Red landscape of wadi rum in the Jordan Travel Guide

Guide To The Amazing Lunar Red Desert Of Wadi Rum

In southern Jordan, near the border of Saudi Arabia, is Wadi Rum, a stunning protected desert area. Known for its vast, red, lunar landscape, weathered sandstone and granite mountains, and natural arches, it’s a visual feast. But it’s also full of ancient petroglyphs, inscriptions, and some archeological remains, making it fascinating to visit as well.

With its spectacular landscape and interesting features, the Wadi Rum desert is definitely worth an afternoon to see its sites, usually via 4 x 4, careening over dunes, or sandsurfing down them. Then you’re whisked off to your Bedouin camp, for a traditional dinner, Bedouin music, and interesting conversation with locals before sleeping in a tent, or a modern bubble luxotel, under a zillion stars.

Red landscape of wadi rum in the Jordan Travel Guide
Wadi Rum Desert

Jordan Wadi Rum Desert Protected Area

Petroglyphs in the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan
Ancient Petroglyphs

The UNESCO Heritage area of the Wadi Rum desert is 285 miles² (738 km²), which, crazily, is larger than the area of Singapore.

The fresh-water springs here made it an ideal stop for caravans passing from Arabia to the Levant (Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq) in antiquity. Later, Bedouins (desert nomads) settled here before making Petra their capital.

Inhabited for 12,000 years, it’s cultural significance comes from the 25,000 rock carvings and 20,000 inscriptions left here.

These inscriptions, in a variety of Arabian scripts, show the transition over time from hieroglyphics to the alphabet, which I find fascinating.

Yet beyond its cultural significance, it’s beautiful, offering several sites to explore.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Although Bedouins call it Jabbal Al Mazmar, this weather-worn mountain was named after T. E. Lawrence’s book, The Seven pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph. There is, however, no direct connection, other than the fact that Lawrence stayed here and wrote about the area.

There is also a hike around Seven Pillars, via Makharas Canyon. It’s a moderate loop, taking about 2.5 hours from the visitor center.

How To Get To Seven Pillars: Seven Pillars is a 5-minute walk from the visitor center.

Jebel Khazali & Khazali Canyon

Jebel Khazali, one of the most dramatic mountains in the Wadi Rum desert, rises 4,658’ (1,420 m). And although you can climb it with a Bedouin guide, it’s real significance are the petroglyphs and inscriptions they can show you here.

The walls of this narrow canyon are covered with Thamudic, Nabatean, and Islamic inscriptions, as well as petroglyphs of humans and animals. You can even see animals etched into the cliffs, like lions and elephants, that only traveled through here with caravans from Egypt to Petra, Damascus, and beyond.

Jebel Khazali in the Wadi Rum desert
Khazali Canyon

The name of the canyon, Khazali, comes from the legend of a criminal named Ali. He escaped by running up the mountain and jumping off. He supposedly survived the fall when his robe opened up, helping him land safely. The word “Khaz” means jump, combined with his name, Ali.

Ancient petroglyphs in the Wadi Rum Desert Jordan
Ancient petroglyphs in the Wadi Rum Desert Jordan


How To Get To Khazali Canyon: Khazali Canyon is located 8 miles (13 km) south of the Wadi Rum Visitor Center. The GPS coordinates are 29.520145N, 35424003E.

Lawrence’s House (Ruins)

Known as Lawerence’s house since T. E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, stayed here as an officer during his fortuitous role in the Arab revolt in the early 20th century.

Ruins of Lawrence House, Wadi Rum Desert Jordan
Lawrence’s House

Like many places here, although today it carries his name, it was actually in use prior to him by another British officer. Before that, is was a station for passing caravans, built by the Nabateans over 2,000 years ago.

How To Get To Lawrence’s House: A typical stop on 4 x 4 tours, Lawrence’s House is located 8-9 miles (14 km) south of the Wadi Rum visitor center. The GPS coordinates are 29.528619N, 35.459309E.

Lawrence’s Spring

Used for thousands of years, this spring, along with others, made this area an important water stop for caravans between Arabia and the Levant. As above, although the spring has been used for thousands of years, it carries Lawrence’s name from his fame and writings in his book.

Jordan Wadi Rum Natural Rock Bridges

Um Fruth Rock Bridge, Wadi Rum Desert Jordan
Me on Um Fruth Rock Bridge

The two most popular rock bridges are Um Fruth and Burdah. They’re both relatively close to each other. The choice depends on how much climbing you want to do.

Um Fruth

This is one of the most photographed spots in Wadi Rum, rising 49’ (15 m). I was able to scramble up this one fairly quickly.

How To Get To Um Fruth: See the link here for Um Fruth, which is south of Lawrence’s House.

