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Travel: Wadi Rum, Jordan

Wadi Rum | The Kingdom of Jordan

Anyone who believes the desert is devoid of beauty has never been to Wadi Rum. Most famously portrayed as the backdrop to the film Lawrence of Arabia, this now-protected area in the south of Jordan covers just less than 250 square miles of dramatic desert wilderness. Within this vast, rust-colored sea of sand punctuated by jutting sandstone peaks are ancient rock carvings, Nabatean temples, and fresh water springs, all waiting to be explored.

In short, visiting Wadi Rum while in Jordan is a no-brainer. Perhaps more challenging is deciding how you want to experience this varied landscape. By jeep, camel or horse? By foot? By bike or by rock climbing the same routes that were once traversed by the ancient Bedouins, whose ancestors still call this region home?  Whichever you prefer, the desert’s canyons, rock bridges, sand dunes, and patina-covered sandstone cliffs provide an experience that resonates like a fine symphony or an Old Master‘s painting.

The vast majority of people living in and around Wadi Rum today is of Bedouin origin and, until recently, led nomadic lives, relying on goat and camel herds to make ends meet. Many now split their time between the village and their camps and tents, which fulfills their desire for freedom and the reality of keeping their children in school. Rum Village lies within the borders of the protected area. But Bedouin tents, with spectacular tea and polite conversation, are scattered throughout the region, a friendly refuge from the midday sun.

You won’t find luxury five-star resorts here. There is a guesthouse in Rum Village, you can pitch your own tent at one of the established campsites, or spend the night sleeping beneath the stars at Captain’s Desert camp, arguably the best way to experience the magic of both the people and the landscape. There are many “private” camps in the reserve—Captain’s Desert camp is nestled into a nook of sand surrounded by rocks, an oasis in the wide desert.

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Spend the day exploring, then drop your stuff off in one of the tents that encircle the fire pit and scramble up one of the surrounding bulbous jebels, or rock formations, to watch the sun sink below the horizon. Then dine on an elaborate feast cooked in an earthen oven, sip tea, and be prepared to dance around the campfire as the music starts and the stars carpet the sky.

Rise with dawn the next morning. Feel the breeze start to warm the desert air. Marvel at the sunrise as the world turns from dusty rose to orange to bright yellow. And then try to decide whether you’ll be riding a camel or pulling on your climbing harness after breakfast.

Be careful, however, as every visitor to Wadi Rum forever yearns to return. As T.E. Lawrence wrote in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, “For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.”

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