We had just finished spending two and a half days exploring the ruins of Petra with kids. Our minds were still reeling from all of the incredible sites and experiences we had during our time there. But we were anxious for more amazing Jordan adventures. And near the top of our list of things to do in Jordan was staying in a Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum Desert.
What is the Wadi Rum Desert
The van turned towards the famous Valley of the Moon, the desert valley of Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is known as one of the most beautiful deserts in the world. A Wadi is an Arabic term for “Valley”. It usually refers to a valley that only contains water during periods of heavy rain. And Wadi Rum stands for Valley of the Romans. It’s actually the largest Wadi in Jordan, covering an area of 720 sq. km. (278 sq. miles). And the region is classic in its desert climate. Extreme temperatures are the norm here with both sizzling summers and frosty winters. The Wadi Rum Desert is also famous for its dramatic scenery from sky-high red sand dunes to epic canyons and vast open plains. Not surprisingly, the alien landscape has become legendary in the movie business. Movies filmed here include The Martian and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Bedouin Life in the Wadi Rum Desert
The beautiful but desolate landscape of Wadi Rum has helped define the lives of many cultures. There is evidence of life in the region dating back from the Nabataean times. In fact, there are still areas where you can see stone pictographs from these cultures on the walls of the stunning rocks throughout Wadi Rum.
The Zalabia Bedouin people have made a life out of the barren landscape of Wadi Rum for centuries. And while traditional Bedouin life in the region was focused on animal herding, The locals have developed Wadi Rum into one of the most important tourist attractions in Jordan. Many travelers make the trip here to experience some of the popular Wadi Rum day tours. They are often visiting as a day trip from Aqaba or Petra. However, for those looking for a rest for the mind and soul, a night or more in a popular overnight Bedouin desert camp offers a medicine that can scarcely be found elsewhere.
Popular Wadi Rum Tours
The local Zalabia Bedouin run most of the tours within Wadi Rum. They built an industry focused around climbers and trekkers. And that industry has grown into one of the largest eco-adventure tourism regions in the country. Activities such as camel rides, hiking, and rock-climbing are legendary in Wadi Rum. And with the stunning rock formations that fill Wadi Rum, it’s no surprise why.
ATV and Wadi Rum jeep tours are also becoming increasingly popular as a wider range of adventurers discover the region. Recently, Bedouin luxury camping retreats have become a huge draw for families and other visitors to Jordan. The mix of adventure, comfort, and great food make these overnight luxury camps popular to those searching for unique experiences in Jordan.
Arriving at Wadi Rum
We arrived in Wadi Rum after a long drive from Wadi Musa and a morning visiting Little Petra. After picking up our park permits from the visitor’s centre, we proceeded through a small series of shops to a restaurant and staging area. This is where we were met by the Wadi Rum jeep driver who would be taking us through the desert to our Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp for our night under the stars.
We piled our small packs into a beat up old Mitsubishi pickup and jumped up into the back. The truck mercifully had a shade to protect us from the intense desert sun. D, who had never travelled like this before, was ridiculously excited at the thought of life with no seatbelts. At least, until we hit our first of many bumps, which convinced him that Mommy and Daddy’s lap would be a much safer place to sit.
The drive to the Wadi Rum luxury camp gave us spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. We were left in awe of this beautiful, but unforgiving environment. The Bedouin camp came up suddenly as we bounced along the twisty ruts of the Wadi Rum canyons. Nestled at the base of tall desert cliffs the nondescript green and white tents were just catching some shade as the mid-afternoon sun found its way over the mountains.
We parked and hopped out to meet with the camp manager. We were given a quick tour where we were shown the excellent washroom and shower facilities, the lobby, which offered a bit of air conditioning as a break from the desert heat, the restaurant and finally our own tent. To say we were shocked when we entered the tent was an understatement. The nondescript green and white exterior belied the luxurious interior. The dramatic overhead drapery, elegant lighting, and impressively comfortable beds blew our expectations away.
