Since I watched the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, when I was little, Wadi Rum held a unique mystic. A visit to the famous Jordan Desert was high on my travel bucket list, so when I got a chance to travel to there, there was no stopping me. Follow me as I explored Wadi Rum, Images from the desert, with stunning landscape, and millennia-old Bedouin traditions.
Jordan Desert: Wadi Rum
Called also the Valley of Moon, or Sand Valley in Arabic, the famous desert features a vast valley, granite rocks, dunes. Rum means sand in Arabic, the light type of sand that flies away in the wind. And boy, did it fly away as we traveled through the red and yellow landscape. If you wonder “what is a Wadi,” it’s referring in Arabic to a valley or a ravine that is mostly dry except in the rainy season.
Wadi Rum is not just merely a valley. Jabal Umm ad Dami is the highest mountain in Jordan at over 6,040 ft (1,840 m), followed by Jabal Ram (Jebel Rum) at 5,689 ft (1,734 meters).
And we could admire some of the tall rock formations as soon as we arrived in Wadi Rum. We switched from our regular tour bus to one of the local Bedouin-run jeeps so we could explore deeper into the desert.
For the next couple of hours, our driver took us to different corners of the wadi. Open valley on our end, sharp rocks on the other, sand dunes with the occasional bush on each side.
Popular Wadi Rum spots include:
- Red Sand Dunes (Umm Ishrin): To see where the white and red sands meet
- Anfashieh Inscriptions: Camel caravan rock etching from the Nabatean and Thaumadic period.
- Jebel Burdah (Big Rock Bridge/Arch): Admire from afar, or test your fitness and embark on the 6-hour climb to the top
- Nabataean Temple: Thamudic and Kufic rock art.
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Impressive rock formation, even with actually only five pillars
- Khaz’ali Canyon (Siq al-Khazali): Famous for the rock carvings of people and animals from the Nabataean
The landscape is just stunning! The broad valley, the rock formations, the sand dunes, the colors, left me speechless. No wonder Wadi Rum is a UNESCO World Heritage site, joining the other Jordan’s UNESCO sites of Petra, Quseir Amra, and Um er Rassas.
I could not stop taking photos of Wadi Rum, as a way to make me realize I was genuinely admiring the iconic Jordan desert. But taking photos of a desert can be tricky, with the sand particles and the harsh lights.
While Wadi Rum is a popular destination, with several buses at the parking lot, the desert was by no mean busy. Once we joined our four-wheel drive to get deeper into the desert, we rarely saw any other car or people.
Our driver brought us to the base of a tall dune by the side of a cliff. The steep slopes and slippery sand made the hike somewhat challenging, but the view from the dune top was far-reaching and worth the effort.
A short camel ride was available as part of our tour, for those of us who were doing only a way too fast visit to Wadi Rum.
Our jeeps took us to a Bedouin tent where we sipped on hot and sweet Jordanian tea, as per the nomadic tradition. A welcome and refreshing drink even under the scorching temperatures of the desert.
Traditions & Bedouin Culture in Wadi Rum
As arid and desert as Wadi Rum might look, the ground has been inhabited since the Prehistory. From the Natabeans, their Nabataean Temple and rock paintings, petroglyphs depicting both humans and antelopes from the Thamudic times etched in etched into the cave walls of the Khaz’ali Canyon, to Bedouin nomads currently living in their tents made of goat hairs from their herds, the desert is full of life.
Today different tribes live in Wadi Rum, with the Zalabia and Zweideh, which operate many of the activities, are two of the most extensive tribes. Other sources of livelihood include agriculture and livestock. While some Bedouins still live in their nomadic lifestyle a few times a year, most of them now reside in villages.
Be ready to drink a copious amount of sweet mint tea! This is part of the Bedouin tradition in the desert. Mint tea is served all day long, as a welcome gesture once you step into the tent, while you eat, and when you sit by the fire to warm yourself and watch the stars at night.
