Middle East travel

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Glamping in the Wadi Rum Desert

IMG_1329Sunset over the Wadi Rum desert

On a week long road trip through Jordan, it seemed silly not to have an adventure in the desert, specifically the vast Wadi Rum, called “The Valley of the Moon,” which stretches across Southern Jordan. Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must if you have a few extra days to explore and are up for a different adventure. Initially, the Wadi Rum desert gained popularity among tourists after “Lawrence of Arabia” made its debut, in which many of its scenes were filmed. Besides memories of Peter O’Toole’s mesmerizing eyes, this desert became one my favorite landscapes worldwide.

After leaving our car in the gate, we were picked up by our hosts. We stayed in the Salman Zwaidh Camp (recommended by Lonely Planet), which is owned and run by local bedouins, or nomadic desert arabs, only they are allowed to operate within the protected areas of the Wadi Rum desert. The host of our camp Salman was very hospitable and ensured we had a wonderful stay at his camp. He really went out of his way to ensure we were comfortable, even though he had limited English. I say kindness and hospitality are among the universal languages we can all comprehend.

Sleeping in the desert can be a hot, windy experience, and since we didn’t have any camping gear, we stayed in a pitched tent with proper beds inside. It gets a bit warm during the day, but at night the desert actually became chilly, which was a welcoming relief to sleep soundly. There are toilets in a small building, running water, and the accommodations were quite nice for being in the middle of the desert.

View from the rocks to the tents with beds
Relaxing in the welcoming shade of the rocks
Beds in the bedouin camp Salman Zwaidh

As for the activities, you can take a truck tour of the desert, do some hiking on dunes and rocks, go on camel rides to watch the sunset, or just relax for a bit. Keep in mind, there’s no wifi or electricity to charge your devices, so it’s a nice opportunity to disconnect and be ‘one’ with nature. We decided to do 4×4 truck tour first to check out the landscape. It takes about 1.5-2 hours, and you stop at various land structures, dunes and bedouin shops, where you’re offered tea and encouraged to shop around from the merchant’s products. We ended up buying the spicy bedouin tea they kept serving us, because it really was good.

Overlooking the vast desert after a dune hike
Welcoming the shade on the 4×4 tour
A seemingly endless climb up a sandy dune
Local bedouin shop where the owner played the rababa
Hiking up the formations with proper shoes offers bonus views

A note here on dress code: this is still the Middle East, so women are expected to dress modest, so it’s not respectful to expose your shoulders or legs, despite the extreme heat. So things like linen, thin cotton are best to withstand the heat. You’ll get sand everywhere though, but at least it’s not sticky like at the beach.

After resting for a couple of hours at the camp, we snacked on some treats offered by Salman, and then decided to take the camel tour to see the sunset. This costs extra, but from what I recall, it was nominal. We made our way into an area with a large, flat rock to climb, and from there we saw the sunset. Nothing quite like seeing a burning ball of yellow fire pierce the horizon with fantastic pastel hues.

Sunset camel rides in the Wadi Rum
Follow the leader

 

Sunset over the Wadi Rum desert
Magical sunsets
Camels are lucky to have this view daily

By the time we got back to the camp, we were starving. Luckily, the chef was already preparing delicious Jordanian dishes for us to eat, followed by, you guessed it, more tea. When we went, we had just one other family staying at the camp, so it was nice to chat with them to learn their story and what they thought so far of Jordan.

Food prepared at Salman Zwaidh camp in Wadi Rum

The staff offers you privacy, and they don’t annoy you with unnecessary small talk, which may partly be due to limited English. However, they were very open about their lives in Jordan as desert people, how Wadi Rum has always been their home. It was fascinating to learn their ways, but their hospitality was the most impressive. We went to bed that night with bellies full and minds peaceful, free from devices and stress.

Sleeping in the tent overnight felt quite warm, and only around 3:00 am or so did the temperature drop so I could sleep well. I like it cold when I sleep, I mean REAL cold, so sleeping in the desert was something I expected to be a challenge. While it was silent at night, the one thing you could always hear was the wind blowing the through the heat and cooling the sand.

The next morning, we prepared for our journey onward to the Red Sea to Aqaba, but not before Salman treated us to hearty breakfast and more tea. We parted ways with the bedouins and the desert, and for a fleeting moment I felt like I was Santiago in the Alchemist, searching for and finding my treasure.

Tell me about your cool experiences in the desert below!