Aqaba: Jordan’s Underwater World

Diving doesn’t really come to mind when thinking about a trip to Jordan, but the mostly arid country has a slither of coastline along the legendary Red Sea.  With just over 20km (12.4 miles) of shore, this southern tip of Jordan provides the country’s only access to the ocean.  At the shoreline’s northern most point sits Aqaba, a bustling port city where one can view Jordan, Israel, and Egypt all in one view.  While the diving and beaches here are certainly nowhere near first class, the chilled out vibe and sunny days make for a good resting place prior to embarking over to Egypt or Israel.

Aqaba
While not world class, Aqaba’s underwater world makes for a good few days of R&R before heading north or to Egypt

Choosing Where to Stay

Aqaba

If you’re looking for beach vibes and diving spots, you will not want to set up base in Aqaba proper.  While the city has its own beach, it is rather dirty and small.  Heading down south  towards the Saudi Arabian border offers larger and cleaner beaches along with all of Jordan’s major dive sites.  Claire and I stayed in Aqaba for two nights while we tried to figure out Claire’s visa situation for Egypt.  Accommodation in the city doesn’t come cheap (the most expensive we saw while in Jordan) so Claire and I decided to pay a little extra in order to get a decent place to relax after a long few days scrambling all over Petra.  We splurged on the Al Riyati Hotel Apartments, which gave us a huge clean room and a central location.  If you’re looking to stretch out for a bit, the extra money adds a lot of value compared to other hotels in Jordan.  While you’re in town, be sure to check out Syrian Palace Restaurant for some good Syrian food at a good price.

Along the Coast

Beduin Moon Village
Bedouin Moon Village is basic, affordable, and has friendly staff

If you decide to head down south (which you should), there are a few options available for budget travelers and they happen to be all right next to each other.  We ended up choosing Bedouin Moon Village, a resort aiming at the budget crowd.  The hotel has private huts along with its own pool, bar and lounge area, and is just a stone throw away from the beach.  When we stayed there, the hotel just came under to owners and it was clear that they were trying to do their best to build a family like atmosphere to the place.  While the staff is super friendly and very helpful, we cannot recommend the dive shop attached to the hotel.  The dive staff were very unprofessional and the equipment was in poor condition forcing us to cancel our dives with them before we even got to the water.  If you are looking to dive, ask smile (yup… that’s his name) and he can privately hook you up with his dive shop for good rates.  All of the equipment was brand new and dive guides were professional.

Diving and Snorkeling in Aqaba

Cedar Pride
The Cedar Pride wreck is Jordan’s best dive.

Jordan’s dive sites are rather mundane compared to what the world has to offer and should certainly not be your reason for traveling all the way down here unless you have an itch to get in the water.  As Claire and I were planning on diving in Egypt, we wanted to get a few dives under our belt to avoid having to take a refresher dive in Sinai. (Want world class diving? Head to the Philippines!)

C-130 Aqaba
Another fun dive is the C-130 that was dropped into the water

Jordan’s most famous dive is the Cedar Pride Wreck.  The huge cargo ship was purposely sunk back in the 1980s and has become Jordan’s most popular dive.  Resting under 18 meters of water, this is a wreck that suits all levels of divers.  The highlight of the dive is entering the ships hull where there is a large air bubble underneath that you can pop up into.  Its pretty surreal coming up to the surface… 18 meters underwater.

C-130 Aqaba
Exploring the C-130

When it comes to coral reefs, Jordan really doesn’t have anything that wows visitors and don’t expect to see any pelagic fish while diving.  There are two other interesting artificial dives in the area that involve a sunken C-130 aircraft and an anti-aircraft tank.  Both are nearby each other and can be done in the same dive.

Aqaba
Checking out the Anti Aircraft Tank

For snorkelers both the C-130, tank, and coral reef just outside of the hotel are shallow and good for snorkeling.  For beach bums, the beach near the hotel is good for an afternoon, but is by no means a tropical paradise.

Cedar Pride
The Cedar Pride Wreck

Getting to Egypt from Aqaba

The ferry to Egypt leaves from the port located just north of Bedouin Moon Village.  Tickets CANNOT be bought at the port and must be bought in advanced.  There are ticket sales outlets in Aqaba through AB Maritime. It is not recommended to take the ferry to Taba at this time due to safety concerns in addition to the fact that Egyptian authorities will not let you enter from the city unless you buy a return trip scheduled within 15 days after entering.  This leaves foreigners with only one option that involves an overnight ferry to Nuweiba. Tickets at the time of writing costs $75 USD and tickets are valid for one time use over a six month period.

Aqaba
Enjoying the view as the sun sets over Sinai

The ferry is scheduled to leave around 22:45 but travelers are advised to get there at least 90 minutes before departure.  Before entering border control, make sure you pay the Jordan Departure tax at the booth located just past security.   Once you have the proof of payment slip, take this to the border official and he will stamp you out of the county.  The ferry is rather comfortable and will dump you off in Nuweiba around 3am in the morning.  From here, you can either stay overnight in Nuweiba or take a taxi directly to Dahab.

Cedar Pride
Inside the air bubble 18 meters underwater

Aqaba: Worth a few days before venturing off to Egypt or Israel

Jordan’s coast along the Red Sea is not worthy of a trip in itself.  For those looking to travel to Israel or Egypt, the area is a good place to relax and simply do nothing for a few days.  Lounging around, hitting up a dive here or there for a few days is never something to complain about, but those coming down here for other reasons may be disappointed.

Aqaba
Inside the C-130

2 thoughts on “Aqaba: Jordan’s Underwater World

    1. Yeah it was pretty cool getting inside it and exploring the interior. Not something you see underwater everyday.

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