Lost in Jordan: Aqaba Offers a Great Coastal Getaway

Getting There, Hotels & Resorts, Jordan, Tours & Attractions — By on January 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Brittany Gowan
LG Foreign Correspondent

Aqaba, a coastal town on the northeast tip of the Red Sea, is one of Jordan’s southern most points and the country’s only port city. Jagged mountains surround the low-lying water, which gradually fades from turquoise to a bold dark blue. Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia share the Gulf of Aqaba. When I waded into the warm waters, I found it amazing that I could see four countries at the same time.  Western influence is evident in the picturesque condos, well-manicured shrubbery that lines the boulevards, and high-rise lavish resorts.  I found myself wondering if I was in a mirage of South Beach or actually in the Middle East.

When to visit. Aqaba is a popular Jordanian destination because of its pleasant weather year round. Locals in the north escape the winter chill and venture to Aqaba for winter recess. Temperatures hover in the mid 60’s during the winter and into the 90’s during the summer.

How to get there. A quick 45-minute flight from Amman on Royal Jordanian Airlines is around $130. The short flight provides wonderful overview of the south and desert lands. The Desert Highway connects the north and south.  By car, it takes about four hours to go from Amman to Aqaba and two hours from Petra to Aqaba. Major bus services, like JETT charge about $20 from Amman to Aqaba. Taxis in Aqaba are painted a bright green or blue. Cab rides within town should cost no more than $3. Cab rides from historic Petra take about two hours and cost around $50.

Where to stay. Aqaba accommodates both visitors on a budget and those looking for luxury. With single rooms starting at $12 and double/triples around $25, Nairoukh II Hotel will allow you to sleep comfortably and save money for the sights. Dweik Hotel is another hotel for the budget conscious, positioned close to the beach and main attractions.

For brightly-colored, modern accommodations, splurge and stay at Movenpick Resort. You’ll get private beach access, four pools with amazing land and water views. Doubles start at around $150. For $50 more, certain packages include breakfast and dinner. A plus for staying at the more expensive resorts are the variety of water sports, scuba diving locations and sightseeing cruises. The Kempinski Hotel is a high-end resort where you can lounge by an infinity pool and look out past artistic greenery to the water, sand, and white beach umbrellas. Rooms begin at $200. A $50 upgrade will give you more dynamic balcony views. Regardless of your view, make sure to venture outside for a sunset. The sun setting in yellow and orange over the Egyptian mountains and lighting up the adjacent sand makes for a beautiful memory.

What to do. When taking a break from the beach, the Aqaba Castle or Fort offers a quick and enjoyable history lesson. Some of the oldest parts of the fort are believed to be built by the Crusaders and reconstructed in the 1500s.  Check out the Hashemite Coat of Arms, which displays antiquated armor and weapons. King Hussein Street, south of Town Center, $2 adults.

Aqaba Turkish Baths offer massages, scrubs, and soothing steam baths. Visitors can come and relax for a very affordable $15. Both men and woman are welcome, but women are encouraged to reserve in advance.  After a long day in the desert heat, these pampering amenities will recharge your tired tourist feet. Behind the Aqaba Fort, on King Hussein Street.

For a close-up look at marine life, visit the Aqaba Aquarium. A massive 40-milliliter tank provides a simulation of the Gulf of Aqaba’s coral reef. South Beach Road

The Red Sea attracts scuba diving enthusiasts. Revered as one of the top diving destinations in the world, professional divers and those who wish to learn can dive through International Arab Divers Village or Red Sea Dive Center, both on South Beach Road. For around $50 curious sea goes can learn to dive and explore the immense coral reef community.

If you wish to stay above the water but still see what lives below, try an Aqaba Glass Boat, around $25 for a 30-minute tour and $150 for a 3-hour adventure. Boats hold 10 people, so get a group and hop aboard. Tours begin in front of Movenpick and Kempinski Hotels on Palm Beach.

In this area is also the massive Aqaba flagpole, one of the tallest standing flagpoles in the world, which is best appreciated close up. The Jordanian flag itself can be seen from Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Eating in Aqaba. Falafel and shwarma restaurants can be found in the center of the city and will feed you well on a backpacker’s budget. Plates start around $3 and are authentically satisfying. Restaurants in Aqaba are very welcoming to foreigners and servers will gladly offer meal suggestions.  Try Tikka Chicken, my local friend’s favorite restaurant, for a quick sit down eatery that provides decent sized portions of meat and rice. My favorite selection is yummy kebbe (Lebanese stuffed meatballs) and hummus. Al Nahda Street.

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