The Ultimate Wadi Rum Travel Guide

The Ultimate Wadi Rum Travel Guide

We saw canyons, mountains, dunes,

 rock formations, rock carvings, and inscriptions

as we stood there awe-struck

the redness of the desert sand and sky

bathed us in cerise, coral, and carmine!

 

About the Wadi Rum:

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Jordan? Is it mostly Petra, and the Dead Sea? But then the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with all its antiquities has other sites that are equally picturesque and eye-catching; like the Wadi Rum Desert ~ a majestic wilderness covering an expanse of 720 square kilometres, near the southern city of Aqaba.

There are many ways to explore this fragile, unspoiled desert retreat. Vikram and I had a great time touring the spectacular landscape of the Wadi Rum in an open 4×4 while on our trip to Jordan. The vastness and openness of the sand dunes and the mood of the desert took us both to another realm where the ripples on the sand, gorgeous sunsets, and the silence gave a new meaning to serenity and peace.

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With narrow canyons, dramatic cliffs, and mountains of granite and sandstone, this protected area is truly a tranquil escape and a haven for nature enthusiasts, campers, climbers {some 1750m or 5741 feet}, trekkers, and hikers. With a landscape such as this, it is not surprising that the locals call it “The Valley of the Moon” {fact file: Wadi Rum is the largest valley in the country of Jordan}. I would suggest combining a hiking trip along with a day of sightseeing in an open truck or on a camel so that you do not miss out on experiencing the beauty of the place.

Side note: Naturalists will be drawn to the desert where just like any other place the desert comes alive with rebirth, re-growth, and renewal during springtime. Whether it is the poppies, black irises {Jordan’s national flower}, red anemones, and varieties of wild flowers ~ the  profusion of green, yellow, red, and other colours that claim the arid valley as their own in wild abandon is a sight to behold!

While our days were spent driving through the desert on a 4×4 and soaking in the magnificence of the red desert, our nights were spent in a ‘Martian Dome’ courtesy of Sun City Camp.

 

History:

The Wadi Rum {Wadi means Valley in Arabic} epitomizes the quintessential desert; the extreme summer, harsh winter, expansiveness, camels, and Bedouins form the soul of the desert. We were told that the Wadi Rum Protected Area (WRPA) has proof of life that existed close to 12,000 years through the 20,000 inscriptions, 25,000 rock carvings, archaeological remains, and petroglyphs that still exist in the area. Additionally, the presence of a Nabatean Temple is evidence of an early Nabatean settlement in the area.

The nomad Bedouins who live here are scattered in various camps and if you are lucky you can get invited to their tents for a cup of mint tea or cardamom coffee. Sipping tea with these hospitable and friendly desert people, sitting around a fire pit while basking in the glow of the moon and the stars as the flames flicker would be a memorable moment indeed!

Point to note: Various reasons are cited for the current rock formations at the Rum; lithology, surface processes caused due to erosion {the weather conditions in the desert and the humidity in the past}, and tectonic activities. As has been declared by the UNESCO, they are testimony to the years of ongoing landscape evolution.

 

Reminiscing the Wonders of Wadi Rum in Jordan:

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My favoured moments in Jordan would be; soaking in the essence of Amman ~ the capital city of Jordan, the ruins of Jerash ~ a very well preserved place of Roman architecture, a rendezvous with nature in the Dead Sea, and the prehistoric Jordanian city of Petra ~ a majestic place that still holds hidden secrets.

But by far, our visit to Wadi Rum was the highlight of our Jordan tour. On second thought, calling it a mere visit would be an understatement; it was an escapade peppered with heroic adventures!

 

We started off early morning towards Wadi Rum from Petra {the entry point of Wadi Rum is just about an hour and a half away}. We reached the Wadi Rum railway station and looking at the quaint train which was more or less like a collector’s item was beguiling. We were told the train was the original one from the Arab Revolution when the railway line built by Ottomans was attacked and destroyed to put an end to the dominance of the Ottomans who were the rulers of Arabia. The revolt was said to have been masterminded by Lawrence of Arabia.

Walking into the desert, the shimmering sand flowed like silk between my fingers, and the texture and feel was sensuous. Being alienated from the multitude, into the wilderness, and participating in the harmony of nature was indeed spiritual!

 

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We ventured further into the stillness of the desert, and after a few kilometres we reached our destination. Located in the heart of the sublime desert, is the unmatched authentic charm and beauty of Sun City Camp. We switched on relaxation mode here with welcoming fresh juice and delicately scented refreshing face towels.

Staying at this retreat was an out-of-this-world experience, and gave us a wonderful opportunity to connect with the Universe where the peaceful echoes of the desertscape resonated with the resplendent hues that stretched endlessly in front of us making it a divine and spiritual experience of a unique kind.

 

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Sun City Camp in Wadi Rum
Sun City Camp
Sun City Camp in Wadi Rum
Sun City Camp
Sun City Camp in Wadi Rum
Sun City Camp

 

Later that afternoon, Vikram and I kick started our exploration of the amazing landscape of the Wadi Rum with a 4×4 adventure that took us through the colourful hills, the curvature of the gorges, and canyons. As the hot Jordanian sun cast its rays from horizon to horizon it was difficult not to miss the spectrum of blues that painted the sky as wisps of translucent clouds floated unabashed in its immensity.

The scenic and fun tour courtesy ‘The Wild Wadi Rum’ through the uneven terrain of the desert was surreal, and gave us a feeling of being on another planet as we took in  glimpses of the red rocks, camels, and the sweeping orange-pink-reds of The Rum {this Valley of the Moon was depicted as the Red Planet and immortalised in the 2015 movie ‘The Martian’}. Our driver Salman was fast talking, good natured with a thick accent, and obliging {making photo stops at every turn as we explored the desert}.

 

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As we traversed through the magnificent desert scenery, the lustre of the Universe made me feel trivial for a while as I took in its muteness. Who knew that this arid land with its lavish rock formations, myriad hued sand, and windblown sand dunes would captivate you with sheer distinctiveness! In fact I was drawn to this fathomless space; its enigmatic beauty making me wonder about its limitations and boundaries.

 

Lasting Impressions:

I recommend these six stops that should not be missed on your Wild Wadi Rum adventure while you are in Jordan. They are amazing and they shed light on some interesting insights about the valley, its existence, and aesthetic charm.

  1. Seven Pillars of Wisdom

This imposing rock formation has been made immortal in the book ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by Lawrence of Arabia. With its seven fluted turrets, this iconic rock formation will leave you gasping with its sheer size. It can be seen from the Wadi Rum Visitors Center and what still lingers and remains fresh in our memory is relishing our packed lunch with the view of this towering rock formation that day.

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  1. Lawrence’s Spring

This historic place close to the Wadi Rum village is named Lawrence after Lawrence of Arabia who fought against the Ottoman Empire during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18 {the place was the setting for the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’}. The sight of Bedouins, camels, and the old camel watering trough transports you back in time to an era that was timeless. As do the landmark formation of pillars we had just driven by.

Some moments have to be treasured and this was one such moment; sitting under the shade of a tree on the sand, looking around wondering how the day glided by quickly, watching the camels drinking water, and enjoying the stillness and silence of the desert.

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  1. Hiking the Dunes of Wadi Rum

The red-rock wilderness of the desert, the rippled sand, and sand dunes swaying in the zephyr are more like a painting that breathes, and is truly a sight to behold. Vikram and I soaked in the absorbing silence of the desert broken only at times by the swishing sound of the sand, and the lilting tunes of Arabic music emanating from our jeep.

It was now time to move onto our next stop, the beautiful salmon pink sand dune where one could go sand boarding. The dune though steep became our perfect playground for a while that day; and we revelled in the antics of childhood ~ prancing, rolling down the dune ~ sand in our pockets, hair, and ears as we tried to race each other to reach the summit. The sand felt cool between our toes, and skeins of sun rays falling on the sand making the colours richer and deeper left a lasting impression!

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  1. Khazali Canyon

This canyon slot is a large rock formation with Nabataean inscriptions that are 2000 years old. The petroglyph rock drawings, Thamudic inscriptions, and Nabataean carvings of humans and animals have an element of strangeness, and since protected from the sun, rain, wind, and people, has remained intact though the landscape has changed with time.

The gaps between the huge rocks added up to the mystery of the place, and the visuals of the rugged mountains entangled with the fragility of red sand left us awestruck, and increased our curiosity to know more about the secrets of the Rum. Truly, it is the walk farther back into the cave that is jaw-dropping!

 

After taking in the expansiveness of the desert, we walked to a nearby desert camp to have sweet and spicy cups of tea; the local Bedouin way.

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  1. Natural Bridges of Wadi Rum

There are several natural bridges in the area, the famous ones being the Little Rock Bridge, Burdah {or Jabal Burdah}, and Umm Fruth. The valley floors are about 900-1000 meters above sea level, and the great sandstone crags rise sheer, a further 500-550 meters. These natural arches, lines, and shades do not always need perfection to look gorgeous, and made us wonder about the amazing textures and geometric patterns provided by the Universe.

None of the pictures we saw before we left for the place, or the descriptions we read about the Wadi Rum captured the actual magnitude and radiance of these natural bridges. Sandwiched between the blue sky and the red desert sand it was an experience of a lifetime, and left us both giddy and intoxicated with the sheer beauty of the place as we posed for pictures atop the bridge formations and around it.

