Visions of towering sand dunes, ancient lost cities and camels strolling through the desert is what most people expect to see during a Jordan trip, so it may come as a surprise that the country has idyllic coastal areas as well.
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The seaside city of Aqaba is perhaps the best known, and considered a playground for the Middle East’s rich and famous thanks to its opulent resorts, sweeping beaches, lively nightlife scene and marinas where rows of luxury yachts await to whisk guests out into the Red Sea.
Perched on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, the historic city serves up a great mix of relaxation and culture, with mosques, castles and ruins steps away from famous dive sites, snorkel spots and beach clubs. It also makes a great base for exploring popular Jordan tourist attractions like Wadi Rum and Petra which are less than two hours away, and tours to these impressive sites can easily be booked with local operators.
From serene boat rides to adrenaline-filled adventures, here are some fun ideas for what to do in Aqaba.
Take a boat tour around the Gulf of Aqaba
The Gulf of Aqaba is a gorgeous part of the Red Sea, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is on a boat tour from the Aqaba port.
Companies like Sindbad offer cruises on fun pirate ship-themed vessels, including one trip that heads out to Pharaoh’s Island in Egypt, as well as glass-bottom boat tours. Expect excellent food and drinks, and plenty of dancing to upbeat Arabic tunes as you spend a leisurely day sailing and snorkeling in the clear water. Be sure to keep an eye on the shoreline, since Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia can all be seen from here.
Explore Aqaba’s historic sites
While parts of Aqaba’s waterfront can be glitzy, wander a couple blocks away from the sea to get a taste of local life and the area’s storied history.
The best example of this is Mamluk Fort–also known as Aqaba Castle–which dates back to the 1500s. The imposing structure was built during the reign of Qansur Al-Ghuri, and once served as a military site that’s now open to visitors.
Aqaba itself lies on top of the ruins of Ayla, a small settlement and the first Islamic city to be built outside the Arabian Peninsula. Found beside the hotel district, the ruins themselves can be a bit hard to spot, but there are still remains of the city walls, gates and a mosque.
For anyone interested in Islamic culture, the Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque is a must-see. This Aqaba icon is a striking, stark-white building that’s equally beautiful on the inside, and is enchanting during the nightly call to prayer when it’s all lit up. Visitors of all denominations are welcome outside of prayer times.
The souk is the heart of the city, where there are rows of handicrafts, fresh produce, souvenirs and traditional spices like saffron, cardamom, ginger and cumin. Budget a fair bit of time to walk through, as chances are the friendly shopkeepers will pull you into their stalls and insist you join them for tea!
Go diving in Aqaba
The Aqaba scuba diving sites are among some of the world’s best, with more than 20 different spots found along the Jordanian coast.
Diving in the Red Sea is possible for all skill levels, with drop-offs and walls starting from just 10 meters below the surface of these warm, illuminated waters. The sun penetrates to a depth of 150 meters, so divers can easily see the fascinating underwater world like crustaceans, lionfish and beautiful coral reefs. Night dives are also offered.
Cedar Pride is the most famous Red Sea diving site, where an 80-metre Lebanese freighter sank in 1985. The cargo ship lies just eight meters below the surface and is home to a variety of hard and soft corals. The C-130 Hercules Wreck is another great wreck dive, and features a military aircraft that was scuttled off the coast to create an artificial reef attracting coral, fish and other marine life.
Relax at an Aqaba beach club
One of the best things to do in Aqaba is…absolutely nothing, which is why beach clubs are so popular here. Really, does it get any better than a day spent relaxing on a plush lounger and soaking up the sun? Some of the top Aqaba beach clubs are:
- Ayla B12 Beach Club: This spot has a colourful and contemporary design, with several pools, a water park, wakeboarding park and plenty of water sports offerings.
- Tala Bay Beach Club: At Tala Bay, guests can swim in the Red Sea or opt for one of the heated swimming pools. There are plenty of loungers, sunbeds, a spa and kids area, and is within walking distance of the marina.
- Berenice Beach Club: This sprawling spot is located 15 minutes from downtown (there’s a shuttle service), and has a huge beach, gorgeous pool overlooking the sea and mountains, numerous bars, volleyball courts and shopping. The day rate includes a towel, lounger, and discounts on water sports such as parasailing, jet skiing and even a banana boat.
Book one of the adventurous Aqaba tours
Those looking to mix a bit of adrenaline into their Aqaba trip will find no shortage of things to do, with plenty of adventurous outdoor activities in and around the city.
Book in for some water-related fun such as parasailing, windsurfing or jet skiing, or head to the Ayla B12 Beach Club to wakeboard in its 442-meter cable wake park. Back on land, take a safari quad ride through the immense sand dunes, to explore the surrounding mountains and canyons at thrilling speeds.
Where to stay in Aqaba
- Kempinski Hotel Aqaba: The Kempinski Hotel Aqaba offers the best of Jordanian hospitality and European luxury, with five-star service, a gorgeous infinity pool and an array of culinary options. The property is decorated in an elegant, modern style with sweeping sea views from every room, and lights up beautifully at night. Click here to book
- Movenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay Aqaba: The modern Movenpick at Tala Bay offers an incredible beachfront resort experience, with easy water access for swimming and snorkeling. Guests love the facilities, friendly staff and great food. Click here to book
- Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort: This property in the newly developed Ayla Oasis area is absolutely stunning, with whitewashed facades, plenty of pools, views of the sea and marina and stunning interiors. The sprawling suites include huge private balconies, modern bathrooms with freestanding tubs, and luxe linens. Perfectly located between the town center and the beach, this is one of the best hotels in Aqaba. Click here to book
Globe Guide explored Aqaba as a guest of the ATTA and Jordan Tourism Board. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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