Top Ten Things to do in Aqaba
Tevan and I took advantage of the long Eid weekend to explore Aqaba. Aqaba is a port city located in the Southern part of Jordan and surrounded by the Red Sea. Yes I am referring to the same Red Sea which is sited in the Bible and Quran - it is believed that Moses parted the Red Sea to help Israelites flee from the Pharaoh's army.
It is worth noting that from the shoreline, one will be able to see three different countries i.e. Egypt (Far end mountains), Israel (right side from the mountains) and Saudi Arabia (out of view towards the left).
This charming coastal town has something for everyone; pristine beaches, diverse marine life, diving, water sports, culture, history and fresh seafood. Aqaba also has year round mild weather and warm waters - the temperature is a approximately around 26 degrees during summer and does not fall below 20 degrees during winter.
So if you are planning a trip to Aqaba, below are some top attractions / fun things that are worth seeing and experiencing.
1. Take a dive or snorkel in the deep blue waters of the Red Sea.
Aqaba is popularly known for its top diving and snorkeling sites. In fact it holds a spot in the list of top ten places to dive. Aqaba is home to 500 species of corals, 1200 species of fish, and over 1000 types of mollusks & other crustaceans. Many people from all over the world come to Aqaba to obtain their PADI certifications. There are a plethora of schools that offer a variety of underwater activities.
Besides marine life, there are several other famous diving spots such as:
Cedar Pride Ship Wreck
If diving is not for you then you can opt for snorkeling. We spotted a variety of marine life close to the shoreline. Tevan even spotted a moray eel.
I wish we remembered to bring our underwater phone cover so that we could have taken some nice underwater videos!
Protip: Pack your underwater phone cover and bring a pair of swim shoes for walking on the rocky part of the beach and coral areas.
2. Hang out at a Beach Club.
Looking for some fun in the sun ? Head to one of the many beach clubs in the city.
There are a few beach clubs to choose from; Berenice Beach Club being the most popular.
What sets Berenice Beach club apart from the rest of the clubs is that it has access to coral and marine reefs which showcases the beauty of the Red Sea.
There are a host of activities offered in this club; be it snorkeling, diving, yachting, beach volleyball or just lounging by the beach while sipping on a cocktail. I guarantee it will be a fun day for everyone.
Most hotels are affiliated to beach clubs that are within the city which allows you to purchase the entrance voucher at a reduced rate. We purchased our entry voucher to the Berenice Beach Club through our hotel at 13 JOD per pax. A single day entry ticket would otherwise cost 20 JOD per pax. This includes a shuttle service, entrance, a large towel, a parasol and a sun lounger. You will also enjoy a discount for water sports.
We stayed at the Al Raad Hotel, which is located at the city center and it took us about 15 minutes to reach the Berenice Beach Club. The hotel also provides shuttle services to and from the Beach Club - The shuttle leaves once at 10 am and 11 am respectively and pick up is at 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm respectively.
The Berenice Beach Club is a perfect destination for families with little children. The animators at the Club have curated a series of fun activities and games for children to participate. This will give parents some downtime to relax. Alliteratively, there are also activities that the whole family can partake and spend some quality time together.
You can visit their website for more information about their amenities and services.
3. Royal Yacht Club
The Royal Yacht Club is a commercial seafront complex which houses restaurants, trendy cafes and a Bar upstairs. The aesthetic of the place exudes a chill vibe with a view overlooking the pier. Perfect for those looking for a relaxing afternoon activity.
However please be mindful that alcohol may be prohibited in certain eateries. So be sure to check with the staff.
4. Take a walk along the beach promenade
Al-Ghandour Beach was quite the spectacle and is ideal for long walks and people watching. This beach runs parallel to the promenade and it was jam packed with locals and tourists since our trip coincided with the Eid celebrations.
We were genuinely bewildered of the scene before us. Picture large families picnicking, kids running around, boat operators haggling with customers, vendors selling various kinds of beverages, food and snacks, women covered from head to toe and some foreign women clad in heavily sequined salwar kameez - this interesting melting pot of culture is truly unique.
Women will attract attention in this part of the city regardless of their attire. Therefore, Women are encouraged to dress modestly when visiting the public beach as a mark of respect to the local culture. Bikinis or other revealing swimwear is best reserved for beach clubs or private beaches.
If you are only here for a short visit and still want to go for a swim, then I would recommend visiting the South Beach. The South Beach is situated on the South Coast at the protected Aqaba Marine Park. Entrance is free and patrons have access to its amenities which includes shower, changing rooms and a parasol. Bring your own mats as sunbeds are not provided.
The South Beach is less crowded and has some good snorkeling sites such as the Japanese Garden and Seven Sisters.
5. Cruise in a Glass Bottom Boat
Glass Bottom Boats are big in Aqaba and is very popular among tourist. It is a great way to view reefs and other marine life without getting wet.
