When Ridley Scott was directing the blockbuster film The Martian, he knew he needed a landscape that closely resembled Mars in order to keep the film as realistic as possible. He settled on filming in the Wadi Rum desert region of Jordan.
I have not seen that movie but when I got to Wadi Rum myself, it’s easy to see why this location was chosen.
Initially, Wadi Rum wasn’t in our itinerary because given our very short time in Jordan (fly in Friday morning and fly out Monday night). We covered the Dead Sea on our first day (Friday) and Petra on the second (Saturday). We rested on the third day spending just a few hours strolling through the shores of the Red Sea, visiting the city center at Aqaba and hunting where to eat the traditional dish mansaf and just chilling at our very fascinating accommodation at Movenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay. On our last day (Monday), we checked out at 9:30 am and headed to Wadi Rum.
WHERE IS WADI RUM?
Wadi Rum lies in the south western corner of Jordan 58 kilometers north of the coastal town of Aqaba. It can be reached easily by main roads from Amman (3.5 hours), Aqaba (1 hour) and Petra (1.5 hours). Car-hire and bus tours can be arranged through hotels and travel agents and taxis can be negotiated from Aqaba and Petra.
* We had a private van arranged by Amani Tours for the entire time we were in Jordan, including to Wadi Rum
HOW TO TAKE A TOUR OF WADI RUM
The first stop to Wadi Rum is at the Visitor’s Center. It overlooks the Seven Pillars of Wisdom – an imposing rock formation with seven enormous folds, named after the autobiography by T.E Lawrence of the same name. There are several tours to choose from, depending on the amount of time you can spend. Two hours, three hours…the staff at the Visitor’s Center contacts the local Bedouin drivers as required.
The best way to enjoy Wadi Rum is to get on the back of a 4×4 pickup truck. Our guide contacted a Bedouin driver she knows personally to take us around. The Bedouins are still the people of the desert and you can trust them to show you everything there is to see. Just hop on one of their jeeps and enjoy the view.
We paid JOD50 + tip for a three hour excursion (that stretched into four hours in actual).
The truck is improvised to have ‘seats’ for four people at the back. There are no seat belts which could make you think twice about doing this – if so, you can sit beside the driver inside the truck. Otherwise, be a little adventurous (and face a little danger). The driver won’t drive fast so I never felt unsafe.
Prepare for a bumpy ride, but it will be well worth your aching bones. Don’t worry, you will have plenty of opportunities to get off the vehicle and admire the place on foot.
There is nothing more exhilarating than speeding through a desert landscape in the back of an open-air pickup truck. We were there on the 2nd week of December when it’s winter and though the glaring sun makes it look like it’s hot, it’s not! On the contrary, it was very cold. See my daughter’s thick jacket! She wished she could fix the hood to cover her head but alas, the oncoming wind keeps on blowing the hoodie off.
I loved the feel of the crisp, cold wind on my face.
Jordan’s desert is, in a word, MAJESTIC. Its lunar-like landscape (Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon), crevice-riddled cliffs and ever-evolving light took my breath away.
It was quite an experience but a word of caution: photographing out sitting at the back of a fast moving truck travelling in uneven pathways is so challenging – with both feet needing to anchor for safety, looking for the perfect timing and clicking the camera, trying hard not to throw it over or throw myself over.
Most of the “good” photos I have taken at the back of that moving truck is accidental, but I loved them all anyway.
The desert can seem at first to be an empty expanse, save for some camels in the wild.
SHOULD YOU HIRE A GUIDE FOR WADI RUM?
I suppose finding the right guide for your Wadi Rum tour is not easy. I did a lot of research before our flight to Jordan and still didn’t have a clue where to find a good guide and just left it all to ‘fate’. However, the best way to keep ‘fate’ on your side is by asking other travellers who had “been there, done that”, to read their stories and personal recommendations.
We got lucky with our guide and she made our trip to Wadi Rum even more wonderful. She did not only got us a good driver, she took us to places in Wadi Rum that isn’t in the list staple points of stop for tourists.
WADI RUM ADVENTURE
Before we got on the truck, our guide told us we will be doing a “little” climbing. One of my favourite parts of our Wadi Rum tour was the stop of at a rock bridge-arch structure. Yep, its pretty dangerous looking so I wasn’t really keen on climbing, lugging along my camera but I’m glad I did because once we were at the top the precarious looking arch, it really did feel like we were in an adventure movie.
I gave my camera to our driver, a local Bedouin, who, despite his outfit, could climb up and down the steep rocks as fast a cheetah! (The third one on the pic, in white is our guide)
Next, our guide took us to a rock formation that she calls, “The Titanic”. Of course she invites us to climb again!
So to come back to the essence of this blog post, is Wadi Rum worth it?
T.E. Lawrence elegantly described Wadi Rum as “vast, echoing and God-like…” and I could not agree more. Wadi Rum is a stupendous, timeless place, virtually untouched by humanity and its destructive forces. Here, it is the weather and winds that have carved the imposing, towering skyscrapers.
If you want to experience what I and other travellers refer to as “other-worldly”, include Wadi Rum in your Jordan itinerary. The scenery is truly out of this world. Miles of solitary sand dunes and rocky hills open up in front of your eyes, making you feel as if you were walking on Mars without having to set foot in a spaceship. There are options to stay for the night at the Bedouin camps. I can imagine the dark, starry skies sans light pollution in the big cities and howls of desert wolves or just the stillness of the night here.
I live in Dubai and I have been and seen deserts. However, if you ever thought that once you’ve seen a desert you’ve seen them all, think again. Wadi Rum, the red desert of southern Jordan is a marvel you shouldn’t miss.
* I tried hard to take decent photos to share the beauty of Wadi Rum but I think even the best photographers, not one photo would give justice to the actual beauty of the place. You simply need to go there and see it with your own eyes.