We had to be there at 09:30 and we had agreed with our driver to leave at 08:00 to be there a little earlier… In his typical style, after we had paid him half the pre-arranged amount the day before, Mahmoud decided to be… around 45 minutes late. This, however, allowed us to enjoy for the last time the view from the terrace, where the Gulf of Aqaba and the opposite Israeli city of Eilat were clearly visible.
Where is located and how to get there
Wadi Rum is a desert valley in southeastern Jordan, near the border with Saudi Arabia. The capital Amman is on 320 km (4 hours), but the distance from the tourist city of Aqaba is 70 km (1 hour) and to the rock city Petra 115 km (less than 2 hours). It is the location near the main road between these two places that makes it one of the most visited destinations in the country!
It’s best to leave Aqaba in direction for the desert, with several options – car rental, taxi / driver or bus. A bus is actually strongly said, intercity lines are served by small minibuses, most often by the company JETT. The schedule is rarely followed, but once or twice a day there is transport that can take you there. The price of a one-way ticket is about 12 JD.
The best way is by a car! If you don’t have a rental car, use a local driver or taxi. This way you can find out in advance about the opposite course – from Wadi Rum to Aqaba. The approximate tariff is 20-25 JD, and everything is negotiable.
Arrival in the village
The first stop in Wadi Rum is the visitor center, which is located around 20 km after the turnoff from the main road. Here is the place where the visit fee is paid – 5 JD per person. In it you can find more information, go to a toilet and, as a last resort, if you have not arranged your stay and activities in advance, buy a jeep tour and overnight stays. It’s important to keep your paid ticket throughout your stay in the valley!
💡 If you have a Jordan PASS, you don’t have to pay an entrance fee to Wadi Rum.
Mahmoud knew almost everyone, or so he said… He left us right in front of the “office” of the company we had reserved – Rum Stars. We were invited, we settled inside, drank a cup of tea, paid, met our driver Yusuf and after a while we were on the bodywork of the jeep – an old Toyota, which was me quite strange that she will withstand the uneven road… It’s time… We’re leaving and the only connection to civilization is behind us…
💡 I advise you to book an overnight stay, a jeep ride or camel riding in advance. I recommend at least one night under the starry sky, it’s worth it! Also a full day jeep tour. This way you will get a guide with whom you can explore many of the main tourist places in Wadi Rum.
The first attraction is almost immediately after the village, around 2 km. This is the spring of Lawrence of Arabia. He is known for this because here the British general, known for his exploits in support of the Arabs in their battle against the Ottomans, stopped drinking water and bathing during his journey through the desert.
💡 The marketing ploy with Lawrence of Arabia brings great fame to Wadi Rum. There are several other destinations named after him. It was the film about him that was the first who shows the desert of the world and puts it on the map of the desired Hollywood destinations. Subsequently, it became the setting for many other films, such as The Martian, Star Wars, Transformers, Prometheus and others…
The spring itself has a much older history and is known by its Arabic name “Ain Abu Aineh”. For many years, Bedouins have visited this place to drink a sip of clean water, because it is the only source of a huge perimeter from a distance. The spring is located in one of the highest parts of the mountain. The water flowing on the rocks feeds the diverse vegetation, which is not typical for the area. Today, a system has been set up to deliver water to ground level to make the site a major watering place for animals.
Tourists have the pleasure to climb the rocks so they can enjoy the great view from above. The climb itself is a little harder than it seems, but the unfolding landscape is worth it…
And it was as if the old Toyota had read my mind and decided to oppose our trip. However, several groups of Bedouins didn’t let an old jeep ruin their business…
We enter the Wadi Rum desert
Hearing about the desert, a person’s association is often for endless and boring wandering in a monotonous environment… Elsewhere, it may be, but not in Wadi Rum! Numerous rock arches, narrow canyons, steep cliffs and sand dunes are concentrated here. Due to the uniqueness of the terrain and landforms, as well as the cultural heritage, the desert is a protected area and has been part of the large UNESCO family since 2011. There is evidence of human habitation for over 12,000 years. Today, the locals are Bedouins – nomadic tribes who rule the area and welcome tourists.
