The red sand swirls behind the four-wheel drive car that takes us to our accommodation for the night. We sit lined up on benches on the back of the car and the wind bites my cheeks as the car bounces over the dunes. I pull up the hood of my windbreaker and hold on tightly. In the distance I see a cluster of sand-colored tent bubbles under a steep cliff face. One of many glamping hotels in Wadi Rum and our accommodation in the majestic desert.
Wadi Rum is a desert area in southern Jordan, just a few kilometers from the border with Saudi Arabia. Here in the highlands, Jordan's barren desert landscape shows its most beautiful side. Here the earth is redder, the rocks bigger and the nights a little more starry.
The dramatic expression of the rocks with caves, precipices, mesas (plateau mountains) and rock arches reminds me a lot of the red national parks on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. An area that I love and have visited several times. But there is a big difference between the organized American parks and the wilderness of Wadi Rum. Here the sky feels more infinite and the silence more present and tangible.
Desert landscapes can often feel inhospitable, but Wadi Rum is not some abandoned and uninhabited wasteland. Ever since prehistoric times, nomadic people have lived and worked here. Their historical footprints and life stories can be found today in the area's 25.000 petroglyphs.
The rock carvings in Wadi Rum show life in the desert – people hunting, domesticated dromedaries and wild animals that are now extinct. Through various dating methods of petroglyphs and other remains, it has been possible to demonstrate that people lived here as early as 10.000 years before Christ - about the same time that the older Stone Age took its first staggered steps in the Nordic region. Wadi Rum is undeniably a unique and historically important area that is today protected as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The modern Bedouin
There wind outside is strong, but inside the striped Bedouin tent it is warm, windless and welcoming. The tent's thick walls are woven from sheep and camel wool, and thick hand-knotted rugs lie on the ground. There is smoke from the glowing fire in the center of the tent and the hot copper pots are getting ready to serve us tea.
The word Bedouin comes from the Arabic word for "desert dweller" - bedwa. More than half of Jordan's population is descended from Bedouins, but the nomadic life has been adapted to modern society in recent centuries. Many families today live in Wadi Rum Village, close to schools and drinking water. The woolen tents have been replaced by concrete houses and the dromedaries have been replaced by four-wheel drive Japanese pickup trucks. But there are still families living classic nomadic lives in Wadi Rum with their sheep, goats and dromedaries. However, the nomadic soul, hospitality and traditions live on in everything from poetry to music and family life.
We are served steaming hot tea from one of the copper pots while the oldest man in the tent takes out a stringed instrument and begins to sing. The instrument consists of a wooden box with goat skin and a string of horsetail – one rabada. The world's oldest string instrument. The words are melodious and the song and notes fill the tent. Bedouin songs are often poetic stories and love and tell stories about Bedouin life. A life with proud traditions and a strong family life.
Our guide helps us translate our questions into Arabic. The men's wives are at home taking care of the family and it is the women who weave the thick woolen walls of the tent. The old family traditions are strong, even if modern village life has become more common.
Jeep safari at sunset
One of the most popular activities in Wadi Rum is going on a sunset jeep safari. We get to choose whether we want to ride the fast car or the slightly slower one. I climb onto the flatbed of the slightly slower car, but unclear if it actually was a slower ride as our car drives first.
The caravan of white Toyota pickups drives us easily across the invisible roads of the desert landscape. The sand makes the cars slide smoothly and we fly over the dunes at such a speed that it creates tingles in the pit of the stomach.
We stop and view the landscape's rock formations and valleys in several places. The sand slowly drifts in the wind in front of us, creating a fog-like lunar landscape against the sandstone and high granite cliffs.
In Jordan, Wadi Rum is also called the "moon valley" and it is no wonder that Wadi Rum has been the filming location for several of the space adventures of recent years. Dune, The Martian, Star Wars and Prometheus are just some of the movies filmed here. Perhaps the red landscape is a little more appropriate for films set on Mars - the red planet.
We stop the cars in the middle of nowhere and wait for sunset. The landscape's rocks and mountains create a watercolor painting with layers upon layers of yellow and pink hues. It is bitterly cold and the sun is setting fast. A brief moment of beauty that is over faster than I would have liked.
Glamping in the desert night
I'm happy that we checked in on our accommodation earlier in the day and that the mobile phone has a flashlight, otherwise I would probably have had a hard time finding both my tent bubble and the room's light buttons. The tent is no ordinary tent, there is a bathroom with a shower and toilet and a large double bed. Some tents even have wifi. Glamping at its best.
