Jordanian resort of Aqaba is well known and very interesting considering the fact that you can come for a vacation, but also visit few extremely attractive locations at the same time such as Petra or Wadi Rum. It might not be the best idea to come during summer though, because of the weather and high temperatures. So, even if it’s a bit early to talk about vacation, it’s just the right time to prepare for 2018. Who knows – you might consider traveling to Jordan after this series!
Aqaba is located on the Red Sea shores, the sea so famous for warm waters and colorful coral reefs. Just like in Egypt, you can go scuba diving here or gulf cruising. No surprises there! You will not be surprised either when you see that the beach is divided among various hotels, just like in Egypt or Tunisia, and that you are almost not able to find a small piece of sand to reach the sea. Never the less, having in mind few local „rules“, that might not be that bad.
Most of the hotels have their own beach. Few of those that are less expensive are in the town center and therefore not on the beach. If you choose to stay here, you can either pay the fee to enter the beach of other hotels (around 20 JD or 20 Euros), you can go to the public beach or visit some of the resorts that are about 10 kilometers away from the town (or few kilometers from the border with Saudi Arabia).
If you choose to go by taxi, make sure to arrange the pick up time with the driver, since going back to town might get somewhat tricky. Taxi ride costs are different depending on the way you booked the ride. (If they call the cab for you at the hotel it can get pretty expensive.) Taking taxi to some remote resort where tourists usually spend their time at the beach, going scuba diving or snorkeling, where restaurants and sunbeds are available, will cost from 5 to 10 JD.
You will probably notice that there are no Arabs swimming in these hotels. Also, children might splatter themselves in shallow waters on the public beach, but Arab women will sit on the shore covered in traditional dark clothes. They may immerse their feet into water.
Tourists are not advised to swim here since, they say, there might be broken glass or small junk. You won’t be wrong if you also get the message that women are not advised to sunbathe or swim here. Local guides will recommend that „it would best“ if you go to some resort out of the town. Still, this would be the place to go if you want to book a cruise or snorkeling excursion.
The public beach is not that pleasant. When you say to someone from Europe that Aqaba has „a nice long seafront“, the first thing to pop up in mind will be an image of some Mediterranean coastal town with charming restaurants and cafes, and balconies from which one can enjoy the view of the sea. That’s not the case here though.
Almost the whole beach is covered by tents. They make it impossible to see the beach itself while strolling along and they actually mark different restaurant or a bar underneath. Plastic chairs with a coffee in a paper cup, and those Arab women taking their children swimming. If you want to take photos, be so kind to ask for the permission first.
The only Arab men that you will see wearing short pants will probably be here, since they are the ones who will take you scuba diving. All the others are always in jeans or jalabayas, long white robes, regardless to the heat.
Anyway, try to follow the instructions you hear from your local guide and everything will be fine. People working at the hotels or in the restaurants, stores, banks are more than nice and welcoming, hotel beaches are lovely and the sea is clean.
When it comes to the weather, Aqaba tends to get very hot during summer. It is usually around 20 degrees Celsius in March, while in June or July you might feel as if your shoes are melting and getting stuck into the concrete. It’s often over 40! When it gets this hot, the whole of Aqaba seems dry and burned by the sun, and the air conditioning unit in your room sounds like a far better idea! But if you come in May or September, you will be able to enjoy the real „summer“ vacation.
You probably wonder if it’s okay to wear summer clothes on the streets. Sure, locals are used to tourists lightly dressed, in skirts or short pants, but still, don’t be surprised if all the Arab heads turn after you. Their eyes will follow you all the way, you might hear a whistle or two along with few Arabic words that you, luckily, don’t understand.
It was 2008 when I was in Aqaba for the first time. This is where I tasted the lemonade with mint that was served in every cafe. The drink is green, ingredients blended and it was perfect for high temperatures.
Given that there are tourists here from around the world, Aqaba offers a range of restaurants and cuisines, from local shish kebab or shish tawook to pizzas and McDonald’s. Their vegetable soups, various salads and appetizers, falafels or some crunchy pastry, Arab bread – are just delicious. Considering that you are on the seaside, try not to skip the seafood.
If you are wondering about alcohol, you should know that outside the hotels, places that serve these drinks are scarce. There is also a specialized drink store where you can buy a bottle or two. I found araq here, local liquor made of rice and anise (resembles Greek ouzo a bit), that was nicely packed in a blue-glassed bottle with golden Arabic inscription. It was perfect to take home to friends as a present.
Aqaba is equipped with everything a tourist might need. You will find banks, exchange and post offices, souvenir shop and lovely jewelry stores. But don’t think that this is yet another beach-town, since the town is so rich in history! Here is what you should visit in Aqaba, and it won’t take you more that two days.
If you stroll by the sea, you will come across few ruins. Those are the remains of the first Islamic city outside the Arab Peninsula that dates back to 650 AD! The town was called Ayla. Urban areas or misr were then built with mosques, governor residences and tribal headquarters included. Today you can see the remains of the stone gate, columns and the old mosque.
The finds from this area that date back to Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid periods (7th-12th century) can be seen at the Archaeological Museum. They say that even Aqaba was once known as the town of Ayla during the Byzantine era. It surrendered to Muslims in 630 AD.
If you go further, you will see a vast square with the huge flag. It can be seen from neighboring towns of Eilat in Israel and Taba in Egypt. The flag was erected in 2004 and became a certain symbol of Aqaba. It is dedicated to the great Arab revolution of 1916 when Arabs freed themselves of Ottoman rule. That was the revolution Lawrence of Arabia took part in.
The revolution leader was Sharif Husein bin Ali, the ancestor of Abdullah II who now rules the kingdom of Jordan. His former house was located near the today’s flag at the same square. Bin Ali’s portrait can be seen on the bill of one Jordanian dinar. The flag was the highest in the Arab world for a long time and it differs from the Jordanian one in colors disposition.
The Archaeological Museum is nearby, along with the Aqaba Castle or the Mameluke Fort. It’s possible to visit the old prison, horse stable and the room where carrier pigeons were kept. The Castle was last altered in 1587 AD by one of the last Mameluke sultans.
One more interesting detail to be added – the coast of the Red Sea that belongs to Jordan is only 27 kilometers long! It was even shorter earlier, but after the agreement with Saudi Arabia in 1965 it got the additional 6,000 square kilometers of territory which was around 18 kilometers of coastline.
Only one wide street separates Aqaba from Israeli town of Eilat. After Eilat, the Egypt coastline stretches. If you go to the opposite side, to one of those resorts with lovely beaches, you will stumble across signs saying that you are at „12 kilometers from Saudi Arabia border“. So, don’t be surprised when you see a Saudi man with red and white scarf on his head sitting at the local restaurant. There will actually be a lot of them here who stop by from Saudi Arabia.
As authentic Middle Eastern journey as it can get, right!
*few photos by Pixabay
The full Jordan SERIES