12 places to see in Aqaba
This is Jordan’s only coastal city, which is located on the Gulf of Aqaba and is home to the country’s only seaport. Aqaba, as the gateway city to the famous desert landscape of Wadi Rum, is a busy tourist destination, displaying a rich marine life that thrives in the warm waters of the Red Sea.
If you are going to visit this wonderful city and don’t know what to see in Aqaba, then here is a list of unique sights that are definitely worth your attention.
The Old City of Aqaba
Sometimes the best things in life come for free! A walk through Aqaba’s Old City is a lot of fun and excitement, and it doesn’t cost you a penny! Not a dinar in fact! You can wander the streets in the center of Aqaba, look in the shop windows and say a few words to the locals (“Welcome! Where are you from?”). You can also visit the market square and small stores in the old town!
There are many, and it would be a sin to leave Jordan or any other Middle Eastern country without visiting the traditional “bazaar. There you will have a wide variety of products ranging from spices and herbs to local souvenirs, clothing, and incense. Since Aqaba is part of a special economic zone, prices here are more competitive. However, you should still try bargaining – it’s a must for any shopping trip to Aqaba.
Just a few blocks from Cornish on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba is Mameluk Castle, which is the site of one of the most famous battles of World War I. That battle, which was part of the Arab revolt that engulfed the city in 1916, is immortalized in one of the memorable scenes in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, a film made in 1962.
Before its conquest by the Ottomans, this 16th-century castle, built by the Mamluk Sultanate, had been used for centuries as a “khan,” or inn for travelers, which hosted pilgrims on their southern route to Mecca for the annual hajj.
Mameluk fort.| Photo: Antonio Campoy / Flickr.
Address: Aqaba Castle, Aqaba, Jordan.
Al Ghandour Beach.
The free public beach Al Hafayer, also known as “Palm Beach”, is located on the south coast, about 10 minutes from the city center. Because of the local mores, foreign women are unlikely to want to go down and swim. So if you don’t intend to swim, you may come here to enjoy a beautiful sunset with a cup of tea and get a taste of Aqaba life among the friendly locals.
Al Gandour Beach | Photo: xiquinhosilva / Flickr.
Address: Al Ghandour Beach, Aqaba, Jordan.
Wadi Rum Desert
Although the tourist center of Wadi Rum is located on the highway about 60 kilometers east of the city, Aqaba is the main “entrance” to this desert. Also known as the Valley of the Moon, this unspoiled natural wonder traces changes in weather patterns and erosion over millions of years.
Sunsets are particularly colorful and best enjoyed after a drive through the heart of the desert, and the nights are brilliant with clear starry skies. Wadi Rum can be reached by JETT and Trust Company buses that leave from their stations in the city and by minibus from Aqaba’s main station.
Wadi Rum Desert | Photo: -JvL- / Flickr.
! Address: Wadi Rum Protected Area, Wadi Rum Village, 77110, Jordan.
Aqaba Archaeological Museum.
Next to the fort, near the famous flagpole of Aqaba, which is 130 meters high, is the Archaeological Museum, which allows you to explore the centuries-old history of the city. Originally built as a palace for the founder of the Hashemite dynasty, Hussein bin Ali, it contains a collection of Bronze Age artifacts dating back to around 4000 BC.
Other famous exhibits at the museum include a collection of medieval artifacts from the 7th to early 12th century, including Fatmid coins and a large fragment of a Qur’anic verse that once hung over the eastern gate of Aqaba.
Aqaba Archaeological Museum.
Address: Aqaba Museum, Aqaba, Jordan.
Al Hussein bin Ali Central Mosque
Named after the leader of the 1916 Arab Revolt and great grandfather of the current king, the Great Mosque of Sherif al-Hussein bin Ali is a place to worship God and one of the most striking architectural monuments in the city. The mosque was built in 1975 and was renovated and enlarged in 2011. It stands out for its whitewashed stone, the complexity of the towers and the graceful lines of the arches.
Al-Hussein bin Ali Central Mosque.
Address: Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque, Aqaba, Jordan.
Berenice Beach Club
Berenice Beach Club is probably the best place to relax on the beach. It is a private complex just a few minutes by bus from the city center and 500 meters from the Red Sea coast.
