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Introducing Wadi Rum

Offering some of the most extraordinary desert scenery you'll ever see, Wadi Rum (admission per person JD2, children under 12 free, per vehicle JD5) is a definite highlight of any visit to Jordan. This area, made famous abroad by the exploits of TE Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia') in the early 20th century, has lost none of its allure and forbidding majesty. Its myriad moods and dramatic colours, dictated by the changing angle of the sun, best reward an overnight trip so, unless you're really pushed for time, linger here for a day or two, slowing down to the timeless rhythm of desert life, enjoying the galaxy of stars overhead at night and the spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Like most deserts, Wadi Rum is as much to be experienced as it is to be seen.

The jebels of Wadi Rum completely dominate the small village of Rum, which has a few concrete houses, a school, some shops and the 'Beau Geste'-style fort, headquarters of the much-photographed Desert Patrol Corps.

The region known as Wadi Rum is actually a series of valleys about 2km wide stretching north to south for about 130km. Among the valleys is a desert landscape of sand and rocks, punctuated by towering jebels that have eroded into a soft sandstone over a period of up to 50 million years. The valley floors are about 900m above sea level. The epic Jebel Rum (1754m) dominates the central valley and for a long time was considered the highest peak in Jordan; that accolade now goes to Jebel Umm Adaami (1832m), to the south on the Saudi border.

Although conveniently and collectively known as 'Bedouin', the major tribe of Wadi Rum is the Huweitat, who claim to be descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. Villagers and nomads throughout the Wadi Rum area number about 5000. The local Bedouin are proud but very hospitable, particularly once you get out into the desert, away from the competitive environment of the visitor centre and Rum village.

The best months to visit are early spring (March and April) and late autumn (October to November). In winter (December to February) it can rain, and snow on the mountains is not uncommon. In the hot season (May to September) daytime temperatures often soar past 40°C. Throughout the year (including summer), however, night-time temperatures can fall to 0°C, so come prepared if you're camping or watching the sunset.

Wadi Rum was for a while under the management of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), who established the Wadi Rum Protected Area in 1988. The area is now controlled by Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) but the idea is the same - to promote tourism in balance with the imperative to protect fragile ecosystems. As a result, admission to Wadi Rum is strictly controlled and all vehicles, camels and guides within Wadi Rum must be arranged either through, or with the approval of, the visitor centre.

There is talk of significantly raising the admission fee to around JD7 or JD8 in the future, though no decisions had been made on this at the time of going to print.