One of the highlights of my week in Jordan was spending the night at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum. It is hard to put into words or capture on film, the expansive surreal beauty of Wadi Rum. Known as the “Dry Valley” Wadi Rum is roughly 720 square kilometers (278 square miles) of protected area in southern Jordan. It is known for its Bedouin culture and absolutely stunning landscape of massive sandstone mountains reaching up to 1500 meters (4,921 feet) high surrounded by canyons, gorges and narrow pathways to explore. The native people of Wadi Rum are the Bedouins who have lived in this harsh climate for thousands of years. The desert-dwelling Bedouin lived a nomadic life for centuries, moving their tents and herds of camels and goats across the vast arid desert in search of grazing land for their livestock. Today, most Bedouin have discontinued their nomadic life and live in villages. However, travelers have the opportunity to learn about their culture and life by spending a night or two at one of the many Bedouin campsites in Wadi Rum. By far, my stay at a Bedouin Camp was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Jordan.
Explore the wild, vast landscape of Wadi Rum where you will sleep under the stars at a Bedouin Camp in the heart of Lawrence of Arabia’s desert and enjoy a traditional Bedouin meal. Marvel at the rocks changing color as the sun sets and rises over the rugged sandstone and sit outside under the brilliance of the stars. Take in the stillness and solitude of one of the most surreal places on earth. Pinch yourself often that you are truly there. Riding a camel (as uncomfortable as it may be) goes without saying.
We left Amman around 9 o’clock in a small tourist bus hired by Intrepid Travel for our four-hour drive south along the Desert Highway to Wadi Rum. Perhaps the drive was a metaphor of the surprise that was to come as it felt like we were on another planet as we drove into the vast, empty land of nothingness. All we could see out the van windows was the sandy, colorless landscape along with the occasional whirl of a dust devil. The roads were newly paved for most of the way until we finally reached the turnoff for Wadi Rum. We didn’t arrive at the gates of Wadi Rum until past two and by that time we were all famished and ready to take a break. Thankfully we got to enjoy a lovely Jordanian lunch of grilled chicken, rice and of course hummus and pita, Jordan’s staple food.
After lunch, we gathered our luggage and our group of 12 boarded onto the back of three open-air pickup trucks with only a flimsy fabric tarp on top. Little did we know, we were in for a huge unexpected surprise and the tarp cover would offer us little protection against the storm that was brewing in the desert air.
We began our ride and at first, it was absolutely amazing. We felt like we were on the set of a Star Wars movie, it was so utterly surreal. The landscape was so dramatic and unusual. It was spellbinding. Like nothing I’d ever seen.
I was so mesmerized by the sheer beauty of Wadi Rum that I didn’t notice the heavy clouds rolling in. None of us did until we heard the first ripple of thunder. Rain in the “Dry Valley”? Impossible we thought. Who has ever heard of rain in the desert? Yet, this video is living proof that anything is possible. Even a hailstorm in the middle of Jordan’s most arid place (see that white silvery stuff falling?).
We kept moving while the clouds grew ominous and the roar of thunder and flashes of lightning were too impossible to ignore. Yes, it was truly happening. A storm was moving into Wadi Rum and we were in for quite an adventure. In the distance, the sky opened up and sheets of rain began to fall. When the first drop of rain hit us, we laughed at the hilarity of the situation. But then as we road in the back of the bumpy Toyota pick-up truck, the clouds unleashed in all their fury and it began to hail. We were pelted by ice-cold, wet balls of hail and drenched.
As the storm progressed, it felt like there was no end in sight and we were all darn right miserable. To make matters worse, our flimsy tarp broke and kept leaking icy cold water down our backs. I had no idea how I’d manage to survive the ride without soon bursting into icy tears but like an oasis in the desert, suddenly we saw the black and white tents that made up our camp. And best of all, the sky was clearing. We were saved!
It was a magical site when we rolled into camp as a magnificent, gigantic waterfall had formed due to the storm and the water was cascading down the side of the sheer maroon-colored rock. I quickly snapped a shot and was glad I did because just as suddenly as it had appeared, it soon disappeared into a distant memory.
As we entered the camp, we learned it was called the “Quiet Village” and is one of about 32 tourist camps run by the Bedouins in Wadi Rum. Like the other camps, the Quiet Village is set up against the rock with a large dining hall surrounded by about 20 tents that each had two twin-sized beds inside. There was a bathroom, with running water and showers all powered by solar electricity. The best part of all was the large outdoor fire pit with an enormous outdoor couch that easily sat 30 guests where we could sit and watch the stars while drinking our sweet-spiced herbal tea.
