This is the fifth in a 6 part series of posts – Jordan Adventures Part 5 – Aqaba and the Red Sea.
Living in the Middle East, we took it for granted that we would visit Jordan while we were here. Even before we arrived I knew it was somewhere we should go. After 2.5 years here and hearing such inspiring stories from our friends it became a must-do destination.
There are 4 other posts on each of the places that we visited in Jordan. There is also a post on the itinerary we took (and would recommend) which you can read as more of a quick read. If you don’t have time to read all 5 posts, watch out for it as it will include details on different length itineraries, when to go and what to take. It will come at the end of this series.
Other posts in this series include:
- The Dead Sea
- Wadi Rum
When you think about Jordan you probably immediately think about Petra. You might even think about floating in the Dead Sea. There is SO much more to Jordan than I ever realised until we started planning this trip.
Officially known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, this little country of just 6.5 million people and occupying an area of a little under 90,000 sq km is unique in so many ways. Just starting with its history – it has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. It has seen the highs and lows of a number of empires including the Nabateans, the Romans and the Ottomans and was once a British Protectorate. A number of serious earthquakes in the region over the years have had the effect of changing the various fortunes of its cities and regions.
Now in modern times, Jordan often finds itself in the middle of a number of conflicts going on around it -both in neighbouring countries and across the region. It has striven to maintain neutrality in ever increasingly tense situations, has succeeded in maintaining a generally peaceful and safe territory, and is now home to millions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees.
One of the first questions people asked us when they heard we were going to Jordan was if it was safe enough. Despite facing increased instability since the Arab Spring in 2011, security has been pretty tight since some high profile attacks in 2005. I know there were some attacks again in late 2016 but, to be honest, I think you could just as easily be caught up in attacks in London or Paris as in Jordan. We were relieved that we felt very safe during the time that we spent there.
Jordan is a major tourist destination in the Middle East and, indeed, the world. Iconic photos of the Treasury and Monastry at Petra and of people floating in the Dead Sea are what attract tourists here. But ancient ruins, desert landscapes and the beautiful Red Sea are all additional delights that made us keep extending our itinerary as we planned it.
The city of Aqaba is on the tiny part of Jordan’s coastline on the Red Sea. Amazingly, not far down the road is the border with Saudi Arabia. From the beach you can see Eilat in Israel and Taba in Egypt. That’s 4 countries all joining in one place!
Aqaba boasts as much history as the rest of Jordan but with less documented historical sources. Like the rest of Jordan, Aqaba has seen influences from the Ancient Greeks, the Nabateans, the Romans, the Ottomans, the Byzantines, the Islamic conquests and the Crusaders. It has grown in importance in recent years from both trade and tourism perspectives. On the tourism side it is the third point of the “golden triangle” which includes Petra and Wadi Rum.
What to do
It was a nice relief to arrive to a more comfortable climate after the relative cold of Petra and Wadi Rum.
It wasn’t THAT warm though and hanging out on the beach and in the pool weren’t massively appealing (although we did swim on both days we were there).
Activities in the area
If you’re wanting to get out and about, there are a few things to do in and around Aqaba including:
- Aqaba Archaeological Museum
- Ayla – medieval ruins of a medieval Islamic city and port
- Aqaba Fortress
- Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque
- Aqaba Marine Park
- Aqaba Flagpole
Depending on what else you have done in Jordan and/or if you have already travelled within the Middle East, these may or may not be of interest to you.
After driving after a pretty intense 7 days, we were mostly after some relaxation!
Had we been there an extra night I think Mr Wanderlust would have tried out hands at some water sports including scuba diving.
We did go on a 1.5-hour submarine trip through a company called Neptune which was the next best thing to diving or snorkelling for Mr Wanderlust and me.
It’s not ACTUALLY a submarine, rather a new level of glass-bottomed boat. The boat has a glass hull which is completely submerged so you really feel like you are underwater.
It was an excellent trip and very well organised. It was just a little bit on the long side for the Things who by the end had decided that they just wanted to climb up and down the steps into the hull. I was quite relieved to get them back on dry land and have a run around!
Where to stay
To finish off our Movenpick trifecta we stayed at our new favourite chain, I found the rooms nice and spacious which was great. They had balconies and we were pleased to be offered adjoining rooms. The report is beautifully laid out and even some renovation work carried out on one of the pools while we were there didn’t detract massively from the overall feel of the place.
Where to eat
On arrival at the Movenpick, I was disappointed that our eating plans and the availability of restaurants were not discussed with us. We planned to head to one of their restaurants at dinner time only to find it was closed for renovations. The only other place open at a decent hour was the main restaurant. It offered a buffet dinner which we don’t really like at the best of times but we went with it. We were pretty disappointed by the food – choice, quality, and presentation were all pretty average. I fed this back to the Movenpick and they did contact me to discuss it in more detail.
Happily, as we had wandered round to the marina area during the day, we knew that there were restaurants around there too. We had lunch at a decent enough sports bar around there but the absolute FIND of the holiday was a restaurant called Suzana. The food was delicious (grilled fish and vegetables for the adults, pizza for the Things). The service was lovely and we generally had an all-round great feel about the place.
Flights arrive daily into the very civilised King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba. Royal Jordanian Airways is the local carrier. It is possible that you may find a direct flight here especially if you are on s charted package. More likely, however, is that you will fly to Amman and then connect to your final destination from there. We ended up doing this as the timing of our flight home would have meant a very early start and a 5-hour drive. By flying we got more sleep and avoided the car journey.
Other arrivals come from neighbouring countries of course. Beware of some taxi scams which have been reported. Most family bloggers that I used for research for this trip used tour companies based in the country they were coming from to arrange transport and visas on their behalf.
From the airport
We used the hotel shuttle to get us to the airport. Aqaba Airport is pretty quiet but taxis are usually in operation in the area.
As with most other places in Jordan, you will most likely find yourself driving around or with a driver. That being said, there are shuttle busses from the Tala Bay resorts to and from Aqaba. Taxis are also available.