Though Wadi Rum means “Sand Valley” in Arabic, the vast desert valley in southern Jordan is also known as “the Valley of the Moon.” These contrasting names capture the bizarre, yet beautiful nature of the massive region cut into the sandstone and granite that lies east of Aqaba. It’s equal parts enchanting and haunting, offering mirage-inducing vistas during the day and ethereal nightscapes after the sun sets.

That said, with 278 square miles (720 square kilometers) to explore, Wadi Rum can be a little overwhelming at first glance. So, if you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few suggestions to get you started.

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Climb to Burdah Rock Bridge

With its unmatched, sprawling landscapes, Wadi Rum will provide you with spectacular views no matter where you choose to hike. But, if you truly want one of the best viewpoints, and you’re prepared to work for it as well, than Burdah Rock Bridge is the trek for you. Perched precariously between two rock walls that tower 115 feet (35 meters) off the ground, the bridge is considered one of the highest natural arches in the world, not to mention one of the most awe-inspiring sites in Wadi Rum. To reach it, catch a Jeep from Wadi village, approximately 12 miles (20 kilometers) away, and once there, it’s about a three-hour hike to the top. Toward the end of your journey, the near-vertical path will test your technical climbing skills, but once you’re sitting atop the breathtaking perch, you’ll know it was worth the effort.

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Ride the Film Bus

Movie buffs often flock to Hollywood to experience the magic of film in first-person, but did you know that Jordan is also a haven for moviemakers? Partly due to the generous collaboration efforts of the country’s Royal Film Commission and partly because of Jordan’s spectacular natural landscapes, the Middle Eastern country has served as a shooting location for many films — from older features like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” to more recent blockbusters like “the Martian” and “Prometheus.” Wadi Rum itself is one of the most popular filming spots, as its otherworldly landscapes have served as an interplanetary backdrop in films such as “Red Planet” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” And though it’s difficult amid the vast landscapes to pin down exact scene locations on your own, if you join a film tour offered by Viator, you’ll be able to see some specific spots from your favorite films. Action!

Relax at Lawrence’s Spring

Named after the famed T.E. Lawrence, who wrote of the cliffside watering hole in his “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” Lawrence’s Spring is a natural waterspout that flows into a tiny oasis in the middle of the vast desert. It’s a regular stop for those on a 4-Wheel-Drive tour, though it can also be reached on foot from the Wadi Rum Rest House. While you’re enjoying the miniature paradise, be sure to check out the ancient inscriptions on the rock wall behind you, and see if you catch a whiff of mint. The leafy plant grows in the area, leaving its aroma hanging enchantingly in the air.

Trek Up Al Hasany Dunes

If you’re turned off by the toil and danger of the Burdah climb, opt instead for the Al Hasany dunes. These mounds present a much more gradual climb, but you should still come prepared with solid walking shoes, as the sand can scorch your feet after a long day in the sun. Though the trek isn’t as turbulent, the view from the apex of each dune is just as gorgeous, especially if you save the hike for the end of the day. As the sun dips below the desert horizon, it’ll cast a haunting, red glow over the sand beneath your feet — a perfect end to a day in Wadi Rum.

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Sleep Under the Stars

Dreaming about Wadi Rum often evokes images of the region’s stark sands, cast in an auburn glow by the punishing desert sun. But when that sun disappears below the horizon, the landscape morphs into a different world entirely. Jet-black skies. Sparkling fields of stars. Red rocks. The ethereal glow of a lone lantern. It’s the kind of setting that needs to be seen to be believed. And luckily, in Wadi Rum, seeing it is quite possible. Plenty of tour operators offer opportunities to sleep under the night sky, with varying levels of luxury, so whether you want to experience a rugged night like a traditional Bedouin or bask in a luxurious campground, there’s an option for you. And however you choose to spend your night, be sure to rise early so you can catch the striking light show of the sun rising on another day in Wadi Rum.

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Cover Photo by Anton Lecock

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Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.