Our guide was one of them and didn’t worry to press the gas while we held on tight to the bodywork and tried our best to avoid jumping on the makeshift seats, old wooden benches. We entered the valley and the landscapes began to change dramatically. Here you understand why they call the place “Mars on Earth”… The monochromatic color shades of the surface, composed mainly of red and orange, contrast perfectly with the saturated blue sky…
The red sand dune – Al Ramal
In my opinion, this is the most impressive place of all visited! The jeep stopped at the foot of a huge dune of bright red sand… The color is due to the presence of iron oxide particles in it. One piece of advice from me – take off your shoes and go barefoot up. The sand undermines the steps and climbing isn’t very easy, but it is great fun to run and jump on the steep surface. And the feeling of feeling the fine grains of sand slipping between your toes is indescribable… And the play of shadows between the sand and the sun creates exquisite shapes…
💡 It is popular for the dunes to ride a “sandboard” – like a snowboard in the desert. You jump on the board and go down the steep sandy slope.
The view to the Khor al Ajram valley
The climb to the top is rewarded with the most beautiful view in Wadi Rum! The central location of the rock reveals landscapes to the entire Khor al Ajram valley. This is the main crossroads in the desert. You’re just wondering where to look and trying to remember these beautiful views. And the sky decided to give us some interesting clouds that will further contribute to the drama of our surroundings…
This landmark can be easily missed, because there is no indication that a narrow canyon is hidden in the rocks. This place was once used by merchants and pilgrims passing through the desert to relax from the heat. Some of the best preserved petroglyphs in the territory of Wadi Rum have been found on its walls. Various inscriptions, prayers, drawings of animals can be seen, some of which are over 2000 years old. At the beginning the gap is very narrow, but inwards it widens a little. There are also huge spaces with water, which makes the passage very interesting and extreme.
Returning to the jeep, Yusuf tells us about the legend from which the name of the canyon derives. The thief Ali climbs one of the high rocks to the entrance, looks down and without thinking… jumps! His cloak spread behind him like a parachute and he lands unharmed. His persecutors take this as God’s action and let him live. Combining its name and “khaz”, which means jump, the name of this rock crevice is born… Khazali – Ali’s jump. To be even more original and influential for tourists, our Bedouin plays the whole story!
The little bridge – Raqabat al Wadak
Racing along the well-marked paths of the jeeps, we continue to go around huge mountains. They rise in the sand out of nowhere, as if to remind us how insignificant we really are… Our next stop isn’t so gigantic, but it is a favorite place for photos of all tourists. This rock arch rises only about 7 m above ground level and resembles a bridge.
Climbing to the top is very easy, but you have to wait your turn for a photo, because there are often crowds of people. For the seconds you have sitting in the center of the arch, you can take a look from above to the valley… It’s no coincidence that it is called “Raqabat al Wadak” by the locals, which means pleasant view. Particularly photogenic is the opposite rock, with the Bedouin camp nestled below it…
Time for lunch
It’s time to eat! We had lunch included and Yusuf stopped us in a calm and level place, and while we were enjoying the grazing camels, he threw a mat on the ground and invited us to sit down. He lit a fire and gave us the portions for lunch. After a while, the tea was ready. Honestly, I was expecting a slightly more authentic lunch than canned tuna, orange juice and packaged dessert. Obviously, commercialization and the huge tourist flow leave their mark… But the Bedouin tea is unique!
💡 Be sure to wear an outer garment and a head scarf. In the winter months, temperatures in the desert drop significantly, especially after the sun goes down. At times it’s even cold. Sunscreen is also desirable, as the wind in the jeep can cause subtle sunburn.
