How to Book a Tour to Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan

A Terrifying Trip Into Mujib Canyon, Jordan

I sought the advice of friends on how to book a tour to Petra and Wadi Rum prior to traveling to Jordan. Everyone assured me that any hotel could make the necessary arrangements. As they had advised, my hotel in Amman put together a custom tour that included transport in a private car via the King’s Highway to Petra, with stops at some of the most important tourist sites along the way. After three nights in Petra (not included), a driver would transfer me to Wadi Rum, where I would spend two nights in a traditional Bedouin tent and enjoy a two-hour jeep tour of the desert. From Wadi Rum, I would be driven non-stop back to Amman via the Desert Highway. The price of slightly less than $600 seemed reasonable, given that I would have a private driver at my beck and call. And it would have been fine…if I’d gotten what I was promised.

On day one I climbed into the car with my driver promptly at 8:30 a.m., excited to begin the seven-hour journey down the King’s Highway toward Petra. Our first stop would be Karak, a 12th century Crusader castle in the town of Al-Karak. I’d been told we would be driving down the King’s Highway, but my GPS map soon indicated otherwise. We were on the Desert Highway, which parallels King’s Highway some miles to the east on the opposite side of a deep gorge known as Mujib Canyon.

My driver gets out of the car to examine the rough road before attempting to drive over it

My driver gets out of the car to examine the rough road before attempting to drive over it

Assuming my driver would cut over to the west at some point, I logged into his wifi and checked my email. A few miles down the road he pulled off onto a narrow asphalt road that was riddled with potholes and gullies. Less than a half mile later the asphalt gave way to gravel and the road became increasingly rough. We slowed to a crawl. Featureless, dun-colored hills strewn with jagged rocks stretched to the horizon. There was not a house, an animal, or even a tree within sight.

Alarm bells went off in my head. Prior to traveling to Jordan, I’d checked the U.S. State Department website. It warned about kidnappings for ransom, but also said the tourist sites such as Petra and Wadi Rum were safe. All the arrangements for this tour had been made by my hotel, thus my driver was a complete stranger. When it dawned on me that no one in the world knew my exact location, I insisted that he pull over and let me use his mobile phone to call the hotel. I explained to one of the owners of the hotel, Ali, that we had taken the Desert Highway rather than the King’s Highway, and described the condition of the road that stretched in front of us. Ali reassured me that everything was fine, so I relaxed and tried to enjoy the ride.

A road to nowhere heads into the depths of Mujib Canyon, Jordan. Read further for my tips on how to book a tour to Petra and Wadi Rum in order to avoid the experience I had.

A road to nowhere heads into the depths of Mujib Canyon, Jordan. Read further for my tips on how to book a tour to Petra and Wadi Rum in order to avoid the experience I had.

Soon we began our descent into the remote wilderness of Mujib Canyon. At one particularly torn up point in the road, the driver got out and filled a deep gully with rocks so that we could pass. Erosion had eaten away half of the road in places, leaving bare inches between the car wheels and sheer dropoffs. My increasingly tense driver muttered prayers each time we reached a particularly a bad spot. It was obvious that he never should have attempted this trip without a 4WD or at least an SUV.

A few minutes later I climbed out of the car and helped toss rocks into another series of deep ruts that blocked our way. Sweat poured down my brow and trickled down my back under a relentless sun. I collapsed onto the front seat and reached for my water bottle. Only a half-litre remained. Turning around was not an option; the road was not wide enough. Nor did I believe we could make it back over the bad patches heading uphill. Yet ahead of us were miles and miles of nothingness and a road that was quickly becoming impassable. With mounting discomfort, I decided someone needed to know exactly where I was, so I emailed my sister with precise information on the route we had taken, including describing landmarks on the highway where we had turned off. I hit send but it just spun and spun.

At the very bottom, it was impossible for our low-slung sedan to cross the dry riverbed. Instead, a pickup truck loaded with rifle-toting hunters directed us onto this even narrower "shortcut."

At the very bottom, it was impossible for our low-slung sedan to cross the dry riverbed. Instead, a pickup truck loaded with rifle-toting hunters directed us onto this even narrower “shortcut.”

