Wadi Siq Makhras & Siq Um Ishrin
Key information: Wadi Siq Makhras & Siq Um Ishrin
- This pair of superb but very different canyons, alternating with wide views of this remarkable red desert littered with vast, sheer outcrops, are excellent specimens of what Wadi Rum has to offer.
- Outstanding desert mountain scenery: justly famous conbination of vast multi-coloured towers and cliffs looming over red sandy desert. Part of a protected area with a surprisingly rich array of animal and plant life.
- Walkopedia rating88
- Natural interest17
- Human interest5
- Negative points0
- Total rating88
- Length: Variable
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
We are standing beside the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, making our final adjustments before starting up a very rough looking canyon. From a distance, you can project a degree of columnar order onto the cliff face of Jebel Makhras, one of the first features of the great Wadi Rum you meet when approaching from the north. From where I stand, though, it looks like, well, a heavily eroded cliff. Sometimes knowledge can spoil things, and you really don't need to know that the title of T. E. Lawrence's famous book bears no relation to this place. Or that these cliffs were in fact named subsequently in honour of the book even as a tourism gimmick.
We are off, up the sandy bed of what is no doubt a deadly torrent in flood, which winds between steep slopes of broken sandstone, sheer cliffs rising high above. It is grimly beautiful. It is 8.30 am and already hot. We had tried to start earlier.
Wadi Siq Makhras divides the Seven Pillars formation from the rest of the vast Jebel Um Ishrin, a sheer-sided, titanic mass which rises to 1,750 m and forms the eastern side of the enormous canyon that is Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is some 900m above sea level and the cliffs rise sheer for up to 700m (2,300 ft). This place is so huge and grand, it is hard to get a real feel for its scale without statistics.
This is delightful walking. The valley narrows and its sides become steeper. There are many snake trails in the sand, including the notorious deadly sidewinder, the Um-qron or Horned Viper. We keep carefully behind Awad, our Bedouin guide. Awad is slender, perhaps 5'8'', and knows every patch of shade and every step of this track.
The canyon is now so narrow it can fairly be called a siq, with walls of winding scoured sandstone interspersed with rough, protruding layers, like some palace of wrong-period baroque.
We crest the canyon end one of the oddest and suddenest watersheds I remember and are gazing over a wide, sandy waste to the magnificent Um Nfoos and Barrah massifs. The 'usual'' path circles the Makhras cliffs to the left, to return to Wadi Rum directly under the Seven Pillars, but we continue southward beside Um Ishrin.
It is now really hot approaching 40. It is the 18th of May, and we are at least a month late.
We plod up a wide entry, passing some Nabataean steps leading up to water pools, then swing left into the unexpected, extraordinary Siq Um Ishrin, a dead straight canyon no wider than 500m and lined by sheer walls getting on for 2,000 ft high. It is hard to do justice to its majesty and drama.
The timing is good, there is still merciful, almost liquid shade under the eastern wall, which, with a refreshing breeze, makes for delightful, elevating walking along the 3km canyon.
Shallow-carved onto a sandstone slab on a quiet wall are some rough but sensitive antelopes with supendous, slender horns and what look like camels. They are pre-Roman, and they show up pale against the dark crust of the canyon side. How long the rock takes to weather.
Up toward the top of the canyon are big sand dunes and a deep cleft, through which is a kilometre or two of pale hazy desert, then the huge walls of the Burrah massif.
We crest the dune and drop out from the canyon head into a big basin. It has taken some 3 hrs to here. We stride stoically out across alternating patches of hard and soft sand, although we are tiring in the intense heat, and this section can definately drag at the wrong time of year. On the far side of the basin, round behind another edifice, is a wind-scoured overhang in deep shade, where a perfect salad and humus lunch awaits us. (It is entirely reasonable to take a lift for this last trudge as we eventually did.)
You can continue further beside the Um Ishrin mountains, turning in through the fantastic Rakabat Canyon for a scramble right through its centre, back to Wadi Rum itself, conveniently near Rum village. This is said to be a superb walk, a scramble in places, but the route is not easy and requires a guide unless you are hyper-experienced. Next time.
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Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Jordan: Walks,Treks, Caves, Climbs and Canyons – Cicerone, by Di Taylor and Tony Howard: you must have this book.
Jordan – Lonely Planet by Hugh Finlay
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom – T E Lawrence’s famous but at times ponderous account of the 1919 Arab Revolt, including much on the Wadi Rum area.
There are generally NO large-scale maps of Jordan readily available. Amazing but true. A large-scale map of the central areas of Wadi Rum can be bought in bookshops.
