Aqaba is overlooked by most visitors to Jordan, but there’s a compelling reason to visit the country’s only seaside resort town.
Most of the holidaymakers are Jordanians who flock to the luxury resorts during national holidays, but I came for one thing and one thing only: the Red Sea. With its calm, crystal-clear waters and thriving, dazzling marine life, it lived up to its legendary reputation as a world-class snorkeling site.
Initially, however, I wasn’t so sure. Instead of the high-end accommodations on the north end of Aqaba, I travelled further south to South Beach and stayed in a resort across the street from the public beach.
It’s a lacklustre shoreline: no powder-sugar sand, no lounge chairs, no service of any kind. But I made the most of it by diving into the waters and splashing around with Akrm, Francesco and Guiseppe — a Jordanian and two Italians living in the UK. I befriended these fellas at my resort and I can’t thank them enough for making my time in Aqaba as enjoyable as it was.
On the day of my solo snorkelling excursion, I asked my guide, “where do I leave my clothes and shoes?” since there was nowhere to leave them. He tied my shirt and shorts around the pole of a beach umbrella, then pulled a long piece of plastic cut from a shopping bag out of his pocket, tied my flip-flops to it and the other end of plastic to his wrist, and into the water we went with my footwear bobbing on the water’s surface behind him. It wasn’t the kind of service I had expected but, hey, whatever to keep my flip-flops safe, right?
The rough, rocky seabed did a number on my feet (water shoes are useful here) but once I swam out to the Japanese Gardens, a giant reef just offshore, and submerged my head, it didn’t matter. I had entered another world: untouched coral of every hue imaginable and schools of tropical fish in all their brilliance darting around me in a sea of glass-like clarity.
Was I in the Red Sea or a giant aquarium?
I should note that no fish were fed during this photo shoot (that wouldn’t be cool), which means I was swarmed without luring the fish in any way.
There isn’t much else to see in Aqaba but it was worth meandering through the streets and shops in the town centre (a short 5JD taxi ride from South Beach), feasting on Jordanian cuisine and joining the locals at beachfront shisha cafes.
Conservative but relaxed, the atmosphere in town is a valuable window into Jordanian life.
Aqaba is also conveniently located near Jordan’s top tourist attractions (Petra and Wadi Rum), making the city a worthy pit-stop for spectacular snorkeling (as well as diving), laid-back socializing and experiencing Jordanian culture.
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