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What is so special about Wadi Rum?

by | Asia, Destinations | 13 comments

Wadi Rum, a Martian landscape on planet Earth, has become very popular in recent years. It is up there with Petra as one of the must-see places in Jordan. But just what is so special about Wadi Rum? Does it warrant all the hype? In short, is it worth visiting Wadi Rum?

The short answer is yes, without a doubt! Visiting Wadi Rum is a unique and very special experience. The memories of exploring this fabulous landscape and staying overnight in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum will stay with us forever.

View over desert with rocks whilst visiting Wadi Rum

What is Wadi Rum?

Basically, Wadi Rum is a desert! It is, however, not just any desert. Wadi Rum is a protected area and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Wadi Rum also has a long and notable history. There is evidence of settlements dating back to prehistoric times and Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence, made his base in Wadi Rum in the Arab revolt of 1917-1918. Today, the traditional Bedouin way of life is preserved by its current inhabitants.

Where is Wadi Rum?

Wadi Rum is located in the far south of Jordan close to the western edge of the Arabian Desert. It is approximately a four hour drive from Amman and a couple of hours from Petra, one of the world’s most famous and most beautiful archaeological sites.

Why is Wadi Rum special?

First and foremost, it is the landscape which makes Wadi Rum such a memorable place to visit. It really is fabulous.  Also known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is a desert landscape stretching into the horizon, the red, sandy terrain punctuated by fantastic rock formations, craggy mountains and narrow canyons.

Red, sandy desert with rocky mountains on a Wadi Rum visit

Camel in distance in desert

This other-worldly landscape is exactly how I imagine Mars to be. The vast panorama of red sand and the towering crags emerging from this wilderness speak of a Martian scene. I am not the only one. Wadi Rum has provided the setting and backdrop for numerous Hollywood films, not least The Martian in 2015.  Lawrence of Arabia was also filmed here in 1962 and more recently, it has also been the setting for films such as Red Planet (2000), Aladdin (2019) and Dune (2020) – not to mention a couple of Star Wars Movies.

View over desert on Wadi Rum visit

Desert Landscape with rocks and mountains

It is not just the landscape, however, which makes Wadi Rum special. I shall cover other aspects of the Wadi Rum experience below. However, the outstanding beauty of this place cannot be overestimated.

View over Wadi Rum with red sand vista

Our visit to Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum was part of a longer trip to Jordan, in which we visited many of the major sites in this wonderful country. Visiting Wadi Rum was one of the absolute highlights of the trip and we spent two days in there, camping overnight in a Bedouin Camp. We rode camels, explored in 4WD jeeps, hiked through the desert and scrambled up rocky terrain to see the sights.

The Visitor Centre

Our visit to Wadi Rum started at the Visitor Centre.  Tickets for entrance to the protected area must be purchased here, although entrance is also included on the Jordan Pass. 4WD vehicles must also be registered here. The centre itself is a great viewpoint for the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the first major rock formation in Wadi Rum and named after T. E. Lawrence’s book. From the visitor centre, we travelled into the protected area.

Rocks rising from desert as first site on visiting Wadi Rum

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Camel Riding in Wadi Rum

Riding a camel was our first activity when visiting Wadi Rum. The camels were waiting for us as we entered the protected area.

Camels sitting on red sand with Bedouin tribes men close by

We rode the camels for about an hour through the desert, led by some of the local Bedouin people. It was a very much a tourist experience – but I loved it! In fact, our whole group agreed it was great fun. There really was something quite special about bobbing along over the desert sand on one of these magnificent creatures.

Group riding camels in desert on Wadi Rum visit

The camels took us to rendezvous with our 4WD vehicles for the next stage of our trek through Wadi Rum.

Four-wheel drive jeeps to explore Wadi Rum

For the remainder of our time in Wadi Rum, we were in these vehicles. They were a bit battered to say the least and the bonnet of one was tied together with rope! But they went and only got stuck once, briefly, and we loved riding in the open air through the desert. There are no roads as such in Wadi Rum, but we stayed largely in the tracks of previous journeys. The wind removes evidence of these tracks fairly frequently, but the Bedouin drivers know the Wadi Rum terrain so well, it matters not.