Two hours later we finally reached the bottom of the canyon. My driver got out once again to see if we could cross the dry riverbed. No way. In that moment, a truck rolled up on the other side of the riverbed. Rifle stocks protruded from every window. Every muscle in my body tensed. Would I regret having ignored the warnings about kidnappings? I checked my email again but it still hadn’t gone through. “Please send, please send,” I prayed. All four men climbed out of the truck, shouldered their rifles, and picked their way over the dry riverbed toward us. The whooshing sound of an email being sent was a relief. At least my family would at least have an idea where to look for my body.

Fortunately, it turned out to be hunters who were very familiar with the roads. They told us to turn left and follow an even narrower track that paralleled the riverbank on the near side of the river. It looked iffy, but they insisted it was a shortcut to Karak. Sure enough, there was a better river crossing a short distance ahead and we were soon climbing out of the canyon on the opposite side from where we had descended.

Our good fortune, however, was short-lived. We came to another impassable section, worse than anything we had tackled previously. I was about to start carrying rocks again when a ominous-looking black SUV with huge tires and deep tinted windows drove up behind us. This time, four men with sidearms and camouflage uniforms stepped out of the SUV. I bent to my phone and sent another email to my sister. By the time I looked up they were throwing rocks into the washout and hammering them down with a crowbar. They were police officers, not kidnappers.

Sidearm-wearing men come to our rescue at a bad patch in the road. I stayed in the car and surreptitiously raised my iPhone to snap a photo, learning only later that they were police officers.

Sidearm-wearing men come to our rescue at a bad patch in the road. I stayed in the car and surreptitiously raised my iPhone to snap a photo, learning only later that they were police officers.

When the officers deemed it safe enough to try, my driver tried to cross. He braked when he should have been hitting the gas and kept getting stuck. Finally the cops started yelling instructions. He gunned the engine and made it, but was really upset when the rocks scraped and screeched on the bottom of his chassis. “Now my car is rubbish!” he snarled. “Not my problem, you bleeping idiot,” I thought. But I didn’t say it.

Finally, we crested the rim of the canyon and turned onto King’s Highway, where we should have been from the beginning. It was late afternoon before we arrived Karak Castle . With many more miles yet to go, I kept my visit brief. Underway again, my driver turned back toward Desert Highway. That would have eventually taken us to Petra, but it was the long way around. I pointed out to him that it would take 45 minutes longer than staying on King’s Highway. “No, that bus ahead of us is going to Petra. This is the right way,” he insisted. Twenty minutes later, he asked to see my GPS map and decided I was right. He turned around and for the rest of the trip I navigated.

Kerak Crusader Castle, the only site I saw on my drive to Petra, since the driver decided to take a different route than my hotel had promised.

Kerak Crusader Castle, the only site I saw on my drive to Petra, since the driver decided to take a different route than my hotel had promised.

We reached Petra Moon Hotel around 8:30, almost exactly 12 hours after we had set out on what should have been, at most, an eight-hour trip. I had seen only one of the three sites I’d been promised. I was disgusted, but also realized that I’d seen things few other tourists get to see. And of course, I’d had an adventure that would make for a great story.

How to book a tour to Petra and Wadi Rum:

To save others from having similar difficulties, I checked with tour providers and individuals along the way to determine exactly how much Petra/Wadi Rum Tours should cost. While it is true that any hotel can put together a package, my suggestion is only to book the journey one piece at a time. If I did it again, I would let the Amman hotel arrange only for the drive down King’s Highway to Petra, with stops at the tourist sites. In Petra, it is easy to arrange for onward transport to Wadi Rum and a return to Amman via the faster Desert Highway.

Jeep tours of the desert can be arranged at any of the Bedouin camps. And accommodations at Bedouin desert camps are easily booked on Booking.com, Hotels.com, or HotelsCombined.com. (If you click through to any of these sites and ultimately make a reservation, I earn a small commission, which helps to keep this blog free to read). The following is offered as an example of what you should pay for each portion of the journey. I paid about $200 too much by booking it all at one time, but upon hearing what I went through, my hotel in Amman was good enough to refund me $100.