I have already mentioned to you that many of the places in Wadi Rum are connected with Lawrence of Arabia and this is another one of them. According to legend, this place was used by him to sleep during his stay in the desert. But its history dates back to the Nabataeans and is known among the Bedouins as the “little palace”. Anyone can interpret the remains of a former building as they see fit. I liked a certain shooting angle, in which I combined them with the reddish rock and they looked like an elephant’s head…
The more interesting part of the site is the rock climb above the house. Easy and fully accessible to tourists. Upstairs there are many towers of stones stacked on top of each other. This was once the method by which the Bedouins marked the safe roads in the mountains and served as a guide. Today it’s a popular means for tourists to leave their mark. And the view at the end of the rock is beautiful. The huge valley and the camels inhabiting it…
This rock phenomenon is completely natural! It has become another favorite place for photos and attracts the attention of tourists with its unique shape resembling a mushroom. At the bottom are soft sedimentary rocks, which are much more susceptible to erosion than the harder layers above. An interesting flat rock is located right next to it. The sun was already setting in the lowlands, coloring the surroundings in a bright yellowish color…
Abu Khashaba Canyon
The jeep stopped in front of another canyon, but this time Yusuf pointed to the entrance, smiled and told us that he would be waiting for us at the other end… The canyon is named after the mountain in which it is located. Its interior is almost entirely of sand, which has accumulated during sandstorms in the desert. It is around 4 meters wide and is a perfect place to escape the heat in summer. It is located near the border with the white desert and that is why the sand here isn‘t reddish. In addition to the beautiful rock formations, between the rocks is one of the few places in Wadi Rum where you can see slow-growing desert trees.
Um Frouth Rock Bridge
The 15 meter high bridge is extremely impressive! It can be reached after climbing a fairly smooth and slippery rock. For Bedouins, who have developed the perfect ability to climb for centuries, it is easy to climb to the top, but for the average tourist it can be a little complicated…
The end of our adventure was felt, but not before its culmination… The shady areas were increasing and the impending significant drop in temperatures was felt the moment the sun disappeared behind the huge rocks… The number of tourists decreased, but several jeeps and, of course, the grazing camels could still be seen.
Sunset – Al Ghuroub
Yusuf took us to a huge rock facing west and left us to find the best place to meet the sunset or as the Arabs call it – Al Ghuroub. We have to admit to him that we arrived at the right time. We climbed, adjusted and waited…
In the distance in the valley below us, a silhouette of a man was approaching, and for a moment I wondered if it was Matt Damon, but it turned out to be a Bedouin from the other jeeps, who had also brought his group to this rock… He had gathered some kindling kindles to light a fire and make tea…
The wait for the “golden hour” was not long! Just a few minutes and the sky began to acquire the desired yellowish shades… One of the best things about Wadi Rum is after a tiring day trip to the desert, sitting on the edge of a high place and admiring the breathtaking sunset… And the rocks in the valley are like a light show, changing their color every second… It’s amazing…
It was time to get to our tent… As I mentioned before, our choice was Rum Stars. A full day tour by jeep, lunch, overnight in a double bungalow, dinner and breakfast cost us 55 JD per person. Everything was arranged in advance, we exchanged a few emails and then we already communicated on WhatsApp. The day was great and they performed really well in the desert walk, but the conditions in the camp were a little below expectations. And I still didn’t have high expectations…
Tents are standard for most camps. They are made of goat hair and have only one window. There is no heating and it was really very cold. We slept with three blankets and a few pairs of clothes and we died of cold again! The sheets were certainly not changed by front visitors… There was expected to have hot water in the bathroom, but it began only for 10 seconds. Then I finished the shower with ice cold… The others didn’t even dare to take a bath. But I realized that in the last year they have invested in the renovation of the camp and now the conditions are better.
Dinner time – Zarb
It turned out that the dinner was prepared in the sand! This is a dish of meat and vegetables, which is cooked slowly in an underground pit – Zarb or the so-called Bedouin barbecue. All the guests gathered to watch him being taken out of the ground. It was delicious and ended quickly.
Around the fire and under the stars
We spent the rest of the evening around the fire in the middle of the common tent. We asked our hosts for a shisha, which was the best of our stay in Jordan! It was paid of course, but its amount was symbolic, something like about 5-6 JD.
Despite the huge influx of tourists and the commercialization of Bedouin camps, we realized that the hospitality of the locals has not changed over the years. Another unchanged feeling is that they belong to the desert. They feel that their real home isn’t a place with a roof and a bed and often fall asleep outside the tents…
We couldn’t miss a walk under the stars… Due to the lack of city lights, the stars illuminate the desert sky extremely brightly. The most beautiful night view I have ever seen!
Morning in the desert
While the shadow were still falling over the tents of the camp, the first rays of the sun were already shining on the opposite mountains. The desert was waking up! You can’t miss a morning walk in the captivating silence and fresh air. Wadi Rum is a magnetic place… at any time of the day!