Home TravelType of tripCity trip Aqaba in South Jordan: a must-visit or not?

Aqaba in South Jordan: a must-visit or not?

by Elisa Flitter Fever
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Aqaba is a seaside city with about 150,000 inhabitants, located in the south of Jordan. The rest of the country (and abroad) comes here for sunbathing and tax-free shopping. Perhaps you are also ready for a few days of relaxing in the sun? After an impressive tour of Jordan, or at least a visit to the beautiful Petra, and/or the Wadi Rum desert for example. But is Aqaba really a must to visit? What is there to do in Aqaba? Read more about it in this article.

Traffic flows into the city in the evening
Traffic flows into the city at night

Red Sea

Aqaba is located on the Red Sea. This is Jordan’s only port city. From the harbor you can take a boat trip and go snorkeling, for example. Neighboring countries Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel can be seen from the water. The water is clear. From the glass bottom in the boat you can already see the black and white striped fish swimming. And who knows, you might even see King Abdullah of Jordan; he seems to be regularly spotted diving here.

Experienced snorkelers and divers in the group were a little disappointed. They had expected to see more beautiful underwater life. You can actually see some coral and fish from an average glass bottom boat, but if you are a bit more experienced, you probably want more. And of course you can see it all better in the water itself than from behind glass.

Snorkeling in the Red Sea at Aqaba
Snorkeling in the Red Sea at Aqaba

We went snorkeling from a glass bottom boat in the water of the Red Sea. Roughly half an hour by boat from the harbor you can see the necessary fish, especially small ones. If you are more experienced, I recommend going on a specialized dive tour. Then you can also see shipwrecks and the wreck of a sunken C-130 Hercules plane for example.

Or go sustainable and join a snorkeling tour where you help to clean up waste in the sea.

Tip: make sure to put waterproof sunscreen factor 50 on your back, shoulders, etc. before you go snorkeling. I had forgotten this and was badly burned as a result. So much so that when I returned I got a sun allergy rash. Not so handy for a vacation to Curaçao… Or wear a UV shirt.

Diving wrecks in the Red Sea
Diving wrecks in the Red Sea

Tanning on the beach

I always think it’s nice to spend a few days at the beach before or after an intensive tour. Jordanians usually do this on the busy city beach of Aqaba, Al-Ghandour Beach, but I personally wouldn’t recommend that. Unless you brought your burkini? As a non-Muslim foreigner, it is better to sunbathe and swim at a luxury hotel with a swimming pool or beach club. That’s a lot more relaxed, especially as a woman.

For the most comfortable experience, book a luxury resort right on the beach. Preferably one with a heated outdoor pool, because the sea water can sometimes be quite cold, depending of course on the time of year.

Berenice Beach Club sunset
Setting sun at beach club
Sunset from the pool
Sunset from the pool

Luxury beach hotels in Aqaba

Mövenpick Resort & Residences Aqaba (near the center) and Mövenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay Aqaba sometimes accept day guests for paid access to the pool/beach area. Ask for the day spa pass by phone or email. The one in Tala Bay is supposed to be the best. Unfortunately when we were in Aqaba, they were both fully booked and not accepting any day spa guests.

In terms of luxury hotels on the beach with swimming pool in Aqaba I also recommend:

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Aqaba is not located directly on the beach, but opposite the old town. Moreover, Hilton has a rooftop swimming pool and a nice bar. While enjoying a nice cocktail you can enjoy the sunset and nice live music. The table service is a bit slow. The food is fine (large portions).

Roof top bar restaurant Double Tree by Hilton Aqaba
Roof top bar restaurant Double Tree by Hilton Aqaba
View of the Red Sea from DoubleTree by Hilton Aqaba
View from DoubleTree by Hilton Aqaba

Beach clubs Aqaba

Do you have a smaller budget? Then book a cheaper hotel in the city and spend a day at a beach club. Aqaba has several beach clubs. Berenice Beach Club is one of the most well-known. You also have for instance:

  • B12 Beach Club at Ayla Oasis
  • South Beach
  • Saraya Aqaba Beach Club
  • Tala Bay Beach Club

For locations, see the map at the last part of this article.