A simple buffet dinner is served in the camp's main building and despite the fact that the night is early, I crash into bed. The wind has increased in strength and in the gusts it almost feels like my sleeping bubble is lifting off the ground – although I tell myself it's just imagination.
I just have time to turn on the fan heater and turn off the light when a strong wind causes the electricity to shut off. I might have thought it was a bit scary to be alone in a storm in a pitch black tent in the middle of the desert. Although I would never admit it.
After 15 minutes the power is back on and I barely have time to feel the warm air of the heater hit my face before I fall fast asleep.
The next morning I wake up to the sunrise. Through the tent's window I look out over the mild morning light and an absolutely fantastic sunrise. I stay in bed for a while and just watch the desert's light show from the front row. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the desolation. The car tracks from yesterday have been swept away by the wind. No birds are singing and the cold is palpable, despite the newly awakened rays of the sun.
We eat a simple breakfast and check out of our space camp to experience the desert one last way before leaving it.
Dromedaries are the ships of the desert, a reliable runner that can handle the desert climate better than any other mounted animal. The dromedary has been vital to the Bedouins for thousands of years, and they treat their dromedaries accordingly - with respect and love. The milk is rich in protein, the dromedary wool is used to weave fabrics and the camel can transport both people and goods over long distances. A good dromedary is an investment that can easily cost as much as a small car.
We are going to ride dromedaries as a last stop before leaving Wadi Rum. I have ridden dromedaries before, but the only thing I remember was that it was a little challenging not to fall out of the saddle when the camel stood up.
I position myself next to a small dromedary that feels safe and talk to it like I do with my dog. Nice dromedary. Good boy. However, the dromedary's keeper has other plans and indicates that I should go to the dromedary at the front of the line.
I'm trying to get a feel for my new dromedary. The dromedary looks at me sternly with wide eyes and flutters its long eyelashes a little. He clearly shows that I'm not the one in charge here.
Up in the saddle and the dromedary rises quickly. My four-legged friend goes first with the owner, the other dromedaries follow in the caravan. When I finally start to feel like I've got the rhythm, my friend starts to lose the rhythm. His thoughts are elsewhere. The gaze flickers. Suddenly, he looks sideways and ejects a large air-filled sac of skin through his mouth, emitting a loud noise reminiscent of a bubbling drain plug. The whole process is over in seconds. What just happened? A dromedary a little further back in the caravan responds with the same drain noise. I have found myself in the middle of a power struggle between two male dromedaries. I feel my knuckles whiten slightly as I tighten my grip on the knob of the saddle.
Dromedaries can live up to 50 years, can run 65 km/h and can survive without food and water for several weeks.
We ride past a flowering field in the desert. Small blue flowers struggle with their survival in this rain-poor landscape. My dromedary stops, bends its long neck and swallows a flower. He walks a few meters and eats another flower. Like Ferdinand the bull, he takes a deep breath and scents the flowers before eating them. The other dromedaries look on enviously. They do not reach down to the ground because they are connected to eachother.
The ride goes by fast, even if the dromedaries don't walk fast. A little shaky, I jump out of the saddle. Ending the visit to Wadi Rum with a dromedary ride was a nice end to a visit to an otherworldly beautiful place.
How do I visit to Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum is located in southern Jordan, 30 miles south of Amman. The desert area is 720 km2, which corresponds to an area of half Öland. You need at least one full day to visit the area's famous places and a night to experience the sunset and watch the starry sky in the desert night. We visited Wadi rum during a tour, which seems to be a very popular way to experience the country.
Keep in mind that Wadi Rum has hot summers and cold winters. When we visited the desert in March, it was perfect to dress in a windproof jacket with a fleece jacket underneath. I would probably also have liked to have gloves, as it gets cold to ride a jeep sitting on the flatbed. Summers can easily reach 40 degrees, so spring and autumn are the best times to visit the area.
We lived on Hasan Zawaideh Camp, a separate post about this experience is planned.
What would I do differently if I went here again?
In Wadi Rum there are several famous cliffs, mountains and stone arches, but to experience these you need to book a slightly longer jeep tour than the one we went on. Ask which places you will get to experience before you book your tour, so you don't miss a place you expected to see.
Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.