Wadi Rum is a spectacularly scenic desert valley (wadi in Arabic) in southern Jordan. It is also known as "Valley of the Moon".
This area of Jordan is quite isolated and largely inhospitable to settled life. The only permanent inhabitants are several thousand Bedouin nomads and villagers. There is no real infrastructure, leaving the area quite unspoilt. Apart from the Bedouin goat hair tents, the only structures are a few concrete shops and houses and the fort headquarters of the Desert Patrol Corps.
T E Lawrence (of Arabia) spent a significant amount of time here during the course of the British-inspired Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War (1914-1918). Fans of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia will be familiar with the landscape, which is not so much sand dunes as it is a mass of soaring cliffs and sandstone and granite mountains (jebel in Arabic).
Wadi Rum is a short detour from the Desert Highway between Amman and Aqaba. A side road leads to the entrance where you will find the Wadi Rum Visitors Centre, a police office and a lot of potential guides offering camel and 4x4 treks. The cost to enter the Wadi Rum Protected Area is JOD5 per person as of Feb 2014.
Most buses that travel the highway between Aqaba and Petra should be able to drop you at the intersection to Wadi Rum (Not the buses from Jett company). Once at the intersection, you can hitch hike (common in this part of Jordan, no problem for women alone even) or take another minibus (JOD1-2, they seem to turn up quite regularly) to the Visitor's Centre where you can meet your guide. This final leg of the trip shouldn't cost more than JOD5 per person.
If you plan to get there by bus, it is incredibly useful to have this image in your head: there is a highway which runs from Aqaba all the way to Amman. There is a well-marked turnoff (let's call this the Wadi Rum Turnoff) on this highway to Wadi Rum, about 40 km out of Aqaba. The Wadi Rum Visitor's Centre is about 20-30 km down the road from this turn off, and the Wadi Rum Village is just beyond it.
Buses depart from various places in Aqaba. The JETT and Trust buses depart from their own stations, but basically all the other buses (including the mentioned minibuses) depart from the main Aqaba bus station. Note that even though JETT buses travel right by the Wadi Rum turn off, they are not allowed to stop and let you off - this means that if you want to get to Wadi Rum by bus, the bus station is the place to be.
There is usually at least one direct bus from Aqaba to the Wadi Rum Visitor's Centre and the Wadi Rum Village per day. Be careful though if you plan to go to Wadi Rum on a Friday - it is very possible that these buses are not running (you should ideally go to the Bus Station and ask the drivers the day before). These buses: 1) leave 2-3 times per day during the high season (Spring and Autumn). The last regular bus leaves at 13:00 (or possibly 15:00, according to this and this, but don't count on it). 2) leave once per day during the low season (summer and winter). There is a daily minibus from Wadi Rum Village to Aqaba that leaves at 06:30 (or 07:30 - as of 2011 there is some disagreement), and this returns to Wadi Rum when it is full or the driver feels like it. The minibus journey should cost around JOD3 per person.
You can also get to Wadi Rum by catching any bus/minibus (JOD3-4) from the Aqaba bus station headed to Amman, Ma'an, or Petra and get off at the Wadi Rum Turnoff mentioned above. These run to Amman every hour from 7am-3pm, but another company (Afana) operates them until 10pm, perhaps at a slightly higher cost, however. You should then be able to hitch a ride quite easily down the 20-30km road to the Visitor's Centre or the Village for JOD2-3.
A private taxi from Aqaba will cost you JOD15-25 depending on where you are in the city (though JOD25 is the price almost universally quote to tourists, and you may be hard-pressed to get most of them down even to JOD20), and will take you to the Visitor's Centre where your guide will meet you if you have arranged one, or where you may find a guide. If you decide to make round trip you can arrange with taxi driver to wait for you at Visitor's Centre for 3-4 hours and take back. It will cost 40JD. Taxi drivers usually suggest to take you there at 1pm and take back after sunset. Taxis from the Israeli border will probably cost JOD20-25.
There is currently one bus per day from Wadi Musa (Petra) that leaves at 06:30 and costs JOD5. The trip generally takes 1.5 hours and tickets should be booked through your hotel at Petra, it will then collect you from your hotel directly in the morning. The bus stops at the Visitor's Centre and Rum Village and returns to Wadi Musa for visitors travelling on to Petra (departure at 8 or 9am).
Taxis to and from Petra cost JOD25-30.
Again you also have the option of taking any bus heading to Aqaba and asking to be dropped at the Wadi Rum Intersection (see above).
No bus goes directly to/from Amman, but regular buses head towards Aqaba or Ma'an. Again, you can get off at the Wadi Rum Intersection (see above). Expect to pay not more than JOD12. Service taxis will also stop here for you and are generally quicker than the buses, although be aware that this is not a private taxi, so it will pick up other passengers and make detours as the other passengers require. Service taxis should cost JOD15-25 per person.