Berenice Beach Club Aqaba

Berenice Beach Club is a 15-minute drive south of the center of Aqaba. A number of hotels in the center of Aqaba offer a combination ticket for entrance + transport. The shuttle goes a few times a day. Or take a taxi; that is admittedly more flexible, but a lot more expensive.

Suppose, for example, you are staying in the cheaper Al Raad Hotel in the heart of the city center. Then you can easily arrange a Berenice Beach Club entrance voucher for JOD 13 at the reception. This includes: shuttle bus ride there and back, entrance, a large towel and a JOD 3 voucher for the beach bar. Children up to 4 years free entrance.

The beach of Berenice Beach Club Aqaba
The beach of Berenice Beach Club

Please note: you are not allowed to bring outside food or drinks into the Berenice Beach Club. And that is really checked in the bags! At the beach bar you can pay with cash or a credit card. There are salads, cocktails, kebabs, burgers, chips, etc. for sale. The service is incredibly slow though, so keep that in mind. And don’t forget to use your voucher at checkout.

There are changing cubicles, toilets, three outdoor pools, a beach with sunbeds, an animation team, etc. The beach bar is at the largest bath, where nice music was played. In the morning the large bath is adult only, but when the early afternoon gets busier, there are no more checks and the rest is over. By the way, you also see a few women in burkini-like outfits here, but not many.

The transfer from Aqaba to Berenice is at 10am and 11am. And the transfer from Berenice back to Aqaba is at 6:30pm and 7:30pm. Get there on time, because otherwise most sunbeds are already taken. And make sure you are ready in time for the shuttle bus back, because full is full. Face mask is mandatory on the bus at the moment.

One of the three pools at Berenice Beach Club
One of the three pools at Berenice Beach Club

Old town Aqaba

When you cross the road at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Aqaba you enter the so-called old city of Aqaba. Don’t expect charming old alleys here, as in Jerusalem for example.

It’s just a wide, tarmac street with a string of shops, with a range like you would find on an average Middle Eastern bazaar. Shoes, clothing, care products, fruit and vegetables. I honestly disliked it. A few souvenir shops do sell nice stuff.

At Al-Baba Spices you can buy tasty local spices, such as sumac and za’atar. You can taste everything, nice fellow. At the butchers here, the cow’s head hangs outside to dry. Furthermore, the city is mainly dotted with (moderate) jewelry shops, ATMs, money exchange offices, mini markets, etc. Aqaba has no VAT. So you can shop tax-free here. Only a few people on the street wear a mask.

Al-Baba Spices in the Old City of Aqaba
Al-Baba Spices in the Old City of Aqaba

Islamitic Aqaba

There are two mosques in Jordan that you can visit as a tourist: the King Abdullah I Mosque in Amman and the Sharif Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba. Two of the most beautiful mosques in the country. As a woman you will receive appropriate clothing at the entrance. Bring your own headscarf if you have one. Take into account the prayer times; go before or after. Avoid Friday. Men and women come in separate areas.

Aqaba felt more conservative than the rest of Jordan I’ve been to. Local men and women often wear traditional Islamic clothing here. The women are often completely covered in black, including headscarves, face cloths for the mouth/nose, gloves, etc. Here in Aqaba you will be looked at when wearing (too) short pants or skirts. This is in contrast to tourist spots elsewhere in the country.

Sharif Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba
Sharif Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba

What clothes to wear in Jordan

Now I always adapt in terms of clothing when I am in an Islamic country. Dress up to the calf or ankles, shoulders covered, no cleavage, etc. I sew the side slits of the dresses. But not every tourist does that. You can get away with that in the touristy parts of Jordan, especially as a group. You can expect comments about that in Aqaba. Blonde women are also yelled at from touring cars in Aqaba. Nowhere else in Jordan have we had that.

During my Jordan trip I always had a headscarf or scarf ready. Unlike neighboring countries, I actually didn’t have to wear them anywhere. The capital Amman looks more modern than Aqaba, but an acquaintance of mine who lives in Amman said that this ‘modernity’ differs considerably per district. She was wearing long trousers and a neat cotton blouse that day, nothing daring or anything.

