Wadi Rum - star location in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia - is perhaps the most spectacular patch of desert in the world...

Sunset at Wadi Rum - time to take stock of the day, cool off in the evening air and chat. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Wadi Rum is so beautiful and monumental that it would have become a significant destination for tourists even had it not featured in such a famous film. Yet David Lean's 1962 movie, 'Lawrence of Arabia', has been bedazzling cinema-going audiences with it's incredible scenery since its release. 

And marvellously - and unusually - using Wadi Rum as a location in the film was entirely true to the story. Larence passed through the area several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18, most famously when he led the Arab armies through the desert on his way to capture Jordan's most southerly city of Aqaba. He wrote about it in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom novel thus... 

"The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architechure to this irresistible place: this processional way greater than imagination. The Arab armies would have been lost in the length and breadth of it, and within the walls a squadron of aeroplanes could have wheeled in formation. Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of such stupendous hills."

Mountains rise sheer almost 1,700 metres from the valley floor. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It's no surprise that it has become a must visit on any holiday to Jordan, as Wadi Rum is an astonishingly beautiful and thought provoking place. Once you are away from the little settlement where you'll meet your guide and camel, or your giude and 4x4, the grandeaur of the weathered rock and sand is somewhat overwhelming. And once the engine stops then the vast sheer walls of the canyon seems to lock in an ancient silence.  

Heating coffee and cooling the engine on a Beduoin adventure inside Wadi Rum. Photo My Bathroom Wall

In truth, though Wadi Rum did play itself in Lawrence of Arabia, much of the rest of the film was actually shot in Spain. The grand buildings in Cairo - like for example the officer's club where Lawrence’s Arab companion is refused a drink after the desert crossing - uses the frontage of the Palaçio Español in Seville's Plaza de Españain, and then for the scen in the courtyard moves into that of the Hotel Alfonso XIII

The film even used a purpose-built Aqaba instead of the real deal - and erected a fake townscape on Playa del Algarrobico, not far from Almeria in southern Spain. Even the attack on the train scenes weren't filmed in Jordan, but instead at Genovese Beach, San Jose on Cabo de Gata nearby. 

But it doesn't matter a jot, as Wadi Rum is such an extraordinary place that any visit is a revelation regardless of whether you've seen the film or not. Although because it is such a good film and puts the south of Jordan into some sort of context, I'd strongly suggest that you watch it before and take it with you too.

One more thing...

The main films to have been partly shot at Wadi Rum are Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Passion in the Desert (1998), Red Planet (2000), Transformers: Revenge has Fallen (2009), Prometheus (2012), Krrish 3 (2013), May in the Summer (2013), The Last Days on Mars (2013), Theeb (2014), Hyena Road (2015), The Martian (2015), and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).


Reasons to be cheerful: unlike many of the world's most spectacular bits of desert, Wadi Rum is easilly accessible - just little over an hour from the Jordanian city of Aqaba, and on good roads. Like Jordan as a whole, locals are extremely gracious, and have been dealing with tourists for many decades, so there'sa warm welcome. Whether a quick camel ride, jeep tour of the valley, or overnighting in a camp, it's a cinch to organise. 


You can't always get what you want: the scruffy little settlement that surrounds the visitor's centre is disappointing and has no romance. But it's the place to book trips into the desert, and almost everyone arrives at Rum via it. The harsh and protected environment keep the tourist camps very low key -  often the accommodation is simply large bedouin style tents, and so don't expect any luxury. 


How to fit Wadi Rum into a trip: few people travel all the way to Jordan just to visit Wadi Rum, although it would certainly make an exotic long weekend break. The norm is to build Wadi Rum into a trip around Jordan; which has the stunning ruins at Petra, the Roman remains of Jerash, the small beaches of Aqaba and the resorts of the Dead Sea.


Getting there: Wadi Rum is 60 kilometres east of the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba, where the country is pinched to a short coastline by Israel and Saudi Arabia. Aqaba is a small airport and its only year round flights at to Amman with Royal Jordanian. However, most people reach Rum by road from Amman - an interesting drive 300 kilometre drive along the historic Desert Highway. Amman's Queen Alia International Airport handled 7m passengers in 2015 and has flights across Europe and the Middle East. Royal Jordanian destinations from Amman include Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Chicago, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Montreal, Moscow and Paris.   


When to go: Jordan is a year round destination, but the best time to visit the desrt is in the Spring, when its hot and dry, and the wildflowers are in bloom. Though the 'khaseem' wind that blows across the Middle East can darken skies with sand-laidened clouds for a few days at a time. The hot winds of summer can be uncomfortable, and temperatures in the south will reach 45°C and upwards. Autumn is short, and winter is chilly in Amman, but still warm enough for comfortable travelling in Rum.


More information: see Visit Jordan. Local desert camps include Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp, Bedouin Advisor Camp, Bedouin Experience Camp, Bedouin Lifestyle Camp, Rum Stars Camp, and Wadi Rum Travel Camp


Visa and safety: Always check your government's travel advice before booking, and check that your travel insurance is valid in this country. See here for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice