The cruise ships dock at the main port, only about 3 miles south of the city centre of Aqaba. The facility can take up to 23 vessels of both passenger and commercial type, in addition to 8 ships in anchorage. As the country’s only seaport, Aqaba plays a major role in the city’s economy and is responsible for 78% of the country’s exports and 65% of the imports. The Passenger Terminal is at the Yarmouk Berth and is 150 metres long with alongside depth of 23 metres. It is not possible to walk to the exit of the port because of the mixed use of the port – there might be tankers docked right next to your ship. You can take the shuttles provided by the cruise ship, that should drop you off at a bus terminal near the city centre, unless you have booked a pre-organised excursion. From there you can take a bus, or a private taxi to the few sites of interest. The port is only 13km, 15 min to the International Airport.
The local currency is Jordanian Dinar, JOD or JD. Exchanging money is straightforward and easy. The JD is pegged to the USD dollar at 0.709 JOD to 1 USD and American dollars are widely accepted. There are exchange shops in the city centre, offering slightly better rates than the post offices and the banks, and operating longer hours. There are ATMs throughout the city, so you can withdraw cash as well, providing you have notified your bank you would be abroad and are aware of any foreign currency fees that the bank may charge you. Credit cards are accepted in upscale hotels and restaurants; however, you must pay cash at the entrances of most tourist sites.
The opening hours of shops in Aqaba are mostly Sunday to Thursday from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm and then 3.30 to 8pm. The banks are normally open from 8 am until 3 pm Sunday to Thursday and the street markets (called souqs) are normally open from 9 am to 8 pm daily. Most museums would be closed on Tuesdays. The outlets also tend to operate shorter hours during winter and during the holy month of Ramadan. There are several public holidays in Aqaba, a few days in summer at the beginning and end of Ramadan as well as others, and Christmas day is also a public holiday. Do make yourself aware of any public holidays when you are due to travel to Jordan, some of them vary by date each year, depending on the Lunar cycles.
Tipping in Aqaba is greatly appreciated, especially by taxi drivers you have hired for the day and guides to sites such as Petra or Wadi Rum. Anything between 5 and 50 JD would be OK, based on the length, the size of your group, the difficulty of the terrain and the overall experience. Local guides and drivers you have hired on the spot normally charge less than organised such, but expect a more generous tip. It’s also considered customary to give small change to children who, for example, help you get on your camel for that desert ride. Your restaurant bill is likely to include a service charge, but regardless of that, leave a few JDs for a good service. The service charge hardly ever gets to the waiting staff. The same would apply to hotel bellboys and maids, a couple of JD would be greatly appreciated.
The language, spoken in Aqaba is Arabic, but English is widely understood. Jordanians and very helpful people, proud of their country and heritage, so they will do their best to assist travellers.
The local time in Aqaba is GMT + 3 hours and the international dialling code is 00 962 3.
Things To Do
Undoubtedly, the main reason for most visitors to go to Aqaba, is to see Petra – the ancient city, carved in rock, described by the Anglican clergyman John William Burgon “a rose red city, half as old as time”. It was first built and inhabited by the Nabatean people as early as 9000 BC and established as a capital of their kingdom in the 4th century BC. They were nomadic Arabs who were especially talented in commerce and saw the potential of Petra’s location as a trade route between Arabia, Egypt and the Syrian desert. At it’s peak the city of Petra was a home to 30,000 people. After it lost its independence to the Roman Empire and repeated earthquakes, the city was slowly abandoned and was largely forgotten until 1812, when the Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered it. The main sites of Petra for your photo collection are the Siq canyon, 2 metres wide at places, that leads to the Treasury, the Royal Tombs and the Roman ruins to follow. If you have time and energy, you can also continue to the Monastery and the many other smaller sites. There are donkey and camel rides as well (motor vehicles are not allowed) and there are special permissions that can be obtained for wheelchairs. There is about 2 km walk only to the main entrance of the site, so make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes and avoid going to the site in midday. Early morning and late afternoon would be best. Also bear in mind the hefty entrance fee – around £50 if you are not staying overnight in Aqaba.
Wadi Rum (The Valley of the Moon) is an area of 720 sq km of fascinating desert landscape in south Jordan, near Aqaba. There are sandstone and granite mountains with dramatic shapes, up to 1700 metres and more, carved by the eternal wind and sand. There are dramatic narrow canyons, decorated with ancient rock drawings, engraved by the desert nomads. Some of their descendants still live among the mountains and their unusual tents, made by goat-hair are a pleasant addition to the red, orange, yellow, blue and purple landscape.
Other sites of Aqaba include the Mamluk Castle – this is the site of one of the most famous battles of the First World War. The castle was built in the 16th century by Sultan Mamluk and was used for centuries as a “khan”, or travellers’ inn, hosting pilgrims on their journey to Mecca. The Ruins of Ayla, built in 650 AD was the first Islamic city outside of Arabia. Here are also the ruins of an ancient church, said to be the oldest purposely built one in the world. The Aqaba Archaeological Museum is located at Al-Sharif Hussein bin Ali residence, where Sharif Hussein bin Ali negotiated with the British, and exhibits Bronze Age artefacts from the Tall Hujayrat Al-Ghuzlan site.
The Aqaba Bird Observatory is an artificial wetland, that became a host to a variety of bird species that stop here on their way to Africa, Europe and Asia. Here you can observe the largest population of white-eyed gulls in the world.
The Red sea coast of Aqaba are also famous for some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving in the world. The Coral reef is buzzing with life and the temperatures are very pleasant.
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