  • Private driver to Petra via King’s Highway with stops at three sites ($150)
  • Pick up in Petra and to Wadi Rum ($50)
  • Two nights accommodations at Wadi Rum in a Bedouin tent with private bathroom, including breakfast and dinner ($70)
  • Desert jeep tour – 2 hours ($35)
  • Pick-up at Wadi Rum for return Amman via Desert Highway ($100)
  • Fee for use of credit card ($12.48)

26 Comments on “A Terrifying Trip Into Mujib Canyon, Jordan

  1. Barbara,
    You have done lots of adventurous things, so when you say you were scared then it must have been a serious situation. Being a female alone in the desert with a driver acting erratically would have had me talking to all the deities. But your presence of mind to have your phone doing all that it could and staying calm were obviously the skills and the know-how of a very seasoned, mature traveller. You are on my list of \’Who I would Invite to Dinner\’. I am not sure that you would find my cooking up to par however!
    When\’s the booking coming out?

    • LOL Sunny: Believe me, anyone’s cooking is better than mine, so I’m sure I’d enjoy yours. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment. It’s feedback like yours that keeps me going. As for that book, I keep threatening to write it, but I just never seem to have time. Perhaps after this coming sumer’s travels.

  2. What an exciting story, Barbara. One of the things I have always admired about you is your courage in traveling alone, even to some of these risky places. When we went to Petra, we had organized our trip through Memphis Tours in Cairo who arranged for a private car and driver for the whole trip. We made great friends with him on the way to Petra (didn’t get to see as much as you did) and on the way back, he asked if we would like to meet his “Auntie” and see how a real Jordanian family lives. After calling his Auntie, we headed to their house in Jordan for what was to be a few minutes visit. We ended up spending well over 2 hours with the family, having tea with them and seeing their house. After tea, we thought the visit was over but then they made coffee (roasting the raw beans first, from scratch), homemade cake and an interesting cheese, made with the milk of a sheep who has just given birth. Apparently, that is the richest of the milk from the ewe. Whether you have an experience like yours or like ours, THOSE are the reasons we travel…to encounter the cultural experiences you will have no where else in the world. Glad you are safe.

    • ABSOLUTELY AGREE Chuck! Those are the kinds of experiences that I crave as well. It’s all about connecting with the people, isn’t it? If everyone in the world could have similar experiences, we’d soon get rid of the fear of “others” who we consider “different.”

  3. Another case of bad experiences making great stories. While it’s easy to look back and think of the ehole thing as an adventure, it must’ve been freaking scary second guessing all the time of it was a kidnapping! Always a good thing to live to tell the tale 🙂

    • Thanks Sandeepa: It was one of the two most tense situations I have ever encountered while traveling (the other was being robbed in Hawaii in 2002). But as you say, it all turned out fine, and it sure does make a great story.

  4. What an adventure! Glad you didn’t have a heart attack and survived unscathed! I am sharing your adventure with my young adult nieces who like to ‘strike’ out on their own when traveling. Word to the wise.

    • Hi Mark. It was quite an adventure, but I also want to point out that I’ve traveled to 94 countries and have only had two such scary experiences. The other occurred in 2002 the U.S., in Hawaii, when I was robbed on Kauai. And of course, the Jordan incident turned out to be not dangerous at all – just bad judgment on the part of an inexperienced driver. So I think your nieces will be fine, provided they don’t do tings like take drugs or get drunk, etc., while traveling in unfamiliar places.

  5. WOW…what an adventure, Barbara, that you lived to tell! Just one more life experience under your belt, right?

  6. We went to Jordan last year and we had a great time! I am proud to recommend Jordan Moon Tour, just get in touch with Zeyad, he would be a big help for your adventure in Jordan! His team did a great job!

    • It is amusing to look back on Joy but as you say, in the moment it was pretty tense.

    • Wow! I watched that video and it was incredible. I suspect the driver was instructed to take me to this part of Wadi Mujib, but as you say, it should be accessed from the west side of the canyon, not the east. I may just have to go back some day to see it again. Thanks for sharing that incredible video, Keith.

    • It sure was, Lynn, and one better remembered than being in the midst of it LOL

  7. Good golly, Ms Molly! How terrifying! Good thinking on the emails to your sister and for having your GPS following your tracks. Glad you’re safe and sound!

  8. I had asked you on a previous post about booking this tour from Amman. This post answers it. Glad you’re safe.

    • You’re very welcome Wagner. Glad my follow-up article was helpful.

  9. Went to Petra by bus from Asana. No problems. Stopped at a restaurant for lunch on the way. A pleasant trip.

    • Thanks for mentioning the bus option, Jack. I did look at the bus, but found it didn’t work with my schedule. However it’s totally do-able.

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