Famous for being the setting of multiple Hollywood movies due to its resemblance to the surface Mars, Wadi Rum desert is a unique natural wonder that cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
During my last day in Jordan, I explored this incredible red ocean of dunes and rock formations in a 4x4 jeep tour. A thrilling experience that cannot be missed!
How to visit
With an extension of over 720 km², the desert of Wadi Rum is located 300km south from Amman and 100km from Petra.
With no direct connection to Amman, most independent travellers visit Wadi Rum from Petra or Aqaba, as both of them have daily buses to the desert. The connections are extremely limited though, so doing a day tour is always a more convenient option.
My visit to Wadi Rum was part of a 3-day trip from Israel to Jordan with Abraham Tours. After an incredible day in the city of Petra, we drove for about an hour and a half to spend an exciting day riding a 4x4 jeep across the desert.
Temperatures in the desert can be ridiculously high, so come well prepared! My visit took place in May and the sun was barely bearable after midday. Good thing is that at least we had some breeze while riding the card!
After another early rise and just before starting our ride across the desert, we said goodbye to the city of Petra with a very peculiar view from the top. In fact, the ruins are so well hidden, that all we could see is a rocky landscape.
Seeing Petra from the distance helps one understand how the city could remain hidden for centuries. Nobody could ever imagine that such an outstanding wonder could be found behind those rocks, which helped the local bedouins keep Petra as a secret for over a thousand years.
My visit to the desert of Wadi Rum started from the Visitor Centre, a compulsory start point for everyone accessing the area either as a group or individually. For those visiting on their own, the centre provides jeep rentals and the option to visit on a camel or hiking. Our visit already included a ride in a 4x4 jeep that we boarded as soon as we arrived.
The desert of Wadi Rum is an inhospitable area with barely any wildlife or settlements, apart from a few thousand bedouins that still live there. As you drive through the red dunes, all you can see is kilometres and kilometres of rocky landscape that do not seem to have an end. The expanse and uniqueness of the desert were startling, it really felt like being in a different planet.
Due to the resemblance of Wadi Rum to the surface of Mars, the area has been used as the background of countless of movies, many of them being Hollywood blockbusters. Some of them include famous Lawrence of Arabia movie from the 60s or the more recent Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Many movies based on Mars were also recorded in Wadi Rum, including Red Planet, The Last Days on Mars or The Martian with Matt Damon from 2015.
As we got into the desert, one of the first and most easily recognised formations of Wadi Rum is the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, named after the book by T.E. Lawrence, the famous Lawrence of Arabia.
Although this formation is not mentioned at any point in the book, the book tells his experience in World War I camping with the arabs, which included some time spent in the desert of Wadi Rum.
Contrary to most deserts, which have a yellowish sand, the desert of Wadi Rum has an impressive collection of red sand dunes that make it unique in the region.
Our jeep stopped just at the base of one of the highest dunes so that we could climb it and enjoy the impressive views from the top.
I had actually never climbed a dune before, and it was way harder than expected! I kept sinking on the sand and thought that climbing barefoot would be a better idea... until I realised midway that the ground was scorching hot! But that little bit of suffering was worth it as soon as we reached the top with panoramic views of the surroundings.
Although vastly uninhabited nowadays, there has been human presence in Wadi Rum since the ancient times.
Proof of this are the Anfashieh inscriptions found on the rock; a series of depictions of animals, people and camel caravans carved during the Talmudic and Nabatean times.
In addition to the popular 4x4 jeep rides across the desert, Wadi Rum offers multiple activities for those with some additional time.
These include hiking and climbing the rocky cliffs with the bedouins, as well as a camel ride to explore the desert just like the locals do.
While we were checking the petroglyphs on the rock, a group of bedouins approached us and offered us a camel ride. Just like it happened with the donkeys and horses in Petra, animals are widely used in Jordan as a method of transport for tourists. I personally hate taking part on any kind of activity that involves animals when I travel, so myself and the rest of the group kindly refused, but at least we could take some nice photos of the desert with the camels on the background.
We spent a few hours driving across the desert and enjoying the incredible rock formations. Our final stop was one of the many bedouin camps located in the middle of the desert, where we enjoyed their hospitality with an abundant lunch and a cup of tea.
For those who want to stay overnight in the desert, there is a vast offer of bedouin camps, from basic tents to deluxe suites to make the most out of your visit.
Sadly for me, it was time to head back north to cross the border back to Israel so I couldn't enjoy a night with the bedouins, which I bet would've been another unforgettable experience after the incredible two nights that I spent in a camp near Petra.
Crossing the border with Israel
After almost 5 hours driving north, we reached the King Hussein / Allenby Bridge border between Jordan and Israel.
At the time of my visit, the border was closed if heading to Jordan, so we had to cross from Israel using the alternative crossing near Beit She'an. However, the Allenby Bridge border was open when crossing from Jordan back to Israel.
This border is located less than 1h away from Jerusalem, however, it requires crossing through the West Bank. Because the border is widely used by Palestinians trying to cross to Gaza or visit family in the West Bank and Israel, the security is extremely high.
Since I had a Lebanese stamp on my passport, a country that has no diplomatic relations with Israel after their conflict in 2006, I knew that crossing back wouldn't be an easy task.
As soon as the immigration officials saw that I had been in Lebanon a few months before, they started questioning my visit, the reasons why, all the different places that I had visited there, as well as the details of my travel companions. I had only been there as a tourist and had nothing to hide, however, I was stopped for almost 2h while they checked my background and who knows what information in their system.
My biggest worry was that I was travelling with a group and the bus back to Jerusalem could only wait for a certain amount of time. If for any reason we got stopped by immigration for too long, we would need to get a taxi and Abraham Tours would then refund us.
Just as the bus was leaving, having waited well over what they should, I finally got my passport back and was allowed into the country. I literally didn't miss the bus by a few seconds! I cannot be thankful enough to all my travel companions for holding the bus and refusing to leave without me!
After a couple of stressful hours that ended up being just one of the many travel experiences, it was time to see goodbye both to Jordan and Israel. My flight back home was the next day early in the morning and I could only feel but sad for having to leave such a wonderful country filled with history, beautiful monuments and landscapes but especially incredible people.
All opinions are my own.
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