After a full day driving down scenic King’s Highway, we finally arrived at Aqaba. Its circle-ridden downtown had us dazed and confused for about an hour before locating Al Qidra Hotel. Aqaba was not originally on our radar (thanks Nick!), but we loved it so much we stayed a full week. Aqaba, the furthest point south in Jordan is strategically located on the Red Sea. It borders Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Palestinian territories with Egypt just south across the Red Sea. Interestingly, the popular beach resort town of Eilat, Israel is within clear view. Our downtown hotel location provided the right mix of local culture with easy access to the stunning beaches and snorkeling activities.
Aqaba’s history dates back to the 10th century BC when it deemed the world’s largest copper smelting site. It was later made a key meeting place for pilgrims going to and from Mecca. The port city’s significance grew so much that King Hussein of Jordan bartered a land agreement with Saudi Arabia in 1965. A huge amount of Jordan’s desert land was given in exchange for an additional 12km of southern coastline. Today, this coastline is being used by the navy, for trade and tourism. It so happens that we visited Aqaba at the perfect time. Dozens of upscale resorts are currently under construction along the coast. There weren’t many tourists around town due to the ongoing conflicts in Egypt and Syria. This made our stay super chill and enjoyable as we were able to spend quality time with the friendly and accommodating local people.
We spent our days relaxing and swimming at a few different resorts on the picturesque coastline. The Red Sea waters are incredibly transparent with coral and fish viewable from the surface. One big local business is “Glass Bottom Boat”, where tourists can have a scuba-divers view without getting wet. We visited the local “free beach” where we found a few Muslim women sitting in chairs. They were fully dressed (per custom) while dipping their feet in the cold sea water.
Our nights consisted of touring the local fish restaurants and “shisha” cafes. We loved Ali Baba restaurant where we tried the local favorite Sayadieh fish with peppery rice. The street cafes were packed all night with Jordanian men smoking shisha and staring at the tourist women. In the Muslim religion, the women stay at home and tend to their families…. while the men tend to their business and hang out with each other. We couldn’t find any live music or dancing and alcohol is basically banned from restaurants and cafes.
We met so many wonderful and friendly Jordanian people in Aqaba. We enjoyed our daily talks with our hotel manager, learning about Jordanian culture. He explained how his father has three wives from different countries (Syria, Jordan, Iraq) and how they all live harmoniously with their twelve children in Jerash. We learned why women where full head-dress to please their husband in public…… while wearing makeup and sexy clothing at home.
We frequented the Jafra shisha cafe nightly and made friends with our Egyptian waiters. They were mesmerized with the idea of America and wanted to learn where California is located. We introduced them to the Kindle and they were shocked at the concept of reading multiple books on a device.
Although there aren’t many historical sites in Aqaba, we did explore the 16th century Mameluk Fort. It originally was a Crusader Castle. The souq in the old part of town offered shops for locals to purchase their spices and everyday clothing and groceries. We tasted and purchased nuts and candies for our drives to Wadi Rum and Petra.
We spent our last day on the water en route to and from Pharaoh’s Island, Egypt. There, we snorkeled the Red Sea and chatted with new friends.
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