Aqaba is a port city in Jordan, situated on the coast of the Red Sea along the Gulf of Aqaba, with plenty of things to do. The town is both historic and relaxing, offering bustling marketplaces, beach resorts, and ancient attractions. Whether you are planning a quick visit or an extended stay, there are plenty of options in this port city. Many tours to Petra stop in this beautiful city and allow time for travelers to explore all it has to offer. Here are 7 things to do in Aqaba.
Mamluk Castle and Archaeological Museum
Aqaba Castle is an impressive fortress originally built by Crusaders in the 12th century, destroyed in 1187, and rebuilt in the early 16th century. Situated on the coastline, the fortress served as a strategic base for overthrowing the Ottoman Empire. Over the centuries that it was in use, pilgrims and travelers would come seeking safety and lodging in the safety of the fort, which also offered compartments and accommodation for passers-by.
Within the castle complex, there is a prison, execution chamber, pigeon keep, and horse stables. You can climb up to the second floor, but be aware that there are no railings! This part of the castle is not recommended for children or the faint-hearted.
The Archaeological Museum is adjacent to the fort in what used to be the palace of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali. The museum houses Bronze Age artifacts that were recently discovered around Aqaba dating back to 4000 BC, as well as a collection of artifacts from the 7th to 12th century AD. Some of the best-known pieces at the museum include a large inscription of a Quranic verse that once hung over the eastern gate of the city, as well as precious golden coins.
Sharif Hussein Bin Ali Mosque
The mosque is named in honor of Al-Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, who stood against the oppressive Ottoman Empire during the course of Worl War I. Its pristine white exterior is unmissable, along with the intricate glass windows and soaring minarets. The mosque also boasts one of the largest domes in Jordan and is central to Aqaba’s Muslim citizens. Visitors are welcome to stroll around the ornate interior outside of prayer times, as long as you stay silent and respectful.
Aqaba Bird Observatory
Aqaba is a stopover for many migratory birds heading north each spring. The observatory hosts over 390 species of birds that either reside in or migrate to Jordan from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The observatory is an exceptionally diverse habitat made up of shallow and deep waters, plants, trees, and green flats, all harmoniously integrated with each other to create this vibrant bird hub. The observatory is run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and is also an important site for researchers. It is open all year but the best times to visit are Spring and Autumn.
Aqaba Marine Park
Diving in Aqaba
Aqaba is famous the world over for its diverse marine ecosystem, home to over 240 coral species and 1,000 fish species living alongside all sorts of critters, turtles, and stingrays. Located just 15 kilometers from downtown Aqaba, the Aqaba Marine Park is one of the best things to experience in Aqaba.
Intended to protect and preserve the region’s marine biosphere, the park encompasses 19 acclaimed dive sites, each with its own unique environment. Beginners can also benefit from the calm and clear water conditions and hassle-free entry and exit procedures at the sites. If you are not a licensed diver, there are a number of dive schools around Aqaba offering lessons with highly trained professionals. For those who prefer shallow water, snorkeling and glass-bottomed boat tours are wonderful alternatives to observe Aqaba’s renowned sea life. There are fully equipped facilities throughout the park and entrance to the beach is free.
The Aqaba Marine Park (AMP) was declared a conservation area in 1997 to protect the marine environment from increased pollution and the expansion of industrial activities. It will soon join Jordan’s network of official nature reserves to become the country’s first marine nature reserve.
Souk by the Sea
Souk by the Sea is a nighttime street market held every Friday in downtown Aqaba. It was established by World Associates, a non-profit organization offering support, education, and leadership training to citizens of Jordan, and aims to create opportunities for local artisans and producers to showcase their products, thereby running their own small businesses. From hand-made sand bottles, bags and jewelry, to cross-stitch and clothing, visitors at the market can pick up authentic Jordanian products while supporting a worthwhile cause. Visitors to the Souk can expect helpful and friendly service, good prices, and none of the usual tourist traps. Food stalls line the market and live entertainment is provided by local musicians. The Souk by the Sea is a festive night out in its own right and well worth a visit.
The ancient town of Ayla was constructed around 650 AD and was the first Islamic city built outside of the Arabian peninsula. It stands today as a testament to early Islamic architecture. Located in the center of Aqaba, the city was inhabited primarily during the 7th-11th centuries before being destroyed by natural disasters and attacks. Lying untouched for centuries, the remains of Ayla were discovered in 1986 during an excavation by the University of Chicago. Today the site displays ancient marketplaces, city gates, tribal quarters, and a mosque. There are detailed signs all around the site for easy independent exploration.
Inhabited by bedouins and ancient civilizations since the dawn of mankind, the Wadi Rum desert is an absolute must-see while in Aqaba. Its unique topography resembling the surface of the moon has earned it the name “Valley of the Moon”. The desert is an inspiring site of sandstone and granite rock formations dating back millions of years and covering 278 square miles. Visitors can expect to see both natural and man-made sites including the colossal ‘seven pillars’ rock formation and Talmudic (ancient Jewish text) inscriptions carved into the rocks dating back as early as the 4th century BC. A melting pot for archaeology and history, Wadi Rum also exudes a mystical atmosphere and is a place where people report to have felt a magical connection to the universe. Jeep tours to the desert run from the city daily. It is highly recommended to stay until dark to see the most spectacular night sky undisturbed by light pollution.