Stunning in its natural beauty, Wadi Rum epitomizes the romance of the desert. With its "moonscape" of ancient valleys and towering sandstone mountains rising out of the sand, Wadi Rum is also home to several Bedouin tribes who live in scattered camps throughout the area. Climbers are especially attracted to Wadi Rum because of its sheer granite and sandstone cliffs, while hikers enjoy its vast empty spaces. Wadi Rum is probably best known because of its connection with the enigmatic British officer T.E. Lawrence, who was based here during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18. Much of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in Wadi Rum. The main route to Wadi Rum, and the small village of Rum, branches east off the Desert Highway about five kilometers south of Quweira and 25 kilometers north of Aqaba. From there the road extends about 35 kilometers through the desert to end at Rum. It is best to take your own vehicle to Rum, as public transportation to the village is very difficult. The village consists mainly of several hundred Bedouin inhabitants with their goat-hair tents and concrete houses, a school, a few shops and the headquarters of the famous Desert Patrol.
There are several options available for exploring Wadi Rum. At the Government Rest House, located just inside the village, you can rent out a four-wheel-drive jeep with a Bedouin driver for short or longer day tours of the area. Also available are camels, which you can hire for short excursions or for the desert trip to Aqaba. The only accommodations in Rum are in the Government Rest House, where tents are available.
For those with a bit more time and/or sense of adventure, the best way to see Wadi Rum is by hiking and camping in it. Indeed, the vast silence and grandeur of the landscape is best experienced on foot. All you need for hiking in Wadi Rum is plenty of water (at least 2-3 liters per day), some food, good shoes and a sleeping bag. Those with a four-wheel drive, a map and plenty of fuel can see more of the landscape, while saving their energy for spectacular hikes such as the Rock Bridge of Burdah, one of Wadi Rum's most popular attractions.
True adventurers can test their skills and endurance by climbing Jordan's highest mountain, Jabal Rum. The climb is a grueling and treacherous challenge which should only be attempted by those of stout heart and indomitable will. A guide is recommended for the ten-hour round trip to the summit, and arrangements should be made the previous day at the Government Rest House.
Offroaders should exercise care in staying on the tracks to avoid plowing over desert vegetation. Don't venture too far away from Rum, and remember to bring plenty of water. Highly recommended for adventure-seekers are Tony Howard's detailed Treks and Climbs in the Mountains of Wadi Rum & Petra or the less extensive Walks & Scrambles in Rum.
Geologists think that this Wadi (the Arabic word for "valley") resulted from a great crack in the surface of the earth caused by an enormous upheaval, which shattered mammoth pieces of granite, and sandstone ridges from the mountains of the Afro-Arabian shield. Some of the ridges are a 1000 feet high and topped with domes worn smooth by the desert winds.
Everywhere, in this timeless and empty place, are indications of man's presence since the earliest known times. Archaeologists are certain that the Wadi Rum area was inhabited in the Prehistoric periods, mainly the Neolithic period between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, and was known as Wadi Iram. Fresh water springs made Rum a meeting center for caravans heading towards Syria and Palestine from Arabia.
Neolithic flints, Iron Age pottery and Minaean graffiti indicate settlement of the area prior to the Nabataeans. Before Islam, it served as the gathering place for the tribes of Ad, Thamud, Lihyan and Main. The Nabataeans, however, surpassed those early tribes in trade activities and monumental achievements.
Recent excavations in the south have uncovered a Caleolithic settlement dating from 4500 BC. On a hill, at the foot of Jabal Rum, lies the Allat temple originally built by the Ad tribe and remodeled by the Nabataeans in the 1st century BC.
A small village to the northwest of the temple was founded by the Nabataeans including a bath complex. Thamudic inscriptions, at the foot of the cliffs on both sides of the main Wadi, can be found in ancient stone constructions. These inscriptions on the temple confirm the pre-Islamic involvement of the Arabian tribes in the construction of the sanctuary. The temple was taken over by Thamudic tribes and Thamudic graffiti covers earlier Nabataean inscriptions, walls and columns.
Approximately 8.5 kms east of Wadi Rum, at Disi, an Italian excavation uncovered an early Nabataean site, which was occupied before the Nabataeans moved to the rose-red city of Petra. Throughout the valley, are scattered slabs of rocks with inscriptions in early Thamudic writing, recording the names of travelers who passed through centuries ago.
Wadi Rum was the headquarters of Prince Feisal bin Al-Hussein and T.E. Lawrence during World War I, to fight for the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence became a legendary figure for his key role in the fight for the Arab cause. He made his home in this magical area. Ain Asshallaleh, also known as Lawrence's Spring is just a short walk up the hillside from the Nabataean temple. The mountain aptly known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, was named by T.E. Lawrence, and was the inspiration for the title of his book of the same name.
