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 Jan 2019.
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 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.
Most visitors park their vehicle at the Wadi Rum Rest House located in Wadi Rum Village and have their hosts collect them there. Your camp will be able to arrange transport and tours for you as the Protected Area is too large to visit comprehensively by foot.
Inside the Protected Area there are only an endless number of desert tracks to guide your way, these trails are ever changing due to winds. There are sections with soft sand and both soft sand driving experience and 4x4 is required.
There are several natural and historic sites located in Wadi Rum, particularly inside the Protected Area.
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.
Local handcraft - there is a women's cooperative that operates in Wadi Rum Village. It does not have official opening hours but your hosts should be able to coordinate for you. They sell genuine handmade traditional items, but they are not cheap.
Various vendors selling Shemagh - traditional Bedouin headdress
Eat and Drink
There are several overnight options for sleeping in Wadi Rum and surrounding areas. Options generally range from authentic bedouin camps, wild camping outdoors to luxury tents.
Many camps will provide traditional Bedouin meals. One speciality known as the zarb is chicken or goat cooked under the desert sand. 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!
Bedouin tea is traditionally served in every tent you will visit. It's sweet black tea and commonly flavoured with mint or sage. It's surprisingly refreshing on a hot day, and you may develop a slight addiction to it.
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' off the beaten path and away from the camps. Guides often use caves in beautiful, the less visited areas of Wadi Rum.
Tourism is an important industry for Jordan and the tourist police have authority in locations such as Wadi Rum. There is a checkpoint on the access road for Wadi Rum and you can report any issues within the compound here.
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.
Local Bus There is a 06:30AM bus to Aqaba that costs JOD10 however seating priority is given to locals. If there is more than two guests it works out cheaper to take a taxi which is JOD25.
Going on to Petra, there is a minibus that leaves the village between around 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.
JETTBus Jettbus operates to the Wadi Rum visitor centre. A Bus departs at 10:00 to Petra and costs JOD18 A Bus departs at 18:00 to Aqaba and costs JOD12
Taxi 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.
A Taxi to Petra should cost JOD45