Aqaba stands at the great continental crossroads between Africa and Asia and is one of Jordan's major international gateways. A history of settlement stretches back thousands of years in Aqaba, with early peoples arriving around 4000BC to mine its copper reserves. It grew into an important port used by the kingdoms of Biblical times before passing into the control of the Roman and Byzantine Empires and later falling to the armies of the Islamic Conquests in the 7th century. Aqaba continued to grow as a fortified stopping point for caravans travelling the Darb el Hajj between Cairo and Mecca - the major pilgrimage route for Muslims making the Hajj from North Africa - before falling to the Crusaders in the 12th century. The Ottoman Empire occupied Aqaba in the early 16th century before being ousted some 400 years later in the Great Arab Revolt; an Arab uprising in which Bedouin tribesmen - including those of the Howaytat, Anaza and other Bedouin groups of the region - took a leading fighting role. Today, Aqaba is a bustling port town that handles the bulk of Jordan's international trade, with a population of 150,000 people. Its warm climate and deep blue waters make it a popular getaway with Jordanians and international tourism has started to boom in recent decades too. It has land borders with Saudi Arabia and Israel is connected to the Sinai by daily passenger ferries, making it a major international passing point for a journey along the Bedouin Trail. Hikers will pass through Aqaba on their way between Jordan and the Sinai in Egypt and with every kind of accommodation available, along with cafes, restaurants, beaches and souqs, it is an excellent place to break for a few days between the Jordanian and Egyptian sections of the route.
Aqaba: a quick glance
Aqaba is a modern town with sprawling suburbs but almost everything visitors will need is centred in a small downtown district covering just one square kilometre. Hotels are found in this downtown district, along with ATMs, cafes, restaurants, takeaways, juice bars, pubs, banks, souqs, shops and laundries, plus Aqaba's main post office and its local minibus station. This bustling downtown hub is bordered to the west by Aqaba's public beach; a sweep of palm-fringed sands gazing out to the Sinai and a favourite picnic spot for local families. Other points of note are nearby too, including one of Aqaba's best hospitals, the Islamic Hospital, and - just a short walk past it - the government office in which Jordanian tourist visas can be renewed. Another important point for travellers is Aqaba's JETT bus station, which is served by buses coming from all over Jordan, including Wadi Rum, Petra and Amman. The ruins of a 1500 year old Byzantine church and the foundations of Ayla - a flourishing port of the early Islamic dynasties in Aqaba - are both close to the JETT bus station. Aqaba's border crossing with Eilat and its international airport are both around 10km north of the town. The passenger port for ferries departing to Nuweiba in Egypt is 7km south of the town and the border crossing with Haql in Saudi Arabia, known locally as 'El Durra', is 22km. Smaller passenger boats sail between Aqaba and Taba in Egypt, leaving from the Marina & Sailing Club in the downtown district.
Between Aqaba & Egypt
Aqaba is one of two major international gateways on the Bedouin Trail, with Nuweiba the other. It is through these towns most hikers traversing the intercontinental passage will cross between Jordan and Egypt; a journey which involves a short sea passage across the Gulf of Aqaba. AB Maritime runs a daily ferry between Aqaba and Nuweiba; it leaves Aqaba at 10pm, costing 40JOD. Going the other way it departs Nuweiba's port at 12 midday. A smaller AB Maritime service connects Aqaba with Taba's international marina, about 65km north of Nuweiba in the Sinai, running thrice weekly and costing 65JOD. Going from Aqaba to Nuweiba, the best, easiest place to buy tickets for both ferries is an agent's office behind the Nairoukh Hotel. Anybody going from Nuweiba to Aqaba can buy tickets for the Nuweiba ferry in a small office by Nuweiba's port, opening from 8am until midday. For the Taba service in Egypt, contact AB Maritime privately. For many nationalities, visas are available on arrival in Egypt and Jordan but check before travel. An overland route can be taken from Jordan to Egypt via the Israeli town of Eilat. The borders between Eilat, Taba and Aqaba are all open 24/7 but Israel is off-limits to most Arab nationalities and for visitors entering Egypt at Taba the only visas issued are 14 day visas covering travel on the Sinai's eastern seaboards, unusable for the Bedouin Trail in mainland Egypt. Travellers must apply for full Egypt visas online or at an Egyptian consulate before crossing.
