7 Best Things to See and Do in Aqaba

Aqaba is located in the south of Jordan and is the country’s only coastal city. Located in the Golden Triangle, along with ancient Petra and the desert Wadi Rum. Its location combined with year-round warm weather make Aqaba a popular travel destination for Jordanians and international visitors alike.

Let me show you what to see and do in Aqaba. You’ll get some useful tips to help you plan your stay, written by a local expert.

Aqaba Tala Bay

Aqaba Sightseeing and Activities

1. Diving and Snorkeling

What’s unique about Aqaba is its aquatic life. Colorful coral reefs are just off the coast and provide an unforgettable diving and snorkeling experience. The coast is around 30 km (18 mi) long, stretching from the north of Aqaba until the Jordanian border with Saudi Arabia.

The sealife of the Gulf of Aqaba (which is connected to the Red Sea) is Aqaba’s highlight. It’s home to more than 150 different coral species, including hard and soft corals, as well as clownfish, mermaids, seahorses and many other tropical species.

That said, Aqaba is the perfect place for diving and snorkeling. Since the coral reefs are in close proximity to the coast, it’s suitable for first-time snorkeling and diving. Nevertheless, experienced divers will also love Aqaba. It has some amazing diving sites such as the Cedar Pride wreck, a former cargo ship that sank off the coast.

By the way, you’ll find a map of all diving sites in Aqaba in the Welcome2Jordan travel guide.

Diving in Aqaba
Aqaba’s impressive diving sites for first-timers and experienced divers
Snorkeling Aqaba Coral Riffs
Impressive corals reefs in Aqaba

2. Beach Vacation

Aqaba is located right off the sea. There are several public and private beaches in Aqaba. Public beaches are free of charge. However, they can get very crowded, especially on weekends. What’s more is that locals aren’t used to (foreign) women in swimming outfits on public beaches, so you can expect some stares here. People won’t do or say anything, but I know that starring can be annoying. That’s why Jordanian women who do wear swimwear don’t frequent public beaches, but go to the private ones instead.

If you’re looking for a quiet place and would like to enjoy some privacy, you should do the same. Avoid public beaches and head to a private one instead. Trust me, that’s much more enjoyable and comfortable. And no starring here.

My personal recommendation is to head over to one of Aqaba’s resorts. In addition to a clean and well-maintained private beach, you can make use of their facilities (showers, lockers, sunbeds…) and plunge in their amazing pools.

You can either book a stay here and use all facilities as part of your booking. Alternatively, you can purchase a day pass to make use of the private beach, pools and facilities. What’s the best choice for you largely depends on your personal preferences and budget.

Room rates in the resorts are usually higher than the hotels in the city center. If you’re in Aqaba for a relaxing beach vacation and prefer comfort over budget, the resorts will be your best bet.

Would you like to spend just a day at the beach/pools and spend the remaining time diving/snorkeling or sightseeing? In that case you might want to stay in a hotel without all those additional amenities, and just purchase a day pass at the resort when needed.

But again, it all comes down to your individual preferences, budget and duration of your stay.

Aqaba’s most popular place for beach vacation and diving is Tala Bay, located in the south of Aqaba. It’s a ten-minute drive from the center.

Beach in Aqaba
Beach vacation at a private beach at Tala Bay in Aqaba
Tala Bay Aqaba
View of pools and the sea at the resort at Tala Bay Aqaba

3. Aqaba Promenade

Right in the city center is a 3 km (1.8 mi) long beach promenade, ideal for a leisurely stroll along the water. You’ll find numerous cafes and restaurants here, along with some small sights.

Aqaba Promenade is great to visit no matter the time of the day. In the morning and early afternoon, you can hop on a boat tour here. If you’re up for a coffee or meal, you can come here in the late afternoon or early evening.

Public Beach Aqaba
Public beach at Aqaba Promenade

4. Aqaba Castle

Aqaba Castle is one of the few sights in Aqaba that isn’t below the water surface.

The castle was first built in the 12th century by the Crusaders who also ruled the areas around Kerak and Shobak, north of Petra. A few decades later (1187), the region was conquered by Saladin who destroyed Aqaba castle. It was ultimately rebuilt in the 16th century by the Mamelukes according to their own architectural design. When the Ottomans conquered the region of modern Jordan, they fortified the castle and inhabited it until the early 20th century.

