Surf for the sporty

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.

Rugged terrain

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.

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 UAE-based freelance writer

Go there ... Aqaba ... From the UAE ... From Abu Dhabi

The closest airport is Amman.

Royal Jordanian flies daily via Abu Dhabi. Fare from Dh1515
When to go

January to April. Visit for details.
Getting there

  • Aqaba Airport is located on the outskirts of the city and is connected by daily flights to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Royal Jordanian flies daily from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Amman. You can take a connecting flight from Amman to Aqaba. Visit for details.
  • Hire a taxi and drive down from Amman International Airport to Aqaba — approximately three and a half hours. The roads are well marked and route maps are available from the Jordan Tourism Board office at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman.
    Where to stay
  • Kempinski Hotel Aqaba: Located on the beach, the luxurious Kempinski has an open view of the Red Sea. Several pools are surrounded by tall, swaying trees and look out to the sea.

    Dinner at this hotel is a decadent affair with a live grill, a fresh salad-and-seafood bar, hot soups and an array of breads. The outdoor lounge is quite popular with guests who indulge in some after-dinner tea. Visit for details.

What to do

  • Wadi Rum: Just half an hour's drive away, day trips or overnight stays can be organised in the vast expanse of Wadi Rum.
  • Boat rides: Daily boat excursions around Aqaba's sunny coastline can be organised where you can snorkel or swim at leisure.
  • Glass-bottomed boats: A fun way to explore the beauty of the Red Sea without getting wet.
  • Spas: Specialising in Dead Sea products and therapies, the spas around Aqaba offer pure relaxation and rejuvenation with a combination of Eastern and Western treatments.