Aqaba in Jordan: Attractions, beaches, coral reefs and diving

Jordan #5: Aqaba

Aqaba city, Jordan

Being in Jordan, it's worth going to the city of Aqaba, a settlement in the south of the country located on the Black Sea for at least a little. In addition to some great historical monuments, we will find here beautiful beaches and fantastic coral reefs to watch during snorkeling or diving.

Aqaba history

The history of Aqaba dates back to the 10th century BC, when there was a copper smelting center as well as a small fishing village and port called Wzion-Geber, and the whole area was ruled by the king of Israel - Solomon.

From the 2nd century BC these areas were conquered by the Egyptians, and when the African country from the Nile began to lose its importance and power, the territory of Aqaba was taken over by the Nabataeans, builders of the famous Petra (rock city in Jordan). At that time, the town was known as Aila.

The rock city of Petra, the former capital of Nabataeans.

During the Roman Empire, the city changed its name to Ailana and was known mainly as a trading center on the route from Damascus to Palestine and Egypt. Around the 7th century CE Aqaba port was again conquered, this time by the Arab Umayyad dynasty, serving as a hub for pilgrims who traveled to Mecca. The city was renamed Aila again. This state lasted until 1024, when Akaba was conquered by local tribes, after which, 44 years later, most of the city was destroyed by an earthquake.

Lawrence of Arabia, portrait

At that time crusaders from Europe appeared in these lands, occupying the city in 1116. Christians built their fort on a nearby island, which remained before the Arab invasions until 1170, when the whole area was again conquered by Saladin, and 80 years later by the Mamluks. A relatively quiet period begins for the people of Aqaba, lasting until the early 16th century, when the port falls under the influence of the Ottoman Empire and, like the current capital of Jordan (the city of Amman), completely lost its importance.

During World War I, in 1917, Arab insurgents, in collaboration with the famous Lawrence of Arabia (about whom I wrote more while describing the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan), liberated Aqaba from Turkish rule.

As for more modern times, in the twentieth century in the entire region abounded in numerous armed conflicts, mainly with the newly formed Israel (Israeli-Arab Wars). Only the end of the century brought relative peace, and in 1994 even the border crossing between Jordan and Israel was opened. It was then that Akaba began to emerge as a tourist resort, attracting tourists from around the world.

Mameluk Fort in Aqaba, Jordan

Tourist attractions in Aqaba

Aqaba is known mainly for tourist attractions, typically for active people or those who like to relax, but in the city there are also several interesting historical places and museums.

Mameluk Fort

Mameluk Fort is one of the most important monuments in Aqaba. The fortress was originally built in the 12th century by the crusaders, and after its destruction it was rebuilt by the Sultan of the Mameluk people. The fortress also played a significant role during the Arab Uprising, led by Lawrence of Arabia.

The Mameluk Fort in Aqaba is next to a huge Jordan flagpole near the promenade, not far from the Archaeological Museum, so being here is worth a look at the museum.

Archeological museum

The Aqaba Archaeological Museum is located in Hussein's former residence, who was the leader of the anti-Turkish Arab uprising and had his home here in 1917 after his army captured the city.

Among the museum collections we will see various smaller finds related to the Nabatean Kingdom (around the first century CE), as well as Egyptian and Iraqi coins. In the Archaeological Museum we will also see Byzantine reliefs or, surprisingly, Chinese ceramics.

Ruins of the Byzantine Church, Aqaba

Byzantine church ruins

During the Byzantine Empire, a lot of construction work took place in Jordan. All major Roman era cities continued to flourish as the region's population increased. When Christianity appeared here in the fourth century, churches were built all over Jordan.

It was then that in Aqaba, Jordan, one of the most interesting archaeological discoveries of recent times was built, i.e. probably (according to Akabian archaeologists) the oldest church in the world, built in the 3rd century AD. This church is even older than the churches of Bethlehem or Jerusalem, which dates back to the 4th century AD.

And despite the fact that only ruins remain of this old Byzantine church in Aqaba, I think it is worth to come here for a moment and reminisce about such old times, when Christianity was just hatching.

Aqaba city center

City center

Not all interesting places and things are paid, and a walk around the old city and the center of Aqaba will provide a lot of impressions and experiences that cost not only a penny, but also no dinar. It's worth walking the streets of Aqaba, buying something in shop windows or exchanging a few words with the residents (and even if we don't want to, we'll probably have to do it anyway - Jordanians are quite a talkative nation).

