What can you realistically expect from a Day Trip to Wadi Rum?
When I planned my little winter sun trip to Jordan, I didn’t plan on visiting Wadi Rum. My priorities were on Petra, catching some sun in Aqaba and viewing the Desert Castles east of Amman. So I simply ran out of time. However, after seeing my friends beautiful Wadi Rum pictures, I knew I had to catch a glimpse at least. So I set off on a day trip to Wadi Rum on my very last day in Aqaba.
Even a culture nut like me loves stunning desert landscape like this. Bring on the Day Trip to Wadi Rum!
Where is Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum is a high desert valley and a Protected Natural Area about 75km from Aqaba, 120km from Petra and 320km from Amman. It lies 900m above sea level. The wadi is arid desert, with peaks of sandstone rising up to 1700m.
Wadi Rum first came on tourists radar after the highly romanticised 1962 David Lean movie “Lawrence of Arabia” about T.E. Lawrence, a British Intelligence Officer and archaeologist, about his involvement in the 1916-1918 Great Arab Revolt (against the Ottoman Empire). Since then, it has served as location for many movies where an out-of-this world scenery was required, such as “The Martian” and some of the Star Wars sequels.
How do you get to Wadi Rum?
The easiest way to get to Wadi Rum is from Aqaba, about 75km South.
Day Trip to Wadi Rum made easiest: There is a daily bus run by the Jordan Express Tourist Transport Company (JETT). At the time of writing, it leaves the Aqaba JETT Office at 8.00 and returns from Wadi Rum Visitor Centre at 16.00.
There should be at least one local bus daily, leaving at 6.30, but all Northbound buses heading to Ma’an, Petra, Amman or Irbid, will drop you off at the Desert Highway turn in the Village of Rashidiyah, about 20km from Wadi Rum Village. There are often taxis who will take you as far as the Visitor Centre, or you can hitch hike to the Visitor Centre or Wadi Rum Village, about 5km beyond the visitor centre and the end of the road for any cars that aren’t 4×4.
Booking your Wadi Rum Tour
To be honest… I just tagged along with two guys I met on the JETT Bus! Honestly, the more people you can gather into a small group, the less the cost per individual. It is best to club together with some like-minded people in advance and get a little group of 3-6 people together, as cost is usually per car. One of my fellow traveller did all the leg work and contacted a number of Wadi Rum-based companies the previous day. After somewhat of a false start with a driver who didn’t speak good English and tried his very best to overcharge us, we ended up with an outfit called Wadi Rum Desert Eyes.
They were fine! Given it was all rather last minute, we paid 30 JOD per person for a 4-hour jeep tour to the classic tourist sites. We had some pretty dramatic weather with high wind, sandstorm and a bit of hale, so we skipped the Abu Khashaba Canyon hike. We had a friendly driver who spoke okay English – not enough for in-depth conversations and guidance about the scenery and history, but fine for a day trip.
Note that many pre-arranged tours start at Wadi Rum Village about 6km into the Protected Area. The Rest House in Wadi Rum is a common rendezvous point. Confirm the meeting point when you make any reservations. Ideally, a tour should include pick-up from the Visitor Centre unless you have your own transport. You can easily drive your own car as far as Wadi Rum Village and park there. There are also plenty of official and inofficial taxis. It should not cost more than 5JOD to the Rest House.
I also have contacts from various other local bedouin guides. My friends spent three days in the desert with a local bedouin family and loved it. Feel free to drop me a line if you would like know further details.
Can I just turn up at the Visitor Centre without a booking?
In winter, you certainly can. When we arrived there were plenty of people trying to sell us a tour for 30-50JOD per person. You normally need to register at the visitor centre anyway or buy a ticket (5JOD) unless you have a Jordan Pass. Outside the Main Office is a map with several itineraries by 4×4 Jeep or camel. I forgot to take a photo, but the cheapest tour of around 1-2 hours, taking you to three classic sites, was about 25-30JOD per vehicle, rising to 85JOD per vehicle for a “full day” 6-hour tour.
These tours will usually start there and then at the visitor centre, as there are several guides there trying to drum up on-the-spot business. I wouldn’t rely on this in the more temperate months of March-May and September-November when Wadi Rum is in full season, though. The default vehicle is a 4×4 pickup truck like the one in the picture. You are welcome to sit in the back. In the weather we had, we were most happy to sit in the warm passenger cabin though!
Just a few impressions of entering the desert. It really is another world, far away from the city and resorts of Aqaba.
We even had sun – breaking through cloud for 10 seconds. Wrap up warm in winter!
What can you see in a day?
We arrived at the Visitor Centre at around 9.30. Here, you will disembark and be asked to pay a 5JOD entrance fee. Sorting out our tour and getting some locals to drive us to the Resthouse in Wadi Rum Village, followed by price negotiations, took a bit of time, and we were off-road at about 10.30. With some rather moody clouds and high winds, it didn’t matter so much, but in spring and summer, the best time for photographs and admiring the red sandstone and desert scenery would be early mornings and late afternoons/sunset. We returned to the Visitor Centre at around 15.00 pretty frozen, with plenty of time before our return. The bus usually arrives quite eraly and will wait in the large parking lot outside the Visitor Centre.
We followed a well-trodden track, however, because of the low season we barely saw any one but the local bedouins manning the fires in their strategically positioned tents by the classic sights.
Jabal Al-Mazmar (“Seven Pillars of Wisdom”)
You can spot these from the Visitor Centre, rising steeply from the sandy desert. No car required, although I HIGHLY recommend doing some sort of tour to go deeper in the desert, no matter how short.
A relatively short drive from the Visitor Centre, this is on all itineraries. A natural spring from high up in the mountains, with ancient man-made granite basins to catch the water. You can climb up to the spring. Don’t ask me about its association with T.E. Lawrence. I suspect it is a PR thing although it is said to be mentioned in “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. Desert Adventurers sell well although looking closely he was more of a military and intelligence man, but hey, lets just conjure up the handsome image of Peter O’Toole and wrap that kuffiyah a little tighter.
What is definitely is is a favourite stopover for humans and camels alike. You can drink from it but better do that before the camels get to it. There are also remnants of a Nabataean Temple and inscriptions nearby – ask your guide to point them out to you, as the modern graffiti at the bottom of the hill is not it.
Red Sand Dunes
There are several “red sand dunes” sites. We visited the dunes near Khazali Canyon. Wind aside, they are relatively easy and safe to climb and offer great views of the desert. Unfortunately, this makes them also very popular and there’s plenty of rubbish about.
Khor al Ajram Rock Bridge (“Small Arch”)
A small rock formation on the sandy desert bed, with beautiful surrounding scenery. While not as spectacular as some of the other rock bridges, it is somewhat less intimidating to climb and your injuries are unlikely be life-threatening should you fall off.
A very well-known stop a little further into the desert, make sure this is on your itinerary. You can scramble safely about 100m into the narrow canyon and find pretroglyphs and Nabataean and Islamic inscriptions on its inside walls. With the right guide, you can actually go further by an ancient Bedouin Road, but you should be fit and have some scrambling experience.
Another T.E. Lawrence reference, and, I am sorry to disappoint you: These Nabataean-area ruins are really just a pile of stones. Whether T.E. Lawrence stayed here in 1917, or him and his cronies just made a stopover/stored their ammunition here is much the subject of legend. The views from the rock behind the house are better than the ruins themselves. Usually, every of these desert “attractions” has a rather roomy Bedouin tent erected next to them, where friendly locals keep a fire going and serve you tea. There’s no charge for it, or it may all be factored into the package, although you could buy one of the souvenirs on offer.
It was my special wish to go there – just because I like odd-shaped rocks! This mushroom was a little smaller than I had expected, but as so often in Wadi Rum, the surrounding scenery was stunning. Also, fewer tours come here. The weather had reached a stormy climax, with sand blasting our faces at great speed, and occasional sun breaking through the cloud.
Um Fruth Rock Bridge (“Big Arch”)
Last and much anticipated stop on our half-day tour! You can scramble this rock bridge fairly easily. Suffice to say, no one in our party bothered, and with the high winds, it didn’t feel terribly safe! This is one with serious injury potential, and if you want to climb it, I highly recommend to scale it with a local, ideally one who knows how to use a safety rope. The nearest hospital will be in Aqaba and none of them look terribly confidence-inspiring.
Instead of a climb, you can scramble through the small canyon for a great panoramic desert view, or, like my two mates, hang out with the locals in another hospitality tent.
What we missed: Abu Khashaba Canyon Hike
Abu Khashaba is a beautiful dry canyon that you can walk through in less than an hour, no scrambling required. Usually your vehicle will pick you up on the other side of the canyon. I might have given it a try, hoping the physical activity in a relatively sheltered area might warm me up, but my new travel mates were lesss enthusiastic about it. At least another good reason to come back!
What to Bring on a Day Trip to Wadi Rum
It really depends on the season and the weather! Wadi Rum is at around 1000m elevations, with the highest peaks up 1700m.
On our winter visit I wish I had brought warmer clothes! I suggest at least two layers, including leggings, and some windproof trousers. Same goes for the top. As you see from my pictures, I was totally unprepared. I pride myself in travelling really light and had totally brought the wrong clothes! Consider bringing a light base layer like this Icebreaker Merino Base layer… which I had left at home. I had brought one of my trusty John Smedley sweaters – not ideal for outdoors, but they do look smart in every situation, and it was nice and warm in the desert!
I also recommend some lightweight gloves, a buff and a hat!
Take sturdy walking shoes. I have these. They are super comfy and pretty water resistant but not terribly durable – they are starting to break at the big toe joints. My new shoes are by a German manufacturer called Hanwag, the style is Beldorado II Low similar to these, and they even come with bunion special models! They offer great support and currently feel like a brick on my foot, so I cannot imagine wearing them on a casual day about town, but maybe they get better as I break them in more. I might look into something a bit lighter like the Makra Urban shoe (has to be lightweight, water repellent and ideally contain no leather or as little leather as possible)
If you wear glasses, leave your good glasses at home and wear an older pair, especially in high winds. There may be some good sand blasting going on that not all lenses tolerate well. Also, wearing contact lenses on a windy day might not be such a good idea.
I always have some kind of scarf on my bag, and I am glad I did! Mine is some ratty old viscose pashmina I bought at least 15 years ago in a market. It has accompanied me on every trip and I am impressed how long the thing lasts! I also travel with a Turkish traditional hammam towel, which can easily be refashioned into a scarf. I bought a supply from Jennifers Hamam in Istanbul, but here’s a good organic handwoven one for under 20Euros. Organic cotton in a traditional hand loom weave is the best – you will have them forever!
Whatever camera you use, protect the lens with a filter! In high winds, sand may find its way into the body unless the camera is weather sealed. The sand played havoc with my memory cards and batteries. I managed to recover everything – but if you have dual memory slots, perhaps use one of them for picture back-up.
Food and Drink
There are small shops in Wadi Rum village where you can buy bisquits, crisps and other fast food snack, as well as water and soft drinks. You better bring the high quality energy bar with you. In Aqaba you find many nut shops (Al Shaab is my favourite) for inexpensive high energy snacks. Also enquire with your guide whether they carry any water or whether you are expected to purchase it yourself.
The Visitor Centre has a very basic restaurant. And toilets. Bringing us to…
After Wadi Rum Village, there are no toilets except in desert camps, which you will not get to use on a Day Trip to Wadi Rum. So you have to use the great outside toilet. If you insist on toilet paper, bring it as well as a lighter so you can burn it – or take a dirty toilet paper bag. A bit of hand sanitizer won’t go amiss on this occasion.
Verdict on my Day Trip to Wadi Rum
Despite my hasty and rather shoddy planning, my day trip to Wadi Rum was one of my Jordan highlights.
I have no experience of staying overnight, but bear in mind that the months of December and January (when I visited) can get very cold, dropping to freezing temperatures at night. You’d be well advised to bring appropriate clothing and sleeping bags with you. The camps in and around Wadi Rum are never full at this time of the year, and you can expect personable service and competitive prices.
Note that a lot of the more “upmarket” camps with more facilities, often in brick-and mortar houses, are not in the Protected Area. Some of them are, in fact, quite luxurious and cater to more tour groups, but they are actually outside Wadi Rum. Often, they do not exactly advertise that! If you pre-book, verify where you will be picked up. If it’s outside the village of Wadi Rum or the Visitor Centre, your camp will most likely be outside Wadi Rum. There is nothing wrong with that – but if you expect and pay for Wadi Rum, you can expect to be taken there, so exercise some caution.
Inside Wadi Rum you only find simple bedouin-style tents, sometimes with real beds, often with shared washrooms. Forget WiFi of mobile reception much beyond the Visitor Centre.
Visa to Jordan
Most nationalities, including EU nationals and US citizens are eligible for a visa on arrival at a cost of currently 40 JOD (approximately 60 Euro). If you arrive in Aqaba Airport or have a Jordan pass, the visa fee is waived. If in doubt, contact your nearest Jordanian Embassy.
Where to stay in Aqaba
The town on Aqaba on the Red Sea is the closest town to Wadi Rum. Eilat in Israel is also close but crossing the land border is sometimes very time consuming, so I recommend you start in Aqaba.
I stayed at the Amir Sultan Palace Hotel in Aqaba, about 200m from the local bus station and about 1km from the JETT Bus Station. I paid 32 JOD (approximately 30Euro) in January 2020 for a double room at a good three-star standard, exceptional cleanliness and very hospitable and helpful staff. It is exceptional value and does get booked quickly, so reserve well in advance. Their sister hotel Karam House is even closer to the bus station, has very similar interior and facilities, and is less booked up. my friends stayed there and declared it their best stay in all of Jordan. Neither hotel offers breakfast, but a famous Aqaba breakfast place, the unpretentious no-frills Al Mohandes Cafeteria is close by and serves Jordanian food all day.
If you prefer to be close to the sea, the small La Riva Hotel has beautiful pared down styling, is right next to the sea but about a kilometre walk from the main souk area and bus station. Expect to pay between 50-70Euro depending on room category.
Another recommendation is the beautiful four-star Lacosta Hotel. Close to the sea but with no direct beach access, it is bright, modern and beautifully styled. It’s located on the main “hotel strip” in town, close to two of the top restaurants of Aqaba and less than 5 minutes walk from the JETT bus terminal.
Buses for a Day Trip to Wadi Rum
I took the once-daily JETT Bus directly to Wadi Rum Visitor Centre. It runs all year. It leaves from the JETT Terminal at around 8am and leaves Wadi Rum at 16.00 in winter. You can also check the JETT Website although it’s a bit fiddly to navigate – I didn’t bother and just booked my ticket on the day, 30 minutes prior to departure. I actually went to the JETT Office the day before and was told to buy my ticket in the morning.
JETT also runs a once-daily bus to Petra. You can see Petra in a day if you stick to the major sights and the weather is stable. I don’t recommend a day trip if you want to hike the trails or if the weather is unstable.
There may or may not be a daily local bus to Wadi Rum at 6.30 from the local bus station. Is is near Princess Salma Park in the city entre. If there isn’t you can take any northbound bus, for example to Petra, Ma’an, Amman or Irbid. Then ask to alight in the village of Rashidiyah. There is a turn to Wadi Rum and various desert camps with clear signposting on the highway. You can either hire a cab for the remaining 20km or hitchhike to Wadi Rum. Likewise, you can do this in daylight hours quite safely on the return journey.
I used the current edition of the Rough Guide to Jordan for my trip. It may be a little out of date on hotels and transport, but the restaurant information and detailed information on sights is what I mostly use the Rough Guide for – and it’s excellent for that!
Please forgive my somewhat critical views of T.E. Lawrence. Perhaps I should shut until I have read “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” instead of voicing my pro-European, anti-colonial voice. I know he is a big deal in the anglo-American world and held dear by many Brits in particular. If you prefer some historical background, I recommend Scott Anderson’s well-known and easy-read “Lawrence in Arabia”.
I always like to take a bit of the local cuisine home with me. On this trip, I bought a years supply of sumac and different types of za’atar. Pomegranate molasses would have made it too, had it not been for the hand luggage liquid restriction. I like the Middle Eastern Cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi – my current favourite is “Plenty” a vegetable-heavy book of delicious Middle East-inspired recipes.
The small print
Disclosure: This trip was entirely self funded. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking aside from some affiliate links to Amazon.com and Booking.com. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in unless otherwise stated. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth. More details on my affiliate link policy are here.
More Middle East?
The Middle East is a rather exciting and culturally diverse region for us living in Europe. There are now a number of frequent well-priced flights, including my favourite budget airline, Easyjet. It comes as no surprise that I have travelled the Middle East a few times. I feel the Middle East is really underrated as a holiday destination. This may be partially owed to the volatile security situation and perhaps the fact that many Middle Eastern countries are more conservative than Europe.
I personally have never been in any unsafe situation on my trips, most of which were solo and independently arranged. However, please do consult foreign office advice and use your own healthy judgement what you will feel comfortable with before you travel. If you want more information on travelling the Middle East safely, feel free to drop me a line or visit on of my other Middle East posts.
Read some of my Middle East posts
Here’s my post on visiting Jerusalem for the first time.
I am fascinated by Holy Land sites, and have spent plenty of time walking the Via Dolorosa, Temple Mount and up the Mount of Olives. Very briefly, I gingerly stepped into Palestine to view the birthplace of Jesus Christ, next door to a huge separation wall and some rather good street art. I have also been to Rachels Tomb, not a tourist but revered by many believers of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith, and a painful reminder of the separation between the states of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.