Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum: What to See, What to Do, and Practical Information

Along with Petra, Wadi Rum is arguably Jordan’s most magnetic destination, attracting countless tourists every year. And for good reason: it’s a slice of desert that offers everything a traveler could hope for – golden sand dunes, spectacular rock formations, adventure activities, and more. On this page, we’ll delve into what to see in Wadi Rum, its history, how to get here, and most importantly, what to do in Wadi Rum for an unforgettable experience.

Table of Contents

Where is Wadi Rum and What is its Climate


Wadi Rum is a protected natural reserve located in southern Jordan, within the territory of the Aqaba Governorate. In fact, the city of Aqaba is the closest major city, about 60 km from what is considered its ‘gateway’: Shakaria. However, the central point of Wadi Rum is considered to be the village of Wadi Rum, often written as Wadi Rum Village, about 70 km from Aqaba, where the asphalt road ends. About 7 km before reaching the village is the Visitor Center, a mandatory stop where tickets are also obtained.

It covers an area of about 720 km2 (72,000 hectares), making it a vast and expansive area to explore on foot. The translation of its name in Aramaic is “high valley” or “elevated valley,” which helps us understand one of its geographical characteristics: its high altitude, at around 1,600 meters above sea level. Its highest point is Jbel Umm ad Dami, standing at over 1,850 meters above sea level.

Combined with its latitude, extremely low precipitation, and other factors such as high solar radiation, Wadi Rum has a typical desert climate: scorching temperatures during the day in the warm months, dropping sharply at night and becoming freezing cold in winter. Therefore, adequate protection against the sun and heat (water, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.) is essential in summer, and thermal clothing and insulation, including gloves and hats, are necessary in winter.

However, there is a unique feature worth highlighting: the presence of siqs or rocky canyons creates shaded areas, sometimes throughout the day, functioning as microclimatic oases where one can rest from the heat and marvel at the sight, as they allow for the emergence of almost miraculous flora of shrubs and trees seemingly growing directly from the rocks.

mapa desierto wadi rum Wadi Rum

A bit of history

Although today it may seem like a truly inhospitable place for life, where only the courage of the Bedouin people allows them to survive, Wadi Rum was actually a much more pleasant place for humans from an environmental and climatic point of view. Evidence of this is the rich history that lies behind it.

Thousands of years ago, it was an area rich in springs and wells, and in fact the Greeks and Romans spoke of its pine forests, vineyards, and olive groves, which have now disappeared but give visitors an idea of how different the landscape was here.

But the best sign, pun intended, of the civilizations that dwelt or passed through here are the petroglyphs (rock carvings) and rock inscriptions. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 of them, some of which are fascinating. The first tribes to do so probably came from Arabia, known as the Zamudians, who made inscriptions in the Zamudic language, and the Nabateans took over: this people, who had their ‘capital’ in Petra, left here testimonies of their worship of deities such as Dushara and Allat.

There are also numerous funeral mounds in Wadi Rum, indicating that this was not simply a pass-through place, but rather there were permanent and stable settlements. Furthermore, the importance of hunting in this natural reserve has been proven, as well as the extraction of minerals in the times of King Solomon, for example.

Over the centuries, with the worsening of its extreme climate, this place came under the management of the Bedouin tribes, the only ones who have proven capable of surviving in such a harsh environment. They always did so with their nomadic way of life, although nowadays some families have opted for a more settled and sedentary lifestyle, as evidenced by the establishment of some families in the village of Wadi Rum.

Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt

But undoubtedly, Wadi Rum is famous today thanks to the promotion of one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed films: Lawrence of Arabia. The film tells the story of Thomas Edward Lawrence’s involvement in the Arab Revolt of 1917, a key figure in this historical episode for Jordan, although perhaps exaggerated for media and tourism purposes.

Nevertheless, this British archaeologist, writer, and military officer quickly joined the cause led by King Hussein bin Ali, whose great aspiration was to create an independent Arab state separate from the Ottoman Empire. He fought in the armies of Emir Faysal and felt like one of them (and dressed like one) in that epic saga, which is considered the seed of the later Arab state of Jordan.

His major contribution was actually the book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” which, although an autobiography, served to reveal the intricacies of the Arab Revolt to the Western world. In some passages of the work, Lawrence describes places in Wadi Rum, which have forever linked the name of Thomas Edward Lawrence with this natural reserve.

que ver en wadi rum Wadi Rum

What to see in Wadi Rum

Contrary to what one might think, there is a lot to see in Wadi Rum. Despite being a desert, the rich history of this place makes it worth visiting from an archaeological, artistic, and ethnological perspective. It’s no wonder that this place was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.

