The Wadi Rum Protected Area is a true desert landscape that holds iconic landforms such as natural arches, mushroom rocks, narrow gorges and the world's most spectacular networks of honeycomb weathering features.
It was created by tectonic activity, and further shaped by erosion.
The site is also a cultural landscape. It has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, including the Nabateans. Its rock art and ancient Arabian inscriptions give an authentic narrative of Bedouin life.
Map of Wadi RumLoad map
My two days in Jordan in November 2019 gave me two of the most amazing places I have ever been to. Incomparable Petra was one. And the following day, Wadi Rum. Although it is inscribed both as a natural and cultural property, Wadi Rum's awe-inspiring natural beauty bowled me over all by itself. I left practically all of the cultural aspect of it aside.
A visit to the protected area starts at the visitor center on its northern edge. If you show up without any prior accommodations for seeing the desert, you can hire a local guide on the spot. Each of them has an SUV on hand to drive you around. It should be noted that if you come in a 4×4, you can pay for a self-driving permit, but I do not expect many people to take that option. In my case, four people including me were picked up by a professional guide directly from our overnight lodgings near Petra in a closed, air-conditioned SUV, and driven to Wadi Rum and around the entire day. At first, I was disappointed with the closed aspect of our car but very quickly came to appreciate that – the sand kicked up by the wind and the vehicles would surely become a nuisance; I don’t think I would be able to enjoy the place if I was in an open-air vehicle, which is what many tourists opt for.
The standard itinerary around Wadi Rum starts at Wadi Rum village, the only population center in the 74,000-hectare area. Near the edge of the village, there are remains of a Nabatean temple, which was our only nod to the cultural history for the duration of the visit. The temple sits under a mountain which happens to be a prime spot for rock-climbers; when we stopped by, there were a dozen people at different stages of assent on the face of the rock.
Next on the itinerary will likely be the lone-tree “movie shot” spot at the mouth of the main valley. Perspectives of Wadi Rum featured in a non-trivial number of movies, frequently standing in as otherworldly landscapes (e.g., "The Martian") and occasionally as Oriental desert settings (e.g., the recent live version of the "Aladdin"). "Lawrence of Arabia", filmed in 1962, started the trend which has picked up significantly in the last couple of decades.
Nearby way station of Lawrence’s Spring is the next point of interest (and a place where you can hire a camel ride if you so choose). After that, we drove to the Al Ramal Red Sand Dune, a series of rock formations on the valley floor about 3 miles from Wadi Rum village. The highest point is not hard to climb for sweeping 360° perspectives of the desert. The grandiosity of the protected area is well illustrated by the tiny figures of distant cars and camels contrasted with the enormity of the surrounding mountain walls.
Next, we went to another interesting rock formation called Little Bridge, a natural arch another few kilometers deeper into the desert. As you put more distance between you and Wadi Rum village, the area becomes divided into relatively narrow valleys. Our last stop on the tour was in a fairly secluded nook in one such valley for lunch, prepared on the spot by our guide. We saw passing vehicles in the distance, but it was likely the most isolated – and serene – lunch experience in my entire life, with only three fellow group members and the guide within a radius of a couple of kilometers from me.
We spent around five hours in total within the protected area, of which a bit over an hour was spent on lunch preparation and consumption. This is enough to get the overall impression such as mine, but a more in-depth appreciation of the place probably requires an overnight stay in one of the many Bedouin camps around.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
Deserts have always been a bit of a mystery for me. I'm from a wet tropical place, and I hate the heat, but desert landscapes have been quite enchanting to me lately. Ever since the experience of dune-buggying and sandboarding in Huacachina in Peru, the dunes have been calling me. But as cool as dunes are, by far the most enchanting desert landscape for me was Wadi Rum. Yes, more so than the canyons of Arizona, oases of the Atacama, or makhteshim of the Negev, the various formations of Wadi Rum have been the most memorable for me. The sandstone mountains just glow gold with a certain magic, drawing you to look closer and explore deeper into the desert. i visited in April 2018, taking a detour from Petra to Amman to enjoy a half-day jeep tour of Wadi Rum. Obviously, half a day is too short to explore this huge protected area, but it was a decent taste test, if you will. And from that taste test, I can easily conclude that this is one delicious dish of a site. From the visitor center, I could already see the huge sandstone mountains in the distance, but even their scale from there isn't enough to let you imagine what it's like to be among them. Wadi Rum is a labyrinth of the valleys formed between these mountains, and it's exploring these valleys that truly sets it apart from any other desert. Yes, the nearby Negev and Sinai, and pretty much every major desert has exceptionally scenic areas, most notably the sandstone forests of the Sahara, but I think Wadi Rum is just on another level of scenic value.
