A trip to Wadi Rum is not only one of the highlights of Jordan, it will likely be one of the most memorable desert trips you will ever take. It's an area of rich culture, outstanding landscape and home to the Bedouin: nomadic people who are always willing to share their culture, and of course a cup of tea with you. Hospitality is King here and we were invited for tea countless times, with no expectations for anything in return.
Tucked away at the southernmost point of Jordan, Wadi Rum is the last stop before the vast emptiness of Saudi Arabia and was a vital part of the caravan routes from Arabia to the Levant (Israel and the surrounding lands). It's hard not to be blown away once you step into the desert landscape.
The stunning Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum is one of those places you've probably seen in a film but didn't realise it. It was the star of Lawrence of Arabia and recently became the red planet in the Martian, and once you visit you'll understand why.
It may seem a dry and inhospitable place, but it definitely has allure. Alongside the multi-coloured sands (yes, Wadi Rum boasts white to deep red sand and all the colours inbetween) there are dunes the height of buildings and huge sandstone mountains that form deep and wide canyons.
So grab a Keffiyeh and wander into a place that not only feels a thousand miles away from civilisation but another planet entirely.
What to do in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum Tours or Self Guide?
Wadi Rum is a pretty big place and would be easy to get lost in. It is possible to do by yourself, but we'd recommend a very good 4 x 4 car, extensive experience in driving in the sand and ample supplies, as well as great map reading skills.
For mere mortals, like us, we would recommend hiring a guide. They can give insights into the land, take you to all kinds of amazing spots and make your whole experience a lot easier.
However, make sure you don't do what we did and took in all the positive reviews on Tripadvisor at face value. It pays to try and work out if the tours are actually what you are looking for, or if the tour guide is really nice and people wanted to leave a positive review.
We made that mistake with our tour, as the guide was totally lovely, really great company but we didn't have the experience we were hoping for. Whilst we still appreciated the beauty of Wadi Rum the tour was not for us.
Do your research
We booked on a hiking trip. However, their version of hiking and ours were completely different. We expected to be on hiking trails or visiting places only accessible on foot. What we actually got was being dropped in a spot to walk on the jeep tracks while our car followed behind us.
Neither relaxing, nor at all what we had anticipated. Research extensively and be very clear on what you want to do. It's where a guidebook outlining all the sites in Wadi Rum can help you massively. Do you want to pull up at the main sites for a 5 minute photo stop or do you want to get to the more off the beaten track places?
We did let our guide know early on that it wasn't what we were expecting and he was very nice about it. Unfortunately hiking on the designated hiking trails was going to cost us a lot more money, and the trip had already been expensive.
We enjoyed the company of our guide but felt we missed out on exploring the way we had been intending. If you like hiking check whether it will be on hiking trails or similar to our experience. Ditto if you want to see sites such as the huge rock bridge, Burdah, this is quite far from other sites and therefore not possible on our trip. If we had asked in advance we could have chosen another trip rather than missing out.
The other thing we would recommend is during the spring/summer months to ask for your trip to start early, maybe from 6am ish then siesta from 11 - 3.30 and head out again in the late afternoon. The early hours are really pleasant, but touring in the heat of the day is intense. The heat is relentless and most guides will take you to sleep in a cave during this time (which is great and so unbelievably cool!). We started our tour at 10am and missed this gorgeous time in the early morning light on our first day which was a shame.
If you are super relaxed about your itinerary then it's totally fine to let your guide organise everything, but if you're interested in certain things you will need to let them know clearly in advance.
Related to the point above, Wadi Rum has some interesting places to hike. With incredible canyons, rock bridges, mountains and huge sand dunes. Make sure you research the places you want to hike to and tell your guide. Otherwise you could be doing "hiking" like we did. Lonely Planet has a list of trails.
One thing we'd love to do in the future is the Petra to Wadi Rum Hike (or if we're really ambitious, doing the hike from Dana to Wadi Rum via Petra). The thought of hiking between these two wonders of the world sounds amazing! Various guides we met in Jordan said they could organise this, so ask around if you are interested. The trips are around two to three days each, depending on your speed. Goes without saying it's worth researching reviews for your guides for these trips as they sound completely amazing but are very much out in the wilderness.