It is also worth visiting the small shops or entering the market to see what traditional Jordanian "souks" look in Aqaba. We find in them a huge selection of various local souvenirs, jewelry, clothes, incense, herbs, scarves and spices. You can also drink here a good tea.

The main part of the city center of Aqaba and most of the "souks" are located around the Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali mosque. If you are looking for vegetables or fruit, it is worth going to Raghadan Street, and in search of spices it is best to go to Zahran Street.

Aqaba, Jordan

We must remember that Aqaba is a tourist city and the prices are artificially high here to make money on visiting travelers. For this reason, bargaining is an inseparable shopping ritual that should enter our blood during our stay in Jordan and other Middle Eastern Arab countries.

Ancient ruins of Ayla settlement, Aqaba, Jordan

Ayla settlement ruins

Ayla was the first settlement founded in today's Aqaba and the first Islamic city built outside the Arabian Peninsula. Unfortunately, the settlement was destroyed by various attacks, first Crusaders, later Bedouins. The remains of the ancient city were discovered only in the 80s, after which the ruins of the Ayla settlement became one of the most interesting places in the whole of Aqaba.

The ruins of the Ayla settlement are located just outside the city center of Aqaba. You can still see the remains of the mosque, marketplaces, city gates or houses here.

Marine Science Station Aquarium

The whole city of Aqaba lives around water and its treasures. So if you want to go on a journey through the underwater world of the Red Sea, without the need to dive or getting wet, then the Marine Science Station Aquarium is the right place for you.

Interestingly, the aquarium pumps water directly from the Red Sea, thanks to which we will see corals living in a narutal environment. The Aqaba Aquarium and Marine Science Center also abounds in numerous species of fish, such as lionfish, parrots, turtles, moray eels and stone fish.

Marine Science Station Aquarium, Aqaba, Jordan. Source: https://aqaba.jo.

The Marine Science Station Aquarium in Aqaba is open from 08:00 AM to 04:00 PM, and the admission ticket costs 3 JOD (approx. 4.20 USD).

Aqaba public beach

Beaches in Aqaba

Aqaba in Jordan, as a tourist destination, largely relies on its beautiful beaches of the Red Sea. In the city you will find a free public beach and numerous private beaches, additionally payable.

Free public beach

There is a free public beach in Aqaba, but I can't recommend it to anyone. First of all, it is quite dirty, in addition, the vast majority of sunbathers are Arabs dressed in their clothes covering everything (at least women). I saw here a few people from Europe, who, however, felt very uncomfortable in swimsuits and quickly got out of here. So if you have at least some money, it is worth going to one of the private beaches.

Berenice Beach Club, Aqaba, Jordan

Berenice Beach Club

The Berenice Beach Club in Aqaba is 13 kilometers away from the city center, but I don't regret that I decided to go here. The total cost of all-day stay on the beach with towels, sunbeds, driving from the old town and back costed me 10 JOD (14 USD).

The most important thing is that women can easily swim in swimsuits here, because the beach is private and guarded. Of course, there are also places where you can order something to eat and drink and a swimming equipment rental.

Aqaba Marine Park

Aqaba Marine Park is another great and probably the most famous beach located in Aqaba, which also takes care to preserve the biosphere of the Red Sea for future generations. In addition to being "only a beach", Aquaba Marine Park strives not only to teach the regulations of aquatic environment protection, but also its own commitment to its protection.

The basis of the phenomenon of the Red Sea are of course coral reefs, which, despite the fact that they are not as spectacular as those in Egypt, seeing them is still an amazing experience. There are currently more than 127 types of coral formations and more than 450 different species of fish in Jordanian waters. In the Aqaba Marine Park you will find as many as 19 places for diving, and equipment can be rented on site.

Beach in Aqaba Marine Park, Jordan

The Aqaba Marine Park in Aqaba is located about 15 kilometers south of the city center. The beach is 7 kilometers long and the entrance is free. In addition to diving, we can even rent snorkeling equipment or sail to the Red Sea by a glass-bottomed boat.

Diving

Although Jordan has a small coastline, Aqaba has over 25 dive sites, most of which are in the Aqaba Marine Park (19). Each of them significantly differs from shallow coral reefs (perfect for snorkeling) to deep canyons and shipwrecks.

