Jordan, Wadi Rum: camel trek in the red desert

Wadi Rum surprised me. Before coming to Jordan, I looked through hundreds of photos of this desert. They kindled my imagination; I imagined I feel the desert air on my face and soft red sand under my feet. I knew I would like it. In fact, it was something more – love, a high gust of a heart.

Wadi Rum was another point I’ve visited in Jordan. I must admit that my appetite for adventure here has grown steadily, especially that the country turned out to be just perfect for full-time adventurers. I’ve already done canyoning in Wadi Mujib by the Dead Sea, and spent two beautiful days in the rock city of Petra – now is the time for a desert. 😉

After reading several articles about Wadi Rum, I knew I want to spend here two days. One day on a camel trek with overnight at the billion star hotel and jeep tour during the second day.

I only couldn’t fly with a hot-air balloon over the desert at sunrise as I couldn’t afford it and it would be an icing on the cake! But I’ll do it in the future when I come back to Jordan. 😉

wadi rum

Short video from Wadi Rum

Before you read about my experiences from Wadi Rum, let me show you a short video! I’m not a master of cinematography but the views are awesome! 😉

Beduins – who are they?

Our taxi from Petra arrives at 9 am at the gates of the Wadi Rum. It is a protected area, a UNESCO site. A young Beduin is waiting here for us in a jeep dumped with red desert dust. We get in and go to a Bedouin village.

Bedouins are nomadic Arab tribes. However, do not expect here typical black Bedouin tents. Many of those people have abandoned the nomadic lifestyle a long time ago and live in one place. Currently, it is estimated that only 2% of the Bedouins in the world are still nomads.

wadi rum

Bedouin and Arab are not synonyms – although they have common roots, their dialect, culture, traditions, music, food is different. The word ‘Bedouin’ comes from the Arabic language: Badawi is a ‘traveller’ or ‘nomad’. This word also comes from another: bādiyah, or ‘desert’, ’emptiness’. Therefore, in this sense, Bedouin is someone ‘wandering in the desert.’

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There is one word, from which the name of the Bedouins: Bedaya, or ‘beginning’. It is believed that the Bedouins inhabited the desert first, and the Arabs descended from nomadic Bedouin, not the other way. Even if many Bedouins no longer roams the desert, but live in the settlements – as Arabs – they still differentiate their cultural differences and mentality.

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A family business

In the village Abdullah Ali awaits us. He organises camel treks on the desert. He welcomes us at home, treats a cup of tea and we discuss how our 2-day stay on the Wadi Rum will look like. While speaking with the Bedouin I have the impression that the description of trekking on the website sounded a little bit different, but apparently, I didn’t reread it before coming here. Besides, Abdullah says that we have to pay 10 dinars more (for two persons) as the entrance fee to Wadi Rum. He didn’t write it in the email, so I am a little surprised. It seems to me, however, that Abdullah left the money for himself because I did not get any ticket or anything confirming the alleged “entrance fee”.

wadi rum

We look forward to our guide, which turns out to be young, perhaps 17-year-old Bedouin, the nephew of Abdullah. He leads us to the farm, where some other cousin (I think everyone is a family here) saddled camels.

Surprisingly quickly I get used to the saddle, quite specific and different from the horse saddle. Camel saddle looks like a stool, which is placed on the animal’s hump and is covered pillows and blankets. In front of and behind the rider, there are two wooden pegs – to hold and hang the bag. I sit on this package comfortably and wait until the camel rises.

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The rhythm of the ride

You need to feel the moment, otherwise, it will shake you hard, or you can even fall, especially that you hold only the saddle, no stirrups here! Camel vigorously straightens the hind legs, and the whole seat tilts forward. At this point you have to lean back your body otherwise you will land on the head of the animal. After a while, the camel straightens the front legs, and then you have to lean forward. This should be done vigorously, at a pace and rhythm of a camel. It’s one of my favourite moments.

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In the saddle, I can make myself very comfortable. First, I look at the guide who slightly bends so he can sway to the rhythm of a camel. And the camel walk is quite specific, because the animal raises both legs on one side of the body at once, and then both of the other, so it sways a little sideways. Rider’s spine should, therefore, be hunched, to be able to adjust the swing.

