Dreaming of the desert? You drive through the endless stretches of sand and rocks and the only life in sight is tiny little green plants hanging on to life and a camel in the distance. You climb a dune and look out across what was once a home, but is now a huge tourist attraction. When dark comes, you sit by the fire and listen to the silence. Total silence. Millions of stars above you, and it’s only you and the earth. That’s the desert dream!
I’m pretty sure it’s not just my dream, but one most travellers have. You should have at least one desert on your bucket-list! There’s good reason why everyone I’ve meet raised in the desert would never live anywhere else.
Find out what's it like to spend a night in Wadi Rum:
VALLEY OF THE MOON
But first some background info: The Wadi Rum desert in Jordan is also named the Valley of the Moon, and you clearly get it when you see it. Desolate, dry and beautiful. The area consists of both sand, gorges, cliffs and caverns. No wonder many movies have been shot here: “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Red Planet” and “Transformers” to name a few!
People have been living here for 12.000 years, and our driver Mohamed grew up in the Wadi Rum desert, but had now moved to the tiny town of Rum driving tourists around. Today, the desert is a World Heritage Site for both natural and cultural causes. And that’s something people want to see. Apparently, the desert have seen a 97% increase in visitors these last few years. When we visited in 2011, there were not many tourists.
GETTING TO WADI RUM
You can easily drive to Wadi Rum. We hired a driver – Mohammed, whom we just met on the street – to take us to both Petra and Wadi Rum for a two day roundtrip from Aqaba (read about our Petra visit here).
We wanted to go backpacking, but the plane tickets turned out so expensive and with several layovers (back then), that it was cheaper to book a package deal and stay at luxury hotel Mövenpick Resort & Residences in Aqaba – even if we slept in the desert for one night. Today, I would head for Amman.
When we reached Wadi rum, we hired another private driver as a guide (also named Mohammed) in the visitor center. You can check out the visitor’s center here.
Mohammed tells us,that he lives in the small village of Wadi Rum – his family are originally Bedouins living in the desert. Now they are part time Bedouins, and he’s making money off tourism. But he doesn’t want to move to a bigger city.
Before takeoff make sure to stock up on water and snacks… My son got a free falafel, and in general was everyone so nice to him. You can see our driver is also holding his hand…Thanks Jordan!
Mohammed’s car was a little trashed, but he was very good at driving the dunes and finding his way, so…
Off we go!
WHAT TO SEE & DO
IN WADI RUM
First stop is Lawrence’s Spring not too far into the desert. And apparently it’s the first stop for everyone, since this is where we saw the most people.
The site of Lawrence’s Spring is where Lawrence of Arabia reputedly washed during the Arab Revolt 1916-1918 against the Ottoman Turks! The revolt went through the desert for a surprise attack on the coastal town Aqaba and succeeded.
In the desert is also a site called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom from his autobiographical book of the same name (see here). For some reason, there tends to be more focus on the role played by the Britishman, then on the Arabs themselves.
Make sure you have a guide to show you these, because the desert is big. Inscriptions and archaeological remains in the site testify to 12,000 years of human occupation. The combination of 25,000 rock carvings with 20,000 inscriptions trace the evolution of human thought and the early development of the alphabet.
With a 5 year old along, there’s no doubt what is the highlight of this desert. The climbing and climbing and sliding. Sadly, when we 5 years later went to the Sahara desert, he didn’t enjoy it as much.
While eating your lunch with sand in it and before you arrive at camp, you can watch the scenery:
ENJOY THE DESERT
You would think the scenery is repetitive, but it’s not. It has many colours and many textures, and I just don’t get tired of looking at it…
ROCKS & SAND
Wadi Rum is mainly a rock desert, but it has sand dunes as well. There are several spectacular arches carved out of the stones – some of which you can climb.
There are also a few animals like two type of poisonous snakes, but you probably won’t see any. Look for tracks in the sand in the early morning. But mostly, you’ll see are tents made out of goat hair and camels.
The bedouins were camel-raising tribes, and the camel is a crucial part of the Bedouin identity everywhere as essential pack animals. You can of course buy a ride for just an hour or several days. We didn’t. There is also an annual camel race.
Even in the deserts plants grow.
Desert camps are in general pretty basic. Some places you can get the luxury with beds and everything, but not in Jordan at the time. And I’m not here for luxury – on the contrary.
The camp we stayed in is not there anymore, but there are many like it. The camp could fit about 20 people, but we were only 10 guests, and we were (as we often are) the only ones with a child!
When we arrived at our camp late in the evening, we were greeted with tea in the big dining tent covered with goat hair carpets. A tall, handsome Bedouin in a long white traditional gown entered the tent and bade us all welcome to his camp. I still clearly remember him all these years later.
After dinner, we went to see the sunset. The desert and the rocks changes colours from blue to grey to red. Another good reason to stay the night. It was magic, and I rarely use that word.
We had a great dinner with tea, but I went to bed early with my exhausted son. But it was so cold, we didn’t sleep at all. Next morning, we drove with some other people from the camp back to the visitor’s center, and Mohammed the first picked us up and drove us to Petra. We were exhausted, when visiting Petra because of this cold sleepless night, so I would not recommend doing your tour this way around.
SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE:
I usually wear scarfs or hats in Muslim countries. To be respectful, not to stir up any unnecessary negativity, and because it protects me from the sun. As you can see in the picture above, it was not that warm. Actually, it was cold and windy, and we had multiple layers of clothes, and still it was chilly. It was the same, when I was in the Sahara desert, so deserts are not always hot!
I also always carry an actual guidebook, so I can read up on the history – of course! If you decide to go for the desert, I recommend The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. It’s full of love and sand and songs and crying.