Aqaba: what to see, how to get there, and practical information for your trip.

Just take a stroll to see that Aqaba is a city unlike any other in Jordan. Its special location on the Red Sea coast, orderly appearance, cosmopolitan vibe, and strong focus on tourism as a major economic driver make it unique. On this page, we offer you a brief guide to discover what to see in Aqaba, how to get there, and other details of interest for your trip.

Table of Contents

Where is Aqaba and What is Its Climate Like?

Aqaba is a city with a population of around 170,000 (and growing), and it is the capital of the Aqaba Governorate. While this may not seem like a large population, it is actually one of the top 10 most populous cities in the country, and most importantly, it holds great strategic importance due to its geographical location.

Located on the Red Sea coast, in the center of the Gulf of Aqaba, it is the only Jordanian city with access to the sea (as the Dead Sea is actually a landlocked lake and not navigable). Given that the Jordanian coastline is quite small, spanning only 26 km, all maritime activities are concentrated here.

From a tourist perspective, Aqaba’s location is also interesting due to its proximity to two borders: Israel and Saudi Arabia, with the former being particularly significant. The Eilat border crossing to the west serves as an important entry point for travelers combining their trips with Israel or even Egypt. The border crossing with Saudi Arabia to the south is less commonly used by tourists.

The climate in Aqaba is warm throughout the year. In summer, temperatures can be considered “very hot” based on the readings on the thermometers (often exceeding 40°C), which necessitates seeking shelter during the peak hours of the day. However, thanks to a mild sea breeze, the sensation is not as suffocating as in other desert regions, for example.

On the other hand, winters in Aqaba are truly pleasant, to the point of attracting beach and sun tourists who may not have the same options in other Mediterranean destinations. With temperatures surpassing 20°C in January and February, many tourists flock here during this period, drawn not only by the sun and warmth, but also by other attractions mentioned below.

Precipitation is practically non-existent, even in winter, with an average of only 9 days of rainfall per year. As a result, visiting Aqaba to enjoy the Red Sea is a safe bet, regardless of the season.

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A little bit of history

The city of Aqaba, known centuries before Christ as Elath, Ailath, or Ayla, has been a strategic point since its beginnings. As early as the 10th century BC, King Solomon used this area to transport copper extracted from the mines of Wadi Araba to other places. Chinese ceramics and Ethiopian coins have also been found in the area, indicating the commercial character of this enclave.

Similar use was given to Ayla by the civilizations that later dominated it: Egyptians, Nabateans, and, especially, Romans from 106 AD onwards, as well as their Byzantine successors. The existence of several churches, some of them really ancient (3rd century), confirms its good position and dynamism, with its own bishopric. The city fell into the hands of the Arabs around 630 AD, becoming a mandatory passage for Egyptian pilgrims to Mecca in the following centuries.

However, Aqaba entered a phase of great decline from the 11th century onwards. First, due to a devastating earthquake in the mid-11th century. And second, because the major trade routes began to have Baghdad as their epicenter, relegating this route to a secondary role.

In the 12th century, the conquest of the Crusaders by Baldwin I and the subsequent reconquest by the troops of Saladin also did not help create a stable climate for trade, so Aqaba was reduced to little more than a fishing village.

The Ottomans, who ruled the area for almost five centuries, did not reverse the situation of the city either (despite important projects such as the expansion of its Fort), as two alternative communication routes opened up: for trade, through the Suez Canal, operational since the mid-19th century, and for pilgrims to Mecca, with the Hejaz Railway in the early 20th century (although its period of operation was brief).

However, Aqaba would occupy a prominent place in another historical episode of Jordan: the Arab Revolt. The Ottoman Empire had given it a strategic military role, but it was taken by the British and the Arabs (with a key role played by Thomas Edward Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia) in one of the most consequential chapters of that movement.

When Jordan gained independence in 1946, the Jordanian coastline of Aqaba was only about 14 km, something that neighboring Saudi Arabia did not recognize. But in 1965, King Hussein made a land exchange, which earned it official recognition and the expansion of the Jordanian coastline by another 12 km, in exchange for 6,000 km2 in the desert.

Today, Aqaba is a prosperous city that is advancing thanks to the significant premium tourism that arrives here. This can be seen in the high concentration of private urbanizations, resorts, and hotels, especially in the coastal area, where other top-level spaces are located, such as its marina and water park. At the same time, its strategic location on the Red Sea emphasizes the importance of Aqaba in other sectors, such as logistics, thanks to its cargo port, or real estate, thanks to its new developments.

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What to see in Aqaba

Although it may not seem like the most picturesque city and many travelers come here for relaxation, there are also plenty of things to see in Aqaba. Some are historical monuments and archaeological sites, while others are newly created attractions of great interest.

Historical monuments and archaeological sites to see in Aqaba

The prosperity of ancient Ayla can still be appreciated in some historical monuments and archaeological sites scattered throughout the city. If you are interested in this topic, you can take note of the following places to see in Aqaba:

  • Aqaba Fortress: an imposing defensive fortress originally built by the King of Jerusalem and leader of the Crusaders, Baldwin I, but later expanded, especially in the 16th century.
  • Ancient City of Ayla: it is the modest but interesting archaeological site that shows where the ancient city of Ayla was located, next to the current marina. Only the bases of columns and walls can be distinguished, but it has explanatory panels.
  • Ancient Church of Ayla: although its ruined appearance may not impress visitors, it is important to put it into context. Its origins could date back to the 3rd century (expanded in the following centuries), which would make it one of the oldest churches in the world.
  • Aqaba Archaeological Museum (Aqaba Heritage Museum): located under the large flag of the Arab Revolt, in the compound of Aqaba Fortress. It was the residence of Husayn ibn Ali, founder of the Hashemite dynasty. Its collection includes pieces from the Bronze Age and onwards.
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Other attractions to see in modern Aqaba

Without going so far back in time, there are many other attractions to see in Aqaba that are iconic to the city. The first one is the flag of the Arab Revolt: you won’t have much difficulty seeing it… it’s visible from many places in the city and even from outside of it! Its flagpole has a height of 137 meters, while the flag itself measures 20 x 40 meters. It was installed here in 2017 to commemorate the Great Arab Revolt against the Turks. That’s why the flag is not exactly the Jordanian flag, but rather that of the aforementioned revolutionary movement, as it lacks the seven-pointed star, which is distinctive of the Jordanian flag. It is, therefore, a reaffirmation of what happened here 100 years before, declaring the Arab identity of the country.

In the area of mosques, Aqaba has several of great interest. The most important one is perhaps the Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque, promoted by the great-grandfather of King Abdullah II and a key figure in the Arab Revolt. It is elegant and immaculate, with an Ottoman-style minaret visible on its coastline.

And to discover the richness of the Red Sea’s underwater world without having to leave the city, there’s nothing better than visiting the Aqaba Aquarium. It is located very close to the ferry terminal, about 10 km south of the city. Perhaps for this reason, it may go unnoticed by many travelers, but the marine species that swim here make the visit worthwhile: lionfish, parrotfish, turtles… and many more.

Finally, if all you want to do is take a leisurely stroll in Aqaba, you can head to Al-Hammamat Al-Tunisiyah St. (continuation of Ash Sherif Al Hussein Bin Ali St. or simply Amman Hwy), which connects Ayla Circle and Prs. Haya Circle: here you will find one of the central parks of the city, as well as a commercial area in Aqaba Gateway, to end your walk at the always pleasant marina.

