Wadi Rum, Jordan
It’s easy to see how Wadi Rum would be used as a film set. The dramatic landscape of the Jordan desert is crafted by nature – but it could just as easily be from the minds of the world’s greatest artists.
So Wadi Rum was the location for much of the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, on the same ground that he possibly rode across himself on his many journeys through here.
More recently, it was used as the setting for Matt Damon’s movie ‘The Martian’, where this barren land represented the harsh terrain of Mars.
And there have been many other movies in between and there will presumably be many more to come. Because it’s not just that Wadi Rum looks like these locations, it’s also because there is something so beautiful, almost magical, about this part of the Jordan desert that comes across on screen.
Wadi Rum Jeep Tour
Bumping along over the sand dunes, a hot dry air blowing in my face, I find myself surrounded by the red rock formations that rise up from the sand.
Even though the beauty of Wadi Rum can be captured in a movie, it does not even come close to the experience of being here myself.
One of the most popular ways to see Wadi Rum is on a jeep tour. Although the idea of a ‘jeep’ is applied quite liberally. It’s really a ute that I find myself sitting on the back of, a bench on either side with a cushion on top.
It’s actually surprisingly comfortable and it’s glorious to have just empty space and air in every direction, rather than be inside another kind of vehicle. Still, it makes for a few frightening moments when we suddenly drive down a dune or skid across the sand and I have to quickly grab on to something. (Of course, all of this is done by the driver on purpose to add to the excitement.)
I’m with my G Adventures group as part of our Highlights of Jordan tour. We are spread across three vehicles as we drive through the desert, stopping occasionally at particularly-stunning viewpoints to take photos of Wadi Rum or to see the details of an archaeological site, exploring the site in wide angle and in zoom.
Tourism in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum has become one of the most popular places to visit in Jordan. The interest in the area began after the Lawrence of Arabia movie was released and people around the world saw the Jordan desert for the first time. The tourist numbers have increased in recent years because the quality and quantity of the activities here has only improved.
Not that you would ever get a sense that it’s busy here. Our group doesn’t see a single other foreigner on our jeep tour of Wadi Rum. The great vastness of the area easily swallows up anyone doing the same thing.
But tourists to Wadi Rum aren’t just doing jeep tours. Many will come here to get even closer to nature by riding a horse or a camel through the desert. There are also hikes that you can do, seeing the perspectives of the mountains around you changing every so slowly, step by step.
The trails through the canyons of Wadi Rum have seen walkers, horses and camels for thousands of years as trade routes passed through here. There are still some spots along the way where you can spot ancient petroglyphs made by the people leading the caravans, probably Nabatean traders going to or from their capital city of Petra.
And there are also the desert camps dotted through the area that offer the opportunity to sleep in luxury tents surrounded by the stars and the serenity of a warm night away from civilisation. This is where we spend the night after our afternoon exploration of the area.
Why is Wadi Rum so special?
I think it’s also important to note that Wadi Rum is not just a tourist attraction. It is a very important historical and natural zone that has been listed as a World Heritage Site and is a protected area.
Wadi Rum is relatively large, with an official area of 720 square kilometres. That makes it bigger than Zion National Park in the USA, for instance.
Within Wadi Rum, if you know where to look, there are more than 25,000 ancient rock carvings that have been discovered.
These are more than just images of people and animals. They also tell the story of human development over a period of about 12,000 years, radiating out from the nearby Cradle of Civilisation.
Experts have used these rock carvings to trace much of our history, including the creation and evolution of alphabets.
The rock carvings and the historical parts of Wadi Rum can easily get lost amongst the scale of the natural elements in the desert here. Both are equally important and uniquely significant in their own ways. For me, though, it’s the rock formations that capture my attention the most.
There’s probably none more dramatic than the arch that we stop at towards the end of our jeep tour in Wadi Rum.
As I scramble up and walk on the top, it doesn’t feel as precarious as it looks. In fact, there’s no fear, even though I am standing up high with very little below me.
Above Wadi Rum, I actually feel emboldened and inspired. Surrounded by so much natural wonder, knowing that humans have evolved culturally here for thousands of years, is a truly special moment in my journey through Jordan.