Most of the things to see in Wadi Rum are natural, especially geological formations such as whimsical granite and sandstone formations. But there are also man-made “works” that are worth stopping by. Here are some of them grouped by theme:

  • Rock bridges: these are one of the most iconic sights in Wadi Rum and should not be missed. They are created by differential erosion by wind, which acts differently on granite and sandstone. The most famous ones are Little Rock, Umm Fruth, and especially Burdah Bridge, as its “arch” is about 80 meters high from the ground.
  • Siqs or canyons: as mentioned earlier, Wadi Rum has a great variety of rocky siqs and canyons that can be explored on foot or by camel, offering pleasant shade and cooler temperatures in the summer. Some of the most important ones are:
    • Khazali Canyon: a fissure that goes into Jbel Khazali, about 150 meters long, with a rich collection of petroglyphs (ostriches, a woman in childbirth, etc.).
    • Makharas Canyon: goes into the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Barrah Canyon: one of the longest, about 5 km in length.
    • Khazareh Canyon: goes into Jbel Umm Al Ishirn. Rakhabat Canyon, inside the same mountain (Jbel Umm Al Ishirn).
    • Umm Tawaqi Canyon: famous, among other reasons, for recent rock carvings of Lawrence of Arabia and other characters from the Arab Revolt.
  • Dunes: When someone thinks of the desert, especially an iconic one like Wadi Rum, they often visualize vast expanses of sand dunes, or “seas” of fine golden sand that take on the shape of hills or mounds according to the whims of the wind. In Wadi Rum, to be honest, this is not the most common landscape, but it is not absent either. One notable area is the Jbel Umm Ulaydiyya, which has reddish-colored dunes. It forms a natural slope that can be climbed on foot.
  • Archaeological sites and petroglyphs: These are testimonies of the passage and settlement of people from different eras in Wadi Rum. They are often concentrated in the more “accessible” parts of the reserve, such as its canyons, but there are also other signs of ancient human life in other areas. Some notable examples include:
  • Petroglyphs of Jbel Umm Al Ishrin, on the western face. They depict animals, but there are also Kufic inscriptions.
  • Petroglyphs of Alameleh: Among the most striking and best-preserved, with scenes of hunting, camel caravans, and Nabataean inscriptions.
  • Nabataean Temple: Located on a hill near the village of Wadi Rum. It is believed to have been built in the 1st century BC to 1st century AD and dedicated to the goddess Allat. It may seem like just another archaeological site where some imagination is needed to understand its purpose, but its significance lies in providing evidence of a permanent Nabataean settlement.
  • Lawrence’s House: Despite being theoretically inhabited by Lawrence, little remains of the building, which was built on the ruins of an earlier Nabataean structure.
  • Museums and visitor spaces: It’s evident that Wadi Rum is a place with very little human modification, where modern constructions are practically negligible. However, there are some small spaces for interpreting the environment that are worth visiting, especially:
  • Visitor Center Museum: This welcome space for visitors has a small museum that tells the human and environmental history of Wadi Rum, with informative panels and an explanatory video in a screening room.
  • Train Station Locomotives: Time seems to have stood still on these rails, which were part of the only railway line of the Hejaz Railway, an Ottoman project from the early 20th century. The locomotives and wagons that rest here were restored only to be exhibited to visitors, who can enter them and take vintage photos.
  • Mountains and viewpoints: Scattered throughout the reserve are spectacular mountains that rise imposingly above the plain. Climbing to their peaks or strategic mid-slope points is rewarded with panoramic views of the surroundings. Some notable examples include:
  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Probably the most iconic mountain in the reserve, as its proximity to the Visitor Center makes it visible to all. Its unique shape, resembling an accordion bellows with seven parts, earned it the name Seven Pillars of Wisdom in honor of the book written by T.E. Lawrence, which was instrumental in bringing this place to the attention of the Western world.
  • Jbel Rum: Rising over 1,750 meters above sea level, it is so named because it towers over the main settlement in the reserve. It is very popular among climbers.
  • Jbel Umm Al Ishrin: Very close to the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, it is notable for its seemingly 20 small rock domes or cupolas.
  • Jbel Qatar: On its slopes are some of the best viewpoints from which to see Wadi Rum, especially during sunset.
  • Springs and water sources: Finding water in such an arid place always produces a special feeling. There are two
que hacer en wadi rum Wadi Rum

What to do in Wadi Rum

As you can imagine, there is not only a lot to see in Wadi Rum, but also a lot to do. Wadi Rum is a place with an extraordinary variety of experiences that will make you feel in harmony with this overwhelming yet welcoming space.