The Bedouin Trail & Aqaba
The Bedouin Trail connects the western parts of the Wadi Rum Trail with Aqaba's northernmost suburbs. It is a 50km route traversing the wild, rocky gorges, rugged camel passes and sweeping plains of the northern Hejaz that will take most hikers two days to walk. Coming from Petra, hikers will join the northern parts of the Wadi Rum Trail in Wadi Um Ashreen, following it clockwise for 100km via Jordan's highest peak - the 1854m Jebel Um Adami - to Wadi Abu Baytherana, where the Aqaba route runs west. It is also possible to avoid the longer circuit, following the Wadi Rum Trail anti clockwise through Jebel Rum's southern crags for just 20km. For more on the Wadi Rum Trail see Bedouin Trail: Thru Hike and for the Aqaba route, Bedouin Trail: Petra & Aqaba.
AQABA: WHERE TO STAY
Aqaba is a popular tourism getaway, with accommodation for every budget. Travellers will find everything from internationally known five-star hotels to cheap backpacker hostels. At the five star end of the market the best deals are usually found online. Some of the best budget and mid-range options for travellers are listed below.
PRESTIGE HOTEL - Mid-range hotel, well located; one minute's walk from Aqaba's bus & minibus station. Simple, comfortable rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI. Singles 25JOD; doubles 30JOD. Tel/ WhatsApp +962 7 9771 8292
JORDAN SEASONS - Clean, comfortable rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI; 'mountain side' rooms are bigger, with balconies. Aqaba's best view from the roof. Singles 35JOD inc. breakfast, doubles 40JOD. Tel/ Whatsapp +962777610605.
AL NAHER AL KHALED HOTEL - Awkward name, obscure frontage, but good value option. Central, comfortable rooms, a/c, en-suite, WIFI. Singles 20JD; doubles 25JOD, 40JOD with jacuzzi. Tel +962786719050/email email@example.com
NICE VIEW - On the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, the name explains the appeal. One of Aqaba's newest, opened 2022. Modern-look rooms; en-suites, a/c & WIFI but pricey. Singles & doubles both JOD60. Tel/WhatsApp +962790073908.
DE LARA HOTEL - Quiet location, next to the Aqaba Coast Hotel. Recently opened with spacious modern rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI. Singles 35JOD, doubles 40JOD inc. breakfast. Tel/ WhatsApp +96232019050.
NAIROUKH HOTEL - Good downtown location, next to juice bars & the office for ferry tickets to Egypt. Modern rooms, but on the small side, with en-suites, a/c & WIFI. Singles 40JOD; doubles 50JOD. Tel/ WhatsApp +96232012980
YAFKO HOTEL- Next to the Laverda hotel, at the southern end of downtown. Comfortable, spacious rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI, some with sea view. Singles 25JOD; doubles JOD30. Tel/ WhatsApp +962797140346.
GOLDEN ROSE - The closest hotel to Aqaba's bus & minibus station. Clean, comfortable rooms with a/c, en-suites & WIFI. Some have balconies looking out to the sea. Singles 25JOD; doubles 30JOD. Tel/ WhatsApp +962 3 203 9880
TURQUOISE HOTEL - One of Aqaba's newest, opened 2022. Clean rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI. Pool, gym & friendly staff. Another hotel with an excellent rooftop view. Singles & doubles 42JOD. Tel/ Whatsapp +96232030888.
CEDAR HOTEL - At the heart of Aqaba's downtown district, good cafes, restaurants & bars a short walk. Comfortable rooms with en-suite, a/c & WIFI. Singles 25JOD, doubles 30JOD. Tel +96232030304/ Email firstname.lastname@example.org
AQABA COAST - Recently opened hotel, close to downtown but with a quiet location. Modern rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI. Excellent value with singles 35JOD; doubles 40JOD inc. breakfast. Tel/ WhatsApp +962770861010
TWINS HOTEL - Close to Aqaba's central bus station, but in quieter streets to the north. Recently opened with modern rooms; en-suites, a/c & WIFI, reasonable value. Singles 40JOD; doubles 50JOD. Tel/ WhatsApp +96232012923
LA VERDA - At the south end of Aqaba's downtown district, near the old fort & its huge modern flagpole. Comfortable rooms with balconies, en-suites, a/c & WIFI. Good value with singles 35JOD; doubles 40JOD. Tel/ WhatsApp +96232019050.
7 DAYS HOTEL - Good location at southern end of Aqaba's down district. Clean, comfortable but small rooms with en-suite, a/c & WIFI; some with balconies. Singles & doubles both 25JOD. Tel/ WhatsApp +962797511140.