Last Updated on 03/16/21 by quiltripping
I had not heard of Wadi Rum until I started doing research about what to see and do in Jordan. As it turns out, I had already seen its landscape since this UNESCO protected area has been used as a filming location in many recent blockbuster movies including “Martian”, the “Star Wars” movies and Disney’s “Aladdin”.
Wadi Rum is located in Jordan’s southeast corner and is about a 40 minute drive from the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba and a 2 hour drive from Jordan’s most famous historic site, Petra. This protected, unique desert area is about 280 square miles which is roughly the size of New York city.
A wadi is the Arabic word for a dry valley, in particular one that is prone to flash flooding. Despite its current desert conditions, Wadi Rum, or Valley of the Moon as it is also called locally, has been inhabitant for over 12,000 years.
Generations of civilizations and cultures have left their mark on the stones here in the form of petroglyphs, inscriptions and other rock art. It is this rich graphic history that has made this area a protected UNESCO site. Some of the first inhabitants here in the 4th century BCE were the Nabateans, more famously known for their settlement at Petra.
To the West, this part of the Arab world became well known through the writings of T. E. Lawrence who recounted his activities during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in his 1926 book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. The 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia” transported his story and this scenery to the big screen when parts of the movie were filmed on location in Jordan.
For us, an overnight stay in Wadi Rum on the way to Petra from Aqaba was a logical stop. The local Bedouin tribe offers a variety of camp accommodations and programs in the desert, and after some research, I chose the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp.
We made arrangements with the same driver that took us to the hotel in Aqaba to pick us up and drive us to our meeting point in Wadi Rum Village. Our driver picked us up a little earlier and drove us around Aqaba to show us some of the sights. With great pride, he described all the new growth and development that the king was leading in his city, a city that he was clearly very proud of.
On the way to the valley, we stopped at the historic Wadi Rum Train Station to see a refurbished steam engine and train cars from the 1916 war. Disrupting these rail lines in the region had been strategically important in the Arab Revolt and here we now saw one of the restored trains from that time period.
Exploring Wadi Rum
Our driver dropped us off at the Wadi Room Rest House where we met up with our local Bedouin guide/driver. When I made our reservations for the night, I also included a camel ride and a 4×4 tour of the desert valley.
Two friendly young locals brought us our camels and helped us to get astride. I have ridden a horse once or twice before, but this was my first time on a camel. Getting on top of a camel was a completely different experience than getting on a horse.
The camel laid down and then I climbed astride its back, almost doing a full split as I tried to get my leg over its hump. My husband with his long legs had a much easier time of it. Holding on as the camel got up was the “fun” part.
To get up, the camel first raised its back legs and since a camel’s legs are quite long, there is a big height differential between the fully extended back legs and the still kneeling front legs. As it did this, I was propelled forward and it felt like I was going to summersault over its head. Too late I realized I needed to lean backward, because by that point, the front legs were coming up and now I should have been leaning forward. Fortunately, it all happened quickly and the young lads helped me, so eventually the camel got up and surprisingly, I was still sitting on it.
For the next 45 minutes or so, our guides led us and the camels through the desert landscape. I can’t say that riding a camel was comfortable, but eventually, I was able to relax a bit and let my body go with the (camel’s) flow so to speak.
We bounced along and left Wadi Rum village behind us and I got my first views of this incredible desert environment. We were riding through a wide swath of fine, rust colored sand with huge, rugged, soaring rock formations rising straight up out of the sand on either side of us. We passed a few other tourists on camels or an occasional truck rolling in the distance, but overall, our camel trek was solitary and peaceful and we could just focus on experiencing the scenery.
As we ambled on, a single small tree appeared on the horizon ahead of us. Just when I though that my backside couldn’t take any more of sitting on a camel’s hump, we reached the tree and our first sightseeing stop: Lawrence’s spring. We had only traveled a little over a mile, but I and my behind were happy to get off the camel and stretch my legs.
My husband chose to do the climb up to the spring while I decided to just hang out and take photos of the beautiful scenery at ground level. The water from the spring was being collected into cisterns and long troughs to make it easier for the locals and the camels to access. I made friends with the resting camels and with some of the local urchins who were happy to ham it up for my camera.
On the hike up to the spring my husband saw some of the many rock inscriptions that are the hallmark of Wadi Rum. (How old does graffiti have to be before it is considered historic?). He said the climb up to the spring was well worth the effort as the view from the spring across the desert was breathtaking.
Our camel ride was done, so we climbed into the back of a pick up truck with our guide and drove – or rather, bounced – to our next stop: a great, big sand dune to climb up and play in. Climbing the shifting sands to the top of the dune was a challenge, but the views from the top were gorgeous.
Our driver/guide took us to a few other sights around the reserve so we could appreciate the diverse geography and geology. There seems to be a list of basic locations that the guides take everyone to though we did not run into too many other people at each stop.
The best part for me though was just seeing the unique scenery unfold. The drive was extremely bumpy, and at times sitting on the back of the truck felt like I was on a bucking bronco as our driver handled going over the loose sandy terrain. But driving all around Wadi Rum for the afternoon allowed us to cover a lot more ground and see much more of the scenery than if we had just gone straight to our accommodations.
We capped off the 4×4 tour with a final stop to see the sun set from the top of one of the sandstone formations – a truly memorable experience.
Staying at a Wadi Rum Luxury Camp
We enjoyed the rest of our evening at the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp. What makes these accommodations unique is that you can choose to stay either in a traditional luxury Bedouin style tent, or you can stay in clear bubble rooms that allow you to see the stars as you fall asleep.
For our stay, I opted for the Bedouin tent since I wanted a more traditional experience. (We ended up having an overcast night so we would not have seen a starry sky through the bubble in any case.) Our room was beautifully decorated and looked like something you might imagine in a 1001 Arabian Nights story.
The bubble rooms include en-suite bathrooms with showers. For the tents, there was a nearby bath and shower building which was modern, clean and quite well appointed. Our tent included bathrobes, toiletries and sitting areas both inside and outside the tent.
The cost for the night included dinner and breakfast the next morning in a large dining tent, also appointed with traditional Arabic décor. Meals were served buffet style and included lots of Jordanian dishes that included many salads, meat options, sweets and soft drinks.
The next morning, we had some free time to explore the camp and take a short hike in the surrounding area. Since it was overcast, I did not get the sunrise I was hoping for, but that did not make the scenery any less spectacular.
Our guide then took us through the scenic valley back to the village where we met our Jordanian driver again and headed on to our next destination – two days in Petra.
Tips for visiting Wadi Rum
- Spend the night in Wadi Rum if you can rather than just doing a day tour.
- Only the local Bedouins are allowed to drive in the Wadi Rum protected area so you will need to book some type of tour to see it.
- If you’ve never ridden a camel, this is a good spot to try it. You’ll have the chance to enjoy the scenery at a slower pace.
- The 4×4 jeep drive across the desert was extremely bumpy. This could be hard or painful to someone with back problems.
- Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, plenty of water and a hat.
- Jordan is not expensive. Our luxury king tent with meals, camel ride and 4×4 tour for 2 cost about the same as a single night in a moderately priced hotel in New York city.
- Tipping our driver/guide and the camp staff was extra.
- If our schedule would have allowed it, I think I would have liked to spend two nights in Wadi Rum with a second full day to continue exploring and do some hiking.
I am glad we decided to explore and stay the night in Wadi Rum. This desert landscape was indeed unique and our Wadi Rum glamping at a luxury camp truly was the magical desert experience I had hoped for. It was one of many memorable experiences on our independent Israel and Jordan 10 day trip.
Thanks for visiting.