Private vehicles are prohibited past of the village of Wadi Rum. If you want to experience the grandeur that the Wadi has to offer, you will need to hire a guided camel or 4-wheel-drive tour. The costs may vary based on the guide, the length of the trip, and your willingness and ability to bargain. You'd get the best price by contacting the local Bedouin directly. The usual price is JOD50-75 per jeep for 3-5hour tour or JOD20 per camel/hour (November 2011).
A tour including a taxi ride from Petra, 4 hours in Wadi Rum, not including the JOD5/person entrance fee, and a taxi ride to the Israeli border cost JOD130 (April 2011). Not cheap. Avoid the scammers in Petra who try to take you for a tour in the desert north to Wadi Rum for JOD80. Ask specifically which sites they visit and whether it's in the reserve or not (there are no such things as "Rum 1" and "Rum 2").
- Lawrence's house: Nobody is certain that this was Lawrence's house, although there are stories that he both stayed and/or stored weapons here. The current structure is built upon the remains of a Nabataean building, however, and it's another beautiful spot in the desert. The house itself is bunch of rubble, though, and not very impressive.
- Lawrence's Spring: Just 2 km (1.2 miles) south-west of the village of Rum. The spring is at the top of a short scramble - head for the fig tree! Although the pool itself is largely unprepossessing, being a stagnant puddle, the views across the desert are truly spectacular.
- The Nabataean Temple: Near the Rest House in Rum Village. The surrounding area is covered in Thamudic and Kufic rock art.
- The Anfashieh Inscriptions: Not far from the red Sand Dune area this mountain has depictions of a camel caravan from the Nabatean and Thaumadic period.
- Burdah Rock Bridge: On many tours you only view this from a distance, but it is possible to climb up to this rock bridge if you have a guide and a reasonable level of fitness.
- Umm Fruth Rock Bridge: A lower rock bridge which is featured on many tours and can be easily scrambled onto.
- Red Sand Dunes: There are various places in Wadi Rum where the white and red sands meet, but the most commonly visited is a dune sloping up alongside a jebel - a bit tough to climb up, great fun to run down! It can be difficult ascending those - use small steps.
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Although most people can only count five, this is an impressive rock formation near the Visitor's centre. It is named after T E Lawrence's book - not the other way around!
- Jebel Khaz'ali: This narrow canyon contains numerous Nabataean rock carvings of people and animals. Beautiful.
The genuine attraction of Wadi Rum is the desert itself, best seen by four wheel drive or on camel. Some visitors only spend a few hours in the Wadi, but it's definitely worth taking a guided trip of several days duration, staying overnight in Bedouin camps in the desert.
The quality 4-wheel-drive tour depends on Bedouin driver who serves as a quide, but often do not have much knowledge and poor English. Therefore picking up a guide at the gate is a hit and miss affair and many of the best guides rely mainly on advance bookings. Many of the guides have websites, through which you can arrange your tour.
Climbing is another popular activity and a number of guides are also trained climbers.
The Distant Heat Festival is held every summer on the last Thursday of July which features trance and electronica music.
Eat & Drink
- At the entrance to the park, a small tent-restaurant serves simple Jordanian fare of bread, yogurt and such. There has been one report of food poisoning here, however.
- When you arrive at the Village there are a couple of shops where you can buy water and other soft drinks. Note that almost all the fruit juices are actually labelled as "fruit drinks", with sugar as the main ingredient. You might be able to find some pure fruit juice, such as Tropicana, if you look closely.
- Many camps will provide traditional Bedouin meals. One speciality is chicken or goat cooked under the desert sand, generically known as "zarb" in the same way as we might say "a roast". This has a barbecue flavour, but is very moist and falls off of the bone: try to be nearby when they unearth it as the smell released is gorgeous!
- You won't be able to avoid the Bedouin tea, which is almost forcibly served in every tent you will visit. It's hot, very sweet and usually flavoured with mint and/or sage. It's surprisingly refreshing on a hot day and you may develop a slight addiction to it...
The closest thing to a hotel in Wadi Rum is the Rest House in Rum village. It offers very basic accommodation - a mattress on the roof - as well as selling food and water. Rest House also offer its own litle camp. Sleeping in tent cost JOD3 per person, in your own tent - JOD2 per person. There are several camping options, from a more formal camp ground to riding out into the desert with a Bedouin guide and staying in a traditional Bedouin tent. Expect to pay JOD25-60 for accommodation, transportation and food, depending on the type of tour and number of people. Some camp grounds are:
- Bedouin Advisor, Wadi Rum, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Traditional Bedouin style campsite inside Wadi Rum protected area, and also offer different kind of activities in the desert such as Jeep tours, trekking & scrambling programs, camels trekking.
