Wadi Rum is a spectacularly scenic desert valley (wadi in Arabic - more specifically, a wadi is a dry river bed) 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.
Wadi Rum seen from the Desert Highway
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:
- 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).
- 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 disagreement on-line), 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 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 JOD25 from Aqaba city and 30 JD from South Beach and Tala Bay, and will take you to the Visitor's Centre or Rum village 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 JOD50. Taxi drivers usually suggest to take you there at 13:00 and take back after sunset. Taxis from the Israeli border to Wadi Rum cost 35-40 JD.
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.
Currently, there is one bus per day from Wadi Musa (Petra) to Wadi Rum which leaves Wadi Musa around 06:30. The price of the bus ticket is 8-10 JD (depending on how much passengers are on the bus). The trip takes around 2 to 2.5 hours. Tickets should be booked through your hotel in Petra. The bus driver then collects you from your hotel directly or the Wadi Musa bus station in case you stay outside Wadi Musa itself. The bus stops at the Visitor's Centre and the bus stop next to the Rest House in Rum Village. Note that the driver also drops off guests at the office of various tour operators in Rum village. The bus returns to Wadi Musa around 9:00. You can catch the bus from the bus stop at the Rest House, or you can be picked up from your tour operators office. Ask your Wadi Rum tour operator for the options.
Taxis to and from Petra cost JOD40. The journey is most of the time on a higher altitude road and is pretty much interesting. Temperatures may be slightly lower than the plains and you could see the original bedouins camping in the mountains. The drive takes about 2 hours. Your driver can drop you off at the Wadi Rum visitor centre or the office of your tour operator in Rum village (same price!). Check up front with your tour operator where your meeting point is. Or ask him to arrange the transfer for you. Most tour operators arrange taxi transfers without charging you an extra fee.
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. Get on a bus at the Southern bus station (Mojamaa Janoobi station/Wehdat Station coordinates) for 6 JOD. This is a local bus, and the bus driver waits until he thinks the bus is full enough, also smoking is still allowed. It stops wherever you want to get off and takes 4-5h to the intersection with a stop of approx. 20 min at a small shop/restaurant. 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 JOD25-35 per person.
Alternatively, you can take the Jett bus from Amman to Aqaba. A ticket costs 8-10 JD and the drive takes about 4 hours. From Aqaba, you can take a taxi to Wadi Rum (25 JD).
From the Wadi Araba border (Eilat/Aqaba)
There is no bus station at the border. Therefore you have to rely on the taxis available at the taxi booth just outside the official border. There is a sign mentioning the current transfer prices. Note that you still will have to negotiate the final price with the driver. A taxi from the border to Aqaba currently costs 10-12 JD. And a taxi from the border to Wadi Rum around 35 JD. Do you not want the hastle of negotiating a price and lossing precious time? Then let your Wadi Rum tour operator arrange the transfer for you. He will send a driver to the border to pick you up. Extra benefit is that this driver will take you to an ATM in Aqaba to get Jordanian money (no ATM's in Wadi Rum) without a surcharge. And you know you will be with an reliable driver. The current price for this transfer is 35 JD.
- 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 2km (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.
- Shalalah Spring: Near the Nabatean Temple above. Not so impressive as Lawrence's Spring but can be seen at the same time as the Nabatean Temple in a walk from the village.
- 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.
- Jebel Burdah (Big Rock Bridge/Arch): 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. Climbing takes 4-7 hours (depending on your experience), therefore it takes a whole day tour.
- Jebel Umm Fruth (Middle Rock Bridge/Arch): A lower rock bridge which is featured on many tours and can be easily scrambled onto. The climbing takes 5-15 minutes (depending on your experience).
- Red Sand Dunes (Umm Ishrin): 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. Usually, the spot is used for sand-boarding.
- 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!
