Ancient ruins, spectacular hiking trails, not to mention the swashbuckling Indiana Jones connection - a visit to Jordan’s Nabatean ‘lost city’ of Petra truly is a must for intrepid travellers. Venture a little further to the country’s Wadi Rum desert however and you’ll discover a much less talked about, but no less impressive wonder.
Wadi Rum or Valley of the Moon, is located to the extreme south of the country, on the western edge of the Arabian desert. Peppered with archaeological gems and geological marvels, during the day, it’s the ultimate place to explore by camel trek or 4x4 adventure. But come nightfall, clear skies and luxury glamping sites such as Sun City’s Mars Camp transform this remote sandscape into one of the most coveted places to stay on earth – quite literally a billion star hotel.
Our desert adventure kicks off with an adrenaline-fuelled 4x4 tour. We pile into the back of a gleaming white Toyota pick-up truck and before long, we’re revving and whirling our way through sugar soft sand, rust-coloured rock formations all around. It looks and feels like we’re on the set of a Stars Wars movie. And in fact, we are. Scenes from The Rise of Skywalker and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were filmed in Wadi Rum desert, the red dunes filling in for those galaxies far, far away.
The 4x4 voyage continues with the opportunity to hike (read sink one foot after the other) up one of the dunes and then we make a quick stop to examine some pre-historic rock paintings. Our tour guide points out that the petroglyphs (rock drawings) of humans and animals date back to the 8th century BC and are testament to Wadi Rum’s continuous habitation. Around 25,000 of these petroglyphs have been discovered at different locations in the desert and these early inscriptions were one of the reasons UNESCO added Wadi Rum to its list of World Heritage sites.
As the sun begins to set, we trade four wheels for four legs. A trio of beautiful camels, steered by an elegant Bedouin man greets us. After a quick demo on how to board (wait for the camel to crouch down) and disembark (wait for the camel to crouch down), we set off towards camp, our Bedouin friend leading the way. Surrounded by vast stretches of sand, sunset and silence, the trek provides us with the perfect introduction to the Bedouin people’s gentle way of life.
The Bedouin community are renowned for their hospitality – and food plays a major role in their culture of warm welcomes. As darkness falls and temperatures dip, we settle down at Sun City’s Mars Camp, where a traditional Bedouin ‘zarb’ feast has been laid on for us. Zarb is known as a Bedouin barbeque and consists of lamb or chicken cooked in a pit underground in the sand along with a mixture of vegetables. The cooking process takes around three hours so the unveiling becomes a bit of a spectacle in itself, followed up by a casual buffet style meal eaten on comfy couches beneath the stars.
Wadi Rum has become an increasingly popular glamping destination and it’s easy to see why. Camp sites don’t get much more glam than Sun City’s Mars Camp and its luxury ‘bubble tents’. More like a futuristic pod than a tent, the accommodation features a double bed, mini bar filled with cold drinks and an en-suite bathroom complete with hot shower.
All the ingredients are there for a great night’s sleep, but when the pièce de résistance is a wraparound window with stunning views of the desert and the night sky, closing your eyes is the last thing you’ll want to do.
By sheer luck, our stay in Wadi Rum coincided with the Mars eclipse. From our little verandas we had the best seats in the house to watch the longest eclipse of the century. But even if you’re not fortunate to witness a major astronomical event, the desert situation and its lack of artificial lighting means you can be guaranteed the night sky always puts on a brilliant show, with the Milky Way and billions and billions of stars clearly visible to the naked eye.