A jet ski slices through the blue water leaving behind a line of white foam. In the distance, a few cargo ships benignly watch the port. My room in the newly opened Kempinski Hotel Aqaba is swanky, with white interiors. The view is even better.
With the Red Sea sparkling under a midday sun and a clear blue sky, the sight is very different from the rosy sandstone cliffs of Petra. The port town of Aqaba is on the southernmost tip of Jordan while being the northernmost point on the Red Sea. Strategically placed thus, Aqaba was eyed by many.
The town was first occupied by the Nabataeans and then by the Romans who used it as a trading port until it was taken over by the Byzantine Empire.
Next came the Crusaders who built an offshore fort on Fa’run Island. After several skirmishes between Saladin, the Crusaders, the Mameluk Sultans and finally the Ottomans, Aqaba became part of Jordan, thanks to the British and Lawrence of Arabia.
The three-hour drive from Petra to Aqaba is full of barren hills, rugged mountains and surprising patches of vegetation.
In August 2000, Aqaba was declared an economic “free zone”. All trade within this free zone is exempt of duty and is a lot more economical than the rest of Jordan.
This piece originally appeared in Gulf News, the UAE’s leading newspaper
Dive into beauty
Down by the bobbing jetty, a boat prepares to take divers to a site in the Red Sea, known for its outstanding coral reefs.
Aqaba is something of a water sport and adventure capital of Jordan.
From the hotel I watch as children jump into pools of different sizes, playing and splashing around. A walk around town reveals several horse-drawn carriages awaiting passengers on a busy main street.
The town is quite busy on weekends when locals drive down to Aqaba for some sun and surf. The main street of Aqaba ends at a garden roundabout near the port. Fresh seafood is served in restaurants around Aqaba and I find myself seated at the noisy Captain’s Seafood Restaurant, awaiting my lunch of grilled seafood.
Meze arrives with a basket of Arabian bread. Buses with Italian tourists stop outside and they file into the restaurant.
Tourism in Aqaba is booming, with many hotels and resorts mushrooming around town. It is a city worth returning to for the pleasures of the Red Sea.
In the famous words of Lawrence of Arabia: “I shall be at Aqaba … that is written.”
Andrea Bailey is a Dubai based travel writer. She is also a travel consultant with Travel Counsellors and specializes in cruises, family holidays and honey moons. When she’s not out and about discovering destinations and different cuisines of the world, you would probably find her busy with her 3 daughters and her other passions involving art and music.
As a mosaic artist, she has travelled to Italy and studied ancient Roman techniques of the art form and as a jazz flautist she has had the opportunity of performing across various Dubai venues.