The trippy rust-red deserts of Wadi Rum are bound to make you wonder which planet you landed on. This vast protected area, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is tucked into the southern section of the country near Jordan’s border with Saudi Arabia, a 1hr 30min drive from Petra or four hours from Amman. Ancient nomadic tribes of southern Arabia, including the Nabateans, passed through these sands and thousands of age-old inscriptions have been etched onto the canyon walls.

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Rust-red deserts of Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum offers visitors to Jordan the chance to experience desert life, complete with extremes of heat and cold, Bedouin tents and spectacular sunsets.

Because of its protected status (Wadi Rum is a UNESCO Area of Outstanding Universal Value), access to Wadi Rum is tightly controlled, and visitors must arrange their itineraries through the visitor centre or a tour operator. Guides, camels and drivers for 4WD excursions can be hired at the visitor centre and prices are fixed. Wadi Rum has a huge list of places to explore, including sloping sand dunes, precarious rock bridges, narrow slot canyons sprinkled with ancient graffiti and picture-perfect sunset viewing points.

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View through a rock arch in the desert of Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum off the beaten track

Although the options for exploring Wadi Rum are pre-prescribed, many travellers don’t stay long enough to venture into the farthest reaches of the desert, meaning that it’s possible to break away from the crowds at the more popular and closer sites.

A rewarding trek far from the visitor centre is to the top of Jordan’s highest peak, named Jebel Umm Adaami, a moderately difficult hike that takes a couple of hours. A Jordanian flag has been proudly planted at the summit, where you can rest and peer into neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The path is sporadically marked by cairns and it’s recommended to hire a local Bedouin guide. For a kestrel’s-eye view over Wadi Rum’s majestic mountains and rock formations, set an early alarm for a sunrise trip in a hot air balloon and glide over the desert sands before even the camels have woken up.

Alternatively, on the road into Wadi Rum, a seemingly forgotten train station hides the curious story of the abandoned Hejaz Railway, an Ottoman-built route constructed between 1900 and 1908 that stretched from Damascus in Syria to Medina, one of the holy cities in Saudi Arabia. T.E. Lawrence, a British army officer better known as Lawrence of Arabia, encouraged the Arabs to rise up against their Ottoman rulers in what became known as the Arab Revolt, and his group attacked train stations along the Hejaz Railway, including the outpost at Wadi Rum. An original Ottoman-era train sometimes still operates between Aqaba and Wadi Rum for heritage tours, if you want to play the part.

How to visit Wadi Rum

By Lauren Keith

Lauren Keith is a guidebook author and travel writer specialising in the Middle East and North Africa and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Lauren was previously the editor for the Middle East and North Africa at Lonely Planet, where she’s written extensively about the region. Follow her adventures in the Middle East and beyond on Instagram @noplacelike_it.

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