you’ll see some Lawrence-related “landmarks” every now and again. The Seven Pillars cliff (named after Lawrence’s book) is just a cliff. In a brilliant marketing ploy, someone decided to link this spot with the famous British soldier. It worked.
Don’t forget: #Sevenpillars
Lawrence Spring sounds like a delicious oasis with crystalline cold water. Don’t get too excited. The spring resembles a puddle of water etched into the side of a mountain. To get to this slightly underwhelming landmark, you have to scramble up about 500 metres of rock. I loved the climb up. It was great to stretch the legs after a lot of driving.
If you’re not fit or you’ve got hip problems, skip this part. But it’s a great spot to look out over the places T.E. would have looked at every day. It wouldn’t have looked much different.
Wadi Rum Tours & Activities
Most tours are for 4-8 people and there’s often space for one more. Solo travellers to Jordan won’t be left out. The independent and lone travellers I met weren’t disadvantaged (although most visitors travelled as couples). Accommodation options for solo people are plenty. Many of the places to stay at the low-mid price range are no cheaper for couples.
I recommend you do a full day trip tour by 4WD. Using camels as transport might sound more romantic but it takes a lot more time to cover ground.
There’s a lot to see and do here and you probably don’t want saddle soreness and rash to hamper the rest of your visit.
My initial thoughts about spending 5 or more hours in the back of a 4WD taking photos out the side weren’t happy ones. I decided to look for an alternative. I soon found out that there aren’t any. So with some reluctance, I signed up for the long tour. Happily, that turned out to be the better choice.
The entire tour took almost 7 hours (a real day trip) and it wasn’t just an opportunity to take photos. We got to hike up to Lawrence spring, take sandboards out on the sand dunes (like snowboarding but in the desert), climb up mini-mountains to gaze at beautiful vistas, visit beautiful rock formations such as the Umm Fruth Rock Bridge, walk through the Petra-like valley formation called Jebel Khaz’ali, drink tea with the Bedouin, and tick off a few locations made famous by that guy Lawrence again.
After a day in the back of a 4-wheel drive, running up sand dunes, and climbing the sides of valleys, the thin-mattressed bench in my airy shack was calling. As basic as it was, I quickly fell asleep. After what seemed like 10 seconds, I woke to the sound of hammering on my door and a constant white noise outside the shack. Rain.
Someone had come to deliver a wake up call. It was pouring and a 2 to 3-inch sheet of water ran between shacks by this stage.
I did what any sensible person would do and went back to sleep. With my earplugs in. After another 10 seconds, someone else called by to find out if I’d drowned or not. They must have done a headcount and noticed someone was missing. It was one of the Italians I had befriended and in Italian-Spanish-English, they made it clear that I had to get moving, right then.
By this stage, the water had turned into a mini torrent. I trudged up to the large tent at higher ground and found that I had nowhere to sleep. The other campers had taken all the mattresses and spaces on the floor. Fair enough. I had nobody to blame for that one. The Italians took pity on me again and shifted their things around to offer me some space. Grazie.
From experience, sleeping in large tents with full-bellied, weary travellers in an enclosed space is like trying to sleep at a chainsaw convention. I plugged my ears, moved the half-eaten chicken leg from dinner out of the way of my face on the floor and tried to sleep. And to my surprise, I did.
Wadi Rum Climbing
If you’re into climbing and bouldering, the valley is an awesome location. The granite and sandstone rock here is perfect for
There are millions of potential routes here with some well known climbs marked out and maintained. The Crag website for climbers lists over 60 known routes. Winter is climbing season as the 40C summer temperatures make things a little uncomfortable.
This is one of the best places in the middle east to trek. The Jordan Tourist Board promotes the activity and encouraging trekkers, hikers, and walkers to visit Jordan by supporting organisations that develop mark hiking trails throughout the country.
Hiking tours are popular but you can walk any of the routes alone. The Jordan Trail is a popular trail promoted by tourist boards.
The Jordan Trail is long distance trail running the length of the country. It’s a 40-day hike so not for the casual walker but with some training and a steady pace, any fit hiker should be able to tackle it. Passing from forests in the north to wadis and mountain villages like Petra and finally to Aqaba on the Red Sea, the Jordan Trail is a great addition to any hiker’s bucket list. I don’t maintain a bucket list but this trail is on my mental list of things I’d like to do.
One interesting aspect of the trails in Jordan is that many of them have been used for thousands of years. Walking the length of the country was something travellers had to do as part of their migrations, family duties, work, and trading.
In 2019 (March to April) an annual event called the Jordan Thru-Hike takes in 684km of challenging trails. It costs 3000 JOD, which is around 4200 USD or 3700 EUR. The price includes food, water, accommodation, and a local guide.
Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Ballooning is a thing too. I can’t vouch for the safety or quality but searches on Google for “hot air balloon accident Wadi Rum” return nothing. I assume that it’s safe.
The Wadi Rum Bedouin camp runs hot air balloon trips of 1 hour starting early in the morning. Rum Stars (love the name) also does trips. The cost is 150 JOD, which isn’t cheap by any means, but I guess they burn a lot of fuel getting that balloon airborne. Fuel in the form of gas/petrol isn’t cheap in Jordan, despite (or maybe because of) its oil-rich neighbours.
Weather in Wadi Rum
It’s a desert so expect a hot and dry atmosphere for most of the year. The summer is blisteringly hot but humidity is low. In the winter it can get very cold. I visited in November and it was freezing at night. Thermals, hats and gloves outside at night are essential. Unless you’re from Norway or something.
The Wadi rum desert in December and January is colder again and less frequented by tourists. Don’t expect to use the hotel pool during this time though.
The maximum average temperature in July and August is 35C and this drops to 14C in December and January. There’s a regular sloping scale between these two times.
- Spring (March to May): The warmer weather kickstarts the growth of plants all over the valley after the rains. A beautiful time to visit but this is also peak season (along with autumn/fall)
- Summer (June to August) : Hot, dry and sunny. Best for early morning and late evening sightseeing.
- Autumn/Fall (September to November): More bearable daytime temperatures. Easier to see the (later) sunrise and (earlier) sunset. Peak hiking and trekking season. More crowds.
- Winter (December to February): expect rain, nicer daytime temperatures, cold evenings and nights, some cloud cover.
Travel To And From Wadi Rum
To the Dead Sea
From Wadi Rum to the dead sea your best bet is to rent a car (in Aqaba or Amman) or take a taxi from the Wadi Rum village. Call for the taxi in advance as they don’t hang around for long.
A bus leaves once a day from Wadi Rum to Petra. It’s a comfortable and fast bus and caters to tourists so it generally leaves on time. Ask the camp managers for the departure times (usually midday)