Today, the small fortress isn’t inhabited anymore. It has been transformed into a sight and also incorporates a small museum.

The small fortress isn’t very impressive from the inside, but blends beautifully into the palmtree landscape of the beach promenade. If you’re walking along the promenade, make sure to pay a short visit to the castle. There’s also a tall flag mast nearby, so it’s a photogenic spot. The entrance is free of charge.

Aqaba Castle
Aqaba Castle: A small fortress by the sea

5. Boat Tour

A boat tour is definitely one of the best things to do in Aqaba.

There are various boat tours to choose from. Which one is the best for you largely depends on your interests.

First, there are boat tours for those who want to go diving. Like I said, diving is hugely popular in Aqaba. While you can find diving spots close to the shore, there are plenty of diving sites a bit further away. The best way to reach them is by joining a boat tour. Resorts and tour operators offer different types of tours. They vary in length (how long you want to dive, and how often) and in level (how deep the diving spot is).

Additionally, there are plenty of tours for those who don’t want to dive or snorkel. You can join a larger boat with other travelers, or hire a small boat (with driver/guide) to choose your own itinerary. The latest is great if you’re looking for a short tour (up to one hour).

My personal favorite are the “glass boats”. These come with a glass window at the base so you can see some beautiful corals without even getting your feet wet! You can find these boats at Aqaba Promenade, a bit north to the castle.

One amazing thing that all boat tours have in common is the impressive view. Aqaba is a white city built in front of a mountain chain. That’s something you can only see from the water, a little away from the shore. You’ll love the white cityscape in front of the sandrocks!

Aqaba Coastline
Aqaba’s beautiful coastline with the mountains in the background

Do you remember the photo of the coral reef at the beginning of this post? Believe it or not, I took this photo whilst on a boat tour! You’ll get to see about the same corals when snorkeling, but a boat tour will definitely grant you a glimpse of some beautiful corals without getting your feet wet!

6. Aqaba Ayla

Investors have identified the great potential of Aqaba as a hotspot for local and international visitors. In the past decade, a major project was realized: Aqaba Ayla.

Aqaba Ayla is basically a small village inside Aqaba. The complex consists of various luxury hotels and apartments, private beaches and plenty of activities to choose from. You can play golf, jump at the inflatable water castle (no age restriction, yeah!), climb, cycle, do watersports or just relax at the beach.

What I like most about Aqaba Ayla is the atmosphere as a whole. The place feels like a colorful oasis. It’s like being in a wonderful small village full of sun, beach, fun, good food and culture, where you can truly unwind.

Aqaba Ayla Activities
Jetsky and parasailing are among the watersports activities in Aqaba

7. Souks and Shopping

After Amman, Aqaba is the second best place for shopping in Jordan.

Aqaba is a Duty Free Zone which is especially interesting if you’re looking for high-end brands or perfumes. However, it’s worth comparing prices in Aqaba with the ones in your country. Luxury goods are often more expensive in Jordan when compared to Western countries.

If you’re looking for something more traditional, Aqaba is a wonderful place for shopping. There are plenty of shops selling locally made jewelry, clothing and homeware.

The best places for shopping in Aqaba are Marina Village (inside Aqaba Ayla) and of course the souk (in the city center). Aqaba also has a few small malls which are popular with locals.

Travel Planning Information

Where is Aqaba?

Aqaba is located in the extreme south of Jordan, at the Gulf of Aqaba. It’s Jordan’s only port city. Aqaba is a stone’s throw away from the Jordanian-Saudi border, and a two-hour drive from world famous Petra.

How to Get to Aqaba?

Aqaba can be reached via Highway 65, also known as the Dead Sea Highway, which runs from the far north of Jordan, along the Dead Sea, to Aqaba. From Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum you will travel first on Highway 15 (Desert Highway) and then on Highway 80.

Driving times:

  • Amman to Aqaba takes about 4 hours
  • Wadi Rum to Aqaba takes about 1 hour
  • Petra to Aqaba takes about 2 hours

Not far from the city center, there is a small international airport, Aqaba Airport. It connects Aqaba with Amman and some European cities like Cologne/Bonn or Berlin Schönefeld.

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