An April 2002 trip
to Aqaba by DrMaximus
Quote: A lovely port city at the southern most tip of Jordan, and the country’s only point of access to the Red Sea. I had come here with little expectations, so was absolutely delighted that so many of my dreams were realized here!
Our room was fairly clean, though not exceptionally well furnished. It felt more like a double room with the third bed thrown in, leaving little space to walk about. The air-conditioning was functioning, at least, but we left the balcony doors open to allow in fresh sea breezes. The evening view was exceptional as the glowing orange sun retreated behind the irregular peaks of the mountain chain, its golden rays shimmering on the water surface. The silhouette of the city’s largest mosque makes this a truly Middle Eastern experience.
Having just enjoyed the wonderful breakfast spread a day before at the Grand Palace in Amman, breakfast at Al-Shula was utterly disappointing. Stale pita bread, jam and a plate of cucumbers and tomatoes. More stale bread and slow service. The bill stipulated JD2 for each breakfast portion, so it appears that it could have been avoided, but I am not sure. In any case, express some disinterest in the hotel room before agreeing to stay a night and you should enjoy a better offer. We shaved JD4 off the rate for a triple room, but our circumstances could have been exceptional as war was being waged just across the gulf at the time.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 7, 2002
Hotel | "Al Zaitouna"
Al Zaitouna Hotel
The management at the Dweik 2 is far warmer and much more amiable than that two doors away, and they try their best to accommodate all guest requests, including my request to have breakfast at 530am instead of at 7am. Half the rooms have unparalleled views of the Gulf and of Eilat, and the balconies are lovingly furnished with carved white marble. I enjoyed many evenings sitting in the open, with warm breezes caressing my ears as I chatted with my companion, enjoying bird's eye view of the Middle Eastern nightlife. If you get a room without a view, the hotel has an open air rooftop terrace which affords this similar wonderful view. In all, my favourite accommodation choice in Aqaba.
Hotel | "Al Jaber"
The bakery next door is perhaps the best attraction as it boasts of no less than a hundred different types of Middle Eastern and local sweets. Thought that a baklava is just layers and layers of crumbling pastry filled to the brim with chopped pistachios and honey? Here, you will be proven wrong while your sweet tooth will be taken for a ride!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 7, 2002
Restaurant | "Mr Cool Cafe"
Mr. Cool Cafe
All waiters here are super friendly and aim to please. It’s a little pity that the restaurant manager, Osama Suliman, was rather pretentious and tried to retain our change for his own pocket. Always ask for a paper receipt detailing the full order, and cover up your feet – the hordes of mosquitoes are sure to have you for dinner too!
Captain’s, furnished appropriately like a ship, is located at Al Nahda Street in the hotel area, between Aquamarina II city hotel and the Golden Tulip. It really is centrally located and less than five minutes’ walk from most hotels in the city.
Al Nahda Street
Near Post Office
Attraction | "Wadi Rum Desert Service"
If you ever go to Wadi Rum, Hasan Qutaish is the only choice worth considering. I met fellow backpackers who followed other services and were sorely disappointed… small jeeps packed with up to eight people, petite unappetising dinners and uninterested guides. As a bonus, our dinner of BBQ chicken and a seemingly endless spread of salads, potatoes, rice and more salads, was nothing less than exquisite. We also enjoyed a sunset seated at the top of a sand dune.
To get to the Wadi Rum Desert Service, walk along Ragadan Street. At the middle, at the corner of Al-Shami restaurant close to the Al-Shula Hotel, a lane turns off to the left. Walk another 50m to get there, you won’t miss the huge signs and attractive photos on the glass wall.
Wadi Rum Protected Area
Southern Jordan near Saudia Arabia border
In the morning between 9am and noon is the best time to be at the consular services, as I was told. My visa application was processed and approved immediately as there was nobody else at all on that morning. Tourism was at one of its lowest levels in years due to the regional conflict. The fee is JD12,000 and one passport photo is required. Note that if you are only going to spend time in the Sinai Peninsula, you do not need a visa to enter Egypt. But in any case, it’s worth the tiny effort to obtain a visa in case you change your mind – it’s in any case a wonderful souvenir! I was extra friendly to the immigration officer and he ended up giving me a cool visa with two beautiful Egyptian stamps on it. "Special for you only!" he said, with a proud glee on his face.
The best location for these boats is 200m north along the beach from the Movenpick Hotel. You will see many locals holding on to towels and beach mats, follow them down the narrow path (flanked by tall wooden planks) which is adjacent to the main road. It at first does not seem like a probable road which leads to any beach at all, but deceptively is. At the end of this road by the beach is a café where the owners will haunt you to buy drinks or get on a boat. Avoid the first, and haggle for the second. Be reminded that this is the only stretch of beach which is free for the public. All other hotel-owned stretches charge from JD2,000 for use of their private (cleaner and quieter) beaches.
The fast craft leaves Aqaba at between midday and 1pm. You should arrive at least 90 minutes prior to the departure to secure tickets. The Terminal does have huge signs indicating where to purchase your fasts craft tickets from, but through experience I know that they often go unnoticed! The booth is on the second floor of the Terminal and you can pay in either USD or JD. When you purchase your ticket, they will issue you a receipt. With that receipt, you must proceed to one of the four bank booths directly opposite, to pay the fare in cash. There are at least four bank branches, so take your pick – the fare remains the same whichever you choose! Make sure they initial on your receipt for payment received. Then, you will see a table where pink immigration forms are available. Fill out one of these and join the line to clear customs. I joined one of the three long lines, but before long, seeing that I was a fairly ‘exotic looking’ tourist, one of the police guys came and motioned me to go to the head of the queue. The rest in line, mostly of Middle Eastern origin, were visually unhappy, but I am not about to complain! With the receipt paid, and customs cleared, turn back to the ticket booth and exchange all these documents for your boat ticket. You will be told to leave the building and wait at an open-air shed along with numerous other locals. A bus, which probably should have been scrapped a decade ago, will arrive about 30 minutes prior to departure to ferry passengers to the embarkation point. Just squeeze your way up the buses… they get impossibly crowded and we all know that queues do not work in this region. The buses will return to ferry more passengers. If possible, do not leave your luggage with the loaders. Bring them along with you as you board the craft, and leave them by the side. They are safer this way, and far more convenient.
Snacks are available on board, as is a foreign exchange booth offering terrible rates. Wait till you get to Nuweiba where there are several booths around the bus terminal providing better rates. Be sure to use the bathroom on the fast craft before disembarking because the facilities at Nuweiba port are revolting. Immigration clearance and customs inspection at Nuweiba is also absurd, so expect long lines. Leave your civility behind. Try to be first off board and first in line. For further information, proceed to the Egypt journal.