Greatly prized as Jordan's window to the sea, Aqaba brings a refreshing release from the rose-coloured desert to the north. Its sandy beaches and coral reefs are the most pristine on the Red
Sea, and Jordanians hope to preserve them through careful planning. With several first-rate hotels, restaurants and shops, Aqaba caters to a tourist crowd that is tranquil and relaxed, seeking its pleasures more by day than by night.
Indigo-coloured deep water lies just off shore in Aqaba, bringing kaleidoscopic marine life within easy reach. Exploring means a leisurely drive to a private spot and a short swim out to the reef. Unusual vertical currents and sea breezes make diving cool and pleasant, even in the heat of the summer.
Aqaba's reef is healthy and thriving, adorned with untold variety in its coral and fish. Common species are branch coral, fungia and montipora, and the rare archelia, a black, tree-like specimen found at great depths and first discovered by King Hussein himself. Darting through the reef are clownfish, Picasso triggerfish, goby, sea anemone, parrotfish, pipefish and countless others. Two of the most intriguing are the harmless, plankton-eating whale shark, the largest fish in the world, and the willowy garden eel, almost invisible in the sea grass.
Aqaba boasts some of the world's best scuba diving by day or night, and a Royal Diving Club. Many other places will organise water sports for you. There is snorkelling, fishing and sailing to pass the time, or glass-bottomed boats for those who prefer their marine life at arm's length.
There is a Mamluk Fort at the end of the corniche and, on an island in the middle of the Gulf, the castle of Saladin, foe of Richard the Lion Heart and Reynald de Chatillon. In this century, Arab forces with T. E. Lawrence wrested the port from the Ottomans in one of the most dramatic victories of the Arab Revolt.
Aqaba basks in balmy weather nine months of the year, in winter, spring and fall. Summer is hot, but you can pace your activities and adapt to the climate, slowing down in midday, and reviving in the cool of the evening.
WHAT TO SEE
Information on Aqaba and its attractions is available from the Visitors' Centre near the Mamluk Fort, tel. (03) 2013363. Opening hours 08:00-14:00 in winter, 08:00-17:00 in summer.
Aqaba Marine Science Station
Aquarium showcasing the marine life of the Gulf of Aqaba. Hours 08:00-16:45 daily, tel. (03) 2015144. Admission ½ JD.
Museum of Aqaba Antiquities
Near the Mamluk Fort, tel. (03) 2019063. Displays from excavations in Aqaba and Wadi Rum. Hours 07:00-19:00, closed Fri. and Sat. Admission 1 JD.
Mamluk Fort, ticket for the Museum of Aqaba includes admission to the Fort.
Aqaba boasts some of the world's best scuba diving by day or night. Many hotels organise fishing, sailing and other water sports, as well as trips in glass-bottomed boats.
Aquamarina Diving Centre (Aquamarina I Hotel), tel. (03) 2016250 fax (03) 2033292. Snorkelling, diving, equipment hire, windsurfing, fishing, boat and marine camera hire and boat trips.
Movenpick Water Sports, tel. (03) 2034020 ext. 1153 fax (03) 2034040. Water sports and yacht trips.
Red Sea Dive Centre near Aqaba Gulf Hotel, tel. (03) 2022323 fax (03) 2018969.
Royal Diving Club just outside Aqaba, tel. (03) 2017035 fax (03) 2017097. Snorkelling, diving, marine photography, equipment hire and instruction.
Sea Star Water Sport (Al-Cazar Hotel), tel. (03) 2014131 fax (03) 2014133. Diving, instruction and equipment hire.
HOW TO GET THERE
By air: Royal Wings, a division of Royal Jordanian, tel. (06) 5678231, offers regular flights from Amman to Aqaba; flying time is about 45 minutes.
By bus: Several companies offer charter bus tours and regular tours between Amman & Aqaba, including JETT, tel. (06) 5664146 and Trust International, tel. (06) 5813422 every two hours. (Further details under "Getting Around / Buses" chapter in this brochure).
By car or taxi: Aqaba via the Dead Sea road is about 3 hours drive from Amman, along the Desert Highway 4 hours and the scenic King's Highway 5 hours.
The Dead Sea Resort is a wonderful ending for the southern route between Amman, Madaba, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.