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Aqaba - Where the Red Sea meets the desert - Jordan

Aqaba - Where the Red Sea meets the desert - Jordan

  • At sunset, Aqaba comes alive with the scent of spices and the inviting hum of the night market. Visitors are drawn here by the clear waters of the Red Sea and the proximity to world-class attractions such as Petra and Wadi Rum.
The man-made sandy beach at the Hyatt Regency in Aqaba

The visit to Aqaba was made during a press trip together with Jordan Tourism Board and Royal Jordanian Airlines, but all thoughts and opinions are, as usual, my own.

As the sun sets over the arid landscape, the port city of Aqaba comes to life. The blinds are pulled away, doors are opened wide and the evening market welcomes its visitors with open arms. Scents of fruit, spices, roasted nuts, perfume and coffee meet us among the vendors. It is Ramadan and families gather at night to eat shwarma, buy sweets or have a cup of tea with friends.

Seller of bedding and towels at a market
The market in Aqaba sells a lot of snacks, for example roasted broad beans

The market in Aqaba is well known throughout Jordan. People come here to shop in alleys where time has stopped somewhere between all the fabric bales and gold chains. A big contrast to the luxurious international hotels that we tourists encounter on Aqaba's perfect white beaches. But Aqaba is not a created tourist resort, but a proud Arab and historical city that has existed for thousands of years. This is a fascinating mix of culture, history and beach.

Aqaba (or Akaba) is Jordan's only coastal city and thus also a very important port city. Here at Aqabaviken in the Red Sea, Asia and Africa meet and the borders with Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia are only a few kilometers away. In the background of the city rise the red mountains of Wadi Rum and the sea sparkles so turquoise that it almost blinds me.

The harbor area by the tourist hotels
Jordanian side dishes on beautiful blue and white plates on a table

Most tourists come to Aqaba during the winter months, when the temperature is around 25 degrees during daytime. The weather is then perfect both for relaxing in the sun and for excursions to Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. However, the public beach is almost empty on this day in March, except for a couple walking and a few children playing with a ball on the shore. Maybe the Jordanians, like me, think it's too cold in the sea when it's only just over 20 degrees?

Clear and turquoise water under a boat in Aqaba

Aqaba's historical heritage can be seen especially clearly during a visit to the ruins of Aqaba's fortress. Over the centuries this has been an important defensive outpost for the city and the history stretches back to the 16th century and the important trade route to Mecca and Medina. This was an important junction during the Arab Revolt of 1917, where several of the rooms in the fortress were turned into military barracks.

The large Jordanian flag in Aqaba

Just below the fort, a giant flag flies on the world's sixth highest flagpole. The flag is so big that it can be seen from all neighboring countries and feels like it is waving in slow motion in the wind. At first glance, it might look like the Jordanian flag, but it's not. A white star is missing. This is the flag of the Arab Revolt, which is raised every day to commemorate the Battle of Aqaba which took place here in 1917.

I let the morning slowly wake up outside my hotel room window before the afternoon snorkeling trip. The Hyatt Regency is located just west of the city center, a stone's throw from the Israeli border. The five-star hotels are lined up here, and both shopping and restaurants are of international class. I'm actually getting some Dubai vibes, although it's much calmer and less organized here.

The Hyatt Regency with its pools at sunrise
The man-made sandy beach at the Hyatt Regency in Aqaba

The white sand beach by the hotel is not completely natural, but there are plenty of free sunbeds and umbrellas and I get a bottle of water and a towel from the lifeguard. It is incredibly quiet. No running. No screaming. No trash. It's just me and my book in a reasonably warm morning sun.

Down by the dock, the snorkel boat is waiting to take us to some of the country's best snorkel spots. Jordan's coastal strip towards the border with Saudi Arabia is only 2,5 miles long, but the sea is very calm and clear with visibility up to 30 meters. Here there are both natural and unnatural reefs - such as the airplane that was placed on the seabed specifically for diving.

Snorkeling boat awaits tourists in Aqaba

It is relatively cool in both the sea and the air, and I would have needed a dry suit to be able to lie still and snorkel at the surface without shaking my teeth. During the summer months, the water temperature can reach 30 degrees, but then the air is all the hotter. You simply have to weigh the possibility of sightseeing in pleasant temperatures during the winter months, against warm sea bathing and heat during the summer.

The charcoal grill on board the boat is smoking from the juicy chicken skewers being prepared for today's lunch. Even though there will be no snorkeling for me today, I am undoubtedly having a great time here under the sun canopy. Surrounded by the turquoise sea, historic winds and lots of good food. Simply a good summation of a nice stay in Aqaba.

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Snorkeling in the Red Sea
Snorkeling equipment on a boat

How do I get to Aqaba?

Aqaba is located on the shores of the Red Sea in southern Jordan. There are currently no direct flights to Aqaba from Sweden, but you can fly from Amman to Aqaba with Royal Jordanian in under an hour.

15 years ago, Aqaba existed as a charter destination for us Swedes and the destination attracted beachside hotels and proximity to some of the world's most famous historical sights. Since then, both the hotels and the destination have developed and the direct flight from Arlanda to Amman makes it relatively easy to get here.

I lived at Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla, a five-star hotel with quiet surroundings, a nice beach, really good restaurants and well-maintained pools. Highly recommended!

Do you want to read more from Jordan? Check out my Jordan page!

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Building with palm in Aqaba
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Read comments (2)
    • I felt that it was 30-50% cheaper than in Sweden, at least in comparison to what I would have had to pay at home in Stockholm. According to Forex, the price level in Jordan is 52 (to compare with Sweden which is 100), but there is a big difference in the prices of food inside the international hotels vs. in a restaurant in town. Compared to Dubai, it is definitely cheaper - both hotels and food!

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