Things to Do in Wadi Rum
Most travelers just spend a couple of hours in the desert, exploring on a 4WD or a camel ride on a day trip from Petra or Aqaba. However, Wadi Rum is an outdoor paradise for the more adventurous spirits. Rock-climbing, hiking, and trekking, multi-day camel safaris or horse safaris riding Arabian horses are among popular Wadi Rum tours and outdoor activities.
Jebel Burdah, also called Big Rock Bridge, is a favorite spot for climbing which takes about 7 hours.
How Long to Stay in Wadi Rum
We only got to stay a few hours in the desert, and if this is all you have, this is still worth it. And you will regret it if you don’t. But if you have the possibility of extending your stay for a full day, or even better to include a night, don’t hesitate. You need time to take in the scenery, and for the desert to sink in you.
I would love to go back and actually explore on a camel or a horse, and camp in Wadi Rum for several nights. We were lucky to spend three days in the Thar desert of Rajasthan on a camel safari, which allowed us to explore the area and learn about village life. A fantastic experience. So if you can, financially and time-wise, plan for 2 to 3 days in the Wadi Rum.
Movies Filmed in Wadi Rum
Lawrence of Arabia is probably the most famous movie connected to Wadi Rum, featuring the story of T. E. Lawrence during the Arab Revolt of 1917-1918. Altogether about 14 movies have been filmed in the famous location: The Face, Passion in the Desert, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Aladdin, and even Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Thanks to its incredible landscape, Wadi Rum is often used as background to represent Mars and its red desert: The Last Days on Mars, The Martian, and Red Planet.
Interested to walk and see where the Martian movie was filmed? Click here to find out how.
Wadi Rum Accommodation
A night in a Wadi Rum Bedouin camp or sleeping under the stars are top choice options, but luxury camping, eco-friendly resorts, and retreats are also available. Wadi Rum at night is a great way to explore Bedouin life.
Many tours offer a visit to Wadi Rum with a Bedouin camp experience. Click here to find out more.
Wadi Rum: How to Get there
If you wonder “Where is Wadi Rum?”, the desert is about 40 miles (60 km) east of Aqaba. Most people travel from Amman or Aqaba, and reach Wadi Rum on a short trip from the Desert Highway. A guided tour will take you to visit the desert, where you can hop on a 4WD for desert exploration. If you are traveling independently, bus connections from Amman, and Aqaba, or Wadi Rum to Petra, will get you to your destination.
Wadi Rum Weather
Like in most deserts, the temperatures are usually scorching in the day, and very cold in the night. And Wadi Rum weather follows the seasons like the rest of Jordan: the winter months are even more freezing, and the summer ones equally hotter. These fluctuations make Spring (March to June) and Fall (September to November) the best time to travel to Wadi Rum.
Jordan Desert Travel Tips
- Sunscreen and sunglasses against the intense sun
- Cap and scarf to protect against the flying sand and dust
- Good hiking shoes to walk on the sand and rocks
- Reusable water bottle to fill ahead of your day and for your ride
- Given the weather changes, be prepared for cold and hot temperatures
- If you spend the night, make sure to bring a sweatshirt and a windproof jacket as the temperatures tend to drop once the sun has set down. A beanie might come handy too. You will enjoy these when you are sitting by the campfire and watching for the stars. Or you can acquire a keffiyeh, Jordanian headscarf, once you are there
- Comfortable and tight clothes if you are planning on a camel or horse safari, to prevent from rubbing and chaffing. Long socks or chaps might be useful to protect your calves
- Headlamps will come handy for the night as many camps only have limited electricity
- Similarly, bring all your batteries for your camera as you might not be able to recharge at the camp
- Hand sanitizer or wipes to clean your hands and face. Water is a limited resource and is best kept for drinking
- Toilet papers – just because
- Desert Photography Tips: sand particles can damage your lenses quick. Even without any strong wind, the sand will be present around. Bring a cloth or a filter for protection
Want to read more about adventure travel in the desert? Check our posts about in Camel Trek in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India, and the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. For more posts on traditions, click here to read our posts about Crocodile Dance in the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, and staying with the Tibetan Festival in Garzê in Sichuan Province, China.
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