After we unloaded our bags and changed into dry clothing we took a ride out to explore Wadi Rum. The weather had cleared and while it was still a bit overcast we were hopefully now in the clear of any future storms. While we cruised along the desert floor, I noticed how striking the rock formations are and how the color of the rock continually changes throughout the day depending on the light. When we first arrived the rock was a subdued brown but then once the sun came out from under the clouds, the rock turned a deep orangish-red. Then as the sun faded, it changed colors again turning a pale pink to purple to black.
Unfortunately, the storm hampered our ability to spend the afternoon hiking. We ended up taking a jeep tour of the area where we were shown the remains of Lawrence of Arabia’s home as well as some other gorgeous rock formations. There was still the threat of more rain so we didn’t go as far as we would have liked.
By five o’clock, we were back at the camp with some time to relax before dinner. Our Bedouin hosts were busy at work preparing an extraordinary feast that reminded me of an American Thanksgiving in a way because there was so much food and so many options to choose from. The Bedouins are known for their warm hospitality as well as their ingenious way of preparing food to survive in the desert. They revolutionalized milk products made from goats and also utilized their own desert landscape as underground ovens for cooking. One of the most beautiful, cherished Bedouin traditions is to cook using a “Zarb” which is an underground oven buried almost four feet below the ground.
The Bedouin first dig a deep hole about three or four feet into the ground where they start a fire. Once the fire is hot, they add more wood and then place a three-tiered cooking platter filled with chicken and vegetables on top of the fire. The food is wrapped in foil and then buried with sand. They continue to shovel sand on top of the Zarb until it rises high above the ground in the form of a pyramid. There it rests and cooks for a good 2-3 hours. Around 7 o’clock, we were called to meet behind the dining tent where we saw the uncovering of the mound and our meal. I honestly had no idea that this was a special local tradition and had I known I would never have left my phone back in the tent charging. Luckily, a fellow traveler on our tour shared his footage below. It really is quite impressive!
It was hard to believe this three-tiered platter was buried in the ground! If only the lightening was better, I would have been able to truly capture our magnificent Bedouin Feast! There had to be at least thirty different salads and dishes to share in addition to the Zarb barbeque. Trust me, it was AMAZING! And, if we were not completely stuffed after dinner, we had to squeeze in a round of sweet sugary deserts. The sweeter the better when it comes to deserts in Jordan. Besides the infamous baklava, there are many more kinds of sugary sweets to enjoy with your sugary, spiced tea.
After dinner, we all gathered outside around the fire and listened to the Bedouins play an oud which is a short-neck, pear-shaped stringed instrument that is a common in the Arab world. It was so melodic and quickly relaxed us all into a quiet chatter as we sat by the fire and star-gazed into the dark wild depths of Wadi Rum. I didn’t stay up too late that night as I really wanted to get up for sunrise the next morning. Around 10 pm, I retired to my tent and slept somewhat peaceful save the snoring sounds coming from the neighboring tent. Oh well. Good thing I had my noise-canceling headphones with me. I never leave home without them.
I woke only once or twice thinking about the story I heard earlier that day about a fellow guest’s friend once finding a camel spider in their tent. I made the mistake of looking it up on google and that was enough to scare me off. Thankfully I never saw one in our tent or in Wadi Rum but I knew they were lurking somewhere out of sight. I also made a middle of the night run to the bathroom and was glad I did as the stars outside where out of this world! It was quite remarkable.
Unfortunately, I overslept and got up a little after sunrise. I was disappointed I’d missed it but still enjoyed the morning sun rising on the rocks and turning them from pink to orange to red. I could have easily spend another night at the Bedouin Camp but atlas it was time to head back and continue with our journey through Jordan.
The best part of our morning was by far our hysterical camel ride back to the gates of Wadi Rum. I have never been on a camel before and I was a little taken aback by how the camel rises with you seated on top. I nearly fell off. After five minutes, the novelty of the camel ride wore off and it was simply unpleasant and hard to get comfortable. It amazes me how the Bedouin still ride camels for hours even today.
I could not have gotten off that camel sooner and into the comforts of our pick up truck that would bring us to our van. What an unforgettable night in a truly unforgettable place!
If you go:
The best months to visit Wadi Rum are from March to May and September to November. Summer can be unbearably hot and winter very cold. Wadi Rum is about a 3.5-hour drive from Amman, and a one hour drive from Aqaba. There are many tours that bring you there as well. I enjoyed my trip with Intrepid Travel and did the 8-day Explore Jordan itinerary. It was AMAZING!
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