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Early Spring and Autumn’s clear, sunny days and moderate temperatures make that period the best time to visit. March and the first half of April are said to be best, and you should find some flowers briefly in bloom.
Wadi Rum has a desert climate, with very little rainfall. Summers see fierce temperatures (into the 40°s), which are not conducive to enjoyable hiking. Beware rain in winter/spring: though not a problem in itself, even a small fall can render gorges vulnerable to flash floods.
Royal Jordanian, the national airline, flies to Amman from numerous destinations worldwide. British Airways, BMI, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa also operate routes to the capital.
A visa is needed to enter Jordan: you can obtain single entry visas – valid for one month from any port of entry (except the King Hussein Bridge at the Jordan/Israel border), costing about ten Jordanian Dinars.
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from arranged departure points, usually Amman airport.
Many visitors hire a car and driver, which is still (as of 2010) a surprising cheap option. You can get to Petra by bus.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous here; none of the climbs on to the rocky massifs would suits those who have difficulties with heights.
- Canyon dangers: canyons can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods. Assess and prepare for all risks on those walks involving canyons or potentially wet siqs. In particular, check the weather carefully and don’t go after rain or if it is possible.
- Dangerous animals, including snakes and scorpions. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is remote country: help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Health risks: you may not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere should you become ill. Potential problems include insect born diseases – and water-born, a problem because of a lack of safe drinking water. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
- Stability: as of 2010, Jordon has been safe and stable for years. But the region is inherently unstable, so check the current position.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems of any sort can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk or to a country in general. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
The first question is: how do you plan to get about, generally? Public buses cover many places, but don’t go to Wadi Rum or out-of-the-way sites. Many people hire taxis or cars, or cars with drivers, still a relatively good value option and one which can add huge benefits in local know-how.
And: do you make your own arrangements (perfectly doable especially if you have a helpful driver), or use a travel company? The latter will add cost but will simplify the process.
We used Petra Tours to arrange our 8-day expedition. They are a large and reputable local firm and, while not walking specialists, made generally very satisfactory arrangements to fit the detailed plans we gave them. We were lucky to get the delightful and kind Ahmed Tahoon (mob. (+926) 799249146) as a driver (you can ask for him specifically): knowledgeable and happy to expand on any subject.
As regards Wadi Rum specifically, you have to have a guide with a 4WD vehicle to get into Wadi Rum. Though drivers/guides can be found on the ground it’s advisable to book ahead. Use a reputable tour company which will make sensible local arrangements, or try one of the local firms recommended here. Bear in mind that hotels in Petra (Wadi Musa) are not allowed to organize excursions to Wadi Rum. If you book through them, you will very likely be taken to an area of desert further north, and never set foot in Rum at all.
While some of the walks are easy and can be done on your own, many should be done with an experienced local walking guide.
- www.explorewadirum.com - we used Sleman Freij, who is one of several notable brothers. He will drive you and has a simple but clean and very atmospheric little camp which you can get to yourself. We were pleased – he did his best to be flexible for us, although wrestling with short notice.
- Sleman’s brother Mohammed Freij has a more luxurious (but bigger) camp: www.discoverwadirum.com
The only option in Wadi Rum is camping, at a cost, in designated sites. These tend to be basic, but are comfortable and atmospheric and can be done with great charm, and it is said that one can also pitch one’s own tent on payment of a fee.
See “Guided/Supported” above.
Other information and tips
Bring a sleeping bag liner, which you may find useful.
Look up from the visitors’ centre. The huge cliff facing it across the desert is the famous “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, named after Lawrence’s book.
Tipping: a delicate subject. Guides, drivers etc do not necessarily earn high wages as they are expected to get good tips. So, if you get decent service, you should err on the side of generosity. Regard it as a cost to plan for.
Useful websites and information
Other things to do in the area
Petra: astonishing ancient city built into and hidden by a network of cliffs and gorges.
100km guided walks to Petra, or 50km to Aqaba, afford spectacular vistas across desert and terrain so bizarre and barren that it is easy to understand how Petra managed to get entirely lost to the outside world for the best part of 400 years.
Various street festivals are organised throughout Jordan in the summer months. The festival celebrating the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, is a particularly special occasion.
Jordan is crammed with historical and archaeological marvels: particularly recommended, the Roman ruins at Jerash, in the North, and Crusader castle at Al-Karak.
Aqaba has plentiful hotels and famous Red Sea diving and snorkeling.
The Dead Sea: via several hotels and spas can often be organized on day-trips and shuttles from Amman. As well as its historical significance, the Dead Sea is renowned for its healing effects.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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