Just over 100 years ago Lawrence of Arabia over-wintered with his irregular army in Wadi Rum during their campaign to drive the Ottomans out of arab lands. His book of the campaign, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, immortalised the desert landscape and has encouraged many adventurous travellers to explore this special and still largely unspoiled corner of Southern Jordan.
However there are risks. And most of them you will encounter even before you arrive. Wadi Rum is stunning; blood red sands and towering cliffs, no light pollution, peace and tranquillity and a traditional way of life, in harmony with the natural environment. Unsurprisingly it has become the eastern corner of Jordan’s golden tourist triangle, with Aqaba to the south and the ‘rose-red city’ of Petra to the west. But its fame and accessibility have brought with them the modern-day perils and curses of bucket-list tourism. Tick it off and move on. Rum deserves so much more than that.
Below I have listed the seven perils of Rum but all can be avoided if you plan and research. Not only will a bit of preparation enable you to avoid mistakes but it also means you will have a much more memorable experience. For example choosing the right Wadi Rum bedouin camp will let you share a fascinating and different way of life. Similarly, there are many Wadi Rum tours but not all of them will be suitable for you.
So here are the seven perils you face in making your choice; don’t worry, none of them is life-threatening but they can all damage your holiday!
• The wrong location: some of the cheap and cheerful tours offering the chance to visit a Wadi Rum desert camp don’t go to Wadi Rum at all. This is a particular risk if you take an all-inclusive tour from Aqaba. They drive instead to nearby Dissi, where in place of the rock bridges, Nabatean inscriptions and glorious sand-dunes you’ll have the chance to meet lots of other tourists, watch displays of ‘local’ dancing and eat a nice big buffet.
• Hassle and argument: on a bad day the Visitors’ Centre entrance to Wadi Rum can be a very off-putting experience. It should be a source of information and advice but it can be a bit of a cattle-market where you are allocated a driver, after a lot of shouting and bargaining, with no regard to your preferences, or even your language. Avoid this by pre-booking a guide after searching the internet and reading reviews of the many wadi rum tours.
• Hidden extras: even when you go on-line beware of the global cheap booking sites. These have arrived in Rum in the last few years and have encouraged unscrupulous operators to offer very cheap prices to entrap tourists but then, when they arrive, charge for anything and everything extra, including cups of tea, water and taking you to the camp. Try to book a specific camp directly and make sure their prices are on their web-site, eg wadirumtours,com
• Women tourists: there are many stories of women receiving unwelcome attention from young tour guides, who misunderstand a relaxed Western approach. It can be irritating and ruin your visit but rarely more than that. One solution is to book the “Behind the Veil” tour for women only, run at one Wadi Rum camp by the wife of a well-known guide.
• Cowboy camps: just because a camp is on the internet does not mean it is good or even that it exists! We have heard stories of entrepreneurial bedouins establishing a web-site even when they don’t have a camp and if they do attract any visitors, they farm them out to friends. It’s important to check how long the camp has been operating, read the reviews and have an email conversation in advance.
• Fake luxury: recently several ‘luxury’ camps have been established, charging premium prices. Not all of these have maintained their standards and there is a logical contradiction between this idea and experiencing the desert and the bedouin way of life; it is important to be clear about your priorities.
• Not being able to leave: this is perhaps the biggest risk of all! Wadi Rum is a very special place and for many visitors to Jordan it overshadows all other attractions and becomes the highlight of their visit. Some of them find it very difficult to leave their chosen Wadi Rumdesert camp and end up coming back again and again.
To find the Best Wadi Rum Tours options make a mindful search on the internet and remember it’s not always the lowest price that gets you the best experience.