Jordan’s only port, Aqaba, lies on the northern tip of the Red Sea.
With its wealth of other attractions, Jordan’s splendid Red Sea resort is often overlooked by modern-day visitors. But apart from being a delightful place for discerning holidaymakers, this is actually a great base from which to explore various places of interest in southern Jordan.
Aqaba is a fun place. It is a microcosm of all the good things Jordan has to offer, including a fascinating history with some outstanding sites, excellent hotels and activities, superb visitor facilities, good shopping, and welcoming, friendly people, who enjoy nothing more than making sure their visitors have a good time.
But perhaps Aqaba’s greatest asset is the Red Sea itself. Here you can experience some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. The temperate climate and gentle water currents have created a perfect environment for the growth of corals and a teeming plethora of marine life. Here you can swim with friendly sea turtles and dolphins as they dart among the schools of multi-colored fish. Night dives reveal the nocturnal sea creatures, crabs, lobsters and shrimp, as they search for a midnight snack.
There are several dive centers in Aqaba. All offer well-maintained diving equipment, professional instructors, and transport by boat to a variety of dive sites.
For those who prefer to keep their feet dry, all the deep sea wonders can be viewed through a glass-bottomed boat or by submarine, or you can just relax under the sun on the resort’s sandy beaches. Plus, of course, there are plenty of other water-sport activities available, as well as an extensive and interesting Marine Park.
From as far back as five and a half thousand years ago Aqaba has played an important role in the economy of the region. It was a prime junction for land and sea routes from Asia, Africa and Europe, a role it still plays today. Because of this vital function, there are many historic sites to be explored within the area, including what is believed to be the oldest purpose-built church in the world.
Aqaba International Airport is situated just 20 minutes from the town center and services regular flights from Amman as well as from several European cities. From the town center, the borders of Israel, Egypt’s Sinai and Saudi Arabia are no more than a 30-minute drive.
Adventure seekers visiting Jordan will be in their element when they visit Aqaba. The southern part of Aqaba is situated on the coast of the Red Sea and offers a wide range of sports and activities of an aquatic nature including: scuba diving, windsurfing, water-skiing, jet skiing, snorkeling, and sailing.
To the north of Aqaba, visitors will find the majestic landscapes of Wadi Rum, which can be reached by camel, 4×4, or a car. More intrepid adventurers may like to take a week-long camel trek through this beautiful landscape to the Visitors’ Centre at Wadi Rum or jump in a 4×4 and drive cross-country.
Camping is also a favorite activity in Aqaba especially during the cooler seasons between May – July and September – November.
Diving in Aqaba is spectacular and goes on all year round, with different species to be seen in the different seasons. In June / July there are whale sharks, while in February one can often see Mantas.
HISTORY & CULTURE
Aqaba’s long history dates back to pre-biblical times, when it was known as Ayla. According to the Bible’s Old Testament, King Solomon built a naval base at Ezion Geber, just 3 km from where the modern town of Aqaba stands today.
From 106 AD, the Romans, who ruled the region from their base in Syria, also used Ayla as their trading sea port, until it came under the control of the Byzantine Empire in the early 4th century. The Byzantines appointed Christian Arabs from south Arabia to rule the port city on their behalf.
The Middle Ages were turbulent years for Ayla. In the 12th century, the crusaders captured the city. They built a fort on Far’un Island, known then as Ile de Graye, 7 km offshore. Ayla was then retaken by Saladin and the fort became known as Saladin’s Castle. In a counter-attack, the notorious crusader, Reynald de Chatillon, took the island, but lost it again to Muslim forces the following year.
When the Mameluk Sultans of Egypt took control of the region, they renamed the city Aqaba and, in the 14th century, built the town’s famous Mameluk fort. The Mameluks were followed by the Ottomans, who ruled Aqaba for 4 centuries.
Aqaba was taken from the Ottomans in 1917 by Arab forces together with T. E. Lawrence. At the end of World War I, the British secured Aqaba for Jordan.
LEISURE & WELLNESS
Greatly prized as Jordan’s window to the sea, Aqaba brings a refreshing release from the rose-colored desert to the north. Its sandy beaches and coral reefs are the most pristine on the Red Sea, and Jordanians hope to preserve them through careful planning. With several first-rate hotels, restaurants and shops, Aqaba caters to a tourist crowd that is tranquil and relaxed, seeking its pleasures more by day than by night.
Indigo-colored deep water lies just off shore in Aqaba, bringing kaleidoscopic marine life within easy reach. Exploring means a leisurely drive to a private spot and a short swim out to the reef. Unusual vertical currents and sea breezes make diving cool and pleasant, even in the heat of the summer.
Although Aqaba is famous for its water sports and adventure activities, there are a host of leisurely activities that can be enjoyed by visitors who wish to relax, rejuvenate or just get away from the pressures of city life. For those who prefer their marine life at arm’s length, glass-bottomed boats are a fun way to enjoy the marvels of the Red Sea.
Boat trips are a great way to spend a relaxing day, and there are many to choose from. Daily excursions tour Aqaba’s coastline, stopping periodically to allow guests to take a dip in the warm waters or slip on a mask and snorkel to take in some of the colorful sea life. Overnight trips can also be arranged on board the larger sailing boats and include full-board accommodation and water sport activities.
Aqaba basks in balmy weather 9 months of the year, in winter, spring and autumn. Summer is hot, but you can pace your activities and adapt to the climate, slowing down in midday, and reviving in the cool of the evening.
After a long day of relaxing on Aqaba’s sandy shores, there is no better way to refresh than by visiting one of the luxurious spas found in many of Aqaba’s leading hotels. The spas combine Eastern and Western techniques and offer luxurious body treatments, rejuvenating facials, cleansing scrubs and body wraps, using world-renowned Dead Sea products.
ECO & NATURE
Jordan’s only outlet to the sea, Aqaba is backed by purple-tinted mountains that are rich in phosphates. Beyond are the rose-colored deserts of Wadi Rum.
Beneath the clean, crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, is a unique marine environment, where divers can discover Jordan’s amazing underwater wildlife. Brightly-colored corals, sponges and sea fans are home to millions of reef fish and a range of invertebrates. Even the world’s largest fish, the Whale Shark, visits these nutrient-rich waters. These harmless, gentle giants come to dine on the rich plankton harvests that flourish in the area. Other visitors include turtles, dolphins and sea cows.
Jordan is a great destination for bird-lovers, its remarkable variety of habitats, from rugged mountains and evergreen woodlands to scrubby steppe and hot dry deserts provide perfect environments for many species of indigenous birds. Furthermore, its location at the crossroad of Europe, Asia and Africa means that migrating birds from these three continents can sometimes be seen together in the same general area within Jordan.
A total of 17 sites have been declared as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Jordan’s national parks. RSCN’s nature reserves are also IBAs. Five of the IBA sites are fully protected by law, five are partially protected, and two further have been officially proposed for legal protection.