The first stop on the jeep tour was this towering slope of red sand on the mountainside. It was such fun trying to summit it, almost in vain, as the sand is so fine, you just sink with every step. The view from above is worth the struggle, though. The next stop highlighted the cultural heritage in a small surface of a great sandstone outcropping. These were the petroglyphs of Wadi Rum, testament to its role as a crucial trade route and home of nomadic peoples. A few drawings of camels here are snapshots of history preserved. Next, I visited a valley that narrowed into an incredibly scenic canyon. The last stop was the Bedouin camp which offered a nice hot complementary cup of roasted sugar tea. All throughout, the perpetual vistas of the mountains of different shapes towering over us made it impossible not to enjoy being there. It's such a scenic place that even though it doesn't fulfill any other natural WHS criteria, the beauty of the whole landscape alone is enough testament of OUV. Throw in the fact that this is a mixed site, as a historic place of great significance to prehistoric, historic, and modern people who are lucky enough to pass this extraordinary site, and you've got a solid WHS.
Night fell on the desert. The campfire sank low. Banking up the hard-packed sand behind my head, I lay down on the slope of a dune and gazed up into the infinite. More stars than I had ever seen before speckled the expanse above me, strata of pinpricks overlaying each other. The night sky here above Wadi Rum was no blank, black two-dimensional backdrop. It was crowded and alive, like the stalls of a theatre seen from back stage as the house lights are dimmed. And on cue the show started. From right to left a bolt of fire streaked the heavens before guttering and dying. A second followed, then two at once, flaming trails hanging in space after their heads combusted in the atmosphere. It was August and there was no better place to watch the Perseid meteor shower than in the stillness of the Jordanian desert.
I visited as part of a tour, leaving Aqaba in the morning, overnighting in Wadi Rum, and then setting off for Petra the following day. And I would encourage everyone to spend the night beneath the stars here – Perseids or not. But the day itself was superb too: my diary records it as ‘A genuinely excellent day.’ The scenery is breath-taking, real Criteria vii stuff. A thick carpet of sand, here red, here white, here black, blankets the landscape, each hue clearly delineated against its neighbours. Great sheer reefs of rock thrust up hundreds of metres, their surfaces eroded and whorled into fantastical shapes. The rock forms arches, peep-holes, shelfs and chasms, overhangs and bays. At the visitor centre opposite the iconic ‘Seven Pillars’ formation I climbed into a dated Toyota 4WD with three friends and trusted to our driver Mohammed to take us on safari. Camels ambled alongside or sheltered in the shade of a tree beside ‘Lawrence’s Spring’. Indeed, the entire area plays up its links both to the historical T.E. Lawrence and to the film Lawrence of Arabia for the tourists, though is this location is easily identifiable from Lawrence’s own writing: “In front of us a path, pale with use, zigzagged up the cliff-plinth to the point from which the main face rose, and there it turned precariously southward along a shallow ledge outlined by occasional leafy tress. From between these trees, in hidden crannies of the rock, issued strange cries: the echoes, turned into music, of the voices of the Arabs watering camels at the springs which there flowed out threehundredfeet above ground.” The ‘threehundredfeet’ line is an exaggeration, there was no ‘music’ and there is now a water trough for the camels on the wadi floor but otherwise the scene confronting me was that witnessed by Lawrence 88 years earlier.