Wadi Rum Jeep Tour
The Wadi Rum camp itself doesn’t have much to offer during the day. While we could have laid in those ridiculously comfortable beds all day, baking in the desert sun was not our idea of fun. So we opted to join a Wadi Rum Jeep tour of the surrounding area. Our driver arrived in the same beat-up Mitsubishi that had brought us to the camp and we were told that he would be bringing us to where the tour begins.
We bounced through the sandy ground towards the Wadi Rum visitors centre. Stopping next to a watering hole. Our driver explained in broken English that our guide would be along shortly. In the meantime, there was a spring three-quarters of the way up the mountainside and a large rock with inscriptions on it that we could check out.
T.E. Lawrence’s Spring in Wadi Rum
We soon learned that the inscriptions on the rock dated from between the 4th century BC and the 4th century AD and that the spring had once been a gushing waterfall which T.E. Lawrence had visited in 1917. Of the spring Lawrence of Arabia wrote:
“so, to get rid of the dust and strain after my long rides, I went straight up the gully into the face of the hill, along the ruined wall of the conduit by which a spout of water had once run down the ledges to a Nabatean well-house on the valley floor. It was a climb of fifteen minutes to a tired person, and not difficult. At the top, the waterfall, Al Shallala as the Arabs named is, was only a few yards away”
“Its rushing noise came from my left, by a jutting bastion of cliff over whose crimson face trailed long falling runners of green leaves. The path skirted it in an undercut ledge. On the rock-bulge above were clear-cut Nabatean inscriptions, and a sunk panel incised with a monogram or symbol. Around and about were Arab scratches, including tribe marks, some of which were witnesses of forgotten migrations: but my attention was only for the splashing of water in a crevice under the shadow of the overhanging rock.
From this rock a silver runlet issued into the sunlight. I looked in to see the spout, a little thinner than my wrist, jetting out firmly from a fissure in the roof, and falling with that clean sound into a shallow, frothing pool, behind the step which served as an entrance. The walls and roof of the crevice dripped with moisture. Thick ferns and grasses of the finest green make it a paradise just five feet square.”
Now there is little left of the spring but a small pool and a couple of fig trees. The majority of the water has been diverted to supply the nearby towns and desert communities. C and I were called back by the driver as we attempted the 15-minute climb to the spring. It turns out our guide would be late and he would be driving us to the next location.
Bright Red Sand Dunes of Wadi Rum
We piled back into the truck and headed deeper into the valley. We drove until we reached a towering red sand dune. We called down to the driver to stop. C and I looked at each other and both knew we had to climb this sand dune! The four of us head-long at the towering mountain of red sand. D made it about 15 feet up the hill before he decided that he would just rather roll around in the soft dune. So, while Christina joined D in the fun, C and I raced up to the top of the dune. At the peak, we were gifted spectacular views of the surrounding desert. We looked back down the dune from where we came and when C saw the ant-like figures of Christina and D he looked at me with a mischievous smile and cried “Race ya to the bottom!” and off he went running and tumbling down the dune.
When we reached the bottom, we saw another cool site. A group of thrill seekers was getting ready to carve through the dunes on sandboards. At the time, this was something I’d never even considered. But I credit this scene with how excited D was to try sandboarding in Huacachina Peru two years later.
Rock Arches in Wadi Rum
After our sand dune adventure, we drove a short distance to a small rock arch jutting from the desert floor. It was an easy climb up to the arch and has been known to be scaled in only 39 seconds (For those unfamiliar with this reference, I highly recommend you check out the show Departures on Netflix. It is a huge influence for Christina and I to start our family travel blog). We all made bets as to who would conquer the peak first. With a 2-year-old I wasn’t able to race up to the peak. But D and I did arrive first, gloating impressively as Christina and C crested the peak just behind us. The top, a 4-metre rock arch offers an impressive and unique perch to view the surrounding countryside. We enjoyed our time there before moving on to catch the desert sunset.
Our driver shouted that we must be quick if we wanted to catch the sunset. So we jumped into the back of the truck and were whisked off to a place a few minutes away in the middle of the valley. We were surprised at the relative bleakness of the spot compared to the beautiful arch we were just at. Christina and I asked if “this was it?” and the guide pointed towards the sinking sun in the distance and shrugged. Thinking that our original location would have probably been one of the best spots to catch this magnificent view and yet knowing we were running short on time, we instead pointed to a low cliff face a few hundred metres away and the driver agreed to bring us there.