- Bedouin Directions, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Specializes in longer stays for hiking, scrambling, tailored programs in the wilderness area. The camp is in the South of the protected area in a beautiful and unique location, ideally located for hiking. Also offers bivouac camping. Jeep tours also available.
- Jordan Tracks Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ . High quality camp inside Wadi Rum protected area with all facilities, Bedouin fresh food, private tents, shower, toilets.'one million stars'
- Lawrence Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. It is a small Bedouin camp with authentic atmosphere, fresh food and bathroom facilities. 25 €.
- Mirage Camp, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mirage is not a roadside hotel. Located within the Wadi Rum Nature Preserve, no roads will take you there. The only access to Mirage Desert Camp is by four-wheel drive, around the sand dunes and through the wadis in sunset site.
- Nawaf Faqeer's Bedouin Desert Camp, ☎ . Bedouin Desert Camp. Campsites are offered both in big or small tents in Wadi Rum. Food is prepared on the fire, and dinner and breakfast are always included in the price. Mattresses and blankets will be provided and transportation is also included.
- Rumstars, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Camping in a real, permanent Bedouin Camp in the shade of a "humbling" cliff face, complete with proper toilets and a shower block. Perfect location for watching the sun rise just outside the camp itself, and a short walk across to the other side of the valley to watch the sun set from atop a mighty dune. They also offer jeep tours into the Wadi Rum Protected Area, Trekking and scrambling with local Bedouin guides, and Camel Trekking with real experienced Bedouin guides - ideal for a ride back to the village from the camp (2-3 hours by camel).
- Salman Zwaidh Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A small Bedouin camp located in the Protected Area of Wadi Rum with about 10 tents for 2-4 people. The camp is run by English speaking Bedouins who will offer you tea at all times a day, and cook food by the fire under the stars. Independently from accommodation, they can arrange on request hikes, jeep tours and camel rides in the desert too.
- Seven Pillars Camp and Tours, ☎ . One of the most fantastic camping sites with a sunset and sunrise points, a real Bedouin camp with all facilities, a wonderful canyon beside the camp.
- Suleman Abu Musalam and family, ☎ .
- The Sunset Camp. Their amenities include tents, running water, showers and restroom facilities. Breakfast and dinner are usually provided - check the camps' own websites for further details. While staying at the camps it is possible to take jeep, camel, or horse tours around the desert and you are often welcome to sleep under the stars.
Most of the "camps" in Wadi Rum listed on the Internet don’t actually exist. Their “owners” together with the help of their girlfriends, who write and speak good English, create a fake website and post a lot of self-promoting reviews in order to attract naive tourists. As a result, travellers find themselves in trouble and get scammed.
That is why, before going to Wadi Rum, insist the desert camps on sending you a scanned copy of their license, as 99.9% of them don’t have one.
Have this in mind before booking any tour, too, and never let anyone persuade you with boasts.
A scam in the area is that some taxi drivers in Aqaba or other places claim that they can arrange your tour to Wadi Rum. Actually they bring you to Shakariya village which is only a few kilometres away from Wadi Rum visitor centre. And the Bedouin there can also offer the 4WD that drive you around the area just north of Wadi Rum Natural Reserve. The taxi driver profits from the ticket fee that they claim to pay to Wadi Rum and price difference between 4WD in Wadi Rum. The scenery there is also very good, and the area also has something resembling the "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" and the rock bridge in Wadi Rum. But this is not Wadi Rum after all. Some tourists are not even aware that they actually have never been to Wadi Rum after the tour.
In Petra, some try to take you for a tour in the desert north to Wadi Rum for 80JD. Ask specifically which sites they visit and whether it's in the reserve or not (there are no such things as "Rum 1" and "Rum 2").
As with many places, be cautious with anyone who seems interested in romantic entanglements, as incidents of foreign women being charmed by locals and then discovering that the "romance" was merely a cover to obtain sex, money, or other services are not uncommon and increasing.
Just as for getting in, the route out of Wadi Rum involves joining the Desert Highway that runs between Amman and Aqaba. Petra is two hours north, and Aqaba is an hour south, and these are the most common destinations to travel on to after leaving Wadi Rum.
There are public minibuses that run every day, mostly in the morning, or you can get a taxi onwards.
There is a daily minibus from Wadi Rum Village to Aqaba that leaves at 06:30, arriving about 07:30, costing JOD3.
A private taxi to Aqaba will cost you JOD15-25 depending on where you are heading in the city. Taxis to the Israeli border will probably cost JOD20-25.
There is also a daily minibus from the Wadi Rum Visitors Centre to Wadi Musa (Petra) that departs at 08:30, takes around 2 hours, and costs JOD5 per person.
Taxis to and from Petra cost roughly JOD30-35.
No bus goes directly to/from Amman, so your best bet is to head to either Aqaba or Petra and get a bus to Amman from there.