The next stop was a dark goat-hair tent were we were served ‘Bedouin Whisky’: hot tea steeped with sage, cinnamon and cloves. On to the shade of a sheer cliff to picnic, Sinai rosefinches chirping above our heads. A cleft in the rock, a pre-taste of Petra’s legendary Siq, revealed ancient (~300BC) Thamudic inscriptions, images of men and goats. In a different location we were shown petroglyphs of men driving camels, a legacy of the trade routes between Petra and Yemen. I have an almost exact copy of Els’s third photo above. This demonstrates the ‘Cultural’ component of Wadi Rum’s ‘Mixed’ site.
But for me Wadi Rum will be about the natural wonders. Forging my way on foot up a huge sand dune heaped against an outcropping by the wind until the 4x4 below was the size of my fingernail. Scrambling up to a natural rock bridge. Piped sails of sandstone rising up on either side as we passed, making me feel like a fish in an aquarium. The location for our overnight camp was equally stunning, up a rise and sheltered by the arms of a rocky cove. A climb of the cove faces took us to a spot where we could look down over the central wadi. Across the other side we found a ledge from where we could watch the sun go down behind the distant hills (photo).
Even without the cosmic entertainment offered by the Persei meteor shower I would still be raving about Wadi Rum. I love deserts anyway. Something about their serene harshness (or is it harsh serenity?) appeals to me. Mountains may be majestic, forests vibrant, oceans dramatic. But the spreading sands of deserts have always helped me to forget the ‘white noise’ of modern life and find a space to order my thoughts. I woke early, even before the guides. I clambered up to a comfortable spot half-way up a nearby reef and gazed eastwards as the first light of dawn cast shadows across the sand and turned the rocks the colour of tawny port
World Heritage-iness: 4
My Experience: 5
(Visited August 2009)
My cousins highly recommended an overnight visit to Wadi Rum, so when I visited in March 2015, I doubled down and spent two nights in the Jordanian desert. I was greeted by the film set for "The Martian" at the park entrance, but inside the park I was soon transported to the historical setting of Lawrence of Arabia's travels. The Bedouin tour company I traveled with provided a fantastic overview of Wadi Rum on the first day, with visits to petroglyphs and Lawrence's spring, desert canyon hikes, rock bridge climbs, and sandboarding down a giant sand dune. I signed up for a camel ride on the second day, but while I enjoy camel riding for short distances, I was a bit sore after five hours. Nevertheless, the landscape I traveled through was awe-inspiring. I stayed in a Bedouin camp both nights, and the food and opportunities to learn about Bedouin life were amazing. I love stargazing, and Wadi Rum offers some of the best night skies I've seen in my travels. Even more impressive were the sunrises and sunsets, which painted the rock formations in brilliant shades of red and orange. Wadi Rum is a must-see World Heritage Site in Jordan.
Logistics: Private transportation is the best way to reach Wadi Rum. I highly recommend taking a Bedouin tour of the site, and, time-permitting, staying overnight at least one night in the desert.
I visited Wadi Rum on the last day of my trip around Jordan. I had chosen to do a full-day tour with Rum Stars, one of the more reputable local companies. The reviews on this website and trip reports elsewhere on the internet prepare you for the worst, for a tourist trap with touts all over the place. My experience was totally different, and Wadi Rum became one of the highlights of my stay Jordan.
I arrived at the visitor center at 9.30 a.m., driving down from Petra (1.5 hours). It is as if entering a National Park in the American Southwest. I paid the 5 JD entrance fee at the ticket office, and after inquiring with whom I had booked a tour, they sent me on to Rum village. I accidentally had arrived at the same moment as a South African woman, with whom I would share the tour.
After being welcomed in the “office” with sweet Bedouin tea, we got going with our guide Salem. He drove a 4WD pick-up with seats built in the rear, and a covering across against the sun. This is the most pleasant way to tour the desert I think, feeling the cool air, and getting close to the sand.