Berenice Beach Club boasts the clearest waters in Aqaba Marine Park. It offers all kinds of amenities a tourist could need, including three pools, a café and of course showers and sun loungers. Guests can dive and snorkel in the complex’s diving center, as well as go on yacht cruises, water-skiing, and other water sports.
Berenice Beach Club beach complex.
Address: Berenice Beach Resort, Jordan.
The Ancient Islamic City of Ayla
The ruins of Ayla are located to the northwest of the modern city center. As such there are very few ruins, especially compared to other sites within Jordan, but they occupy a special place in the history of the Islamic world as one of its earliest cities – it was the first city founded in the 7th century outside the Arabian Peninsula.
Within walking distance are the ruins of an ancient church, perhaps the oldest in the world, as well as fragments of the old city wall. This archaeological site is located right across from the Mövenpick and Aqaba Gulf hotels, a short walk from the waterfall. Admission to the site is free.
The ancient Islamic city of Ayla.| Photo: wikimedia.
Address: Old Aylamik Ayla, King Hussein Street, Aqaba, Jordan.
Aqaba Bird Observatory
Aqaba Bird Observatory is a birdwatching paradise. Located at the northern end of the coast near the Red Sea, near the border with Eilat, it hosts flocks of birds from Europe, Asia and Africa during the migration season.
The forest and wetlands created here for the birds contrast sharply with the surrounding desert. Each new season, more than 70 different species of birds come here, crossing this place during their migrations. Although the observatory is open year-round, it is best visited in the spring and fall.
Aqaba Bird Observatory.
Address: Aqaba Bird Observatory, Aqaba, Jordan.
Glass Bottom Boat Trips
If you are not a fan of snorkeling or diving and this prevents you from admiring the coral reefs for which the Red Sea is famous, then there is a solution for you – glass bottom boats. The boats stop at the beach next to the Movenpick hotel or at the pier in front of the fort.
The prices for these tours usually reflect the demand, and the cabbies don’t mind haggling. The tours last from 30 minutes to an hour, the longer ones circle most of the harbor, and their route is near the Israeli border and the city of Eilat.
Glass-bottomed boat tours.
Address: Movenpick Beach, Aqaba, Jordan.
Oasis of Ayla.
Oasis Ayla is one of Aqaba’s biggest projects and it is the one that has made Aqaba one of the top tourist destinations in the Middle East. This project is located on the border with Israel and aims to add 17 kilometers of beach.
The island of Ayla is also home to the prestigious Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort, which is one of the best places to stay in Aqaba. This picturesque hotel is nestled among mountains and turquoise lagoons, and offers tourists a spa, a pool with gorgeous scenery, a beach club, and more. They even offer yoga classes overlooking the sunset, and it’s completely free!
Address: Ayla أيلة ,Aqaba, Jordan.
The Ancient City of Petra
The ancient city of Petra is one of the highlights of Aqaba. It is a must-visit site for any tourist traveling in Jordan. Petra is easily accessible from Aqaba by signing up for an organized day tour.
Some operators even offer combined day tours from Aqaba to Wadi Rum and Petra. Nevertheless, it is best to visit these two sites separately. Petra and Wadi Rum are very different, and they are just huge areas! You can easily spend up to 2 days touring Petra and 2-3 days visiting Wadi Rum.
The ancient city of Petra | Photo: Aleteia Image Department / Flickr.
Jordan is a country with a relatively small area and a fairly hot climate. Most of its territory is desert plains. There are few large metropolitan areas, but the Red Sea coast takes an unexpected turn. Here stretches a ring of mountains and hills, protecting it from the scorching heat of the desert, and the sea breeze brings a welcome coolness and freshness. This is the location of one of the largest cities in Jordan, Aqaba.
On a map of Jordan, Aqaba is located on the northern part of the Gulf of Aqaba, a part of the Red Sea, close to the border with Israel and Egypt. The city is known for being the only seaport in the country. It specializes in transporting Iraqi oil and phosphates. Despite such scary words, Aqaba is a city in Jordan with good ecology and clean air, although no description or photo can fully convey its beauty.
The economy of this locality is based not only on the port, but also on tourism. Aqaba has recently begun to rapidly develop as a young seaside resort in Jordan. It is not surprising, because thanks to the special climatic conditions the water temperature here does not drop below +22 ° C throughout the year. The heat and sweltering heat come to the city in the afternoons and only in the summer, when the thermometer ranges around +32 °C. The average temperature during the winter is +24 °C, which makes it ideal for those who can’t stand the heat.
