Step off the well-worn path between the Wadi-Araba border and Petra to discover a generally overlooked oasis that will make you fall in love, not only with the destination, but also the journey. Welcome to Aqaba, a city steeped in rich history that dates back to pre-biblical times, when it was known as Ayla. Ruled by the Romans, Mamluks, and Ottomans, Aqaba was an important trading port in the region. Our Aqaba city guide will help you discover all this resort town has to offer.
In 1917, the infamous Battle of Aqaba catapulted Lawrence of Arabia into immortal fame when he and the attacking forces of the Arab Revolt emerged victorious over the Ottoman defenders. Close your eyes. 15-30 minutes northeast lie the borders of Israel and Egypt. Less than 40 minutes south, Saudi Arabia. It’s no wonder why Aqaba played such a vital role in the trade route that ran along the King’s Highway, which you will no doubt follow on your way to Petra. But as you move along with bubbling anticipation to take in one of the great wonders of the world, don’t miss out on the chance to explore this coastal gem of the desert.
How To Visit Aqaba
Situated 15 minutes from the Wadi-Araba border with Israel, and 20 minutes from the Aqaba International Airport, Aqaba’s town center naturally becomes a rest stop for Petra-bound travelers. Take a taxi or public bus from the border or airport, or join a tour to Petra from Eilat that offers enough time in Aqaba to soak up the experience.
A leisurely walk from Aqaba’s bustling waterfront, the city’s old town offers a taste of days long passed. The heart of the city is the souk, a captivating market filled with hand-crafted keepsakes you can peruse as the scents of cardamom and jasmine waft in the balmy air. When you finish shopping, wander over to the 14th-century remains of the Mamluk fort, and lose all sense of time at the Aqaba Archeological Museum.
Souk By The Sea
Jordan’s only seaport celebrates its history each Friday with Souk By The Sea, which features over 50 local artisans, live music, and traditional delicacies. From October through May, this weekly market invites you to experience the vibrant culture and support local artisans while finding treasured pieces to carry home along with your memories.
Aqaba’s position in the region makes it a vital stop for migratory birds as well as traders. It’s location at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa mean that migrating birds from all three continents can be seen together in one location. The Jordanian Society for Sustainable Development (JSSD) established protected areas in Aqaba, including a visitor’s center for The Aqaba Bird Observatory, which is responsible for the monitoring and protection of migratory birds as they travel between Europe and North Africa. The observatory welcomes visitors to walk along trails that lead to optimal bird-watching spots, and to visit an educational garden that includes plants native to the region and essential to the habitat. Its close location to the deserts of Wadi Rum, where you can do a jeep safari tour, can show you a different side of this ethereal lunar landscape and the wildlife that calls it home.
The Red Sea is home to some of the most spectacular aquatic wildlife in the world. For this reason, Aqaba attracts divers to it’s crystal waters filled with corals, fishes of all colors, dolphins, turtles, and even the gentle Whale Shark. Tourism is an important part of the local economy, and the protection of Red Sea marine life is of paramount importance. That’s why great efforts are made to ensure their protection from the impact of tourism. Derelict ships and military vehicles have been strategically sunk to create artificial reefs, which provide permanent homes for corals to flourish and entrancing diving experiences for those keen to explore the underwater world. Learn more about the steps that are being taken to protect marine life in Aqaba by visiting The Aqaba Marine Science Station, and get inspired by the future of ecotourism.
As a port city, it’s no surprise that Aqaba prides itself in having some of the freshest and most delectable seafood available. But its cuisine offers options for all types of taste buds. Vegans and vegetarians will delight in local favorites like hummus, falafel, and a seemingly endless variety of fresh salads. Meat enthusiasts will find temptation in Aqaba, where the sizzling scents of kebab act like a siren’s call, inviting you to sit down and stay awhile. Regardless of your culinary preferences, don’t forget to sample the local coffee. The perfect combination of strong and sweet, it embodies the hospitality of the region.
No Aqaba city guide would be complete without mentioning one of the city’s most prominent features – its resorts. When in Aqaba, we have one word of advice regarding accommodation: UPGRADE. In every journey, there is a time to experience the local lifestyle and a time to treat yourself. After all, you’re on vacation! Aqaba is the perfect place in your journey to upgrade accommodation for two reasons. First, it’s likely an intermediary spot on your journey, so you’re definitely tired and still have a ways to go. How does a fluffy white robe sound? We thought so. Second, Aqaba boasts a resort town, yet the luxe accommodations are still affordable, and there are a few great spas we mention in our Wellness Guide to explore. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bask in Jordanian luxury with an impressive value for your money. Standard accommodation options are available in the town center, but with a variety of resort-side aqua sports to choose from, including diving, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, and jet skiing, cut out the commute and indulge in everything the desert oasis has to offer.
This Aqaba city guide is just an introduction, be sure to spend some time there for yourself to truly experience the unique atmosphere. And once you’re refreshed and filled with hummus and memories, yalla Petra! We’ve got a list of where to stay there to ease your stress even more.