Battered looking Toyota pick up with people in back on a visit to Wadi Rum

4WD truck driving through Wadi Rum desert with people waving in back

Climbing the dunes

We drove through the desert in these jeeps and it was a great way to explore the Wadi Rum landscape. During this first day, we got out and hiked several times, climbing the rocks and the dunes for better vantage points or to explore notable landmarks. We were advised to remove shoes and climb the dunes in bare feet. It was good fun, but hard work. The view from the top of the dunes was definitely worth the climb.

Jane running down sand dune in Wadi Rum in bare feet

Umm Fruth Bridge

Umm Fruth Bridge was the first natural rock bridge we came to in Wadi Rum. It is quite remarkable. The climb up was easy and we had the place to ourselves for quite a while.

Umm Fruth Bridge on Wadi Rum visit

We walked out on to the bridge, because…..well, why not!

Two figures on top of the Umm Fruth Bridge

The Petroglyphs in the Al Khazaali Canyon

Our trek through the desert also took us to a narrow canyon, the Al Khazaali Canyon.  There we saw evidence of ancient inhabitants of Wadi Rum in the form of petroglyphs. The Petroglyphs, dating back to 10,000 BC and providing evidence of human occupation, are one of the reasons why Wadi Rum was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The canyon is easily accessible and we went all the way along to the end, inspecting the petroglyphs as we went.

Petroglyphs in Wadi Rum

Petroglyph in Wadi Rum showing woman giving birth

Staying in a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum

We were booked to stay the night in a traditional Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum. This was a great experience, but not quite what we were expecting. We saw several of these small Bedouin camps in Wadi Rum as we drove and some seemed quite luxurious.

We were pleased that our camp was a long way out into the desert and quite isolated. It was fairly basic in comparison with some of the camps, but was perfectly adequate and rather more so than we had anticipated. The tents were like small chalets erected in the desert.

Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum

There were a couple of beds in each tent, some doubles and some singles, and each tent had electricity.

Inside a Bedouin camp Wadi Rum

There was a shower and toilet block close by. It was all very civilised with running water and flushing toilets. Luxury! There was a large dining tent and a social tent with a stove in the middle.

Inside a Bedouin tent with a stove in the middle

The food served in the Wadi Rum camp was a traditionally cooked “zarb” of meat and vegetables. It had been buried in the sand all day, cooking away, and we all gathered to watch as it was pulled from the earth ready for our dinner.

Taking the food from the ground in the Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum

There was lots of food and it was delicious.

Staying in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum was a very special experience and one I would not have wanted to miss. It was a highlight of our trip in Jordan. Our Bedouin hosts were very friendly and the way the camp was set up made it all very easy.

Watching the Sunset in Wadi Rum

We climbed up the rocks immediately behind the Bedouin camp to watch the sunset. It was beautiful, but if I am being honest, perhaps not the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. Just the look of the draw, I think, as I am sure that the desert sunset here is fantastic on the right day.

The sun setting over the mountains in Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum at night though is very special. The stars shine brightly in this wilderness, free from light pollution. Stargazing in Wadi Rum is a very memorable experience and not to be missed.

A couple of our party rose early to see the sun rise. Peter did. I stayed in bed!

I should note that whilst staying in the Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum it was really quite cold once the sun went down at night and again first thing in the morning. There were blankets in the tents, but several of us slept in our clothes.

Scrambling up to the Burdah Rock Bridge

Our second day in Wadi Rum was scrambling day!

The Burdah Rock Bridge is a famous landmark in Wadi Rum, but getting there is not for the faint-hearted.

When we left the Bedouin camp in the morning in the trucks, we headed out to the trail head to the Burdah Bridge. There we met with our Bedouin guide. We had been advised to wear strong shoes for the climb, but our guide was in backless sandals! At one point, for the main scramble with ropes, he even ditched these flimsy affairs.

Our guide was very sure-footed, however, and set a good pace for this trek. Some parts of the climb were quite tricky, but manageable for anyone with reasonable dexterity. It took about an hour and a half to reach the final climb up to the bridge. This part involved ropes. The view of the bridge at this point was wonderful.

View of the Burdah Bridge when visiting Wadi Rum

Our guide went on ahead to set up the ropes and then one by one, with this reassurance, we scaled the last section.

Jane climbing over rocks with ropes towards the Burdah Bridge in Wadi Rum

We had been warned that if there was even the slightest hint of wind, we would not be allowed on to the bridge. One gust would end in disaster. Unfortunately, it was quite breezy at the top so we had to make do with the flat area just to the side of the actual bridge. The climb was well worth it though as the view from the top was spectacular.

Group of people on top of the Burdah Bridge

Our group on the Burdah Bridge

One figure on top of the Burdah Bridge in Wadi Rum

 

View from the Burdah Bridge

The climb down from the Burdah Rock Bridge was only slightly easier than on the way up. We saw very few people on this hike in Wadi Rum, just one other group and one couple.

View over the desert on when visiting Wadi Rum

A picnic lunch with our Bedouin hosts

After the climb up to the Burdah bridge  we met with our Bedouin hosts again for another desert picnic. They provided delicious hot food out in the wilderness on both days.

This marked the end of our visit to Wadi Rum. We boarded our jeeps again and set off on a final drive through Wadi Rum. Driving through the desert in an open 4WD jeep is a magic experience. Loved it!

Concluding thoughts on visiting Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is a very special place. I can say that with no hesitation.

View over desert with red sand and rocky mountains

One can be blasé about it and say that it is all geared up for tourism now with camel rides, four wheel drive jeeps and prefabricated tents. It is – but it is also very beautiful and like no other place on earth. The landscape is spectacular. As long as this is protected, I have no problem with making it accessible to people so that they can experience and enjoy this unique place. Wadi Rum was a standout experience on our trip to Jordan and I would not have missed it for the world. Is it worth visiting Wadi Rum? Yes, absolutely! If you have the opportunity, do not pass it up.

Thinking of visiting Wadi Rum? A few tips

  1. Take layers! We were fortunate that it was not too hot in Wadi Rum when we were there in April. In fact, at night it was cold. When we climbed high to the Burdah bridge, it was also quite chilly.  A hat and sunscreen are also essential though.
  2. If hiking, take strong shoes with a good grip for scaling the rocks. I was grateful that I had good boots with me on the scrambling day. Flip flops were okay for our Bedouin guide, but he has completed this hike hundreds of times.
  3. If staying in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, take a sleeping bag liner. The tents were clean, but the norm seemed to be no top sheets and I cannot imagine the blankets are laundered after every stay.  I slept in my clothes! That would be the alternative. Take a headtorch too – handy for the toilets in the middle of the night.

Our trip

We booked our trip to Jordan, which included visiting Wadi Rum, with KE Adventure. It was a multi-activity trip, not just sight-seeing, and included hiking, biking, scrambling and canyoning, as well as visiting major sites in Jordan. I have been on several trips with KE Adventure now as they suit our style of travel and are always with like-minded people. They offer four trips to Jordan. We opted for The Ultimate Jordan Adventure.

 

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View over Wadi Rum red sand with rocky mountains in the background

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. This looks like a wonderful place to explore! It’s so pretty and I love that you can do so much there.

    Reply
  2. It is cool to learn that there are Petroglyphs in Wadi Rum. I live near Petroglyphs in my neighborhood from the native americans.

    Reply
  3. I’ve always been fascinated by Wadi Rum, and your post has provided me with such great insights into this beautiful place.

    Reply
  4. Wow! This looks like a really beautiful and interesting place that I need to add on my bucket list!

    Reply
  5. These images blow me away! It looks like you’re on another planet you’re right! Like Mars! I wanna go there and ride a camel. This place just looks unreal.

    Reply
  6. How amazing does this sound! I always say that I ‘don’t do tents’ but I might make an exception to experience Wadi Rum.

    Reply
    • These tents were very civilised. They even had electricity!

      Reply
  7. Wadi Rum looks like an adventure and a great experience. And, climbing those bridges sounds like an achievement.

    Reply
  8. We were very sorry we missed Wadi Rum when we visited Jordon. The landscape is indeed stunning. And very Mars-like. Your camel experience was sure better than what we got in the Dubai desert. We would definitely want to book to stay overnight. Certainly an experience still on our travel wish list.

    Reply
    • I know what you mean about the camel experience in Dubai. We thought we were going on a proper trek and it was more like a donkey ride on Blackpool beach! Completely different in Wadi Rum.

      Reply
  9. Wadi Rum does look like you’re on a different planet. Would love to explore here…so surreal!

    Reply
  10. My main thought here is: I wonder how hot that sand is on your feet? And those petroglyphs are fascinating to see!

    Reply
    • It was actually fine, not burny at all. We were really lucky with the weather.

      Reply

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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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