A perfect family day out in the Jordanian desert
Our regular readers will know that when it comes to our best family-day out, from all the places we have visited around the world, we have a hands-down champion. Introducing Wadi Rum, Jordan.
In this post, we will cover
- What and where is Wadi Rum
- Best time to visit
- What to expect on a desert adventure with kids
- How to choose an overnight camp
- What to pack
(PS no apologies for the absolute photo overload, this place is Instagrammer heaven, lucky your mobile data doesn’t work in most spots!!!)
What and where is Wadi Rum?
Located in southern Jordan, about 3 hours from the capital Amman or an hour north of Aqaba and King Hussein International Airport is the protected desert of Wadi Rum, also known as Valley of the Moon.
Surrounded by giant sandstone and granite hills, the wadi is the vast sandy valley beneath. There are many fascinating rock formations, natural bridges, siqs and giant sand dunes to explore.
Wadi Rum has had many occupants over the centuries from the Nabateans through to the much-penned adventures of British officer T E Lawrence in the Arab Revolt of the early 20th century. They have each left their mark, making Wadi Rum the fascinating place it is today.
Since 2011 it has been declared by UNESCO as a protected world heritage site. Only native Bedouin from Rum Village are licensed to take tours and accommodate overnight visitors. The vast craggy mountains make it a popular spot for trekkers and mountain climbers, but they also accommodate day trip visitors looking to visit the major sites of the desert by jeep or camel and offer overnight camping options.
Best time to visit Wadi Rum
Like most deserts around the world, you should expect warm to hot days and cool to freezing nights!
With this in mind, spring and autumn are the best times to visit to avoid the extremes. We visited in early April and found this to be perfect, not too crowded but pleasant (you’ll see from the photos we were in sweaters/hoodies for most of the day).
During May to Septemeber day time temperatures are exceedingly hot at 40c++, but the cooler months of October and November are also great.
What to expect on a desert adventure with kids
There are a huge number of options for visiting Wadi Rum from day trips, to adventure sports to overnight camping.
We took the option of a 24-hour desert tour with Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp. I chatted with our host Mohammed by email before our adventure to determine an itinerary that would work with children.
After paying our entry fees at the visitor centre, we meet our driver in Rum Village. We are driven firstly to his home in Rum where we are offered tea in his majilis before our “jeep” (an old Toyota) arrives. We thought maybe we were joining a small group but no, all his visitors have a driver each and a personal itinerary.
So with our windswept hair, off we went between the mountains and into the desert. It was only sitting out in the open here we realised just how vast the desert was, how disconnected we were going to be from the world, and just a little bit of excitement crept in.
It’s not long until our first stop at Lawrence Springs. While some people bravely climbed the cliff face to reach the Nabatean Temple ruins behind, we tried to remain earthbound. The Globetrotters were seriously as thrift as the mountain goats though (of which you will find many!), bolting as soon as the jeep stopped to start climbing.
They got about 50 feet or so ahead of us before we made the call that it was just too steep and difficult for us to control 3 independent little souls on this climb (for the record, our kids were 7, 4 & 2 at the time of this adventure). Those with older, sure-footed children or more free hands may make it to the temple.
Here, the kids are offered camel rides from the local boys (literally, they wouldn’t have been older than 10 or 12). This was a real highlight the Globetrotters have been looking forward to. They are playful with the kids, giving high-fives and posing for photos. No mention of money up front they, of course, then hit us up for cash asking for 15JOD (that’s about USD21) for 3 camels for about 15 minutes. Highway robbery but it really was a magic moment for the kids so we obligingly pay without negotiating and see their glee at probably making their entire days income in one hit.
Our driver, Mahmoud, then takes us deeper into the desert and we see the breathtakingly beautiful changes in the desert scape. The sand becomes much deeper red in colour. He shows us several spots where ancient petroglyphs (carvings) and inscriptions can be found, in remarkably good condition. At each stop the Globetrotters jump out with eagerness, to find anything they can climb, insects to spot and a chance to use their binoculars.
One of the most physical stops, though well worth the effort was climbing the Red Dune. Mahmoud didn’t realise the kids were keen and confident enough to do sand boarding so hadn’t packed his boards. If this is something you’d like to do, make sure you request this in advance, it would have made the descent here a little faster!!
Next up is lunch. It seems each guide has their own preferred little spot where they take their customers. A permanent stone structure is there where a campfire is made and a traditional Bedouin meal is prepared. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was but two out of our three kids turned their noses up and only ate the flatbread – we were ravenous by this point and thought it was great! Some sort of mixed tomato and bean recipe.
The afternoon sights are even more dramatic, we are shown to several natural arches and caves. Not all are great for little feet but where the kids could, they would try and climb! The most famous is probably Um Forth Rock Bridge, if you want a solo photo here you’ll need to be patient. Even on a relatively quiet day when we visited there were still your normal array of arrogant tourists who insisted on a selfie from every angle with their poor guides obligingly being direct beneath!
A real highlight of the afternoon was walking through the Khazali Siq (similar to a canyon but formed by a split in tectonic plates, not by water). Although quite narrow in parts, even our youngest at 2.5-years-old was able to navigate down here with help to see the ancient inscriptions and enjoy the cool breeze.
We are offered to climb a further sand dune, but at this point, we know little legs can handle no more and we head back to catch the sunset at our evening camp.