- Khaz'ali Canyon (Siq al-Khazali): 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, pick-up truck or on a 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 130 JD per person. 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
Food being prepared at a Bedouin camp
- At the entrance to the park, a small tent-restaurant serves simple Jordanian fare of bread, yoghurt 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 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:
- Alzalabieh's Wadi Rum Magic Bedouin Life- Majed Camp, ☎ +962 776198976 ([email protected]), . The clean and comfortable camp is located inside the Wadi Rum protected area affording fantastic views. A night's stay (20 JD) includes a fantastic homemade dinner and breakfast from the full onsite kitchen. A 4 hour jeep tour stopping at keys sites including lunch for 2 to 4 people is 80 JD, for more than four people contact Majed directly. edit
- Bedouin Advisor Camp, ☎ +962 795 996 166, . Traditional Bedouin style camp site in a beautiful spot overlooking Jebel Khazali, this camp is run by brothers who speak English well. Dinner may, if you're lucky, include delicious lamb cooked in a zerb (oven buried in the ground). Transport to the camp is free. edit
- Bedouin Directions, ☎ +962 776 886 481 ([email protected]), . A small, authentic, Bedouin Camp located in a unique hide-away canyon, in the South of the protected area. Ideally situated for those hiking the newly established Jordan Trail. From 15JDJD p.p per night with dinner & breakfast included. ("29°27'53.5"N","35°22'37.5"E") edit
- Bedouin Experience Camp, ☎ +962 779962169 ([email protected]), . It offers accommodation, food and a real bedouin experience. The dinner and the breakfast is included in the price. edit
- Bedouin Meditation Camp, ☎ +962 776 108 771 ([email protected]), . One of the official camps in Wadi Rum. Has clean rooms and many tours available. Owned and run by Bedouin from the Al-Zalabieh tribe. Location is in the protected area. JOD30 Jeep Tour with overnight and dinner and breakfast. edit
- Bedouin Team Camp, ☎ +962 772 226 419, . Inside the Wadi Rum protected area with all facilities, Bedouin fresh food, shower, toilets. edit
- Bedouin Way Camp, ☎ +962 777 540 229 ([email protected]), . A camp located within the Wadi Rum Protected Area offering a traditional Bedouin experience. Provides professional guided jeep, camel & hiking tours. Stay includes breakfast and dinner, lunch is provided while on tour. edit
- Fox Camp Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 0795902127 ([email protected]), . Great price at 20 JOD, includes transportation from Wadi Rum village to the camp in the protected area, accommodation in a Bedouin tent, traditional dinner, breakfast, drinks (water & tea). If you want a memorable trip to the desert, this is the place. Jeep tours, camel rides, climbing, and treks are also available. edit
- Guides Of Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 7 7222 6419 ([email protected]), . The campsite is located inside the Wadi Rum protected area, 18km from the Wadi Rum Visitor Center. edit
- Jordan Tracks Camp, ☎ +962 796 482 801, . In the South of the protected area in a beautiful and unique location, ideally located for hiking. edit
- Rumshines, ☎ (00962) 777 540 229 ([email protected]), . A true Bedouin experience in the marvelous desert of the Wadi Rum Protected Area and an unforgettable night under the stars. Several different tours are offered including Hiking, Climbing, Walking, Camel and Jeep. edit
- Rum Stars Camp, ☎ +962 795 127 025, . 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. edit
- Sunset Camp, ☎ +962 777 314688 or +926 799 892446 ([email protected]), . You can customize your itinerary with the activities you want to do and stay in the camp deep in the desert at night in between. 15% discount for students and 10% if you bring a printed copy of your reservation or a copy of his brochure. edit
- Wadi Rum Base Camp, ☎ +962 795467190 ([email protected]@), . Wadi Rum Base Camp is the camp of Wadi Rum Nomads. This authentic, cosy and comfortable camp offers room for 30 guests and is located in the protected area close to Khazali Canyon. It is the perfect place to rest, relax and enjoy the desert vibe. Besides the Bedouin version or a yurt for sleeping the camp and the option to sleep outdoors near the camp, it has a modern bathroom building, a cosy communal tent and an outside sitting area with firepit. edit
- Wadi Rum Lawrence Camp, ☎ +962 7 7600 5902 ([email protected]), . It is a small Bedouin camp with authentic atmosphere, fresh food and bathroom facilities. edit
- Wadi Rum Jordan Camp, ☎ +962 7 7869 2355 ([email protected]), . It offers accommodation, food and organizes tours in the Wadi Rum desert. edit
- Wadi Rum Private Tours, ☎ +962 779318561 ([email protected]), . It offers accommodation, food and organizes a lot of tours in the Wadi Rum desert. The transport to the camp is free edit
- Wadi Rum Team Camp, ☎ +962 776 044 031, . Camp sites 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 edit
- Wadi Rum Travel Camp, ☎ +962 777 477 051, . Inside the Wadi Rum protected area with all facilities, Bedouin fresh food, shower, toilets. edit
Sleeping under the stars
In Wadi Rum desert you have the unique opportunity to stay overnight outside under the stars. Also known as bivouac camping. Bedouin camps often offer to sleep outside your tent or have a nearby cave. But there also are companies that offer to sleep under the stars in a 'cave' away from the camps. They often use caves in the less visited areas of Wadi Rum.
Here's a list in alphabetical order:
- Bedouin Magic Cave, ☎ +962 776198976 ([email protected]). Amazing camping under the stars as the real Bedouin people do. Dinner and breakfast included and cooked for you. 25JD for each person. edit
- Wadi Rum Nomads, ☎ +962 795467190 ([email protected]), . Staying overnight in their 'cave' located on the edge of the wilderness zone is a memorable experience for anyone. The 'cave' has a wall, built in the Bedouin traditional style, to protect you from the wind. Further, there are no facilities. All needed, will be brought along. At night, the guide prepares you a Bedouin meal cooked over the fire or the famous Zarb; food prepared in an underground oven. Wadi Rum Nomads provides sleeping equipment for their guests. edit
- Alblwi Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 7 7913 1803, . Alblwi Camp offers authentic accommodation in traditionally decorated tents. Each is equipped with mattresses and colourful blankets. Bathroom facilities are shared.Guests can wake up to the picturesque sunrise over the desert and have a cup of traditional tea. In the evening Staff can help organise climbing and hiking edit
- Hasan Zawaideh Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 7 7732 2352, . Hasan Zawaideh Camp in Wadi Rum offers private and shared Bedouin-style tents and an excellent location to explore the Jordanian Desert. Hasan Zawaideh’s staff organise jeep and camel trips to admire the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. They offer a special tour which follows the route of Lawrence of Arabia invading Aqaba. edit
- Bedouin Expedition Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 77 931 2344, . Bedouin Expedition Camp is located in the protected area of Wadi Rum desert, 12 km from Rum Village. The camp is between the Red Desert and White Desert. Bedouin Expedition offers guests a traditional Bedouin experience.All tents are equipped with mattresses, blankets and pillows. edit
- Wadi Rum Dream Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 7 7205 5467, . Wadi Rum Dream Camp is located inside the protected area of Wadi Rum. It offers traditional Bedouin experience and hospitality. Free WiFi is available throughout the camp.The tents are are furnished with beds, mattresses, blankets, pillows, linen and towels with shared or private bathrooms.The camp serves breakfast edit
- Wadi Rum Lovers Camp, Wadi Rum, . Wadi Rum Lovers Camp is located in the protected area of Wadi Rum, 70 km from Gulf of Aqaba and 120 km south of Petra. Buffet meals are cooked on the spot by a Bedouin cook.The tents can accommodate from 1 person to 10 people. The tents include a mosquito net, sofa, and sofa bed. All accommodations have a bathroom. edit
- Bait Ali, Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 7 9554 8133, . Bait Ali offers Bedouin tents and chalets, some with a private bathroom. The shared bathroom facilities feature modern showers and toilets. The large, modern kitchen of Bait Ali serves local Arabic dishes. The camp also has terraced areas with a traditional Zerb oven. Guests can admire Wadi Rum's rock formations and edit
- Real Bedouin Camp, Wadi Rum, ☎ +962 7 7913 1803, . Real Bedouin Camp is nestled beneath a rock face in the Panoramic sunset area. It offers Bedouin tents with beds and shared bathrooms.Real Bedouin Camp serves traditional Jordanian Bedouin cooking and Bedouin sweet tea or coffee. Guests can also relax by the camp fire in the evening.A shuttle from the Wadi Rum Visitor edit
When in Wadi Rum, be especially careful. Recently there has 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, the fare is JOD 8-10. 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 1 hr and 25JD. Take JETT bus for 8-10 JD to any of the bus stations in Amman. Takes around 4 hrs.