The desert tribes, Huweitat and Mzanah, inhabiting Wadi Rum maintain the warm hospitality which characterizes genuine Arab culture. It would be difficult to resist their friendly invitation to share mint tea or cardamom-flavored coffee in their black tents. Enjoy the hospitality whilst sitting by the fire under a starry desert sky - an unforgettable experience.
Before reaching Wadi Rum, visitors will encounter the fort of the Wadi Rum Desert Patrol. The patrolmen are friendly, hospitable and will answer questions willingly over a cup of coffee.
Perfect ambassadors for their country, the men of the famous Desert Patrol wear perhaps the most beautiful uniforms in the Middle East: a long khaki dish-dash held by a bright red bandoleer, a holster with a dagger around the waist, and rifle slung over the back. The headdress is the traditional red-and-white checkered Kouffieh worn by the Bedouins of Jordan, but wrapped under the chin. The Desert Patrol operates out of an old beau guest-style police fort built in the 1930s.
Flora and Fauna
Wadi Rum is a protected environment. Rare species of animals, small plants, and herbs can be found by the inquisitive traveler. Red anemones, poppies and the striking black iris, Jordan's national flower, all grow at will by the roadside and in more quiet reaches. Herbal medicinal cures used for centuries by the Bedouins are found in the mountainous regions.
Wadi Rum is also a bird-watchers' haven with its 110 recorded species. Vultures, buzzards, eagles and sparrows are a few to be seen by those looking skyward. Other interesting creatures to be found include the camel-spider, feared by local Bedouins for its ability to harm camels, however this spider is not dangerous to man.
Seen gracefully in its natural habitat, the Ibex, mountain goat, is often spotted in the desert terrain. Another interesting animals are the Gray Wolf, Blandford's Fox, and the Arabian Sand Cat which is similar in appearance to a domesticated cat and survives in its harsh desert surroundings.
Weather and Clothing
Temperature in Wadi Rum ranges from an average of 32°C (89.6°F) in the daytime to a minimum of 1°C (33.8°F) in the evening. Ideal months to visit are March, April, September, October and November. Wadi Rum receives its annual rainfall in the winter months. It has also been known to snow in the mountains, yet snow quickly melts.
Protective clothing should be worn in the summer. Sun block, water and cool covering clothing should be used in the summer months. Conservative clothing should be worn at all times, for respect of the traditional Bedouin culture. A Bedouin Kouffieh is recommended for protection from the sun and sand. This can be purchased at the rest house or in the village.
Wadi Rum Protected Area
Famously described by T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as "Vast, echoing and God-like", and acclaimed by many as one of the most stunning desertscapes in the world, Wadi Rum is a nature-lover's paradise.
Serious mountaineers relish its challenging climbs (some more than 900 metres up sheer granite and sandstone cliffs), while casual hikers enjoy the peace and tranquility of its sweeping vistas, towering rock faces and boundless empty spaces. Those of calm disposition will probably prefer a camel ride or a night under the stars in a Bedouin tent.
Nature lovers will be drawn to the desert in springtime, when rains bring the greening of the hills and hundreds of species of wild flowers.
Options for exploring Wadi Rum include 4WD vehicles and camel rides. The best way, however, to experience Rum's grandeur is by hiking on foot and camping. Camel trips from the wadi to either Aqaba (several days) or Petra (about a week) may also be arranged.
Wadi Rum's beauty can only be described as breathtaking. One of Jordan's main tourist attractions, the area is spotted with fascinating sandstone mountains decorated with an array of colours. The magnificent colours of the mountains spill into the sand dunes scattered all over the reserve.
Wadi Rum holds plants both rare and endemic to its ecosystem. A greater emphasis has been put on the Wadi's fauna after a baseline survey detected the existence of the Gray Wolf, Blandford's Fox, the Sand Cat and the Ibex within the area. Additionally, the site is an ideal area for bird watching with its 120-recorded species.
Exploration - The adventurous way
The vast beauty of Wadi Rum can be further explored on 4WD vehicle tours that take you deep into the heart of the desert. Camping, hiking and camel riding are only a few of the activities that can be organised through your travel agent.
By car or taxi: From Amman, for the faster trip, take the Desert Highway, approximately 300km south, directly to Wadi Rum. For a more scenic route, take the King's Highway through Petra. Aqaba is a one-hour drive from Wadi Rum.
By bus: From Amman minibuses offer regular services in air-conditioned coaches to the south of Jordan. Contact your travel agent for further details.
Fixed constellations at Wadi Rum
(can be seen year round)
Polaris (North pole)
Sunset site : Umm Sabatah (Winter)
Sunrise site : Tell Hassan