Jordan – Wadi Rum Camp

Wadi Rum Bedouins

Jordan’s Wadi Rum is a unique desert experience that can’t be fully appreciated unless you stay overnight. Accommodation is not plentiful and usually means staying in a Bedouin camp. In spite of the fact that I am not a fan of camping, I can say that it was a very memorable experience.

Wadi Rum is a spectacularly red place, a desert in the south of Jordan. Although considered barren, it is populated by 130 animal species and 120 bird species, including geckos, eagles, and camels.

There are over 160 species of plants, with hibernating desert plants springing out of the sand when it rains, changing the landscape from red to green. Whereas most people only see the goats and camels, in the early morning the foxes and Arabian cats’ footprints can often be seen in the sand around the Bedouin campsites, having rummaged for food overnight.

Not everyone who arranges sweets in a tray is a dessert maker – Jordanian proverb

This desert has been inhabited by many cultures since prehistoric times, recent Archaeological evidence shows habitation in the area at least as early as 4500 BC. The site is believed to have been inhabited prior to Petra. The Nabateans inhabited the area from around the 6th and 4th centuries BC and many left their mark in the form of petroglyphs, inscriptions, and temples.

In the 8th and 6th centuries BC, the area was known as Wadi Iram. It is not surprising that with the fresh water springs, the caravans traveling between Arabia and the Levant stopped here. Furthermore, inscriptions show that the Bedouin tribes of Ad, Thamud, Lihyan and Main all gathered here. The Bedouin remained and today, the village of Wadi Rum itself consists of several hundred Bedouin inhabitants with their goat-hair tents and concrete houses. They have availed themselves of such modern trappings as four-wheel vehicles.

In the West, Wadi Rum may be best known for its connection with British officer and archaeologist, T.E. Lawrence and his biography “Lawrence of Arabia”. He was renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt of 1917 and the Sinai and Palestine campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. 

Lawrence was not only renowned because the breadth and variety of his activities and associations but also his ability to describe them vividly in writing, thereby earning him international fame.  His contribution to the area was recognized in the 1980s when one of the rock formations in Wadi Rum was renamed “the seven pillars of wisdom”, a term found in Lawrence’s autobiographical accounts of the aftermath of the Arab revolt.

In 1962 David Lean arrived here to film his world renowned “Lawrence of Arabia”, winning seven Academy Awards and revealing this dramatic landscape to the western world. According to UNESCO, Wadi Rum is the world’s most iconic desert landscape and besides “Lawrence of Arabia”, it has been the location of at least 20 other films.

The area is centered on the main valley of Wadi Rum. The highest elevation in Jordan is Jabal Umm ad Dami at 1,840 m (6,040 ft) high, located 30 kilometres south of Wadi Rum village.

Jordan, Camels

Room and Board in a Bedouin Camp

In order to fully enjoy the desert, you have to be here when the sun sets and rises, making an overnight stay a must if you want to experience the variations in the sounds, sights and colours. The only real option is a bedouin camp.

The tent was very basic (understatement) with a small bed, blanket, a candle and bottled water. The bathroom facilities were behind the tents in an outdoor, contained space, a common area with one sink and one toilet above ground (not a squatter).

Dinner preparation at the camp was very interesting. There were traditional “zarbs” or holes dug in the sand. A metal oven casing was then fit into the hole. A fire was lit at the bottom of the metal casing. In traditional Bedouin cooking, no metal casing is used, the food is wrapped in palm leaves and placed directly on top of the fire in the sand hole.

Our chef started the fire at the bottom of the casing and waited for only the embers of coal to remain. Once the fire was ready, a multi layer rack full of meat on one rack and delicious looking vegetables on another was wrapped in foil and placed inside the casing on top of the fire. Sand was then used to completely cover everything. After a few hours, the sand was removed and the wrapped rack was pulled out of the casing. The food was completely cooked and ready to serve. We ate inside the main tent sitting on built in benches covered with blankets. The meal included chicken, potatoes, carrots and onions. There were also side dishes of rice, hummus, mutabal and salad. We could recognize sage and thyme but many other spices were used. Of course, the dinner was not complete without a cup of Bedouin tea.

Petroglyphs are drawings of humans and animals that are made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the desert varnish (or patina) on the surface of the rock is chipped off, the lighter rock underneath is exposed, creating the petroglyph.

The petroglyphs and inscriptions demonstrate to us that human presence in the area goes back to 12,000 years. They tell us stories about the history and evolution of human activity in the Arabian Peninsula. With 25,000 petroglyphs and 20,000 inscriptions, mostly in ancient non-arabic alphabet, it is one of the reasons for UNESCO to put Wadi Rum desert on the World Heritage List.

The images denote human figures holding bows and arrows, animals like camels, ibex and horses alongside the humans and then lines and circles in the same area. Some have concluded that these must be messages left by people for one another.

More than 25,000 petroglyphs, 20,000 inscriptions, and 154 archaeological sites have been discovered within Wadi Rum, tracing the evolution of human thought and the early development of the alphabet.

Mondisti Jordan Wadi Rum Trip Tips

  • Wadi Rum is one of the world’s iconic deserts and worth a visit, at least once.
  • You must stay overnight to get the full impact of the desert.
  • A Bedouin camp, depending on where you want to be, is the only choice for an overnight stay.
  • An overnight stay at a Bedouin camp is comfortable and memorable.