Our overnight Bedouin camp experience
We did our tour and camping with Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp run by Mohammad Hammad. His brother Mahmoud was our driver and tour guide for the day.
This was seriously far more glamping than camping!
We chose Mohammad’s camp because he advertised a family sized tent and in our email exchanges we established he was a relatively new dad too so really understood the needs of families. He claims he’s one of the only ones to purpose build family-sized tents on his site that can fit 4+.
(By our research most offered 2 – maximum 3 per tent which would have meant splitting our group).
The tent is basic but beautifully fitted. We loved the darkness and stillness at night and multiple extra blankets ensured we stayed warm at night – in fact, it’s one of the best nights sleep I can remember having!!
To our surprise, the bathroom is tiled and fully plumbed with hot water from solar power panels beside the camp. The bathroom is shared, but as the camp wasn’t full the night we stayed we never ran into anyone. Despite the abundance of sand, it was always kept very clean.
There is solar power wired to your tent in order to light your room, but don’t expect there to be anything to charge your phone! Seriously good opportunity to give yourself an electronics break (But I’d recommend you take extra battery packs if using your mobile phone as a camera).
A traditional “zarb” dinner is served in the communal tent, like a roast cooked in an underground oven. You can expect side dishes of soup, salad, breads. Set around a fireplace its a wonderful relaxing end to the day before getting a glimpse at the magnificent, unspoiled starlit skies above. I can honestly say I’ve never seen such a vast sky in all my life!
How to choose a Wadi Rum Camp
Every camp in Wadi Rum has a slightly different setup so we can only describe camping from our own experience. You need to determine what aspects are most important to you. I would suggest families look for;
- The ability to flex the schedule
- Rooming and bathroom arrangements
- Are tents raised off the ground with proper beds
- What is the max capacity of the camp (and will you be alone or in small groups)
- How ‘authentic’ an experience do you want- from very rustic to serious glamping with swimming pools!
From what we could tell, everyone has their camps quite isolated from one another so no need to worry about noisy neighbours. You may also want to look for one that is west facing for unrivalled desert sunset views!
Note a number of camps that call themselves ‘Wadi Rum’ are technically in Disseh. Part of the same desertscape but be aware not exactly the same thing – just in case you are hoping for a “genuine experience”. A good example is the luxurious looking Bait Ali Lodge, located just before you enter the visitor centre. Also, some of these camps take the larger bus tour groups, you might not get the same personal and authentic experience and they are known for having ‘party nights’.
What to pack desert camping with kids
Your tour guide should provide all the necessities for the actual camping, blankets, linen, and main meals as well as fresh drinking water & tea.
Extra items that we found awesome to have with us were;
- Hair ties, hoodies or some sort of headscarf
- Magnifying glass
- Games/cards/books for electronics free evening entertainment
- Extra snacks for fussy littles
Related Reading: Gift ideas for your outdoor-loving kids
Oh, and you may want to dress the kids in something you don’t mind getting ruined! Miss Z was most amused she split her leggings open sliding up and down rocks and most of their clothing from this trip has had to be retired! Sensible footwear for climbing a must.
I would also have tried to consolidate everything we needed for 24 hours into one bag and left the rest of our luggage in our car, just for space in the tent (and not looking like ridiculous prima donnas with the amount of crap we had for one night!).
What does it cost to stay overnight in Wadi Rum?
All visitors to Wadi Rum must pay a 5JOD entry fee at the visitor centre on arrival. There are also clean toilets and a little shop here if you’ve had a long drive. There are some displays to look at here too.
If you’ve pre-booked your tour, you then meet your driver here or proceed to Rum Village to find your guide (ours, for instance, met us at the village guest house, then we followed him back to his house to park our car securely overnight). Check carefully with your guide by email confirmation where you’re meeting!
Payment will likely be in cash to your guides and I wasn’t aware of there being an ATM in the village or the visitor centre. I recommend you cash up in JOD in advance of driving to Wadi Rum (we also had difficulty finding a working ATM in Petra, thankfully we took some USD and found a cash exchange).
Expect camps to cost 40-70JOD per person approximately, with discounts for children, or youngsters free. Ages will depend on operators discretion and they will likely discount the more of you sharing one tent.
If you are only stopping by for a day trip, maybe just taking a camel trek and seeing a couple of sites you may pay 30JOD. Note if you haven’t pre-booked they have a daily queuing system at the visitor centre for guides. You cannot guarantee their quality or ability to speak English so pre-booking with a reputable local company is strongly recommended.
The Globetrotters are already listing this as one of their favourite travel experiences ever. I’ll admit to being a nervous mum with kids more used to 5-star resorts and watching telly than enjoying the great outdoors. We’re now investing in our own camping gear to explore the UAE desert more – we won’t have the experienced guides or personalised touches of our Bedouin camp, but we are just so happy this experience struck a chord with them and can’t wait to share more of the Arabian outdoors with them.
If you are already an experienced outdoorsy family with keen hikers, then you may want to consider doing at least two nights and heading even further into the desert. Mohammad has already invited us to come back, and bring the kids’ rock climbing Uncle as he’s also a very experienced climber!
What are you waiting for, when will you be visiting Wadi Rum?
This post is part of our Jordan series – click here to see our full Jordan Road Trip itinerary.
Disclosures: We were not compensated in any way to write this post; all activities were paid for and all opinions, as always, are our own. There are affiliate links on this page which may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.