The last light of day already fades while we’re slowly walking back to the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center. The sand looks even more reddish than during the day. It almost glows. And the low autumn sun accentuates the ever-changing sand ripples and casts its last orange rays on the very top of the rock formation bearing the poetic name “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.
The all-embracing silence is overwhelming and suggests, that the concept of sound was erased entirely. The intensity of the landscape’s monochromatic color scheme, composed of red, orange, brown and yellow, contrasts perfectly with the deep blue sky. The air is clear and still warm but one can already feel that temperatures will drop significantly, as soon as the sun disappears behind one of the massive sandstone formations.
Wadi Rum is a place that initially fascinated me. And we just took a short 30 minute walk from the visitors centre to have a closer look at the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Wadi Rum – a short introduction
Wadi Rum, which is also known as the Valley of the Moon, and literally translates as “Roman Valley”, is Jordan’s largest wadi. Due to its close proximity to the city of Aqaba and Jordan’s main tourist draw, the rock city of Petra, Wadi Rum sees an ever-increasing number of foreign tourists visiting for a few hours. And don’t get me wrong, if you are short on time, than it’s definitely better to make it at least to the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Centre for a pit stop and a short walk, than skipping Wadi Rum entirely.
But if you are in the lucky position to be able to spend more time in Jordan, and you’ve got a thing for nature and beautiful unique landscapes, then spending a few nights in one of the desert camps in Wadi Rum is an absolute must. I traveled through the whole of Jordan. I’ve seen Petra, the Desert Castles, the Dead Sea and most of Jordan’s must-see-highlights. But Wadi Rum is, without any doubts, my personal Nr.1 place to see in Jordan.
And since Wadi Rum overwhelmed me with its natural beauty, I’d like to share some tips concerning accommodation, food, jeep-tours and desert-camps, in the hope, that it helps you to plan your trip and make a visit to Wadi Rum a priority during your Jordan trip.
Wadi Rum – Exploring the Valley of the Moon
A guide to Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert
1. How to get to Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum is located in the east of Jordan and only a short detour from the Kings Highway which is running all the way from Aqaba in the very south to Amman in the north. Coming from Aqaba, there’s a clearly marked turnoff after around 40 km. Another 20 km and you reach the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center.
There’s at least one daily mini bus going from Aqaba to Wadi Rum Village during low season (Summer and winter) and two to three connections daily during high season (spring and autumn).
You can also take a regular bus going from Aqaba to Amman and ask the driver to let you off at the junction. From here it shouldn’t be a problem to hitch a ride to the Visitor Center.
One bus leaves Wadi Rum daily between 8am and 9am for Wadi Musa (Petra). Talk to your host or guide, they’ll have the up to date information.
2. Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center – How to find a guide and choose a camp
There’s some souvenir shops, a place to buy some snacks, toilets as well as the Visitor’s Information Center where you can buy your national park ticket (5 JD per Person). We somehow expected, that the people working at the visitor center could provide some information like which camp to choose, which trail to walk, which guide to take. Well, this wasn’t exactly the case.
Instead, we negotiated with an older man, a Bedouin, who approached us right in front of the ticket booth. It turned out to be Ahmed Ogla al Zalabeyh, a Bedouin, Lonely Planet refers to as “The Steward of the Desert”. Ahmed is in charge of conducting tourist business towards the different camps and guides. He offered jeep tours, camel and horse-treks, as well as accommodation in one of the desert camps. After some haggling we agreed on a price for two nights in a tent (20 JD per person / night including breakfast and dinner) in Wadi Rum Discovery Camp and arranged a jeep tour for the next day.
The camps don’t differ much and since all camps are run by the same bedouin tribe and there’s not really a competition the market. So don’t worry too much about which camp to choose and go with the flow. They all offer kind of the same quality.
Of course you can also arrange a guide as well as accommodation in a desert camp online in advance. Booking.com and Tripadvisor.com are listing a lot of possibilities. Obviously this takes away the possibility to negotiate a better price.
Wadi Rum Jeep Tours
The prices for the jeep tours vary, depending on length and route. There’s a sign right next to the ticket booth stating all the prices. If you’re traveling on a budget, it might be wise to form a larger group with other people since you pay per car and not per person.
Here you can see the different jeep tours and destinations offered by the two official operators. It seemed like there’s not much room for haggling. Make sure to keep your entrance ticket while visiting Wadi Rum and keep in mind that prices are per vehicle / camel and not per person.
Wadi Rum Camel Treks
Here is a price list of the destinations you can visit riding on the back of a camel. Be aware, that riding a camel might sound like fun, but it actually is way less comfortable than riding a horse. So you might wanna start with a short tour to give it a try before torturing your backside for 6 hours straight.
3. Wadi Rum Village
After you purchased your ticket and (maybe) booked a night or two (i’d highly recommend to stay two nights) in one of the desert camps, you can proceed to Wadi Rum Village, which is another 8km down the road. This is a great place to stock up on some supplies, like snacks and drinks, for the time out in the desert. Surprisingly, prices in Wadi Rum Village aren’t too steep. Be aware that you won’t be able to buy any beer or alcohol here (better do that beforehand in Aqaba). There’s also ample parking space here.
All in all, Wadi Rum seems a little run down but I found it to be quite a cool and authentic place where you can spend an hour or two before heading into the desert.
If you plan on staying longer out in the desert and don’t want to bring supplies with you, then you can also ask your guide or host for a packed lunch (3 JD). Normally water is included in the price of a jeep tour.
4. Wadi Rum Desert
If you arranged a stay in a desert camp, a local bedouin guide will pick you up with a 4-WD and bring you into the desert. Most of the camps can be reached within 20 minutes from Wadi Rum Village. It might only be a short distance in kilometers, but it actually is like traveling back in time.
Most of the camps consist of 8 to 10 tents surrounding a larger community tent. The black and white striped, goat hair tents have wooden platforms as a base and stand on stilts. Don’t expect anything fancy though. There’s nothing more in it, than a bed. But honestly, that’s all you need. Obviously there’s no running water or heating in the tents whatsoever. But don’t let that put you off. If it’s chilly outside and you’re cold, then two or three additional thick blankets will do the trick.
The community tent is significantly bigger than your personal tent. It’s the place where breakfast and dinner are served and where most of the visitors, as well as the bedouin guides and hosts choose to spend the evening after a long day out in the desert.
The open fire-place is the very center and especially attractive during colder winter days. It’s the perfect place to sit back, relax, sip endless cups of tea with incredible amounts of sugar (or sugar with a drop of tea like the bedouin do) and smoke a shisha (traditional water pipe) while learning a bit about the traditions and history of zalabia bedouin culture.
As I already mentioned, most camps provide traditional bedouin meals. The price you pay for accommodation normally includes breakfast as well as dinner. And both is delicious. For breakfast there’s usually boiled eggs, bread, hummus, labnah (strained yoghurt), cheese, halva (sweet confections) and of course: sweet tea.
A Bedouin speciality you might get for dinner is “zarb”. Chicken or lamb, mixed with potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables cook for hours in an iron pot, which is buried in the desert sand. The meat is so tender, it falls off the bone. Don’t miss the moment when the pot is unearthed and opened. The smell is simply delicious.
6. Things to do in Wadi Rum
- Desert Jeep Tour
The main attraction of Wadi Rum is the desert itself. You can explore the immediate surrounding of the desert camps on foot, but as soon as you wanna venture deeper into the desert, a jeep tour is the best way to do so.
Jeep tours normally include some or all of the following sites:
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom:
- An impressive rock formation only a few hundred meters from the visitor center. You can circumvent it in 2 to 3 hours.
- Red Sand Dunes (Umm Ishrin):
- There are various places in Wadi Rum where red sand dunes can be seen. Just ask your guide to stop at one of the dunes. It’s not easy to climb those dunes, but it’s great fun to run and jump down again.
- Lawrence’s Spring
- Only 2 kilometers from Wadi Rum Village, this spring can be reached after a short scramble up a mountain. Don’t expect too much from the spring itself since it’s rather small. But the views from up here are worth the effort.
- Khaz’ali Canyon (Siq al-Khazali):
- A very narrow canyon containing numerous rock carvings dating back to the Nabateans, some 2000 years ago.
- Rock Bridges:
- There are three rock bridges in Wadi Rum with Burdah rock bridge being the highest. This rock bridge can be reached within a 1-2 hour hike via a Bedouin path. It is a very rewarding hike but you should be reasonably fit to do it.
- The second largest bridge is Um Fruth. One of the most visited and photographed places in Wadi Rum. Climbing up the 15 meters is a bit tricky but shouldn’t be a problem if you take your time.
- The last bridge doesn’t have a name. It’s only a short walk from Discovery Camp and makes for some great photos, especially during sunrise.
No one should leave Wadi Rum without gazing at the incredible spectacle called the night-sky, that unfolds almost every night over the vast desert. As you can imagine, Wadi Rum doesn’t really suffer from light pollution and due to low traffic volume (camels are a pretty clean mean of transportation) the air is pretty clear. That means the conditions for star-gazing are perfect, especially during new moon.
I hope this travel guide made you a little curious and helps you to better plan your trip to the desert of Wadi Rum.
If you have any questions do not hesitate to ask. Did you visit Jordan and Wadi Rum or do you plan to do so?
I’d really like to know what you would recommend and hear about your desert experiences. Just drop me a comment below. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
And if you like what you see, feel free to connect on Instagram for more photos from Jordan, Wadi Rum and around the world.
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