In Aqaba, hot water remains throughout the year, providing great visibility. Thanks to the wide range of diving spots, it is a perfect place for both beginners and experienced enthusiasts of underwater travel. Aqaba is also great for diving in search of shipwrecks, with the most popular being the Cedar Pride shipwreck, described below.

Coral Reefs in Aqaba

Coral reefs

The beaches of Aqaba abound with numerous coral reefs that are worth seeing. Below I will describe a few of the most interesting diving spots that will delight us with their colorful corals and beautiful fish.

  • Caesar Reef - This coral reef can be found near the diving base called Padi - Sea Star. There is a sandy canyon 40 meters deep, and on both sides of it a coral reef stretches along with the so-called coral chimneys protruding from the sandy bottom.
  • Power Station Coral Reef - Reef hardly frequented and practically undamaged, with numerous soft corals. The bottom falls gently to a depth of 50 meters. As the coral reef is located near the transhipment port, where animals are transported and sometimes dead goats are thrown straight into the water, this is the area where sharks are most often seen.
  • Japanese Garden Coral Reef - The reef has been named a Japanese garden for its richness of colorful coral reefs. You can dive to it by going directly from the waterfront, but a much better idea is to sail a boat slightly towards the sea, where we will be able to enjoy the less frequently visited reef, and thus - less damaged.
  • Cable Reef - another coral reef located off the coast of Jordan, where the area quickly falls to a depth of 40 meters. It is a great place for photos, because even at a depth of 30 meters a lot of sunlight falls in here. The name Cable Reef comes from the fact that from the ground here comes a huge cable, encased in stones and mesh, which supplies practically all Jordan with electricity. Stingrays can also be found here.

Cedar Pride wreck

The Cedar Price shipwreck is probably the most interesting tourist attraction and interesting place when it comes to diving in Jordan. The 74-meter ship was built in 1964 at the Gijon shipyard in Spain and was intended for transport purposes. Initially it was called Puerto de Pasajes, then Saint Bruno, when it was finally renamed Cedar Pride, after the Lebanese shipping company of the same name.

Cedar Pride shipwreck, Aqaba, Jordan

After Cedar Pride arrived in Aqaba in 1982, the ship caught fire in August. I couldn't find the cause of the fire, but two crew members were killed and the damage was so great that the ship was unfit for further operation. It was abandoned for over 3 years, systematically rusting.

Diving in Aqaba

After many years the great diving lover, Abd Allah II, King of Jordan, came up with an idea of using Cedar Pride wreck. He decided to sink the ship, making it an artificial coral reef. Before this happened, however, the Cedar Pride ship was cleaned of potential components dangerous to divers. A suitable place was also found for the wreck in the Gulf of Aqaba, after which the ship was sunk near the beach.

Near the wreck of the Cedar Pride ship, at a depth of about 35 meters, we can also find a former mooring buoy, which, sinking, pulled a military patrol boat under the water.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules plane wreck

From November 2017, we can admire another amazing underwater wreck outside of Cedar Pride on the beaches of Aqaba in Jordan - the Lockheed C-130 Hercules plane wreck.

The plane was sunk thanks to the kindness of the Jordanian Air Force, which wanted to make it a tourist attraction in order to attract new divers. As the Hercules wreck lies only a few meters deep, a lot of light reaches here, providing great visibility. Although there is no coral reef here yet (Lockheed C-130 is too short under water), colorful fish are already swimming in the middle of it.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules plane wreck, Aqaba, Jordan

Tank wreck

Another great tourist diving spot is the tank wreck, which was placed only 6 meters deep. The underwater tank wreck in Aqaba is well preserved, we have here a hatch, caterpillars, a barrel and a cannon.

Other activities

Aqaba and Jordan abound in all kinds of activities that we can fill time if we have money for it. Thanks to the diverse terrain, we can go on all kinds of hiking not only through the wastelands, but also canyons or wild areas.

Being in Aqaba it is worth to be interested in good travel agencies specializing in expeditions in off-road cars, camels and on horseback. We can also rise in the air on a balloon, paraglider or hang glider.

Cruise in ship with a glass bottom

If you don't like snorkeling or diving, you can also go on a glass bottom boat cruise. I do not know exactly where such a cruise can be ordered, because every day on the beach I was offered it several times, so I did not have to make too much effort to get it. I only know that many of them can be found near something called the "Corniche", and many of these ships even have their own diving equipment on board.

