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8 reasons why you can’t miss the famous Jordanian desert

In the night, Mohammad sits around the campfire, a fresh, traditional herbal tea with mint warming his bones against the coolness that is trying to seep in from outside his long goat-hair tent. He pours from a pitcher tea into the cups of his guests, foreign tourists who have come to talk for the night and stay in extra beds inside the camp. He entertains them and shares stories about life in the desert and valley.

In the day, his leather sandals kicks up the red sands he walks upon. The relentless heat of the sun presses against his skin, but he is used to this by now and his “smemagh” headscarf provides protection against it. He guides his camel across the desert through a passage between the granite and sandstone mountains, like he has every day since he was a child.

The locals call Wadi Rum “Wadi Al-Qamr”, or “Valley of the Moon”. The name is fitting:
like the moon, it inspires those who come to witness it. The endless red sand dunes are matched only by the majesty of the granite and sandstone mountains and the complete, star-filled night sky that appears throughout the depths of the night. Traveling to Wadi Rum is traveling to an area that, outside from the outcropping of a small village and tourist attractions, has remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years. These hot desert days and chill nights have been the same for millennia.

Throughout it all, for the last five thousand years, the Bedouins of Wadi Rum survive. Nearly all the native inhabitants of Wadi Rum are bedouins. Here, they live in the Rum Village and in the desert, some families moving from place to place as the climate demands. Their livelihood, traditionally dependant on the animal husbandry of raising goats and camels, has been supplemented but not replaced by the advent of tourism.

Bedouin lives are shrouded in mystery and myth to those outside the tribes. Stories and legends like those found in Lawrence of Arabia romantically capture their rugged individualism but honestly fail to truly get at the lives of one of the few remaining nomadic people on the planet.

Do you want to experience the Wadi Rum Bedouin lifestyle?

Wadi Rum is one of the last places on earth that people can still experience a glimpse of the nomadic life. Here are a people who care for the environment and know how to live in balance with it. The people here know how to search for water and how to heal an injured animal. Their lifestyle mixes the rich serenity and tranquility of the desert landscape with the fierce and hostile realities that come with living there. From constant childhood treks to guiding tourists around the valley, they know the hidden crevices, nooks, and crannies of the area.

Wadi Rum is the second most popular tourist vacation in Jordan after Petra, but still many people miss out on amazing opportunities when they come here simply by lack of knowledge. We made this list for you of eight absolutely unforgettable things that can help make this your most unforgettable vacation ever.

Things to Do in Wadi Rum: Don’t miss out on the full experience

1. Wadi Rum Camping

If you are not camping in Wadi Rum overnight, you might as well not come to Wadi Rum at all! Spending the night under the starry sky is one of the must-do, highlight moments of a Jordanian trip. Camping traditionally involves staying in a Bedouin-themed tent in the middle of the desert. However, they vary drastically in terms of their luxury, convenience, and the extent of modern amenities that one is exposed to.

For instance, Memories Aicha Luxury Camp, is, as the name might suggest, perhaps the most luxurious and expensive option. But the level of comfort and romance that you will find here can’t be beat (although it will definitely beat your wallet). They don’t offer any added tours or hikes, however, so try to plan additional things besides just this camp.

On the other hand, Bedouin Lifestyle Camp is one of the most famous options within Wadi Rum. Run by members of the Zalabia Tribe, they offer countless different possible deals for customers. Combine your stay for the night with anything such as guided tours, hiking trips, camel rides, and jeep rides through the desert (see below!).

There are dozens of options for camps, so make sure to do your research or pick one of our suggested tours at the bottom.

2. Wadi Rum Jeep Tour

What better thing to do in the desert than to drive a jeep across it? A famous, time-honored tradition for the Wadi Rum traveler, jeep tours allow the traveler to quickly but comprehensively see all the different famous natural landmarks of the Wadi Rum desert. You will be able to see ancient Thamudic inscriptions drawn on the rocks of the mountains, the Lawrence Spring (an actual oasis), a 2000 year-old Nabatean Temple, and the famous Khazali Canyon.

Some Jeep tours last only a couple of hours, while others last for nearly a full day and include a lunch break. Curious about what it’s like? Listen to what our fellow traveler Michael Turtle had to say on his Time Travel Turtle blog:

“It’s actually surprisingly comfortable and it’s glorious to have just empty space and air in every direction, rather than be inside another kind of vehicle. Still, it makes for a few frightening moments when we suddenly drive down a dune or skid across the sand and I have to quickly grab on to something. (Of course, all of this is done by the driver on purpose to add to the excitement.)”