Jebel Burdah

Burdah Rock Bridge is a little taller, at 114’ (35 m), making the hike up a little more challenging.

How To Get To Burdah: Burdah is located east of Um Fruth.

Jabal Umm ad Dami

This is the highest mountain in all of Jordan at 6,082’ (1,854 m). It offers a spectacular view of Saudi Arabia to the south and Wadi Rum To the north. Hikes can be arranged to the top, taking about 2.5 hours.

jabal Umm ad Dami mountain
View From Jebel Umm ad Dami | James Roudet

How To Get To Jabal Umm ad Dami: It’s about (40 km) from the visitor center by Jeep. Click here for a map. The GPS coordinates at 29.3029N, 34.4455E.

Jordan Wadi Rum Bedouin Camps

After sight-seeing, if you’re staying overnight, the jeeps head to a Bedouin camp, which there are several of. The one I stayed in was run with solar energy, including hot showers. A very pleasant surprise since my hostel in Petra didn’t even have hot water!

There are a wide variety of options from basic tents to luxury bubbles, where you can watch the stars from your bed.

Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum desert
Tents in Bedouin Camp

After watching the sunset and eating dinner, which was a local dish of chicken, potatoes and onions cooked for hours, buried in the sand, along with lentils, hummus, cheese, pita bread, and of course, their delicious mint/cardamom tea, we gazed at the stars overhead and listed to Bedouin’s tales and music.

Sunset in Wadi Rum

The next morning, we were up early, scrambling over hilltops in the desert to find a spot to watch the sun rise over the red sand.

How To Get To The Wadi Rum Desert

From Petra to Wadi Rum

The best way to get from Petra to Wadi Rum is to take the Jett bus from Wadi Musa in Petra. It leaves at 5 PM and takes about 2.5 hours. The cost is 15 JOD ($21 USD), each way. There is also a local bus that you can book through your hotel, costing a little less, that leaves around 6 AM. Ask at your lodging. The latter is convenient as your hotel will also include tours and accommodation in Wadi Rum. This was the option I chose and was completely happy with the convenience and the tour.

From Amman to Wadi Rum

The best way to get to Wadi arum from Amman is to start by taking the Jett bus to Aqaba. From here, you have two options. You can take a taxi from Aqaba, which is best if you have several in your group to share the cost with. It’s estimated to be around $30 for the taxi ride. There is also a minibus that runs from Aqaba to Wadi Rum. Unfortunately, they only run when full, not by a set schedule. They also fill up quickly and may be limited in Fridays (Fridays are considered days off in Jordan to many). See this guide for more details as not much is published on this.

Alternatively, take the bus to Petra (Wadi Musa), then take one of the options noted above under Petra to Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum Desert

Best Time To Visit The Wadi Rum Desert

The best time to visit Wadi Run is Spring, March to May, and Fall, September to November. In the summer months, it gets ver hot during the day, while in the winter, it is cold at night.

Safety Tips & Scams

While most of the people in this area are trustworthy, there are always a few trying to make an extra buck by being deceitful.

  • Ask your Wadi Rum tour operator to provide their certificate verifying that they can enter the protected area before booking. If you do not enter through the Wadi Rum visitor center, you are not in the park. Book through your hotel/hostel or arrange your tour at the visitor center itself.
  • Make sure to only buy your entrance ticket from the ticket box at the Wadi Rim visitor center, not from locals.
  • If you’re meeting a guide at the center, have a pre-arranged word or saying that only the two of you know, so you know you’re with the right person.
  • Some Jordanians are extremely flirtatious with females, planning to extort them for money in the long run. It’s ok to have fun and flirt back, but never be conned into sending money.

Other Places In Jordan To Visit

Jordan is full of amazing sites and there’s plenty more beyond the Wadi Rum desert. The highlight of Jordan is definitely a visit to Petra Archeological Park. This ancient city was the Nabatean’s capital around the 4th century BC. A labyrinth of ancient red-rose sandstone carved facades, tombs, and temples, it’s as mysterious as it beautiful. And as the descendants of the ancient Nabateans that built this place work here, and some still live amongst the caves here, it’s a fascinating glimpse into their culture.

Roman Ruins in Amman
The Monastery in Petra

Amman is another city in Jordan that has a lot to offer, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. You can see ancient Roman and Umayyad ruins in the city center as well as warm, welcoming people and amazing food. It also makes a great base for side trips to the Dead Sea, nearby archeological finds, like Jerash and Madaba, and Mount Nebo, the location noted in the Bible where Moses was shown the promised land.

To help plan your trip to Jordan, see my Jordan Travel Guide, which highlights all the top destinations, how to get there, logistics, safety, scams, and more.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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