Aqaba: gateway town
Aqaba stands at the great continental crossroads between Africa and Asia and is a major international gateway for Wadi Rum. A history of settlement stretches back thousands of years in Aqaba, with early peoples arriving around 4000BC to mine its nearby copper reserves. It grew into an important port used by the old 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 traversing 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 in Wadi Rum - 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 from Amman and international tourism has started to boom in recent decades too. It is home to an airport, two land borders and has a daily ferry connection to Egypt, making it the easiest way of getting to Wadi Rum, just an hour away by road. Every kind of accommodation, along with cafes, restaurants, beaches and souqs are found in Aqaba, making it an excellent place to stay either side of a hike on the Wadi Rum Trail. For hikers wanting to spend as much time on trail as possible, it is even possible to walk between Aqaba and Wadi Rum.
Aqaba: a quick glance
Aqaba is a modern town with sprawling suburbs but almost everything a visitor will need is centred within a small downtown district covering just one square kilometre, shown on the map to the right. Hotels are dotted throughout this 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 interest 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 tourst visas can be renewed. Another important point for travellers is Aqaba's JETT bus station, from which bus services run all over Jordan, including to Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum. 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.
Getting to Aqaba & away
JETT bus runs six daily buses between Amman and Aqaba, including night buses. Ordinary buses cost 10JD; VIP buses with large seats, WIFI & a meal, 20JD. Going to Aqaba, a daily JETT bus leaves Petra at 5pm, costing 15JD. This bus stops at Wadi Rum's Visitor Centre at 6.30pm, where it can also be taken onwards to Aqaba, also at a cost of 15JD. The other way, a JETT bus runs from Aqaba to Wadi Rum's Visitor Centre daily at 8am, continuing to Petra (Petra and Wadi Rum both 15JD). Smaller, slightly cheaper minibuses run between Wadi Rum and Aqaba's local bus station, near the Golden Rose Hotel. Going to Aqaba the bus leaves Wadi Rum daily at 6am except Fridays, costing 5JD; the other way, its departure time is 12 midday but in reality it leaves only when full. Minibuses also operate between Wadi Rum and Petra. Check all timetables before travelling as they change. AB Maritime runs a daily ferry from Nuweiba in Egypt to Aqaba; it departs Nuweiba's port at 12 midday, costing EGP1650 (around 40JD). The other way, it leaves Aqaba at 10pm, costing 40JD. A smaller AB Maritime service runs between Aqaba and Taba three times weekly; only return tickets are available at 65JD. The easiest place to buy tickets in Aqaba is an agent's office near the Nairoukh Hotel. Aqaba airport handles domestic and international flights, with Royal Jordanian the main carrier. Aqaba has land borders with Haql in Saudi Arabia and Eilat in Israel, operating 24/7. At every international point of arrival in Aqaba except the Eilat land border most visitors can enter Jordan visa-free.
Aqaba & Rum: a walking route
Foot travel is another option. As part of the wider trail exploration around the Wadi Rum Trail a new hiking route was created to connect Aqaba and Wadi Rum. Nearly 50km, this links the western section of the Wadi Rum Trail with Aqaba's northernmost suburbs and takes two full days to walk, either way. It can be taken at the end of a thru hike on the Wadi Rum Trail, with a walk down to the sea done in place of a traverse over Jebel Rum. Hikers could also walk to Wadi Rum on this route, doing the last two days of the Wadi Rum Trail by traversing Jebel Rum to Wadi Rum Village. Wadi el Howayta, on the fringes of a suburb known as Shamaya, is where this route meets Aqaba. Getting between here and downtown Aqaba it is a 20km walk best done in a taxi. For more, see the Wadi Rum Trail Route Companion.
AQABA: WHERE TO STAY
Aqaba is one of Jordan's most popular tourism getaways, with places to stay on every budget. Travellers will find everything from internationally known five-star hotel chains to cheaper 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 with a good location, one minute's walk from Aqaba's bus & minibus station. Simple, comfortable rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI. Singles 25JD; doubles 30JD. Tel/ WhatsApp +962 7 9771 8292
JORDAN SEASONS - Clean, comfortable rooms with en-suites, a/c & WIFI; 'mountain side' rooms are bigger, with balconies. Roof terrace has Aqaba's best view. Singles 35JD inc. breakfast, doubles 40JD. 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 25JD, 40JD with jacuzzi. Tel +962786719050/email email@example.com
NICE VIEW - On the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, the name makes its main appeal obvious. One of Aqaba's newest, opened 2022. Modern rooms; en-suites, a/c, WIFI but pricey. Singles & doubles JD60. 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 35JD, doubles 40JD 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 40JD; doubles 50JD. Tel/ WhatsApp +96232012980
YAFKO HOTEL- Next to the Laverda hotel, at the southern end of downtown. Comfortable, spacious room with en-suites, a/c & WIFI, some looking out to sea. Good value with singles 25JD; doubles JD30. 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 25JD; doubles 30JD. 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 42JD. 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 25JD, doubles 30JD. 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 35JD; doubles 40JD 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. Reeasonable prices with singles 40JD; doubles 50JD. 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 35JD; doubles 40. 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 25JD. Tel/ WhatsApp +962797511140.