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What to do in Aqaba

Not only will you have things to see in Aqaba, but also things to do. It is one of the most dynamic cities in terms of activities, as it has something that no other Jordanian city has: the sea. Therefore, some of the most interesting proposals are related to this. Especially:

  • A dip at the beach: for many people, this is relatively common, but for Jordanians, this is their only option, becoming much more visible during weekends and local holidays. However, at the Public Beach (Al Ghandour Beach, between the marina and the fort), there may also be people from other countries taking a dip, as the beach is well-maintained, the water is clean, and it has facilities for swimmers.
  • Boat trips: from its marina, you can take trips of different distances. In some cases, you can enter Egyptian waters, for example, to visit the so-called Pharaoh’s Island. For this, you will need to have your passport with you.
  • Scuba diving: there are different companies that organize courses and occasional dives to explore the crystal-clear waters of the Red Sea, where colorful fish, corals, and many other marine species abound.
  • Glass-bottom boat tours: this is an intermediate option between the previous two. It allows you to observe marine fauna in their natural habitat without having to immerse your body in the water. The farther from the coast, the more fish you can observe.
  • Other water sports: scuba diving and snorkeling are not the only water sports you can practice in Aqaba. There are also companies, professionals, and equipment for windsurfing or kayaking, among others. Tourist resorts offer these services. Bird watching: the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature created an artificial wetland on the outskirts of the city, near the border with Israel, with its corresponding bird watching station, so bird lovers have a date with this space. The star species is undoubtedly the white-eyed gull, but there are also wading birds and ducks.
  • Water leisure: in the resort area, north of the city center, you will find the Saraya Aqaba Water Park, a water park with slides that will delight the little ones… and the not-so-little ones.
  • Turkish baths: another more relaxed water option is Turkish baths or hammams. In the city center, you will find several establishments dedicated to this activity, which can include massages, steam baths, and exfoliations. In addition, many hotels also have a similar service in their facilities.

If you take a stroll through the center, you will see that Aqaba has a considerable variety of restaurants and shops, superior to other cities of similar size. Therefore, it is possible to take a walk through the center to enjoy some good shopping or a nice dinner. Among the indulgences you can purchase are textile products (Arab scarves, carpets, etc.) or ostrich eggs, while for something characteristic of the city, you can visit King Hussein St. and Raghadan St.

How to get to Aqaba

The tourist success of Aqaba is not only due to its excellent location, but also to its good communication network, which is better and more efficient than in other cities in the country. Here you will find one of the two international airports in Jordan: although it has less air traffic and fewer connections with other countries than Amman, it is often used for charter flights. In addition, it has a direct route with Amman International Airport, making flying between the two cities feasible, which speeds up travel.

Aqaba also has an important ferry terminal, mainly used to connect the city with the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The most popular route is Nuweiba, with regular lines, but there is another one with Taba, which is shorter and faster, using private catamarans.

Long-distance buses also have Aqaba as one of the key points in the network. With the JETT company, you can travel to Wadi Musa (Petra), Wadi Rum, or Amman, as well as to other less touristy but heavily populated cities such as Zarqa or Irbid.

And if you choose private transportation (car or bus), which is always the most convenient and flexible option, you should calculate the following distances and durations for the journey:

  • Wadi Rum: 70 km, 1 hour
  • Wadi Musa (Petra): 130 km, 2 hours
  • Madaba: 300 km, 4 hours
  • Dead Sea: 280 km, 3 hours and 15 minutes
  • Amman: 330 km, 4 hours
  • Jerash: 375 km, 4 and a half hours

How to Get Around Aqaba

How to Get Around Aqaba

Once in Aqaba, you have different options for getting around. If you need a transfer from the airport, the only options are shared taxis or private services, as there are no shuttle buses. The airport is located about 10 km to the north, which takes about 15 minutes to reach.

Similar to the airport, the ferry terminal is at a similar distance but to the south. In this case, there are no shuttle buses either, although there are minibuses available. Again, taking a taxi or a private vehicle is the most convenient option.

To move around the city, you will find green taxis without meters, so you will need to negotiate the fare for each ride.

Other Useful Information

For more information on what to see in Aqaba, you can visit the tourist information office located at Ayla Circle, which provides brochures, maps, and other updated materials for city visits.

As a modern and large city, Aqaba also has other services of interest for tourists, such as a police station in front of the bus station, and a modern and well-equipped hospital in the city center.

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