3. Experience the Bedouin Food

If you’re in Wadi Rum, you have to try the “Zaarb” barbeque of the Bedouins. For hundreds of years the Bedouins have cooked their food underground; they dig large holes in the sand and cook together meat and vegetables in an underground metal oven. Most camps will offer Zarb as a dinner dish.

If you get particularly lucky, you may just be invited to eat dinner by one of the local families, in which case there is a good chance you will get to try the famous Jordanian dish Mansaf. This national dish comes from the ancient traditions of the Wadi Rum Beduins and involves wheat, lamb meat, rice, and a delicious specially prepared yogurt-like side. It’s quite delicious and makes you quite sleepy, making it a perfect meal to eat before deciding to relax under the stars.

4. Hot Air Balloon

This takes your breath away.

Soaring up thousands of meters into the air with nothing but the vast desert lands below you will cause you to feel an amazing feeling of serenity and peace. The flights last for around one hour but it will be a memory you remember for the rest of your life. These rides will cost you $183 dollars, but it offers the unforgettable experience of a full panaromic view of the Wadi Rum geography.

Interested? Book your ticket here with the Royal Aero Sports Club of Jordan.

5. Go Camel-Riding

Camels, or “Jamaal” in Arabic, have specific significance for the Bedouin people. Without these double-humped desert animals, Bedouins would have been forced to migrate from the desert thousands of years ago. Simply put, ancient life was impossible without them, and even today a camel costs an average of around $7000 JOD (and oftentimes much more!).

Several tours are possible for camel-riding, ranging from a couple hours to multiple days. Regardless of what you choose, this activity allows you to experience the desert at the pace it was supposed to: slowly and leisurely. Enjoy the richness of the red desert sands and witness and observe the unique native flora and animals which have survived throughout the desert. By the way, nothing will prepare you for the experience of when the camel raises its legs and lifts you into the air. Just hold on!

6. Hike the Valley

Warning: not for the faint of heart!

Countless hikes and adventures await you in the Valley of the Moon. Most camps offer the opportunities for group tours with English-speaking guides, making each trek a unique experience that mixes history, culture, and natural beauty.

It is not recommended to set out without a plan, but for those interested in hiking alone you can find here an extremely helpful list of different possible hikes to take within the Wadi Rum valley. Please remember that Wadi Rum is in the middle of the desert and that hiking alone can be very dangerous for the ill-prepared. Make sure to tell a friend where you are and pack lots of water and food, or better yet simply join a tour.

7. Try Arabic Henna

“Henna” is a non-permanent Arabic tattoo made from the Henna plant and often used in elaborative and decorative art upon the skin. While its original use in bridal traditions has been fading away for modern Jordanians, it’s decorative and style purposes still make it a fun favorite among foreigners. It usually lasts for around two weeks before slowly fading away, which lets you experiment in a bunch of fun ways without being forced to feel permanently attached to the design. Throughout Rum Village there are plenty of women in “Henna Parlors” offering this unique experience.

8. Experience the Sunrise and Sunset

The last thing we highly recommend you to visit is to witness the rising and setting of the sun. These two periods mark the transition from night into day and day into night, and waves of tranquility will wash over you as you witness the power of the Sun in all its glory.The shifting colors of the sky as the sun rises or shifts is made all the more brilliant against the backdrop of red sand dunes and granite and sandstone mountains. Ask the camp you go to the best places nearby to watch the sunrise and sunset, as there are many many great places and we could not possibly list them all.

We are not kidding when we say you could visit Wadi Rum five times and have a completely new experience each time. The timeless landscape opens its heart up to the searching traveler, meaning that one day you could find yourself hiking the canyons and sleeping under the stars, while during the next you could be traveling with the local Bedouins and exchanging stories around a campfire at night.

Throughout Wadi Rum there will be countless different new experiences and adventures that await you. Not all of them are listed above. However, if you make sure to do many of the above, you will be guaranteed to have a good time.

How to make the most out of your experience

To be sure, times have changed in Wadi Rum. Most of the Bedouins have settled into the villages, although travel deeper into the desert and you will still meet those nomadic families who live great distances from the village.

But as you walk through these desert valleys and rose sandstone mountains, the rugged soul of individualism survives and thrives within the spirit of the people. As you walk through the sand, you feel this too.

When traveling to Wadi Rum in Jordan, don’t make the mistake of trying to free-style your vacation plan. While the Valley of the Moon is a place of wonder and serenity, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the possibilities and feel uncertain or confused about what to do.

Zaman Tours has experienced travel advisors who have spoken to and heard the reviews of hundreds of clients. Building from these depth of knowledge, Zaman Tours offers several different specialized tours for the interested traveler. Check out our different options on our website here and get ready to start your amazing Wadi Rum vacation.

Have you been to Wadi Rum? What are your favorite parts? Share or comment below with your thoughts!