While riding you can cross your legs in front of the saddle. With blankets and cushions, it is wide enough, and you will not fall. And so it goes for a few hours, nothing happens, only the beautiful desert around – for me it’s incredible! But if you do not feel comfortable on a camel from the beginning, you will not feel confident later.

wadi rum

Camels – ships of the desert

Riding a camel is specific and a little strange, but when they sway in the desert, they are like ships at sea. That’s how they are called – ships of the desert. Bedouins would not have survived here, if not for the camels.

These animals are well adapted to traverse the sandy vastness for even a few days without water when it is hot, and in winter, when it’s cooler – even for a few weeks. If they need, they can drink 114 litres of water during a 10-minute stop! They have broad feet that prevent them from sinking into the sand, and thick skin on the bottom of the feet so they don’t get burned.

wadi rum camel trek

Camel trek in Wadi Rum

When the camels slowly, rhythmically glide forward through the desert, I can feel its vastness. Around us, massive rust-coloured sandstone grows out from the Wadi. The red sand is fine-grained with dry bushes. In the spring they are green and flourishing – torrential rains in the winter provided them with enough water for the next months. However, in the heat of August, they are yellow and dry. It does not prevent the camels to nibble a twig, and sometimes a whole bush with roots.

wadi rum camel trek

We drive across the desert from 10 am to sunset. It would seem a long time, but really in the saddle, we spend maybe 4 hours or less. First, we do a half-hour stop for some tea in a Bedouin tent. Then the 3-hour stop for lunch. We have only pita bread, canned tuna, some veggie, cereal bar, juice in a carton. The portion is a little disappointed, but I’m too excited about being on the Wadi Rum to care. Later we stop again for half an hour in the shade.

It was supposed to be eight hours of riding, and the website didn’t mention any stops. I know that they are necessary, but… shouldn’t be such information provided?

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Sunset at Wadi Rum

The sun is getting lower and lower. Soon it will hide, and you should see it from above, from the rocks. So we go to our camp (there’s a lot of fields on Wadi Rum as if every Bedouin had his own), where are a shower and a toilet. From there Abdullah Ali will pick us to take us to the best place for seeing the sunset.

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Our guide says goodbye to us, takes the camels and leaves us alone. We have to wait here for Abdullah Ali. Hanna, of course, runs around and observes everything, as if she hadn’t seen any civilisation for a half of her life – wow, a Bedouin tent! I’ll go inside! Wow, the bench! I’ll sit down! Wow, a camp house! I’ll hide behind it! Wow, a sink! I’ll wash my face! Wow, a toilet! I’ll pee! At one point during my merry exploration of the camp Abdullah Ali appears. I’m looking for you all the time – he announces – come on, it is not my camp but my neighbour’s.
Oh… 😀

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Abdullah takes us with his jeep to the sandstone cliffs, which is the best place over the desert to see how it changes its colour to more orange and red. Space around gives me a great sense of comfort. I love these landscapes when the horizon is far, far away. Nothing limits me. I feel like every cell in my body is filled with peace and happiness. I am home.

When the sun hides behind rocks, Abdullah takes us to the village where we have flavoured rice with chicken and salads for dinner. A typical Middle Eastern dish. This time I cannot complain – the food is delicious, and it’s a huge portion! After the dinner, we have a dessert, but of course no more room in stomachs… We try only a bit of the very sweet cake, talk with Abdullah, and later his son drops us to the desert camp.

wadi rum camel trek

Overnight in the desert

I’m excited because I expect a million stars over my head. We take beds out from the camp house and put them on the ground. Yes, beds, not mattresses – in the desert you should not sleep directly on the sand because dangerous little creatures are active at night. Like scorpions, centipedes and solifugae – large (15 cm) arachnids, which are not venomous, but they can bite badly with their chelicerae and create inflammation. Besides they jump over a distance of 1 meter. Creepy.

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When night falls, we look in the sky and wait for the stars. Millions, billions of miles from civilisation! But the sky is still bright and even getting brighter. Strange, after all, it should be dark already! After some time a large bright moon emerges from behind the rocks. Its light suppresses the glare of all the stars in the sky.

What?! No starry sky over the desert? I’ve been waiting for it and whaaaaaattttttt??!?!

wadi rum camel trek

I look around, and I see something unusual, the most beautiful surprise of my life – the whole desert, which by day is grouper and red, now is doused with cold, icy blue. It is so bright that you can see every detail, every crevice in the rocks, but this time it looks like a polar desert, though the night temperature is nearly 30 degrees. One of the best views I’ve seen in Jordan, which I’ll keep in my memory. It’s much better than the stars!