There are several types of glass bottom boats available at different rates and packages. Some tours offer snorkeling as part of their package. This tour allows one to peek into the beautiful seascape of the Red Sea.
6. Indulge in fresh seafood
Aqaba being a seaside town is a haven for seafood. I highly recommend that you try the popular local dish, Sayadiyeh which is traditional to this region. Sayadiyeh translates to Fisherman's catch and originated in Lebanon but is now popular throughout the Middle East.
Sayadiyeh is basically a dish consisting of fish and rice dish This dish is made with warm spices, caramelized onions and topped with dried fruits and nuts.
There are many restaurants that serves this dish and the most popular being Captain's Restaurant and Mirwas Restaurant. We did not try these restaurants but I read positive reviews about these places.
We tried this dish at the Castle restaurant which is close to our hotel and it did not disappoint. We also ordered their seabass dish and it was amazing too.
For all of you sweet tooth friends. I got you covered as well. Pistachio Sweets & Café is a great place to sample some really delicious local pastries and treats. I was told that Hani Ali has some excellent chocolate ice cream.
Head over to V60 Specialty Coffee Roasters if you are looking at getting your coffee fix. Hands down the best coffee in town!
7. Bask in the History of Aqaba
Aqaba is a city steeped in history just like other parts of the country. Some must visit historical sites are:
Aqaba Fort or otherwise known as the Mamluk or Aqaba Castle. This fort was constructed in the 12th Century by the crusaders. The fort was utilized and refurbished throughout the course of the many ancient dynasties from the Mamluks themselves to Ottomans.
This fort was once a caravanserai for pilgrims who were travelling to Mecca and Madinah and it served as a pivotal base for toppling the Ottomans Empire. To date, this fort remains an integral part of history as the first bullet of the Arab Revolt against the reigning Ottoman Empire was fired at this very place.
The Aqaba Fort is situated next to the Great Arab Revolt Plaza. The opening hours are Sat -Thurs 8 am to 4 pm Friday 10 am to 4 pm. Entrance is free for foreigners.
This expansive waterfront plaza features one of the tallest flagpoles in the world and represents the Great Arab Revolt. The Flag Pole is visible from Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Ruins of Ayla
Aqaba was formerly known as Ayla and it was a thriving port between the 7th and 12th centuries. In 1989 the ruins were uncovered and excavated. Entrance to the ruins is free.
Ayla Ancient Church
This ancient church is believed to be one of the oldest churches in the world. The origins of the church can be traced back to the 3rd or 4th century. The church was operating approximately for a century until it was destroyed in an earthquake.
8. Wander through the Souks
You will find an array of local products and souvenirs being sold at the Bazaars. You can purchase spices, souvenirs, beach essentials, jewelry, incense and many other things.
Souk by the Sea is a weekly street market which is held every Friday between 6 pm to 11 pm and takes place next to Captian's Hotel on Nahdah Steert in the center of Aqaba. Most of the items sold here are locally sourced and made. You will find handicrafts, artisans, a variety of local cuisine and live entertainment.
Aqaba is a duty free zone so you are bound to score some good bargains here compared to the rest of the country. Everything from liquor, spices to sports wear is cheaper here making it a great shopping destination.
9. Make a day trip from Aqaba
There are a few day trip that you can make and please click on the hyperlinks below for detailed information about each of these places:
Wadi Rum - This amazing desert oasis is only an hour drive away from Aqaba.
Petra - You can reach this incredible wonder of the world in just two hours by road.
Dead Sea - Dead Sea is quite further away but still possible if you are up for a long drive. It is approximately three hours away.
Alternatively, you can catch a bus to any of these cities from the local bus station. The bus station is located across from Dream Hotel, next to the police station. There are also regular busses to Amman and Ma'an that depart from this station.
10. Water Sports
Water Sports is also very famous in Aqaba. Adrenalin junkies can enjoy parasailing, jet skiing, paddle boarding, water skiing and banana boat rides among others.
Saraya Aqaba Water Park also is a fun activity that you can do as a family. Hit the water slides and make a fun day out of it. Ticket prices vary seasonally.
Where to stay?
Double Tree by Hilton
Al Raad Hotel - I can vouch for this hotel as we stayed here. The hotel is decent, clean, strategically located and has a panoramic view of the sea.
How to get to Aqaba?
There is a direct flight to Aqaba which lands at the King Hussein Airport and get into the city by renting a car or taxi.
If you are travelling from the capital, JETT bus makes frequent trips to Aqaba from Amman.
The most ideal way to explore Aqaba is by car or taxi. I however suggest getting around downtown by foot to make the most of your trip.
Aqaba is an ideal destination to soak up the sun and unwind. I can't think of a better way to round up your Jordanian holiday other than with some fun in the sun.
Till next time, toodles!