We skipped out of the truck and climbed up to a perch above the desert floor to catch the view. The sunset was spectacular! The golden sun lit the desert up in a fiery blaze of red. We snuggled together to witness the setting sun, enjoying a moment of solitude and solemnity where we could think about the incredible sites that we had witnessed and be grateful for a life that has allowed us to experience some of the world’s most wondrous places. This short period of zen was one of the most memorable moments of all of our travels.
Sleeping at the Wadi Rum Overnight Luxury Camp
We returned to the Bedouin camp refreshed, relaxed and very hungry. After cleaning up, we joined the others staying at the Wadi Rum camp at the fire pit. The camp manager called us over to watch as the chefs prepare the meal. We were excited to learn that our dinner for the night was being cooked in a traditional Bedouin style. The Bedouin food had been left to slow-roast in a charcoal-filled pit dug deep into the desert sand. We were called over as the chef was preparing to lift the night’s feast from the ground and everyone clapped excitedly as the delicious meal of chicken and vegetables was pulled from the ground.
The food was absolutely mouthwatering. And we all ate our fill, and then some. As we finished, it became obvious that the boys had hit their limit for the day and were barely keeping their heads off of their dinner plates. So we proceeded to settle the boys into their beds, sang them a song and returned to the campfire for some mint tea and conversation. The night cooled to a perfect temperature as we all laid under the vast canopy of stars, a view that living in the city can make you forget even exists. Only the children being alone in the tent stopped us from simply drifting off under the stars rather than returning to our tent.
Which Bedouin Camp in the Wadi Rum Desert Should You Stay At?
With their increasing popularity, the options for staying in a Bedouin Camp in the Wadi Rum Desert have been growing. While most have been given glowing reviews, here are a few of our favourites.
Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp
Our night in the Wadi Rum Bedouin camp was spent at the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp. And for a tent in the middle of the desert, they lived up to their name. The beds were among the most comfortable we had ever slept on. Although the endless stars had me begging to sleep outside near the cozy fire. We were treated to water, drinks, and delicious Bedouin meals during our visit and we highly recommend it for families, or couples looking for a relaxing, accessible place to experience the majesty of Wadi Rum.
You can check out the prices and availability of the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp here.
Salman Zwaidh Camp
Considered to be excellent value, especially for family travelers, the Salman Zwaidh Camp offers both private and shared tents. For families, tent options include up to 6 single beds. At night, traditional Bedouin song and stories are shared near the campfire.
You can check out the prices and availability of the Salman Zwaidh Camp here.
Salem camp offers a more modest accommodation style. And depending on your style, this might suit you just fine. If I was to return to Wadi Rum during the late summer, I would definitely choose to sleep outside by the fire, so the less luxurious sleeping accommodations would be fine. But during the colder winter months, something a bit cozier might be preferred by those traveling with children.
You can check out the prices and availability of the Salem Camp in Wadi Rum here.
Back to Reality
We woke up to the peaceful light of the desert morning. Breakfast at the camp was served late, and with no place to be, we swapped family cuddles in the bean bag chairs outside of our tent and watched the sun slowly rise and cut down the mountain shadows. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast before wishing our hosts a fond farewell and packing into the now familiar Mitsubishi for our last ride through the desert.
A Camel Ride Through the Wadi Rum Desert
Being a Wandering Wagars family adventure, we couldn’t simply drive back to the van. Instead, we stopped about halfway from the camp where we met a local who would guide us on mounted camels back to the village entrance. C was ecstatic! Every day on our Jordan journey he asked “when can we ride a camel?”, and now would be his big chance!
We mounted up and images of Lawrence of Arabia swished through our minds as we rode peacefully through the desert valley towards civilization. We were on our way to Aqaba where Christina and I would venture under the waters of the Red Sea.
Have you ever traveled to Wadi Rum, Jordan? Or stayed at a Bedouin camp? Tell us all about it in the comments below. Or feel free to contact us and tell us your story!
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.
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