A glass-bottomed boat trip is a great opportunity to discover the beautiful underwater world of the Aqaba Red Sea. There are different types of glass bottom boats and you should make sure the glass surface is wide enough and clean to see anything through it.

Camels in the Wadi Rum desert

Day trips from Aqaba

From Aqaba we can also go on numerous one-day trips and not only those around Jordan, but also around neighboring countries. In Jordan itself, it is worth going to Petra, the Wadi Rum desert, the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, the cities of Jerash and Ajloun or to Amman.

As for day trips from Aqaba to other countries, it is worth taking a trip to Israel, specifically to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Practical information

Below I have collected some important topics and practical information about traveling in Aqaba and Jordan.

Safety in Aqaba and Jordan

Safety in Aqaba

Is it safe in Aqaba? Personally, during these few days spent in Jordan I did not feel dangerous, although people tend to be importunate and often try to persuade us to buy some of their goods, which is a bit tiring. I saw only quite a lot of embarrassment of European women, who on the public beach in Aqaba decided to swim and sunbathe in beach clothes, so it's much better to use private beaches.

This safety in Jordan, although it is surrounded by quite restless Islamic countries, results mainly from very severe penalties imposed on citizens who harm tourists.

So I think Jordan is a safe country even for solo travelers, as long as they read at least a bit about the customs prevailing here and will be guided by them (e.g. respecting Muslim mosques and not entering them in licentious clothes).

How to get to Aqaba?

We can get to the city of Aqaba in Jordan in two different ways: either fly by plane directly or fly to Amman, where we can rent a car or take a bus.

By plane: Aqaba has its own international airport that connects large, low cost airlines with Europe. Recently, however, I've seen fewer and fewer flights directly from European countries, at most those where in Amman we can change to second fight to Aqaba.

So if you want to explore the capital of Jordan or drive around the country, option number two will be definitely better.

Amman, Jordan

From Amman: Many tourists arrive in the city of Amman, the capital of Jordan, before going in Aqaba. It gives a lot of possibilities because we can visit the capital, and on the route from Amman to Aqaba we still have the rock city of Petra, the Wadi Rum desert and in total most of the attractions that Jordan offers us.

For this reason, in my opinion, the best way to reach Aqaba is to rent a car in Amman, and on the way to visit other interesting places and tourist attractions in the country. Traveling directly from the capital of Jordan to Aqaba by car takes just over 4 hours.

However, if we want to go directly to Aqaba, we can go on a journey by bus company JETT, leaving the boulevard Abdali.

Some additional tips

Below you will find some additional tips for traveling to Aqaba in Jordan, which you may find useful.

  • As you are going to an Islamic country (although quite calm by the standards of this culture), it is worth getting acquainted with the customs prevailing here, mainly regarding clothing and personal culture. I do not recommend women bathing in swimsuits on public beaches.
  • Not only before traveling to Jordan, but also to any other hot Middle Eastern country, you should get comfortable shoes for walking in high temperatures.
  • Be sure to buy a suntan cream, because in Aqaba you can get burn in a few hours of walking in full sun.
  • It is worth thinking about insurance for travelers, after all, you never know what can happen.
  • In many places in Aqaba you can pay with a credit card (Visa and Mastercard), but it is also worth having some JOD, the Jordanian currency in your pocket.
  • When we buy something, it is always worth to bargain. In tourist cities like Aqaba, prices can be very high.
Gulf of Aqaba

Summary

Aqaba is a fantastic holiday resort in Jordan, filled with interesting places, tourist attractions, sports and other activities. I definitely recommend this city to diving enthusiasts, because the beautiful coral reefs or the sunken wreck of the Cedar Pride ship really make an impression.

While being here is also worth seeing the other attractions that Jordan has to offer and go on a day trip to Israel to see Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Aqaba itself is a tourist resort, which, however, is a place to visit for a few days, after which, without traveling outside the city, I would be bored. However, if your goal is to lie on the beach, swim in the sea and maybe from time to time to leave the resort to see something, it will definitely be a place perfect for you!

Wojciech Kuźma

Hey there! My name is Wojtek and I am very happy that you came to my travel blog. I've been traveling the world for a few good years now and I still want more.

On my website I describe the adventures that have happened to me, you will also find here a collection of valuable tips for tourists and travelers. If you liked this article, be sure to leave a comment and read some more!


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