Wadi Rum is one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet. Find out what to see and do during your visit with our ultimate guide to Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum looks like an Arabian Nights fairy tale setting. And it should. The live-action version of Aladdin was filmed here. During my stay, I learned that Wadi Rum holds more surprises than a fictional genie trapped in a lamp. It has played a major role in the country’s history and has more than its share of adventures. This definitive guide to Wadi Rum details the best things to see and do during your 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, roughly the size of New York City. During the day, Wadi Rum marvels at Mars-colored sand and rock formations that look like ships on a dusty sea. At night, it lives up to its nickname, Valley of the Moon, offering incredible astronomy.
People have lived in Wadi Rum for about 12,000 years, as evidenced by more than 20,000 petroglyphs. From 1917 to 1918 T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, made Wadi Rum the base of the Great Arab Revolt. Some Bedouin nomads still live here today and you may see them on camel or 4×4 rides.
Because Wadi Rum boasts such a unique landscape, it appears in many films. It was the backdrop to the 1963 Academy Award for Best Picture for Lawrence of Arabia. Scenes from Rogue One and most of The Martian were also filmed here.
What to do when you visit Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum combines adventure with culture. Most of the action is 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 an appointment through your overnight camp at check-in. Most tours visit the sand dune and Khazal Gorge with its rock paintings, 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 bumpy ride. Passengers usually sit on benches that line the cargo bed. Sometimes a cloth attached to metal poles will provide some shade, but don’t count on it. As the tour begins, the cargo ships out across the sand. I never felt in danger, but the ride was bumpy at times. Do not go if you have back problems.
You can book a full day camel ride to some of the sites you will see on the 4×4 tour. Or you can take a short camel ride long enough to get the feel of it. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, some Bedouin guides even lead multi-day treks.
I went on a sunrise camel ride to a place where we could watch the sunrise. Having seen others get 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 half an hour and when the sun came up we drank the tea that our Bedouin guides had prepared. It was magical.
I’m glad my trip was short though. I could not spend hours on a camel’s back. And I’m not sure I’d do it again. All the while I was acutely aware of how high off the ground I was and how fragile the human spine was.
Because there is minimal light pollution, Wadi Rum is a great place for stargazing. Most overnight camps have stargazing programs available for an additional fee. (Ask when you check in.) These programs involve a 4×4 trip into the desert where the guide sets up a high-powered 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 see objects through a telescope, I couldn’t see as much with my unaided eye. I recommend checking the lunar calendar before stargazing, as the campsite boasts optimal viewing conditions.
Other things to do when you visit Wadi Rum
Hiking. In the colder months, you can hike in Wadi Rum. I strongly recommend hiring a guide as the trails are hard to find and there are few sights to navigate. If you let your 4×4 guide know in advance, he can coordinate a short hike into your adventure.
Sandboarding. Some 4×4 tours include sandboarding when you stop at the dunes. You can organize a hike at your overnight camp if yours isn’t one. Some guides also bring sleds as an alternative to standing while you slide down.
Hot air balloon. Several camps can arrange hot air balloon rides. They usually take place at sunrise and the full experience, including balloon inflation, takes up to three hours. (Balloons hover over the desert for about 30 minutes.)
Where to stay in Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum has dozens of Bedouin camps, with more on the way. Camps range from affordable Bedouin-run options to high-priced luxury accommodations. All have a few things in common. First, they have running water, beds, toilets. Second, they are inclusive and serve traditional Jordanian food. In addition, they feature a variety of nightly entertainment, from music and storytelling to smoking a bottle and drink tea.
Hotels range from Bedouin tents with no more than a single bed to bubble domes with luxurious amenities. Geodesic bubble domes are extremely popular, but I was overwhelmed. When I pulled back the curtain rods, I couldn’t see much, especially given the condensation on the plastic. Next time I will choose a fancier tent.
I will also pay close attention to facilities. Some camps offer yoga classes or have hiking trails around their perimeter. In others, you can sign up for cooking classes. No matter what you’re looking for, make sure the tent (or bubble) you’re staying 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 on a 4×4 tour of Wadi Rum. I recommend staying overnight though. That way you can watch the sunset and experience Bedouin hospitality after lunch.
You can visit Wadi Rum all year round. Between June and September, temperatures average over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so prepare to sweat. Average daily temperature in January is 58 degrees. Even in the milder months of March, April and November, temperatures can swing from warm to freezing in just a few hours.
No matter what time of year you visit Jordan, be sure to visit Wadi Rum. The impressive landscapes and the opportunity to meet the Bedouins here are worth the trip from Amman, Aqaba or Jordan. I would go again if possible. When you’re looking for the ultimate guide to 2 days anywhere, or when you’re planning a trip to the Middle East, let Wander With Wonder be your guide.