I have to be honest. I am not a desert person. I’m more of a mountain, beach or someplace-where-things-grow person. My bad attitude stems from a US cross country road trip and a stop to admire the desert in Arizona. Everyone talked about the beauty of the sand, the colors in the rocks and the starkness of the landscape. I was extremely underwhelmed (sorry Arizona..I wanted to love it, I really did) and I mentally ticked off all deserts as being not-for-me.
Wadi Rum was an entirely different desert experience and my time there qualifies as one of my most memorable travel experiences. The scenery was spectacular, our experiences were exceptional and the Bedouin hospitality unmatched. My only disappointment was that I only spent a day and a half in a place that deserved much more of my time. I guess I’ll just have to go back.
Wadi Rum (Valley of the Moon) is a World Heritage Site located in southern Jordan. Made famous by the epic film, Lawrence of Arabia, the desert is now a protected area encompassing 720 sq kilometers of dramatic granite cliffs, sweeping desert sand and hidden canyons. All expeditions into the desert are guided and travelers interested in jeep tours, camel or horse trekking, climbing, hiking, walking or camping must make a reservation (more information below). As much as I wanted to camel trek through the desert, our time was limited and a jeep tour was the most efficient way to see the highlights of Wadi Rum.
We started our day in the desert with Mohammed, one of the local Bedouin Huwaitat tribal members and jeep tour guide extraordinaire. We met Mohammed at the visitor center and piled into our covered (thankfully!) 4 x 4 and drove off in the direction of the desert. He explained what we were going to see that day and peppered our conversations with anecdotes about the Bedouin, his family and life in Wadi Rum. Just before we drove through the visitor center gates, Mohammed said “Hold on!”, pulled a hard left and tore into the desert. He took great joy in testing the capacity of his vehicle and my sense of adventure by driving up and over the top of the dunes as fast as possible. It was exhilarating and the views were spectacular at every turn.
Mohammed promised to show us all of the locations featured in the Lawrence of Arabia films as well as locations significant to Bedouin lifestyle and history.
He knew we were obsessed with camels, and stopped periodically to visit with the locals and let us chase the camels around with our cameras.
Some of our most magical moments in Wadi Rum were the quiet ones…sitting in absolute serenity on the high dunes, watching the camels or the occasional jeep go by.
Lest you think we were just sitting about and letting Mohammed do all the work, we did a little scrambling up the rock cliffs. In the photo above Rachel and I are discussing which one of us will climb up to rocks to the bridge overhead for the photo.
I lost (or won, depending on how you look at it). Mohammed thought this was hilarious. I’m not pathetic. I am barefoot, in a skirt and it’s a looonnnggg way down to the desert floor. So there.
We ended our day with Mohammed making tea in the shade of the red sandstone cliffs as we lay about, sipping the delicious tea and soaking in the beautiful sand dunes, mountains and vistas of Wadi Rum.
Things to Know
Desert excursions can be booked at the Wadi Rum Visitor Center. If you find bargaining and negotiating stressful, you should consider booking ahead online through any number of reputable and local agencies. I personally recommend booking ahead using Jordan Jubilee ‘s suggestions or UTA booking service. . The local Bedouin have embraced the concept of TripAdvisor for ratings and direct contact information. Do your research before booking.
The tour vehicles used in Wadi Rum are purpose built vehicles. They are old, but reliable and easily repaired with whatever is on hand. Some are fully enclosed, some are pickup trucks with benches in the back. Make sure you know what you are getting.
Bring your own water, snacks and other necessities with you into Wadi Rum. There are one or two small shops on the outskirts of the desert and none within the boundaries. Be prepared.
Dress appropriately. Temperature is dependent on time of day and season. The summer is oppressively hot (over 34C) and winter is cold. Daytime and nighttime temperatures vary as well. Best to check here before you go.
Stay longer. We had just enough time for our jeep safari and an amazing night under the stars during our one night stay.
We stayed at the Milky Way Ecolodge, situated within the Wadi Rum protected area. Owned and managed locally, the camp offers visitors a comfortable and ecologically sensitive way to enjoy all the desert has to offer. The raised tents sleep 1 to 6 people in comfortable (real!) beds, complete with bedding, duvets, pillows and linens. The camp also provides full (and solar-powered) bathroom facilities…showers, toilets, sinks and running water. Meals are served communally in the gathering tent where guests can sit, drink tea and socialize with other “campers” after dinner. You can read my review here and/or here.