In early December, I learned I had the opportunity to take three weeks off from work, a vacation that long being a rare treat. My head was spinning with all the opportunities of places to visit, things to see, and of course, mountains to hike! Time was running out to plan, so I made a leap of faith and chose to visit the Middle East – specifically, the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan. I’ve always been enthralled by the desert, the people and the incredible amount of history that has been so influential to modern-day civilization.
I arrived in Amman on a bright but brisk Sunday morning. I spent the day wandering the city, viewing the ruins of a Roman amphitheater and the Citadel, where the remains of the Temple of Hercules lay. The city was great fun to wander, a charming and gritty mix of old and new, unblemished new facades next to well worn stone. There were busy market stalls, cafes and shisha bars gearing up for the evening crowd, hidden stairwells decorated with umbrellas and traffic absolutely everywhere. Had a phenomenal clay-pot chicken dish at a restaurant called Sufra (Jordanians are famous for their cusine!), then headed south to Madaba to prep for the next day’s travel to Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum (also known as the Valley of the Moon) is a protected area and UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the south end of Jordan. Currently inhabited by the semi-nomadic Bedouins, it bears the marks of a rich history in it’s petroglyphs, temples, and stories. The area is popular for trekking, camping and climbing and relies on tourism as income, but I have to say did not feel touristy in the least – in fact, we rarely saw other groups. A few well-known films have been shot here as well; Lawrence of Arabia which starred Peter O’Toole, and more recently The Martian which used the unique landscape to re-create Mars.
Arrived in Wadi Rum after a 3.5 hour drive and started our stroll into the desert. Passed a small spring T.E. Lawrence wrote extensively about, and shortly after was properly greeted with one of the most stunning views I think I will ever see in my life.
Mind. Blown. Bluebird skies and the vivid red of the rock combined with the sheer vastness that spread before me, took my breath away. Photos do not do it justice.
I hiked out onto a small ledge and turned round to study sheer immensity of the rocks surrounding us. Seven more days of this? Heck yes. In the days to come, I would be lucky to spend my time exploring the nooks and crannies, wide expanses and endless seas of sand and I couldn’t be happier.
My group was fairly small but each member had a role. Vickie kept the conversation going, Pier mixed cocktails and asked thoughtful questions, Rose provided the music, Karen was the proverbial energizer bunny, Florian was the witty and charming photographer, and Nader was the archaeologist who sometimes knew which direction to go. We had a small support staff of local Bedouins guides / part time comedians who would set up camp for us and cook delicious meals every morning & night.
Officially speaking, this was an 8 day, jeep-supported trek in which we’d hike each day to a new campsite, (seeing sights along the way) where meals and our camp would be set up and ready for us.
After watching the sun delicately set and the last light fade from the valley, we’d sit by the fire drinking sweet black tea (or cocktails, thanks Pier!) and recap the day before settling into our tents.
Temperatures in the desert ranged from 15 C to probably around 5 C. As we visited right in the middle of winter, we encountered rain, snow, fog, high winds and, when lucky, spots of sunshine. It was, as one of our guidebooks accurately described, a ‘bracing’ cold. No vegetation, trees or even snow to break the wind or keep in heat, but thankfully we were prepared.
The following days in the desert were spent exploring the canyons, climbing up the natural bridge formations, and scrambling up the grippy sandstone. Due to the lack of rain and snow, erosion here moves at a glacial pace, so formations are beautifully preserved.
One day was spent summiting the high ridge of Jebel Khasch (1700m) in the clouds as we watched the sun struggle to peek through.
Jebel Um Adaami, the highest peak in Jordan at 1832m, is situated on the border with Saudi Arabia and offers spectacular 360 degree views.
Another peak, Jebel Haroun (1270m), contains a shine that is reputably the burial site of Aaron, brother of Moses.
Wadi Rum has undoubtedly become one of my favourite destinations. The moody skies, the gentle rainbow of rock, the serene sunsets where light bounced off the colorful sandstone and seemed to never die. The ever-changing weather that went from sunbeams to snowstorms. The witty bedouins and their amazing cooking. The playground that offered scrambles, climbs, sand slides, dunes and canyons to explore. I’m hooked.
Want to go?
The Wadi Rum visitors centre can help book day trips by jeep or camel, or assist in booking overnight accommodation. Options range from bare-bones camping to luxurious Bedouin permanent tents. Best season to visit is spring or fall – winter can get as cold as -10 C, and the summer can get past 40 C.
The Jordan Tourism Board offers a wealth of information on destinations within the country, with information on accommodations, transport and other sights. Consider staying a while and visiting Petra, the Dead Sea, and the several bird sanctuaries situated along the River Jordan (it’s a migratory hotspot for several species).
To get from Amman to Wadi Rum, you can travel by bus, private car, or rent a car. Uber also works and is much cheaper than regular taxi fares for moderate distances.
Safety-wise, Jordan is one of the safest spots in the Middle East – it generally boasts a lower crime rate than North America! As a solo female traveller, I found people were exceptionally polite but mostly curious. The same general advice for any large city applies; don’t go out solo late at night, don’t leave belongings unattended, take registered taxis, and dress conservatively.