Of course, the view is terrific, but on the other hand, it is so bright that I have to cover my face with the blouse!…

wadi rum jeep tour camel trek

Jeep tour around Wadi Rum

On the second day, we eat breakfast in the desert. The sun had long since risen, the sand is again red, sky blue and perfectly cloudless and the air is hot. Perfect morning conditions to drink sweet Arabic tea. 😉

Afterwards, we explore the desert by jeep with Abdullah’s son. The tour by car with four-wheel drive takes several hours; on camels, it would last probably two or three days.

wadi rum camel trek jeep tour

wadi rum camel trek jeep tour

We see the most significant attractions of Wadi Rum: rock formations resembling big mushrooms of sandstone or bridges created by erosion, as well as one of the few dunes. I admit that climbing it in sandals is not the most pleasant because hot red sand burns my feet!

wadi rum

wadi rum

We also see the mysterious drawings on the rocks, the so-called petroglyphs, which are works carved into the sandstone by prehistoric men. Petroglyphs of Wadi Rum were created in 8-6 century BC by a nomadic tribe from Yemen called Thamud. Drawings depict people, some with bows while hunting, ibexes, horses, camels and patterns like circles or lines. Petroglyphs were probably just information for other tribes wandering this way, although some historians believe they had ritual meaning.

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T.E. Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia

Somewhere between the sandstone is a brick wall, which apparently was a part of the house of Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

T.E. Lawrence was a British archaeologist and a huge enthusiast of the Middle East. He worked on maps of this region for the British army and guided soldiers. In 1916 the Arab Revolt began, and T.E. Lawrence became an adviser to the Arab leaders. In 1922 he published his memories of war entitled Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which were dramatised in 1962 into Lawrence of Arabia with Peter O’Toole in the lead role.

There is no evidence that Lawrence lived in this place. However, we know that he often passed over by these regions we can guess that this old house, which was perhaps built by the Bedouins as a warehouse, was used by Lawrence for instance as a shelter from the sandstorm.

wadi rum camel trek jeep tour

A sandstorm at Wadi Rum

After a few hours, we return to the house of Abdullah Ali to relax and wait for a taxi, which will take us to Aqaba – our last place in Jordan.

Just before we leave, the sky suddenly becomes grey, and the air is drier. Abdullah says it is a small sandstorm, probably will last four hours, as usual. Our taxi driver confirms delighted when we look at the desert horizon slowly disappearing in a vast grey-yellowish cloud. Later we hear on the news that the storm was unique because it lasted… 2 weeks! We were lucky that it began precisely as we were finishing our twelve day trip to Jordan!

I put Wadi Rum on the top of the list of my favourite places in the Middle East and even the world. I would recommend to anyone to see these beautiful colours and sleep under the stars. And personally, I’ll keep coming back. 🙂

Have you been to Wadi Rum? Or maybe you visited other deserts in the world? Did you like it? Share your experience in the comments below!

wadi rum camel trek

Wadi Rum – practical information, how to get there, where to sleep

I checked the reviews on Trip Advisor of other tour organisers after I had come back home. Now I think it is worth to add the 10 or 20 dinars per person to have a better experience in the desert.

Our guides, or just members of the family of Abdullah, told us nothing about the places we saw. Only they said where we were, and the rest is a “read on Wikipedia.” At that time, it didn’t bother me much, because I was more excited about being on the Wadi Rum in general, but now I regret a little. There was no fire camp in the evening and our lunch… Ekhm, sorry, but what lunch?! Exactly.

From what I read the other tours (I’m not saying all of them) are much more polished in detail. When I go back to Wadi Rum – and I will for sure! – I’ll go again on a trip to see how other companies do it. Meanwhile, I don’t recommend you the Guides of Wadi Rum…

Getting to the Wadi Rum by public transport:
– From Amman – there is no direct bus; you need to change, i.e. in Petra
– To/from Aqaba – 1 daily, in the morning (the hotel will tell you the exact time), 7JD, travel time 1h
– To/from Petra (Wadi Musa) – 1 daily, morning, 7JD, travel time 1.5h
By taxi:
– To/from Aqaba – 30-35 JD
– To/from Petra – 50-55 JD

Overnight: only in the desert, organised with a tour or only accommodation – you have to contact the local tour operators.

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