It’s silent. Peaceful and still. The only colours to be seen are the blue of the clear sky and the red of the endless sands and monolothic stone towers. There are no buildings, no people, no sign at all that outside this ancient valley civilisation still rages on. I lean back against the smooth sandstone wall and breathe in the wonder of this place. Pure tranquility.
There are precious few places in this world that you feel a deep, spiritual connection to. It’s unique for everyone. For me, in over 35 countries, I’ve only felt it twice. The first time was during a thunderstorm in a small cabin in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest. The second, and most powerful, was here in Wadi Rum, Jordan. T. E Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) summed it up best when he simply described this place as “vast, echoing and God-Like”.
Landscape of Wadi-Rum
Wadi Rum (or “Valley of the Moon”) is a spectacular desert ecosystem, roughly the size of an uninhabited New York City, in the far south of Jordan. Sculpted hundreds of millions of years ago when the Red Sea covered the now dry sands, the abundant presence of iron oxide gives the stones and sand its iconic ochre-red colouring. The landscape is so other-worldly that it has literally been the set for many interplanetary Sci-Fi movies, including Star Wars, Prometheus and The Martian.
Our journey to Wadi Rum began in Petra, where an unfortunate initial choice of accommodation and an incredibly fortunate choice of travelling companions found four of us crammed into a small taxi heading for the two-hour journey to the Wadi Rum visitor centre. We paid 30JD ($60 AUD) for the trip, which is a fair price, particularly given the need to haggle over taxi fares in Jordan.
We were met in the car-park by a young driver, and piled into the open tray of a jeep which took off into the desert at a blistering pace. The driver seemed to take pleasure in hurtling over the dunes and taking unnecessarily sharp turns at 90kph, leaving the four of us bouncing and laughing in exhilaration and at times genuine terror. Honestly it was impressive the driver was able to navigate to our campsite; there were no distinct roads, and the further into the desert we drove the more disorienting the mesas and sandy hills became.
There are dozens of campsites throughout Wadi Rum, though the size of the 720 km² valley means that you will never see another from your own accommodation, adding to the sense of solitude. Additionally each campsite and tour are run by the traditional owners of Wadi Rum, the Bedouins, who have inhabited the region for over 12,000 years. Tourism has overtaken herding as the Bedouins primary source of income, but they still hold true to their traditional customs of dress, music and food.
Our accommodation, like most in the valley, were simple shed-like structures with individual beds (though there are also more glamorous options available). This is fine though, because you didn’t come to this incredible place to spend much time inside. All accommodation providers offer many activities throughout the dessert, and we started our time with a jeep tour.
The tour includes the most famous of Wadi Rum’s landmarks, including 10,000 year old stone drawings, the house used by T. E Lawrence, the natural marvel (and incredibly fun to climb) stone bridge, and many of the other wonders this unique landscape has to offer. We are taken to the campsite home of a Bedouin elder, who plays a Rebab (an 8th century string instrument) and sings songs of the desert.
Upon returning to the campsite the afternoon is ours, so we split up to explore the mesas and dunes. I spot an overhanging cliff with spectacular views of the valley below and climb the sandstone. Leaning against the rock, I take out the kindle from my back pocket and intend to settle in to read, but find I can’t. I’m unable to take my eyes of the scene before me, the call of the desert is simply too powerful. Instead I just sit, contemplating over this ancient place, not a single sole in sight from horizon to horizon.
The sun sets, and the night is a wholly bedouin affair. We enjoy traditional food and music whilst lounging on ornate rugs. The lights of the site are turned off, so that the only lights are the campfire and the canopy of brilliant stars above. We eventually wander away from the campsite and the fire, and find a spot to lie back in the sand. Long moon shadows are cast by the towering mesas and we stare up and the clear sky, counting shooting stars (four). In that moment the rest of the world melted away, as we soaked in the serenity of the valley.
As morning broke on the final day of our Wadi Rum experience, I arose earlier than the rest of our group, and decided to take up the challenge that had been gnawing at me since our arrival at camp; climbing the three towering mesas surrounding our site. In retrospect free-climbing sandstone 200m pillars without informing anyone probably wasn’t the wisest decision, though I did try to avoid some of the most precarious routes. Finally summiting the mesa, panting and sweating, I looked down upon the campsite to see our elderly bedouin chef, smiling toothlessly up at me and waving. Waving back, my first thought was “at least somebody would have known if I fell...” with a very close second being “this place is absolutely magical”.
Our time in Wadi Rum ended all too soon. I like to think of myself as a city-dweller, who loves technology, keeping up with current events and checking out the newest bar, but damn if I wouldn’t have been content to spend the rest of my life in this barren, red ancient valley. There is something deeply spiritual and awe-inspiring about Wadi Rum, something which can’t be conveyed by mere words. The only way to understand is to experience it for yourself.
Practicalities of staying in a Wadi Rum Bedouin camp
How to Get to Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum is located 64km from Aqaba (similar to Jordan/Israel border), 106km from Petra (Wadi Musa), and 314km from Amman. Its easiest to visit Wadi Rum from Aqaba or Petra (as they are nearer), however it is possible to get from Amman to Wadi Rum in one day.
You will be dropped off at the Wadi Rum visitors centre, and will need your accommodation to pick you up from there (transfers to the camps are through the desert and need to be done in 4WD- regular taxi’s won’t be able to make it).
Between Aqaba (or the Israeli border) and Wadi Rum will cost around 35-40 JD.
We managed to pay 30 JD by booking with the same driver that brought us from Petra to Wadi Rum the day before.
Between Petra (Wadi Musa) and Wadi Rum a taxi will cost 30-40 JD.
We organised a ride with a driver outside Petra the day before for 30JD, our hostel quoted 35 JD for the journey.
Between Amman and Wadi Rum a taxi will cost approximately 80-100 JD.
We haven’t done this route- but this is what we/others were quoted by local taxi drivers for the trip.
Buses from Aqaba to Wadi Rum leave regularly, though there is generally no timetable (minibuses will wait until the bus fills up before leaving). One-way tickets cost between 3-5 JD. Note buses DO NOT travel on Fridays.
Buses from Petra (Wadi Musa) and Wadi Rum leave between 6:00 and 6:30 am, and bookings are essential. Your accommodation in Petra should be able to arrange this for you. A one-way ticket costs around 7JD
It’s not permitted to set up your own tent in Wadi Rum, but fortunately there are dozens of accommodation options to choose from, all run by traditional Bedouin owners. These range from basic tent/sheds to luxury glamping, complete with air-conditioning and mini-fridges. And honestly, you probably won’t be spending too much time in your room, regardless of how luxurious it is.
It’s important to read accommodation reviews carefully; either on Trip Advisor, Booking.com or Google Reviews. Often the cheapest accommodation options make the majority of their money by selling additional tours and excursions (i.e. Jeep tours, camel rides etc.) While these can be great, be prepared to be pressured into purchasing them by your accommodation provider and be treated as a second-class citizen if you refuse to purchase extras. Sometimes with accommodation, like wine, it’s better to choose the second cheapest option.
While you’re here, check out some of our other posts on Jordan: