Jordan: A Trip To Wadi Rum Desert
Updated: Dec 28, 2018
The place I never knew I wanted to go, until I arrived, and it was phenomenal.
On a recent trip to Jordan I had a few things on my list that were a must see. Wadi Rum was not one of them. I was there first and foremost to visit Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Having seen it only in photos before and having caught my eye, it was a place high on my list to visit. What I was not expecting was the recommendation by my private guide Sayel who convinced me it was worth the trip. My initial thought, probably like many; was "do I really want to go see a desert out in the middle of nowhere, hours from Amman?" The trip from Amman to Petra is a whopping 3.5-4 hours by car and you can tack on another hour and a half to Wadi Rum. Making it a 5 hour drive to and from Amman. Ouch!
The Journey To Wadi Rum
The trip from Amman to Wadi Rum is a long 5 hours. The only real way to get there is by car or tour bus, so there is no "short route" on this journey. I was convinced by Sayel that I had to make the trip to Wadi Rum since we were already heading in that direction to Petra. He suggest we do Petra first and then make the hike further south to the Wadi Rum Desert. I left it in his hands and let him know that if he really felt it was worth it, then I'm in. I'll save the review on Petra for another time, but know it was well worth the 3.5-4 hour drive and it is substantially more amazing in person.
Sayel had a fairly new Toyota Camry which made the drive comfortable for the long drive. I only mention this as there have been times (such as in Vietnam) where my legs were crushed in a van on a long road trip and it was absolutely awful. As we started the journey from Amman to Wadi Rum I mentioned my desire to stop for local food and Sayel delivered. We stopped at gas station which just so happened to have a restaurant next door. It was clear Sayel had made this journey before many times as everyone along the way knew him. I ordered a few kebabs that were absolutely delicious and the spot was as local as they come. Sayel refueled, I had a good meal and we were on our way.
Now fast forward to us leaving Petra and on our way to Wadi Rum. While Petra was amazing, it is in fact a lot of walking. There is no shade, so prepare to bring sunscreen and a few bottles of water. After leaving Petra and getting back in the car with Sayel, I was beat! Having refueled with water and dates I was ready for Wadi Rum. We pulled up to a train station an hour and a half after leaving Petra which Sayel said we had to stop at before heading over to the desert. What is the train stop you ask? The Hejaz Railway desert stop, with a train that you may recognize from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. The refurbished, but very real; train invokes the memory of the century-old conflict that helped shaped the now modern Middle East. In 1916 while the world was at war, the Arabs were seeking independence from the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Prince Faisal - and with assistance from the illustrious T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia” - the Arabs fought a guerrilla-style war by disrupting train passages on the Hejaz Railway, which in turn wreaked havoc on the Turkish lines of communication and were instrumental in defeating the Turks and ending the war. If you are heading to Wadi Rum, make this a must stop.
Wadi Rum Desert
Arriving at Wadi Rum we drove slightly off the main road to a base camp where there were pickup trucks with benches sitting out front. Not knowing what to expect I was introduced to another man who was going to take me on a tour of the desert. Not knowing how long this was going to be, I was simply told by Sayel that he would meet me back here in a few hours. Hours?! Right before I was about to get in the back seat of the pickup, I was told to get in the actual bed of the pickup. Looking in back, it the pickup was retrofitted with a pretty neat dual bench and canopy. I jumped in and little did I know how amazing this was going to be.
It was only me and my guide on this tour and he was more than happy to proactively take pictures for me using my camera-phone while never rushing me at any time. He even took photos using some more advance features on my iPhone which impressed me. The minute we took off into the desert I could not believe how beautiful the landscape was. Vast, yet amazingly peaceful, it truly felt like you were on the surface of Mars. The feeling is fitting seeing as though movies The Martian, Red Planet, Prometheus, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen all used Wadi Rum as a film location.
My guide knew this and even pointed out a location I was standing in, in which Matt Damon spent a lot of time filming in The Martin.
I realized nothing anyone could say about a desert would have translated to what it was actually like. I was in awe the entire time as we rode through the bumpy desert. The sand not like that of a beach, but a reddish brown powder that your feet sink into. So much so that I had to toss my shoes after this trip as the sand poured in from all angles. Note to those heading to Wadi Run, bring a pair you simply do not care about, or wear sandals.
I was offered tea at one of the stops along the way. Locals have some small camps setup in the desert to allow folks visiting to rest, grab a drink or use the bathroom. I tried not to eat much as I knew there was going to be a Zarb style dinner that evening prepared by Bedouins and was excited for what was to come.
As the tour began to come to a close there was one last stop. We pulled up to a large rock structure that jutted up from the ground and had a large overhang. I was told to head up for the sunset. I walked up through the sand to get to the top, found a place to sit and took a moment to simply soak it all in. The view and the sunset was one like I have never witnessed. It made you realize just how small and fragile we are in this world. At that moment I not only felt free, but also felt like I was on another planet. Looking out into the vastness of the desert was incredible. The sunset was the final touch that made the 5 hour trek south worth every single minute.
Once the tour ended we headed back to the camp for dinner. This was not going to be just any dinner, it was going to be a Zarb dinner. Zarb is one of the amazing and delicious treasures of Bedouin culture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term Bedouin, the Bedouin are nomadic people of the desert, historically inhabiting the desert regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and the Levant. Zarb is the style of cooking that does not require much equipment. This is important as the Bedouin traveled as they roamed the desert in search of pastures and water. Zarb involves digging a hole in the ground which the food would cook in for several hours (4 to 6 hours). While food used to be wrapped in palm leaves and placed in the hole for cooking, it is now mostly wrapped in foil.
When the meal was ready, I watched as they uncovered the underground holes and pulled out the food which was wrapped in foil. They then set the food up in buffet style for myself and some other guests who were staying in the desert (I was not one of them as I was going back to the W Amman). The food was hot and had great flavor. There was a large spread of a variety of foods including items like chicken, lamb, falafel, rice, and hummus. I gladly took a little bit of everything and after a long day it really hit the spot.
Bottom Line The trip to Wadi Rum was not only one I had not planned for, but also one that ended up being the most memorable. I would highly encourage anyone heading to Jordan to make time for Wadi Rum. The guides at Wadi Rum know the land, the history and make what may sound like a drive through the desert a journey of a lifetime. The sunset is one like no other and as many photos of Wadi Rum that I can share, will never do it justice. It is something you simply must see with your own eyes. The Zarb was the perfect way to end the long day, getting another taste of history and culture in the region. Jordan as a country is an amazing place and I would gladly head back to see more of it someday. If I were to do it again, or if I could make a recommendation, it would be to spend at least 1 night in the desert at one of the desert camps (yes there are even luxury camps). The one I was by had domes allowing you to see the night sky which shows every star imaginable. I stayed at the W Amman (which is incredible) which had literally just opened, but for the long drive south staying 1 night in the desert would have made sense while also allowing you to take in the night sky and wake up in such an amazing place.