Why do you travel?
There are a thousand and one reasons: we travel to meet people, experience new cultures, appreciate a different cuisine. We travel for architecture, art, and the chance to expand our horizons.
We travel because we want to, we need to, and because we can.
But there’s one reason to travel that really resonated with me. In one of Raymond Feist’s book, a character gives his reason for leaving the comfortable life he had, running a bar with the love and companionship of a woman: “Sunsets above other oceans, and mighty sights and great wonders to behold.”
As I sat on the rock watching the sun set in Wadi Rum, it was Feist’s words that reverberated in my mind. Yes, I would travel just to watch the sunset in other oceans. I’ve seen it in Wadi Rum, and it was indeed a wonder to behold.
When I heard that Wadi Rum was included in the itinerary of the #UnravelingJordan History and Culture Tour of the Jordan Tourism Board, I was very excited. I had never been to a “real” desert before. I’ve seen sand dunes, yes (Read: Tianmo Desert, China) but none could compare to the vastness and beauty of Wadi Rum.
Can a desert devoid of lush vegetation be called beautiful? You bet it does. Wadi Rum’s rust-colored sand and huge sandstone and granite mountains (jebel in Arabic) give it an otherworldly quality. Its other name, The Valley of the Moon is a perfect fit. No wonder T.E. Lawrence called it “vast, echoing and God-like.” (Watch the video below!)
First, the Facts (and Tips for Visiting Wadi Rum)
Wadi Rum is a protected area by the government of Jordan. You can go there by bus, rental car, or taxi; the most convenient, of course, is by taxi. It’s around 4-5 hours from Amman, 2 hours from Petra, and an hour from Aqaba. All tourists must pass by the Visitors Center first to pay the entrance fee of JOD 5 per person.
The weather in Wadi Rum can go to extremes, so wear layers. Bring a light jacket, sunscreen, and lots of water. Bring a cap, too, or a keffiyeh (the checkered red and white scarf); I brought an umbrella, but I couldn’t use it in the pick-up.
It’s best to spend a night in Wadi Rum. The night sky is so clear, and sleeping under the stars can be a magical experience. If you’re a solo female traveler, use common sense. The Bedouin men can be very charming, but don’t decide to marry anyone there after just a few days!
Exploring Wadi Rum
The Bedouins, the inhabitants of Wadi Rum for thousands of years, used to be nomadic, going from place to place to find food for their animals and themselves.
Nowadays, they have settled somewhat, setting up their tents in the shadows of rocky mountains. They rent out their camels, organize tours, or set up camps for tourists.
Our group had lunch at Captain’s Desert Camp, a locally-run encampment with a big, open-air dining area and several smaller tents for sleeping. Those were not regular tents, though, which have you sleep on the ground.
Each one has a bed, a mosquito netting, and even electricity! It’s not fancy but I prefer it 100% than having a modern hotel in the middle of the desert. The camp blends well in Wadi Rum, and it is as it should be.
After our very delicious buffet-type lunch (all sorts of salads and a rice/chicken dish), off we went on our 4×4 tour.
Exploring Wadi Rum on 4×4 and a Camel
Wadi Rum can be explored in several ways: by 4×4, a camel, on foot, or through its adventure activities like rock climbing and hot air balloon riding (take a look at what you can do there, as well as the rates: Wadi Rum | Visit Jordan).
For the first part of our tour, we went on a 4×4, an adrenaline pumping drive that had us shrieking and holding on for dear life. Despite our vehicle’s speed (which we all enjoyed), the beauty of Wadi Rum didn’t escape me. We drove through sand dunes and between huge mountains, our keffiyeh flying in the wind.
We stopped at Lawrence’s Spring, a camp where the face of T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), a British officer who helped the Bedouins against the Ottoman attacks in the First World War, was carved by a local artist onto a rock.
The Bedouins inside the camp offered us tea, and I gratefully accepted. Unlike the chai I had tasted in Amman, the teas in Wadi Rum were sweetened just the way I liked it. They had two cats, too, and I wasted no time in petting them. Arabian cats are fluffy, friendly (read: they tolerated my caresses), and so soft.
Pretty soon, though, we left again, only to stop at another rocky hill where we could see some drawings (petroglyphs) left by the ancient Nabataeans. These works of art, usually depicting scenes of daily life, were scratched by the desert people onto the rock surface. There are thousands of them all over Wadi Rum.
There were quite a few tourists there, as well as a herd of camels resting. None were ours, however, so after a few minutes, we left again.
After a few more minutes of
flying driving through the desert, we finally found our camels.
Mine, called Rams, was the smallest and probably the youngest. I was trying to get on his back when he decided I was too slow and stood up, leaving me hanging, half on and half off his back. Our guide and a Bedouin man had to push me up to the saddle. I was just too glad none of our photographers captured that moment. So mortifying!
After I got over the scare of landing on my butt in the desert, I began to enjoy the camel ride. It’s not too uncomfortable, especially if you hook your leg on the camel’s neck. With one hand holding on, I even found the time to take a few pictures.
When we all got off to wait for sunset, Rams was contrite enough to let me pose with him for a few selfies. He didn’t try to throw me off his back again!
Watching the Sunset in Wadi Rum
The best moment of the day for me was sitting on a rock and waiting for sunset in Wadi Rum. There was just no describing the feeling of looking over the vista in front of me.
Yes, life in the desert is hard, even now with more opportunities to earn. The heat can be unbearable, and it can be very cold at night. How did the desert people survive here?
Yet, as the sun set, I could clearly see why the Bedouins chose to stay. Shrouded in the soft light of the setting sun, the red sand dunes and the huge mountains made us all feel tiny. It felt very humbling to be amidst such beauty.
When my friends who were sitting on the rock with me fell silent too, it made the moment all the more poignant. I could hear nothing but the wind, and everywhere I looked, there was just the magnificence of the desert. Wadi Rum is unbelievably breathtaking. I felt so lucky to stand witness to its glory.
As T.E. Lawrence said, “No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry…the imprint of the desert…and he will have within him the yearning to return…. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.”
Such apt words for Wadi Rum!
Have you ever felt this way during your travels? Where? Do share in the comments below!