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Riding around Wadi Rum
In many ways, the ideal way to visit Wadi Rum is on horseback. The classic 4x4 tours tend to stay on the beaten track and - even more important - you are to a great degree insulated from the desert when riding in them. Few 4x4 tours go further than 20kms from the village of Rum, the majority of them not as far. Trips further afield (some are described in the Wadi Rum pages) tend to be expensive - 4x4s do drink petrol rather fast.
On a horse you realise much better just what the desert is like. You cover the ground at a pace between a walk and a canter and you are far more aware of the terrain, the towering mesas, the beautiful valleys, the steep cliffs. You rarely venture into "touristic" Wadi Rum; few people except the Bedouin themselves penetrate into the routes used by the horses. Even a one day trek out on a horse will cover some 20/30 kilometers, and you may well see nobody except your party during most of this distance.
In general most tourists do not realise just how big Wadi Rum is. The maps available to the public only cover the area immediately close to the Rest House: this doesn't represent 1% of the total area! The usual maps don't even give an idea of how far they are from being complete, they just stop at the edge of the most visited part. In fact you have to look at the regional map to see that the area around Wadi Rum stretches from Ras an Naqb to the Saudi border in the south and from the main Aqaba road to the Saudi border again in the east.
So you can see that even a week's trek on horseback doesn't begin to explore the area. One has to select the best and the most picturesque routes and try to reconcile this with the time available. For this you do need to be with people who know the ground intimately. You should know that there are only two permanent operators in Wadi Rum. They are experienced in the desert conditions; and have an excellent knowledge of the best routes and places of interest, whether riding for a few hours or any number of days.
As well as the wide valleys, you will be taken through narrow ones, along occasional "exciting" routes and there will be plenty of chances for a full speed gallop on hard sand.
The main season for horse trekking in Wadi Rum is from September through to May- after which time it really gets too hot to trek comfortably in that area. The horses used are locally bred Arabian or Anglo Arab mares or geldings with English saddlery. Other saddles you may come across are the old fashioned cavalry style with a variety of bridle designs & bits! Riders should have reasonable previous experience. (A term open to wide interpretation!)
Obviously the more experience you have of riding, the more you will get out of a trip, even if it is just for one day. These short trips are entirely possible PROVIDED you give a certain amount of notice to the stable you are using. It does take a couple of hours to prepare the horses and any necessary back up. In fact the more notice you can give, the better, but a phone call a day or so beforehand is fine.
Equipment : You can perfectly well ride in jeans if you have them with you, the two stables in Wadi Rum can provide a limited number of some half chaps, helmets and some riding trousers.
Be careful about seasonal variations and be prepared for COLD if you come in the winter. In the sun there is no problem, but you should realise that once you and your horse are in shade, the temperature might be less than 10-12°C with a wind factor to be taken into account. Bring a good pullover for the evening, but also a lighter one and/or a light jacket for riding, and don't forget your windproof gloves. Believe me, you will be glad of them. You might consider a track suit to cut down on luggage weight, it comes in handy at other times as well. If you are camping out for several nights, then a sleeping bag (-5°C) is also recommended - check with the stables about this. In normal circumstances, blankets are provided, but in the winter, you are best served by yourself!
The horses in Wadi Rum
There are two stables in the Wadi Rum area, both run by local people from the Bedouin tribes there, each with a dozen or so horses. I have given their contact details at the foot of the page. Rum Stables is at Salhiya, some ten kilometers before you reach the village of Rum on the road between Wadi Rum and the Desert Highway, and Jordan Tracks is at Shakriya, not far away. Both of them offer excellent facilities for the horses, and you are most welcome to inspect their stables. The horses are all Arabian pure breds, who are accustomed to the climate and to the desert.
Before you start : consider a little bit just what kind of riding experience you are hoping to find and try to reconcile this with your riding ability. Proficient riders obviously have no problem but if your knowledge of riding is limited, then perhaps you shouldn't take on a long trip, but limit yourself to two or three days maximum or even just one day. You can always come back another time and go a bit further!
Too many people have a false idea of just how proficient they are. You should realise that an occasional day - or even weekend - on horseback is not really enough to maintain riding ability, unless you have a considerable background in riding from an early age. Be sure that you are honest with the stable when you arrive - you don't want to find yourself mounted on a fire eating, seething, hot blooded Arabian stallion, much as the romantic image may appeal! A friendly grey mare is just as romantic....
It is quite important to remember that these are NOT riding school horses, who are generally used to novice riders, but working horses, more accustomed to giving their maximum to experienced riders in the desert. They are wonderful companions, but need to be treated with respect.
For those who are the odd one out in a group of horse people, don't be persuaded into taking on more than you realistically manage. Try it by all means, but if you are honestly not comfortable, you can always tag along in the back up vehicle which is an experience in itself (this is my own solution!). You often get to know the driver and the guides better like this!