Some proposals require special physical fitness, as they are adventure sports, but in other cases, they are suitable for all types of travelers. Here is a list of popular proposals to do in Wadi Rum among its visitors:

  • 4×4 and motorized vehicle tours: This is the fastest way to get around the reserve. But at the same time, it is an experience in itself, especially if it involves vehicles associated with the adrenaline of speed and off-road, such as quads.
  • Camel tours: It is not a particularly fast means of transportation, but it is the most traditional of all, as it has been (and still is) used by Bedouins since time immemorial. It is a good option for getting around the reserve without fatigue, although a route of more than 4 hours can be somewhat uncomfortable. Horseback riding tours: Another sustainable and traditional option for getting around Wadi Rum. However, some experience with horseback riding is required.
  • Hiking trails: Despite being probably the slowest and most tiring option, it is the best way to reach the most remote corners of Wadi Rum. However, it is important to be well-equipped and be prepared, especially on hot days. It is also advisable to have a guide to assist with navigation, timing, and places to see in Wadi Rum.
  • Climbing: The almost perfect vertical walls pose a challenge (and a dream) for experienced climbers. It is recommended to have expert guides who indicate which routes to take. A less technical option is scrambling, although the danger of ascents should not be underestimated.
  • Hot air ballooning: Wadi Rum is one of the few places in Jordan where you can take a hot air balloon ride. And it is probably the best place to do it. Observing the vastness of the desert and the whimsical geological formations is an unforgettable activity. Balloon rides usually last 2 hours.
  • Meditation experiences: There are few places in the world as inspiring as a desert. And Wadi Rum has everything to offer a complete meditation experience. Led by specialized instructors in spiritual exercises, participants absorb the energy of the environment, where silence and stillness prevail, creating an opportunity for self-discovery.
  • Camping in Bedouin tents: In any other place in the world, spending the night is simply a physiological necessity for rest. But in Wadi Rum, it is an additional attraction of the trip, as it allows travelers to feel like a Bedouin. The experience is enriched even more if traditional Bedouin activities are carried out, such as tea and desert cuisine, music performances, etc.
  • Stargazing: Due to almost no light pollution and mostly clear skies, stargazing is one of the best things to do in Wadi Rum.
como llegar wadi rum Wadi Rum

How to get to Wadi Rum

Tourism has put Wadi Rum in the spotlight, so it’s easy to get here by private transport from other parts of the country, despite the very small number of inhabitants living in this area and its surroundings.

For those who want to get to Wadi Rum as quickly as possible from another country, the fastest way is to fly to Aqaba: this Jordanian city located on the shores of the Red Sea has its own international airport, mainly with charter and seasonal flights, and is about 75 km from Wadi Rum Village, which takes approximately one hour of travel time. By the way, Aqaba can also be reached by boat: on private catamarans from Taba and by ferry from Nuweiba, both cities in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

Many more air routes, especially regular ones, are offered by Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, although its distance from this natural reserve is much greater: almost 300 km, which takes about 3 and a half hours by road. Here is a list of places, distances, and travel times that will serve as a guide if you are planning your trip on your own:

  • Aqaba: 70 km, 1 hour
  • Wadi Musa (Petra): 115 km, 2 hours
  • Shobak: 150 km, 2 hours
  • Karak: 260 km, 3 hours and 15 minutes
  • Madaba: 300 km, 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • Dead Sea (Swemeh): 340 km, 4 hours
  • Amman: 320 km, 4 hours Jerash: 360 km, 4 and a half hours
  • Eastern Desert Castles: 400 km, 4 and a half hours


As for public transportation, the only viable option is the bus: the JETT company includes Wadi Rum in its route network, connecting it with Petra (Wadi Musa) and Aqaba. Beyond that, an independent traveler only has the option to arrange a taxi from Aqaba.

The minibuses that depart from Aqaba and head north on the Desert Highway and the King’s Highway usually do not go all the way to the heart of the Wadi Rum reserve, but only stop at the Rashidiyah junction.

As mentioned before, there is a train station in Wadi Rum, but the trains parked there are only museum locomotives and wagons: they do not transport passengers or even move goods.

Other practical information

In Wadi Rum, there is a modern visitor center that serves multiple purposes. Here, you can purchase tickets to access the nature reserve, receive information, arrange for guided tours, manage accommodations within the reserve, hire guides, dine at the restaurant, buy local crafts at the gift shop, or visit the museum, which includes a small cinema showing a documentary. There are also public restrooms available.

A few kilometers before reaching this point, in Shakaria, you will find the police station that serves the area. The nearest gas station is located outside the perimeter of the nature reserve, on the road that connects Shakaria with Disah.

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