wadi rum: jordan’s red desert


While the ancient city of Petra gets all the fanfare from visitors and travel logs to Jordan [and rightly so], the second most visited and important feature in Jordan is the red desert: Wadi Rum.

Located in southern Jordan approximately 37 miles [60 km] to the east of the port city of Aqaba, Wadi Rum is also known by the name “The Valley of the Moon” or وادي القمر‎. The name is a combination of Wadi, the Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley, and Rum, which most likely comes from an Aramaic word meaning high or elevated.

This valley of sandstone and granite has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times. From the third century B.C.E. through the first century C.E. the Nabateans left their mark on the valley in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples before being annexed by the Roman Empire. Cinema buffs will recognize this desert as the setting for the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia.

Having not grown up near a desert or mountains, I am partial to both, and every time I have exposure to either environment there is something magical about it. Add to this the sheer beauty of the desert, with its remote [and some would say exotic] location and red color, and this is a location not to be missed.  In the evening, the desert begins to resemble a martian landscape.

If you are a four wheel drive enthusiast, you can take one of the many available adventures into the desert to surf the dunes. A camel ride is also a must. However, the best way to become one with the desert is to camp overnight under the stars. There is nothing quite like it, as you join the only current inhabitants of the desert: several thousand Bedouin nomads and villagers. I was lucky enough to be able to sit in with a Bedouin band and show the locals how a New Yorker plays the drums.

There are many local tour companies that will get you to Wadi Rum. For the more intrepid “do it yourself” traveler, Wadi Rum can be reached via the Desert Highway between Amman and Aqaba. A side road leads to the well-marked turnoff entrance [approx. 40km out of Aqaba] where you will find the Wadi Rum Visitors Centre [another 20-30km down the road so don’t get nervous!], and many potential guides offering camel and 4×4 treks. The cost to enter into Wadi Rum Protected Area is 5 Jordanian Dinars [approx. US$7] per person. Buses traveling the highway between Aqaba and Petra should be able to drop you at the intersection to Wadi Rum. Once at the intersection, you can hitch hike [quite common in this part of Jordan] or take another minibus to the Visitor’s Centre where you can meet your guide. That will cost you another 5 JD.

There is usually at least one direct bus from Aqaba to Wadi Rum each day. Be careful though if you plan to go to Wadi Rum on a Friday as it is very possible that these buses are not running, so plan ahead. The busses normally leave a few times per day during the high season [spring and fall], with the last regular bus leaving sometime in the early afternoon. In the low season [summer and winter] busses leave only one day per week. You can also get to Wadi Rum by catching any minibus [3-4JD] from the Aqaba bus station headed to Amman, Ma’an, or Petra and get off at the Wadi Rum Turnoff. Lastly and for the less intrepid, a private taxi will cost you 15-25JD depending on where you are in Aqaba.

For more information, check out the Jordanian Tourist Board’s Wadi Rum page.