Horses are never hired without a guide (anyone willing to allow this should be eyed with great suspicion!) This is in order to protect and care for both the horses AND the riders. Any experienced guide will see a problem before it arises and take the appropriate action - probably with no one in the least aware that anything untoward may have happened - and this may mean anything from an errant plastic bag to clients who don't realise they have the beginnings of heat exhaustion.
Possibilities and prices
You can take a short ride of three or four hours, you can have a day's outing (or several days' outing), you can take a trek of two or three days or longer or any combination of all these. For anything over two days, I suggest you get in contact directly with the operator; although the prices given here are pretty typical and as accurate as I can make them, they may vary according to the distance you want to cover and how many in your party. Occasionally you can join another group if one is being organised for the period you wish, but this must depend also on the agreement of the other group and its organisers.
A three day trek, sleeping in the desert ? here is a programme offered by Jordan Tracks
First day : you will meet the horses in the stable, make friends with them, and saddle up yourselves. Then we start off towards the south and the valley of Um Ishrin, with a pause to look at the red sand dunes and the Thamudic inscriptions nearby. Lunch is a little bit further on, close to the cliff of Um Zeliga. In the afternoon we have a chance to gallop along the sands before arriving at the overnight camp.
Second day : we start off towards the Barragh Canyon, which is well known to climbers. There are a great number of well known climbing routes on the cliffs here. This valley is sheltered and is often much greener than the desert outside. This makes a very good stopping place for lunch. We are getting away from the main tourist toures by now, and comparatively few jeep tours come as far as the Barragh Canyon. From there along a wide valley with plenty of chances to gallop again, until we come to a beautiful view of one of the most famous sites in Wadi Rum : the great Arch on Jebel Burdah. This arch is over 300 meters up from the valley floor. A lot of people would like to climb up here, but it takes 4 hours to climb and come down again, and I am afraid you would have to come back another time for this.
Third day : After breakfast in the camp we visit the "Middle Arch" at Um Fruth which is about 20 meters high and perfectly climbable for those who want a great view across the desert. Back past Jebel Khushkhasha (that unpronounceable mountain!) to the Khazali Canyon and so towards Rum Village and home. If Saleem's family is camped anywhere nearby we might drop in and visit them!
The above rides are inclusive of meals/guide/backup etc as stated, and drinking water. (Mineral water is supplied by Jordan Tracks).
One day rides will usually turn around the area north of Dissieh. You can explore this area, less frequented by tourists, where you can visit the breathtaking rock arch at Jebel Kharazeh - see the photo above and the web page on the Humeima desert. A bit closer are the impressive two-meter high rock carvings of "Abu Hawl" (this means "Father of Terror"!) some 6kms from the stables. These two figures, incidentally, are popularly supposed to have been carved there to protect a hidden treasure. You will undoubtedly see traces of numerous holes in the sand nearby dug by hopeful treasure hunters! The flood plain on the way is a marvellous invitation to a gallop - perhaps on the way back? The "palace" built for the television programme of "Desert Forges" is a more modern monument.
For longer trips you will be taken as far to the south of the Wadi Rum area as is possible in the time available, always avoiding the crowded touristic spots.
The road from Petra
Prices practised by Jordan Tracks
I give here the prices for shorter rides and outings. If you are interested in more than two or three days, as I have said higher up, you should write directly asking for a quote if more people involved; and the for a longer trek, the price per individual might well be reduced. The prices quoted here are guaranteed good until the end of 2014. For larger groups, please get in touch with the different stables at the contacts given lower down.
These prices are given on the basis of a minimum of two people together. If you are alone, I am sorry but you will have to add 25JD/day to the total.
For longer rides, the daily price is in general retained, that is for two days with just one night spent in the desert, the price would be 200JD/person for two people or 200JD if you wanted two days/two nights. One person alone would therefore pay 240JD
Rum Stables charges much the same rate
Choosing an operator : while the two riding stables in Wadi Rum are locally highly reputed and will be recommended unhesitatingly by the people living there, you don't need to take my word for it.
Don't hesitate to ask plenty of questions if you are approaching this by email. You should know that for rides over half a day, there must be a jeep back up providing water and feed facilities for both horse and client or a stop over area where this is provided. If rides longer than this are offered with no apparent back up something is amiss! What emergency plan is there - first aid? Be sure you know what the food arrangements are what/how/when etc etc. Caring operators will not brush your questions aside.
Precautions : Like all sporting activities, riding does have an element of risk and it is very important that you should have a full insurance policy, covering all possible eventualities, before undertaking anything of this kind. Operators will take every care but refuse any liability for any accident no matter what the cause, so insurance cover for clients should be a must. First aid boxes are are part of the equipment of both stables, the guides are trained in using them, and there is a good clinic in Wadi Rum for immediate treatment if it should be necessary. Incidentally, emergency treatment not needing hospitalization is free in Jordan.