The population of Aqaba is 140 thousand people. The city has a network of public transportation, but its work is not characterized by comfort and timeliness. The best way to get around Aqaba for tourists is to resort to renting a car or take a cab.
Aqaba is quite an ancient city in Jordan, so there is a lot to see among the local attractions. Among them:
- Aqaba Castle, aka Fort of the Mamelukes . It was built during the heyday of the Roman Empire, and served as protection for the port from the raids of nomads. In the middle of the 16th century, it was rebuilt several times by the last Mameluk Sultan, Kansur al-Guri. The building is shaped like a square with round towers in the corners and its walls are decorated with writings from medieval Islamic culture.
- Archaeological Museum . It is near Aqaba Castle, in a building that was once the residence of the famous Jordanian politician Sharif Hussain bin Ali. Here tourists have the opportunity to explore a mass of Bronze Age artifacts and exhibits discovered during excavations near the city limits of Aqaba.
- Flagpole of Aqaba . One of the city’s famous landmarks is the giant flag of the Arab Revolution on one of the beaches. Its flagpole reaches 135 meters in height and ranks fifth in the world ranking.
- Wadi Rum Desert . Its high altitude desert is located just 60 km from Aqaba. Here you can see the rock peaks and deep canyons smoothly passing into plains with low trees and bushes.
- Petra . This is an ancient city which is located 2 hours away. Excursions from Aqaba to Petra are regular and take about 8 hours. There is something to interest tourists: the mystical beauty has made this place not only a UNESCO world heritage site, but also attracted the attention of Hollywood directors as an excellent set for the movies. Pictures such as “Indiana Jones”, “Sinbad the Sailor”, “Transformers”, etc. were filmed here.
The main mass of tourist leisure here is inextricably linked with the sea. The waters of the Red Sea are clean, as evidenced by the presence of coral colonies. Around the reefs there is always a considerable number of underwater inhabitants, among which are endemics. Such a variety of marine life led to one of the most popular entertainment in Aqaba is diving. Both experienced divers and those who are just trying their hand at scuba diving come here. There are diving lessons for beginners. The result of such lessons will be a certificate of international standard.
Holidays in Aqaba are one of the best in Jordan thanks to the many beaches, which stretch for 27 kilometers along the Red Sea coast. Most of them are paid and fully equipped for the needs of vacationers. But there are some where there is no entrance fee, but then you need to be prepared for a minimum of facilities and a large crowd of vacationers.
Aqaba is called the “economic lungs of Jordan” because it is a free economic zone. The duty-free trade has resulted in many varieties of goods being available here at a much lower price. Stores in Aqaba offer a variety of designer items and cosmetics, and the markets offer a great keepsake. Most tourists buy ceramic products, tapestries, various ornaments, oriental spices and sweets.
In Aqaba, quite a few hotels are all inclusive, which is quite common in Jordan. Most are located along the Gulf Coast. They offer high quality service, swimming pools and gyms, various spas and private beaches. Characteristically, the prices for rooms directly depend on the side they are located – the rooms where there is more sunlight, are cheaper because they warm up faster. If we talk about specific locations, it is worth noting such hotels as:
- InterContinental Aqaba;
- Kempinski Hotel Aqaba Red Sea;
- Mövenpick Resort & Residences Aqaba.
If your budget doesn’t allow for expensive apartments, you can stay in hostels in Bedouin style, such as Bedouin Moon Village – Aqaba or Aqaba Adventure Divers Village, which are far from the center.
Restaurants and Cafes
Almost every expensive hotel in Aqaba can boast a restaurant, and sometimes more than one. If hunger strikes you while walking around the city, it does not matter, there are many places where you can eat a delicious meal. Among them are Red Sea Grill, Burj Al Hamam and Casalingo. Some of the less expensive places worth mentioning are Buffalo Wings & Rings, Your Home, Diwan The View Rooftop Lounge.
How to get to Aqaba?
There is an international airport in the vicinity of the city, from where buses to Aqaba run regularly, and most hotels offer a free shuttle service. There is no direct flight from Moscow, but you can make a connection in Amman and take Jordanian Airlines. Visa to Aqaba is issued automatically upon arrival and free of charge by the free economic zone, provided that entry is not more than 30 days. However, you must leave the country through one of the checkpoints of the same zone.