Wadi Rum is a spectacularly scenic desert valley (wadi in Arabic) in southern Jordan.
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 into Wadi Rum Protected Area is 5 Jordanian dinars (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 or 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 very 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 40km out of Aqaba. The Wadi Rum Visitor's Centre is about 20-30km down the road from this turnoff, 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. There is a Wadi Rum/Petra station where a local minibus leaves daily at 13:00 and costs JOD3 (Sep 2014). Note that even though JETT buses travel right by the Wadi Rum turnoff, 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:
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 07:00-15:00, but another company (Afana) operates them until 22:00, 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 (although JOD25 is the price almost universally quote to tourists, and you may be hard-pressed to get most of them down even to 20), 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 the Visitor's Centre for 3-4h and take back. It will cost JOD40. Taxi drivers usually suggest to take you there at 13:00 and take back after sunset. Taxis from the Israeli border will probably cost JOD20-25.
If driving a rental car, finding your way is quite easy. The turnings are well marked and the roads are good all the way to the Visitor Centre and Rum village.
There is currently one bus per day from Wadi Musa (Petra) that leaves at 06:30 and costs JOD7. The trip generally takes 2 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 08:00 or 09:00). Don't leave your luggage unattended. My friend's photo camera was stolen, and for sure not by another tourist.
Taxis to and from Petra cost JOD25-35. The journey is most of the time on a higher altitude road and is pretty much interesting. Temperature may be slightly lower than the plains and you could see the original bedouins camping on the mountains. Takes 2 to 2.5 hours. Request your taxi guy to take to WAdi Rum visitors centre and he should help you in connecting to the camp where you've made your booking.
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.
The genuine attraction of Wadi Rum is the desert itself, best seen by four wheel drive, pick-up truck 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. Four wheel drives are less bumpy than the open-air pick-up trucks, but the latter have advantages when it comes to taking photos.
The quality 4-wheel-drive tour depends on a Bedouin driver who serves as a guide, but often does 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.
You can usually make advance bookings through your hotel, and this may be advisable given that some guides will not have good English. Many of the guides have websites, through which you can arrange your tour. Regardless, you should always make sure that you and your guide have a clear agreement on price and the itinerary and stops that are covered in the tour.
An overflight of the region in a balloon costs c. JOD150 (can reduce to JOD140 if contracted by the camp where you stay). The balloon sets off at 06:00, so you must be in place by 05:30-05:45. The flight takes about 30min to 2 hours, depending on the weather or the number of flight participants. Can be cancelled if bad weather occurs.
Eat and Drink
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 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 sage. It's surprisingly refreshing on a hot day and you may develop a slight addiction to it. Here's a list of just a few in alphabetical order:
Sleeping under the stars
In Wadi Rum desert you have the unique opportunity to stay overnight under the stars. Also known as bivouac camping. Bedouin camps often offer to sleep outside your tent or have a nearby cave. But there are also specialized companies that only offer sleeping under the stars. They often use caves in the less visited areas of Wadi Rum.
Here's a list in alphabetical order:
When in Wadi Rum, be especially careful. Recently there have been an increasing number of cases where foreign girls and women were scammed by the local Bedouins. Through charm, sweet words and beautiful lies they try to take all your money. Scamming is growing very rapidly in this region.
Going on to Petra, there is a minibus that leaves the village between 08:00 and 09:00, fare is JOD7. Ask someone at your camp or hotel to help make sure you catch the bus, as they all seem to be in contact. (Sep 2014)
To reach Amman back, one option would be to take a taxi to Aqaba which may take around 2 hr and 25JD. Take JETT bus for 7 JD to any of the bus stations in Amman. Takes around 5 hrs.