She said: “I wouldn’t be able to show up in certain areas of the city the way I dress now. It’s much more conservative there. My father raised us in a very modern way. He helped with the children and with the household. Friends looked up to that.” In Jordan, in many cases the parents still choose the partner for their child. Divorce is possible, but it is difficult and expensive.

Islamic man in blue dress Jordan
Man wearing a dress in the streets of Aqaba

Ayla

Prophet Muhammad founded the walled city of Ayla around 650 AD – at the place we now know as Aqaba. This was the first Muslim city outside the Arabian Peninsula. At the time a popular pit stop for pilgrims from Mecca, among others. This explains perhaps why Aqaba feels a bit more traditional than many other parts of the country.

After several Crusader attacks and earthquakes, Ayla was abandoned in 1116. The city disappeared under a thick layer of sand. Archaeologists began excavations in the mid-1980s. In mid-2017, archaeologists also started searching for remains in the Red Sea. In 2021 there is still little to see, so unfortunately I don’t have any fascinating pictures of it.

Fortress of Aqaba

There are not that many places of interest in Aqaba. If you really want to see something historical, you could take a green taxi to the Fort of Aqaba. This building is also referred to as Aqaba Castle. The fort dates back to the time of Mamluke Sultan Qanswah el-Ghawri (1501-1517 AD).

The Fort of Aqaba is open during the summer on Sunday to Thursday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and on Friday and Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm. In winter, the fortress closes its doors an hour earlier every day than in summer.

Tip: agree a clear price and time in advance with a taxi driver. Use Google Translate to avoid misunderstanding. Or let the reception of your accommodation arrange this for you.

Fortress of Aqaba Jordan entrance gate
Fortress of Aqaba (photo credits Michael Goodine)

Restaurant tip Aqaba

Suzana Restaurant on K. Hussein St in downtown Aqaba is one of the best restaurants we ate at during 12 days in Jordan. Delicious fatuous salad, humus, mixed grill, grilled fish, etc. There was so much good food left, that I took a ‘doggy bag’ back to the hotel.

Saint George wine from Jordan is also served here. Friendly staff, great setting with water flow and reasonably priced. Definitely visit if you are in Aqaba! Suzana Restaurant has a second branch near Aqaba, in Tala Bay.

The weather in Aqaba

Aqaba has a desert climate with warm winters and dry, hot summers. January is the coldest month with an average daytime temperature of around 20°C. July is traditionally the hottest month in Aqaba. Then the mercury often rises to a temperature of around or even above 40°C.

In September it was warm and sunny during the day. So much so that you’re glad you have air conditioning in your hotel room. And feel like a refreshing dip. A hotel with a pool and/or on the beach would be nice. The sea water was not warm but doable.

Is Aqaba a must see?

No, in my opinion Aqaba is not a must see. I expected more from the old town for example. And the fact that you have to go to a beach club to lie on the beach is not really ideal. Moreover, you can taste a more conservative atmosphere here. To which you can adapt by dressing more conservative for instance.

However, Aqaba can form a nice start, welcome change during or end of round trip through Jordan. Aqaba has enough to offer for a few days, if you don’t expect too much. When you combine Jordan and Israel, you can also choose Eilat instead of Aqaba.

Cow's head hangs outside a butcher in Aqaba
Cow’s head hangs outside a butcher in Aqaba

Red Sea vs. Dead Sea

Sunbathing at the Dead Sea can also be relaxed, but the seawater there is not suitable as regular bathing water. Therefore you should book a hotel with a pool, such as Crowne Plaza Jordan Dead Sea Resort & Spa.

The Dead Sea and Red Sea at Aqaba offer a different type of beach experience. Aqaba offers a more complete cultural experience that includes the city; at the Dead Sea it’s pure resorts. The Dead Sea is better facilitated on the Jordanian side than on the Israeli side. More on that in a future article.

Crowne Plaza Jordan Dead Sea Resort & Spa
Crowne Plaza Jordan Dead Sea Resort & Spa

Transportation in Jordan

Public transport in Jordan has been disrupted by COVID-19. After all, only a fraction of the number of visitors will come than before the Corona crisis. Buses to places like Petra go a few times a day at most, if you’re lucky. The most obvious ways to get around Jordan now are: group tour, day tour or rent a car.

