Wadi Rum وادي رم is a protected area of desert in the south of Jordan. The nature reserve spans 720 square kilometres of outstanding natural beauty: dramatic sandstone mountains, stretches of pink and gold sand dunes, and canyons and fissures that hide springs, fig-trees, and ancient rock carvings. It's a landscape full of history, inhabited by legends, folk-tales, and of course the local Bedouin, who come from the Zalabieh tribe.
Wadi Rum is located in the south of Jordan, about 1 hour from the Red Sea, and it's usually between 25-32 degrees celsius. Temperatures in the summer months reach 35 degrees celsius and fall to 14 degrees in the winter. As such, the most popular time to visit Wadi Rum is Spring and Fall; the days aren't too hot and the nights aren't too cold. However, Wadi Rum can be enjoyed anytime as it's dry and sunny all year - it only rains on average, 15 days a year.
There are benefits to visiting 'off-season'. In the summer, there are fewer tourists and the days are very long - around 14 hours of daylight, which is perfect for hiking and climbing. In winter, you might get to see some rain, cloudy skies, and if you're really lucky, snow in the desert!
Despite being a desert, there is a number of animals and plants to be seen in Rum. There are shrubs, trees like Acacias, False Figs and Tamarisks, and many species of small birds which inhabit the shrubs. Some of the most common are Desert Larks (which have a beautiful song), Sinai Rose Finches (the national bird of Jordan), African Rock Martins, Mourning Wheatears, White-Crowned Black Wheatears and birds of prey, like Steppe Buzzards and Steppe Eagles.
You may be less excited to find out there are also ten species of snake present in Wadi Rum - luckily, encountering them is quite rare. You're more likely to see lizards like Geckos and Blue Agama, which turn a vivid blue colour when they want to attract a mate.
There are also many mammals, from gerbils and hare to foxes, jackals and caracal. If you are very lucky, you may spot the endangered Arabian wolf or striped Hyena, although they are mostly found in areas off-limits to tourism.
There are two other endangered species found in Rum worth mentioning. One is the ibex, a mountain goat with distinctive thick, curving horns that can grow up to 60kg. As part of a partnership program with the Emirates, 160 ibex were released into Rum between 2014-15.
In 2002, a small herd of Arabian Oryx were moved to Wadi Rum. Oryx are native to the area but sadly became extinct in the wild. The eventual plan is to release them back into the wild. At the moment, you can visit the herd in captivity - just ask us or contact the visitors centre.
The Bedouin are an ethnic group of nomadic people who migrate, depending on the season, around areas of the desert in the MENA region. The Arabic term 'Al-Bedu' (البدو) means nomads, and interestingly enough takes it's root from same letters that form the word beginning: 'Al-Bidiyah' (البداية). You could then say that the term 'Bedouin' means 'the first people.'
Nearly all local people in Wadi Rum are of Bedouin descent and come from the same tribe, Al Zalabieh. Things have changed a little bit lately - hardly anybody from Rum works solely as a shepherd anymore, as most people have became tour guides, jeep drivers, and choose to use their camels for tourist rides rather than herding them! However, Wadi Rum is pretty special in being a place where you can still experience what nomadic life in the desert was like. The village, a settlement project devised by the Jordanian state, was only built in the 1970s and it took the next 30 years for families to settle there. Older people in Wadi Rum will tell you fond memories of their childhoods spent in the desert, living in goat-hair tents called 'Bet Sha'ar' (بيت شعر) (the literal translation of which would be 'hair house'), and younger generations still spend most of their time in the desert - either working in tourism or camping with their cousins and friends.
The locals of Rum are very friendly, funny people - they retain their ancient Bedouin traditions of hospitality, yet are open-minded and curious about other cultures, having welcomed people from all over the world to their home. They are also very resourceful, having single-handedly developed tourism in Wadi Rum via the Rum Tourism Cooperative, and keen to protect the desert that has been their home and income for centuries.
People & Nature
Too often, when writing about 'nature' conservation, we separate ourselves entirely from nature which we are, of course, part of. The Bedouins don't have this problem - they've been living closely with the desert for centuries, and the same skills they once used as goat herders they now use as tourist guides. They know what plants to use to cure illnesses, how to navigate in the desert using only the stars and night sky, and, long before modern climbers created maps of mountain routes, the Bedouins had summited all of the mountains in Rum and beyond.
Nonetheless, modern developments in Jordan, including tourism, have put fragile ecosystems like Wadi Rum at risk. In fact, efforts to develop Wadi Rum as a tourist destination and a nature reserve may seem diametrically opposed, as tourism does rely heavily on jeep tours and camping in the desert. That's why eco-tourism is becoming increasingly popular, and most local Bedouins are working hard to make their businesses sustainable: camps are powered by solar energy, food, water and plastic waste is being reduced, and most of the protected area is off-limits to jeep tours. Hiking and camel tours remain encouraged throughout the whole protected area.
For our guests, we ask them to follow the same guidelines as in any nature reserve: take only memories (and photographs), and leave only footsteps. Leaving graffiti, damaging plants or rocks, and littering should be avoided. When booking a tour or overnight stay with us, you can rest assured that we are minimising our impact on the desert and strive to be as environmentally sustainable as possible. We hope you do too!