* Those who have watched the movie Krrish will remember seeing one of these natural bridges featured in a song sequence.

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  1. Watching the Sunset

This was the much anticipated finale after a day of wandering in the desert wilderness, and exploring the beauty of the land and the winding dunes. Desert sunsets are exquisite and it was a whimsical moment watching the myriad hues; gold, orange, peach, and pink on one end, and violet, mauve, lavender, and plum on the other. It is not every day one gets to see such a magical sunset, and the desert looked radiant in her bridal finery. We stood there and watched in awe till night slowly crept in with its dark fingers, and the moon and the stars slowly peeped out. The perfection of nature and the sound of silence that engulfed us were beyond our imagination and we just stood there watching.

 

Tea is synonymous with Jordanians, and one distinct feature you notice while travelling in Jordan is being offered tea wherever you go. It is aptly termed the Bedouin Whiskey in Wadi Rum because of the Bedouins who live there, and breathe life and movement to the otherwise starkness of the desert. It is customary to be served three cups of tea, and once done; you are supposed to hand the cup back to your host for a refill. 🙂

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Our Return

It was night by the time we returned to Sun City Camp and though the curtains had fallen on the day, there were still a lot of other activities to indulge in. There were paper-bag lanterns lining the entrance that led to a common area where we snuggled near the bonfire, on the rug covering the ground. The colours on the diwan and bolsters livened up the ambiance along with the traditional songs playing in the background. The music and singing session continued after dinner and ran late into the night, and though it was tricky imitating the dance steps of the traditional dancers entertaining us that evening, Vikram and I did manage to get the footwork right after a while.

Images of crackling fire, hot mint tea, and shisha were surreal and transported us to another zone, and it was a dream watching the night come alive under the moonlight, star lights, and the mysterious planets that seemed to deeply gaze at us with eagerness and curiosity.

I would have loved to wander far from the camp to have a tête-à-tête with the heavenly stars and planets but it was too dark for my comfort.

This day was over. Now to sleep in our dome, then wake up the next day, and enjoy the coolness in the camp against the desert sun before going to Dead Sea the day after.

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Adventure activities at Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is not just about driving around in a 4×4, and walking over sand and mountains ~ the place offers many different adventure activities where you can soak in the magnetism of the desert and its landscape viewed from another dimension.

Hot air Balloons

This is a great way to experience the Wadi Rum, the calmness and peace of the place, and gives extensive and glorious views of the sunrise as the ride is always early mornings when the weather conditions are perfect. The trip duration is 45 minutes and it takes you up to 6000 ft where you are treated to an entirely different view of the desert.

Microlight

Flying is an adrenaline rush and if you want to have a taste of that, try out the Microlight flight. The rate is decided according to your flying time which can be either 10 minutes or 60. You will be cruising at an altitude of 1000-1200 ft. and the sweeping views are breathtaking.

Trekking

It is better to have a guide accompanying you while going on treks because you can get lost in the vastness of the desert. These treks make the unexpected happen at times ~ feel like a nomad, and explore hidden spots.

Rock Climbing

Do not indulge in this activity if you are not a rock climber, as it is challenging and exhausting because of the steep rocky faces. This is also not an activity for those who are scared of heights. That said, the beauty of the Wadi Rum is incredible from the top, and gives you spectacular views of the sand stretching endlessly, far and wide.

Camel Riding

As we all know, Camels are known as the ‘Ship of the Desert’ and taking a camel ride is the best way to experience the way Bedouins travelled in the desert and their ancient way of living. Though the pace of travelling is slow, what is appealing is the unique way of enjoying the stunning desertscape. Camel rides are better for short distances ~ say 60 minutes and you might find it enjoyable.

 

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End note: I had heard the desert held a certain magic, but it wasn’t until I went there myself that I understood what people meant by that. And if you listen carefully the endless stretches of sweeping golden sand does speak to you quietly and in hushed tones…

“I like Wadi Rum – it’s the best view I’ve ever seen of what could be Mars.” ~ Ridley Scott. This quote sums up the unmatched beauty of the reddish-orange sands of the Rum that leave a tint of red and orange on your face and hair. The laughter that echoes and the silence of the sand dunes are contrasting and complementing, and made us discern that there is immense beauty in simplicity. The unforgettable views of the sand and the sky, geological formations, sipping sweet tea with the Bedouins at various points in the desert, and the starry nights made this trip rather memorable for us.

 

*Disclaimer: This review was done on an invitation from the Jordan Tourism Board {Visit Jordan}, and is a narrative of the author’s experience. Due judgement and care has been applied by the author to remain objective and unbiased in the review.

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* I love bringing together a bunch of conflicting items and weaving my own sense of one-ness to them. *

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