Not too far from Petra lies Wadi Rum, which is the largest wadi (valley) in all of Jordan – and said to be the most spectacular. Sandstone and granite boulders and rocks are met with seemingly endless dunes of the most red sand you can imagine, and the result is something so aesthetically pleasing, it is almost guaranteed to take your breath away; and if the views won’t do it, hiking up the steep dunes and hills certainly will!
Wadi Rum covers 720 square kilometres, so it is definitely not the kind of place you can just go and explore on a little Sunday stroll. The easiest and best way to explore this Wadi is to hop in the jeep of one of the local bedouin men who work for a camp or tour company. I stayed overnight at the Wadi Rum Sky Camp and spent a day exploring the wadi with a driver associated with this camp.
How to get there
The central point for your desert adventure is the Visitor Center of Wadi Rum, which is located about 60 km from Aqaba and 105 km from Petra and is connected to both cities by a well-developed highway. When you arrive in Wadi Rum, you first have to register at the Visitor Center and pay an entrance fee of 5 JOD per person. If you have the Jordan Pass, you don’t have to pay the entrance fee. If you haven’t yet booked a tour or overnight stay, they can also recommend tour operators. If you have arrived by rental car, you can pass the gate from the Wadi Rum Visitor Center and drive 8 km to the Wadi Rum Village, if you have arrived in a rental car. There are parking spaces at the Resthouse. Here you have to leave your car behind, because the transport to the desert is done by your tour provider or your camp by jeep.
There are also busses and taxis from either Amman, Aqaba or Petra. Since I had a rental car at hand, I didn’t look more into those options.
The above mentioned procedure works in theory and I’m sure there are times where it would work exactly like that. When I was visiting during Ramadan, the guard at the entrance was absent and I was able to drive through to Wadi Rum Village without registration nor having to show my Jordan Pass. It did result in some confusion on both sides, though:
«You need camp?» is still a running gag around our house. This question was asked by a Beduin at the Wadi Rum Village Resthouse, where I was supposed to meet our guide, which I had previously booked through Whatsapp messages. I was like «No, no. Thank you. We have already booked a camp.», and parked the car. Previously I had read about all sorts of shady scammers, lurking around that specific parking lot, waiting for that unprepared traveler to drag them off to those poorly rated low-end camps. Not me! I thought. I come prepared! Indeed, my booking consisted of written Whatsapp messages (on my side) and very vague voice messages with a thick Arabic accent (on his side) but nevertheless, I was positive that it would all work out. So we sat there in the parking lot for quite a while, waiting for our guide with «very good English», as we were told on those semi-comprehensible voice messages from the camp owner.
After the Beduin sat there too for quite a while, he yelled a name across the parking lot, which could vaguely be associated to my name. Turns out that this specific Beduin was indeed our designated driver/tour guide for the day and «very good English» is apparently a pretty loose concept.
Anyway, we followed his car to the camp ower’s house, where we set the route for the day, drank some tea and met his little toddler and wife. All in all a pleasant start, which just took a little while too long for Western standards. But we’re in Jordan and have time. We left our rental car and suitcases at the camp owner’s parking lot and only took an overnight bag. By around 11 a.m. we started our tour, which took us around all the well-known places like Lawrence’s spring, the Red Sand Dune, Burdah Rock Bridge, Burrah Canyon, Mushroom Rock…. We hiked, we sand boarded, we drank (a LOT of) tea with the Beduins and we climbed fascinating rock formations. It was a fantastic tour and I loved every second of the bumpy ride, the canyons and stone bridges!
Wadi Rum Sky Camp
We ended our tour at the «Wadi Rum Sky» camp, where we climbed yet another rock to see the sun set slowly over the desert mountains, and then headed back to the camp, where we met fellow camp mates. Dinner consisted of a delicious Beduin Barbeque called «Zarb». Zarb is chicken, potatoes and all kinds of vegetables slow-cooked on a barbecue rack underground and is served with fresh hummus, salads and flat bread.
We spent the night at one of the huts, which all were equipped with beds and wool blankets. If you wanted to, you could bring out your bed to sleep under the stars. Keep in mind that they don’t necessarily have the means to wash the covers in the desert, so I recommend bringig a thin sleeping bag or silken sleep cover. After we had breakfast the next morning, everyone heading back out got loaded into a Jeep and driven out of this glorious landscape.
Where to stay in Wadi Rum
There are supposedly over 300 different camps in the desert. Which camp is right for you depends on how much you want to spend per night and how much comfort you need. There are very simple, spartan camps with simple tents and shared sanitary facilities, but of course there are also a few luxurious camps with glazed domed roofs. Most camps can be easily booked through booking portals or e-mail/whatsapp.
We chose Wadi Rum Sky because of its secluded spot in the desert and because it has excellent reviews. The contact was always very fast (yet sometimes not easy to understand) and all staff were super helpful and friendly. Once we got over that initial misunderstanding and our ears got used to the accent, we didn’t have any problems with our guide/driver.