We drove a circuit connecting about 12 sights, varying from red sand dunes to rock art (lots of camel petroglyphs!), viewpoints, canyons and natural bridges. There were quite a number of other tour jeeps on the tracks, although they all tend to drive their own routes.
The weather was very fine, not too hot, even a little chilly in the shade. Fortunately, we spent ample time outside of the jeep. One of the best things was the half-hour hike through a narrow canyon. As it is blocked by huge boulders about halfway, you have to scramble on your hands and feet around them and even below one block to get to the other side. For the even more brave climbers, there’s also the option to climb onto the Um Fruth natural bridge.
The site is very “developed” in general and that way it lacks a certain authenticity that one would expect from a Bedouin cultural landscape. I found Dana a better place to see how the traditional Bedouin in Jordan currently lives. The desert landscape, and mainly the variety of shaped landforms, is the main attraction here. And while there are deserts to see in many places around the world, there aren’t that many on the WH list. Tassili n'Ajjer (Algeria) and Air and Ténéré (Niger) are the most comparable sites to Wadi Rum, but these are much less accessible.
I visited this WHS by 4x4 and stopped at various natural bridges, canyons and rock formations. There are also several old rock drawings scattered throughout the valley. The highlights are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom used as a set in the film Lawrence of Arabia amongst others and the reddish sand hills. Beautiful!
We visited Wadi-Rum on the way between Aqaba and Petra. We planned a short visit and were not about to go a 4x4 tour. The visitors’ center and the village were full of Beduins trying to sell us one of these tours. It would probably have been worth going on one of them, but time was lacking, and we ressented been preyed upon.
The road from the visitors’ center to the village can be done by regular car, but is rather uninteresting. The village is ugly.
We left the place quickly. As we were to leave very disappointed by that visit, we decided to climb a small hill visible near the road (about 1 km before entering the visitor’s center, on the east side of the road). I was easy to climb and gave splendid views of the Pillars of Wisdom and the Wadi Rum valley. (And it is within the WHS limit, just to be able to tick one more site).
It really saved the day. By the way, for those on budget trip, this walk is before the visitors’ center and therefore free of charge. (Otherwise 10 JOD, about 13 $ pp)
Unfortunately I can’t say our visit to Wadi Rum in 1999 has left us with particularly good memories. We went there with high hopes and the images from the Lean movie “Lawrence of Arabia” in our minds. I can fully accept that we didn’t give it enough time – around half a day. Perhaps you need the overnight desert experience well away from the base area to fully appreciate the site. We were self driving but without 4x4 and as soon as you arrive you are faced with the “problem” of how to get away from the ugly (at least when we were there) “village” where the car park is situated. It is unfortunately a very “hassley” place full of Bedouin touts offering 4x4 or camel trips, drinks of arab tea etc etc etc! There are posted prices but, at least when we were there, these didn’t seem to be “realistic” and a long negotiation was necessary with numerous operators and their agents to reach an agreement. To some extent you are operating blind since it is difficult to know what sights are best and how far they are. We took a 4x 4 for a couple of hours and seemed to get a fair way into the park. We saw rock art, eroded sandstone bridges, Bedouin camps etc – ok, but not “earth shattering”. Perhaps we are too blasé? I felt we had seen as good or better, certainly in better circumstances, elsewhere in Sinai and Saudi, .
But, I guess, if you go to Jordan you “need” to go to Wadi Rum if only because of its historical connections. If you haven’t been “into” the desert and over-nighted there and are unlikely to go to another location to do so then consider staying longer than we did.
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2011 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS did not consider that OUV had been demonstrated re Cultural Criteria iii, v, vi and for this and other management related reasons recommended Deferral. IUCN accepted Criteria vii but not viii as demonstrated in the nom file. For this and other management etc reasons IUCN wanted the site referred back. The site was accepted on Criteria iii, v and vii
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