Wadi Rum is one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet. Learn what to see and do on your visit with our ultimate guide to Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum looks like the setting for the “Arabian Nights” tales. And it should. The live-action version of “Aladdin” was filmed here. During my stay, I learned Wadi Rum holds more surprises than a fictional genie trapped in a lamp. It played a major role in the country’s history and has more than its fair share of adventure. This ultimate guide to Wadi Rum details the best to see and do on a visit.
What is Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum (pronounced Wad-ee Room) is a protected area and UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Jordan. It covers 278 square miles, which equates to roughly the footprint of New York City. During the day, Wadi Rum wows with Mars-colored sand and rock formations that appear like ships on a dusty sea. At night, it lives up to its nickname, Valley of the Moon, offering incredible stargazing.
People have lived in Wadi Rum for nearly 12,000 years, as evidenced by the over 20,000 petroglyphs. From 1917 to 1918, T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, made Wadi Rum the base for the Great Arab Revolt. Some nomadic Bedouins still live here today, and you might see them on a camel or 4×4 ride.
Because Wadi Rum boasts such a unique landscape, it appears in many movies. It was the backdrop for the 1963 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, “Lawrence of Arabia.” Scenes from “Rogue One” and much of “The Martian” were also filmed here.
Things to Do When You Visit Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum combines adventure with culture. Most activities occur outdoors, so dress in layers and regularly apply sunscreen to exposed skin. You’ll also want to bring cash to pay for impromptu activities and tip guides.
A 4×4 tour is one of the best ways to experience Wadi Rum. You can book online before you go or make arrangements through your overnight camp at check-in. Most tours visit dunes and Khazali Canyon with its petroglyphs, and most end with a stop to watch the sunset. Depending on the tour, you may also see Lawrence’s Springs Um Frouth Bridge, a natural rock arch.
If you go—and you should—prepare for a rugged ride. Passengers usually sit on benches lining the bed of pick-ups. Sometimes, a cloth attached to metal poles provides some shade, but don’t count on it. As the tour begins, the pick-ups off-road across the sand. I never felt in danger, but the ride sometimes got bumpy. Don’t go if you have back problems.
You can book a full-day camel ride to some of the sites you’d see on a 4×4 tour. Or you can take a short camel ride just long enough to get the feel for it. If you feel especially adventurous, some Bedouin guides even lead multi-day treks.
I went on a sunrise camel ride to a spot where we could watch the sunrise. After watching others getting on and off camels the day before, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go. I’m glad I did, though. We rode for about a half hour, and as the sun rose, we sipped tea prepared by our Bedouin guides. It was magical.
However, I’m glad my ride was short. I couldn’t have spent hours on a camel’s back. And I’m not sure I’d do it again. The whole time, I was keenly aware of how high I was off the ground and how fragile the human spine is.
Because there’s minimal light pollution, Wadi Rum is an excellent destination for stargazing. Most overnight camps have stargazing programs available for an extra charge. (Ask when you check in.) These programs entail a 4×4 ride into the desert, where the guide sets up a high-power telescope.
I chose not to go stargazing while in Wadi Rum. It was late and expensive, but I visited during a full moon. While I could have seen objects through the telescope, I wouldn’t have been able to see as much with my naked eye. I suggest looking at the lunar calendar before stargazing because the camp boasts optimal viewing conditions.
Other Activities to Do When You Visit Wadi Rum
Hiking: During cooler months, you can hike in Wadi Rum. I strongly recommend hiring a guide since the trails are difficult to find, and there are few landmarks to navigate by. If you notify your 4×4 tour guide in advance, he may be able to coordinate a short hike into your adventures.
Sandboarding: Some 4×4 tours include sandboarding when you stop at the dunes. You can arrange an outing through your overnight camp if yours doesn’t. Some guides also bring sleds as an alternative to standing as you slide down.
Hot air ballooning: Several camps can arrange hot air balloon rides. These usually occur at sunrise, and the complete experience, including balloon inflation, lasts up to three hours. (Balloons soar over the desert for approximately 30 minutes.)
Where to Stay in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum has dozens of Bedouin camps, with more on the way. Camps range from affordable options operated by Bedouins to high-priced luxury dwellings. All have a few things in common. First, they have running water, beds, and toilets. Second, they’re all-inclusive and serve traditional Jordanian food. Also, they feature some form of nightly entertainment ranging from music and storytelling to smoking shisha and sipping tea.
Accommodations run the gamut from Bedouin tents with not much more than a bed to bubble domes with luxury amenities. The geodesic bubble domes are extremely popular, but I was underwhelmed. When I pulled back the curtains in mine, I couldn’t see much, especially given the condensation on the plastic. I’ll opt for a more luxurious tent next time.
I’ll also pay close attention to amenities. Some camps offer yoga classes or have hiking trails around their perimeter. At others, you can sign up for cooking classes. Regardless of what you are looking for, ensure the tent (or bubble) you stay in has air conditioning and heating.
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How to Get to Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum is four hours south of Amman and one hour north of Aqaba by car. If you don’t have a car, you can get there by bus from Amman, Aqaba, or Petra. Plan to spend at least four hours at Wadi Rum for a 4×4 tour. I recommend staying overnight, though. That way, you can watch the sunset and experience Bedouin hospitality after dinner.
You can visit Wadi Rum year-round. From June through September, temperatures average above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so prepare to sweat. In January, the daily average is 58 degrees. Even in the milder months of March, April, and November, temperatures can fluctuate from hot to freezing in just a few hours.
No matter what time of the year you visit Jordan, make sure you visit Wadi Rum. The impressive landscapes and the opportunity to get to know the Bedouin people here make it worth the journey from Amman, Aqaba, or Jordan. Given the chance, I’ll go again. When looking for the Ultimate Guide to 2 days anywhere, or when planning a trip to the Middle East, Let Wander With Wonder be your guide.