The best way to get around Wadi Rum and see as much as possible is by jeep. It is not the romantic way and sadly there's a lot of them, but it means you can really get deep into the desert without having to take a week to do so.
Once you're out of Wadi Rum Village and the surrounding area, you feel like you have got out into the wilderness. We went hours without seeing anyone whilst exploring siqs, canyons and sand dunes.
Tip: We'd also recommend asking what kind of vehicle you will be riding in. We loved ours because you could sit in the back of the jeep with uninterrupted views. Some of the jeeps we saw didn't have this option so if you want to feel the wind in your hair, check to make sure!
Catch a sunset
After a long day in the desert, there's nothing better than finding a great perch to watch the sun go down. At this time, Wadi Rum really puts on a show.
Firstly find a rock to climb up and face west. Then watch as the sun slowly sinks behind the distant mountains and turn the sky shades of gold through the desert haze.
However, the highlight is seeing the landscape change colour. At sunset, Wadi Rum turns a deep red, and you see why the location scouts picked this for the movie The Martian. It's unlike any colour we've seen anywhere else other than Uluru, Australia.
Tip: Not all tours include this option, in fact most we spoke to didn't. This is where specifically asking in advance worked for us and we got to enjoy a beautiful desert sunset. Some but not all camps have sunset views (ours didn't so we drove to this spot).
Stay in a Bedouin Camp
This was another slight let down from our tour as the camp we stayed in wasn't really a Bedouin Camp. We stayed in a bedouin style tent, but that's pretty much where it ended.
If you get the right place, you can stay in an authentic Bedouin camp where they cook Zarb in the ground (the traditional style) and drink Bedouin tea round the fire. Staying with the Bedouins in Wadi Rum is meant to be a really beautiful experience and gives a small glimpse into this unique lifestyle.
We're not complaining about our set up as such, our tent was great, and the shared facilities were clean and there was even a shower. The food was pretty good too, again it just wasn't what we had imagined. We now know to ask way more questions, and I hope this might help you make the very best of your time in Wadi Rum.
The camps' main attraction - Star gazing
Wadi Rum has some incredible star gazing, so get as far away from Wadi Rum Village as you can to avoid the light pollution. As soon as the sun goes down you begin to see some stars appear, and by full darkness the sky is full of them.
I've seen clear skies like these in the really rural parts of Australia, but never in the Northern Hemisphere before. Wadi Rum is a chance to see the night sky as it should be.
Tip: We read some reviews where people had been disappointed that their camp was so close to town and they had road noise and light pollution. Assuming you want a bit more of a wilderness experience, ask in advance where your camp is located.
Don't miss sunrise
Ok, no one likes getting up in the middle of the night for sunrise, especially if you've just done sunset and star gazing. But putting in one last push will be worth it.
We headed to the Little Rock Bridge which faces towards mountains in the East. It was an amazing vantage point to take in the rock bridge with no one else around, at the coolest time of day and when the light was stunning.
Tip: Again some camps have a sunrise view, ours didn't and we paid extra to be taken to this viewpoint.
Tips for a trip to Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum Village
Don't make the other mistake we did and stay in Wadi Rum Village for a night. It isn't worth it and the standard of accommodation isn't great. You might as well head to a camp as even if you do nothing else that day, it will be better than anything in the village. Trust us.
Wadi Rum Weather
Wadi Rum's weather is extreme like all deserts. In the winter it's cold in the day and even colder at night; in the summer it's baking hot in the day and pretty warm at night. Whilst it is dry most of the year, you can still get rain from October to April. This can lead to flash floods in the canyons.
We visited towards the end of May and whilst it was hot in the middle of the day, it was perfect in the early morning and late afternoon. Just plan your trip around the best times of day to be out and about.
Getting to Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum is in the far south of Jordan and is best accessed by your own car. It is only 1 hour from Aqaba, 1.5 hours from Petra and about 4 hours from Amman.
The roads in Jordan are normally pretty good, but some of the highways can be pretty bumpy. Give yourself more time for stops and the fact that you rarely get above 70 kmph on any of the roads.
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Are you planning a trip to Jordan? Would you go deep into the desert with the Bedouins? Let us know in the comments below.