Red Sea, Red Sands, Rose Red City
Aqaba: A town of surprises
Aqaba is a year-round destination that has something for everyone. This resort city is blessed with great weather throughout the year: hot and breezy in summer, warm and pleasant in winter, with just about every activity a visitor could hope to find no more an hour away, from sailing and diving to camel safaris in Wadi Rum and admiring the world-famous monuments in Petra.
Watersports enthusiasts will love Aqaba’s spectacular coral reefs and countless species of brightly coloured fish, while the Red Sea coast in general has become one of the most attractive locations for are professional and amateur divers alike. Aqaba offers over 30 different coastal dive sites, with drop-offs and walls starting from a depth of just 30ft and a shipwreck starting at a depth of just 26ft. The town’s mild climate makes it an ideal location for year-round scuba diving, with water temperatures averaging 22.5C, dropping to a still-balmy 20C in winter. Currents are minimal, often non-existent, and visibility typically exceeds 65ft.
Present-day Aqaba is built on the site of the early Islamic city of Ayla — notable as the first Islamic city to be built outside the Arabian Peninsula. One of the most exciting archaeological discoveries here occurred recently, when archaeologists unearthed what’s thought to be the world’s oldest church, dating back to the late third century. The building is slightly older than Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
Beyond Aqaba — Wadi Rum & Petra
Wadi Rum: A desert of beauty and grandeur
Drive just 45 minutes north of Aqaba to Wadi Rum, where towering mesas, beautiful sandy valleys and steep cliffs in shades of beige and orange-red set the Wadi Rum area apart from the open desert. The mountainous desert supports a unique ecosystem that’s home to an equally unique human culture, that of the pastoral nomadic Arab tribes, better known as the Bedouin.
The tents woven by the Bedouin women from goat, sheep or camel wool are called ‘houses of hair’ in Arabic. They’re the most appropriate solution to the environment and the needs of those living in it: the tents can be dismantled — for when it’s time to move further afield in search of grazing locations — have flexible openings to adapt to the changes in wind direction and are naturally biodegradable. The striped rugs that furnished the tents are beautiful pieces of handicraft that testify to the creativity of the Bedouin women, even in such a harsh environment.
Wadi Rum and the nearby area of Disi cater equally to nature lovers and those keen to climb, trek, ride a camel, sample traditional Bedouin food by the fire, or venture out on a 4WD or horse safari for several days. The less adventurous will marvel at the stunning landscape they can admire from the Wadi Rum Visitors’ Centre. In between, a whole range of desert experiences is available.
Another advantage of Aqaba is its proximity to Petra, Jordan’s ancient Nabataean city that was announced as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World during a star-studded event held on 7 July 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal. Petra’s most impressive monument is El Khazneh (‘The Treasury’), which is nearly 140ft high and 90ft wide. This impressive building, set among hundreds of rock-cut tombs, temple facades and funeral halls, was used in the final sequence of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Al Deir is another breathtaking monument in Petra. Three large structures, identified as the Royal Tombs, have been carved into the face of the rock, which is known as the King’s Wall.
Travelling to Aqaba
Another option is to arrive by air at J. Hozman Airport, in Eilat, Israel, and then cross the Wadi-Araba border — a 10-minute drive from the airport
The growth of tourism in Aqaba has seen a resulted in a number of charter flights launched by different European international tour operators.