Aqaba has red city sightseeing buses. The bus station for this is near DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Aqaba (walk towards the sea).

Aqaba and the capital Amman are quite busy and road signs are sometimes missing. But for those who dare, it is best to drive through Jordan with a rental car. Stay vigilant and wear a seat belt. We saw several accidents along the way. With Sunny Cars you can rent a car from the international airport of Amman or Aqaba and you are well insured.

A black SUV at K. Hussain St.
A black SUV drives on K. Hussain St.

Personally, when it concerns renting a car, I would recommend Sunny Cars, an all-inclusive, worry free rental concept with affordable, fair prices, great service and no unpleasant surprises upon pick up or drop off. I am a big fan and use them all the time! In most countries the 2nd driver, free cancellation up to 4 hours in advance and all-risk insurance are standard included. Ideal, I use them all the time!

Distances to Aqaba

  • Eilat (Israël) – Aqaba 17 km (10.5 mi) 24 min*
  • Amman city centre – Aqaba 335 km (208 mi) 4 hours 15 min
  • Wadi Rum – Aqaba 50 km (31 mi) 1 hour
  • Petra – Aqaba 140 km (87 km) 2 hours

Border crossing and visa

Please note: the border crossing between Aqaba and Eilat has been closed a number of times in the past 1.5 years due to Corona measures. Check the latest status before traveling towards Wadi Araba Border Crossing Station, or the Arava Border Crossing Station on the Israeli side. This border crossing is also known as the Yitzhak Rabin Terminal / Wadi Araba Crossing.

Check in time whether you need to arrange a visa in advance or not, to be able to cross the border between Eilat and Aqaba (and possibly go back). This is no longer possible by default for everyone since 2016. The border crossing may also be closed on certain holidays. Further north, there are two more border crossings between Jordan and Israel: the King Hussein Bridge (Allenby) and the Jordan River Sheikh Hussein Crossing.

Aqaba Airport

The nearest airports to Aqaba are (including estimated travel time by car):

  • Aqaba King Hussein International Airport (AQJ)
  • Eilat Airport (ETH) in Israël 16 km (10 mi) 23 min
  • Ramon Airport (ETM) in Israël 29 km (18 mi) 30 min
  • Ovda Airport (VDA) in Israël 75 km (47 mi) 65 min
  • Amman Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) 300 km (186 mi) 3.5h

Tip: prebook a transfer from Aqaba Airport to your accommodation in Aqaba, Tala Bay or another location in Jordan.

Military propaganda above the road in Aqaba
Military propaganda above the road in Aqaba
Eilat in Israel seen from the Red Sea
Eilat in Israel seen from the Red Sea

Group trip Jordan

Some people have a certain image of group travel. Believe me, I had that too. But I’ve come a long way from that in recent years. Group travel is actually quite nice. A group trip to Jordan is very well possible and recommended from my side. As a woman you can travel alone in Jordan, but I personally find it more pleasant and enjoyable with a group.

Some group tours combine Jordan and Israel in one trip. Bethlehem and Jerusalem for instance are really recommended to visit.

Day trips from Aqaba

Do you find traveling around very tiring, or have you booked a sun holiday package holiday to Aqaba? Or does a group tour seem a bit too much for you, but would it seem fun or interesting on certain days to go with a group/guide? Then you could use Aqaba as a base to explore southern Jordan through day trips such as:

Transport to and from your accommodation in Aqaba is arranged with such a day trip. Moreover, the local guide can tell a lot of interesting things along the way. Assume that the guide speaks (to some level) English.

Map Aqaba

This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.

Have you ever been to Aqaba? If so, what do you think? Or are you planning a trip to Jordan? I’ve dreamed of touring Jordan for over 10 years and I’m glad I could finally do it this year. I hope you found this article helpful. Let us know, ask your question or share your additional tips or experience by commenting at the bottom of this article.

In this Middle East Memories series:

Al Raad Hotel, a good budget accommodation in Aqaba
Al Raad Hotel, a good budget accommodation in Aqaba
Turtle seen here in Aqaba only on the wall
Turtle seen here in Aqaba only on the wall

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Last Updated on 08/21/2022 by Elisa Flitter Fever

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