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 (JD) per person as of May 2012.
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 (1 or 2JD, 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 5JD 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 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. 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 Center 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 (3-4JD) 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 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 2-3JD.
A private taxi from Aqaba will cost you 15-25JD depending on where you are in the city (though 25 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 3-4hours 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 20-25 JD.
There is currently one bus per day from Wadi Musa (Petra) that leaves at 6:30AM and costs 5JD. 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 25-30JD.
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 12JD. 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 15-25 JD per person.
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 guide, 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
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/or sage. It's surprisingly refreshing on a hot day and you may develop a slight addiction to it...