A June 1999 trip
to Aqaba by wanderluster
Quote: This journal focuses on the Aqaba and Wadi Rum section of our month long honeymoon to Egypt and Jordan. After spending a week in the Sinai desert, we ferried over to Aqaba and spent four days exploring this southern section of Jordan.
It's a rather small city, clean and friendly. Shops and banks emerge from a city centre, and a string of hotels line the Gulf of Aqaba coast. It's an easy city to walk around, as shops are within easy walking distance from most hotels. The Aquarium, south of the ferry terminal, will require a taxi to visit if you want to see the local sea life swimming in tanks. Those who wish to see the fish in the sea can easily do so on an organized snorkel or scuba trip arranged from the Royal Diving Centre located south of town. Public beaches line the coast and offer glass-bottom boat trips for JD5 per half hour.
Wadi Rum is approximately an hour's drive east of Aqaba and should not be missed. It is a vast desert landscape dominated by mountains that begs exploration by camel, jeep or foot. All these options and more are available from the Government Rest House, near the entrance to Wadi Rum.
Petra, the granddaddy of tourist attractions in Jordan, is merely an hour's drive north of Aqaba. Plan on two days exploration for this ancient city carved into the rocks. Do not short change your visit here, especially if you enjoy hiking or history.
Arabian tea, served in tiny cups, is strong like espresso with a muddy bottom. Get used to drinking hot beverages in the scorching heat, because it's considered an insult to refuse tea when offered. Bedouin people are very hospitable and will offer you tea from shops to remote locales in the desert.
Taxis will gladly transport you out of town to Wadi Rum or Petra. It costs JD15 one way or JD25 round trip for an afternoon trip to Wadi Rum. A taxi to Petra will cost JD25 one way, or JD35 for a full day excursion. I heartily recommend staying overnight in the Petra area, so spring for the one way fare.
Hotel | "Radisson SAS Hotel"
Thus, a three night stay at the Radisson Hotel was arranged. Although I was disappointed in missing out on a unique desert adventure and sleeping under the stars, Hotel Boy was delighted with the modern facilities, and perfectly content to sit in the air-conditioned room watching Israeli television. Ho hum...
The Radisson is a large hotel situated on the Gulf of Aqaba, at the northern end of King's Boulevard amid a string of similar hotels that line the shore. Each has its own strip of sandy beach, frequently mostly by the locals. There are 244 standard rooms and 7 suites ranging in price from $90-130 US double occupancy. A breakfast buffet, included in the price of the room, offers yogurt, humus, olives, salads, scrambled eggs, meat and juice.
The hotel restaurant, located on the main floor, overlooks a large terrace and pool. The terrace provides the backdrop for approximately fifty small tables used for dining in the evening where a buffet of traditional Arabian fare is served outdoors. We ate there each night enjoying varying selections of chicken, lamb, beef and rice dishes. One night during dinner, we were comically entertained by a guy on electric keyboards and a woman who hummed a lot, apparently unfamiliar words to bad American tunes such as "Feelings." Why do hotels insist on entertaining us with our own embarrassing songs? We heard "Feelings" in numerous hotels throughout Egypt and Jordan, despite the fact that we were often the only Americans present in the company of Arabians, Germans and British. Travelers want to hear local music!
Near the hotel lobby, a small gift shop sells snacks, maps and souvenirs. When we arrived, we hadn't had a chance to change our money yet, but friendly shop keeper Georgette waved away our Egyptian and American currency and insisted that we take snacks free of charge. She was pleasant to talk to, and helpful with advice about things to do in the area. Such genuine friendliness was an impressive introduction to the land of Jordanians, and a welcome contrast to what we had experienced in Egypt, where all deeds no matter how insignificant had purse strings attached.
Rooms were comfortable, and exactly what my Hotel Boy needed after a week in the Sinai desert. Service was friendly, food was good, and the location ideal. We were within walking distance of several local shops where we purchased books, woven handbags, shirts and dresses. Within driving distance is the Royal Diving Centre (JD3 for taxi from hotel) where scuba diving and snorkeling trips can be arranged.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 7, 2002
Radisson Sas Resort Aqaba
Attraction | "Wadi Rum Desert"
Once the stomping grounds of T.E. Lawrence during the Arab Revolt in 1917-1918, the desert looks unchanged from his movie Lawrence of Arabia, filmed years ago at Wadi Rum. There are no tourist hotels, souvenir shops nor neon lights. Just a magnificent desert landscape. Majestic sandstone mountains loom over the valley in every direction, rising almost 6,000 feet toward the scorching sun. These jebels have a way of dramatically changing colors with the setting sun, turning pinky-beige, red and purple against the sand.
Nicknamed the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is an unusual landscape to explore by foot, jeep or camel. Rock formations have been shaped by eroding winds into natural rock bridges and archways. Rock climbers are welcome to scamper up the challenging mountains, although there are no organized trips or gear available.
When entering Wadi Rum, the Government Rest House will be your first stop to register your presence and pay the JD1 entry fee. It is a small building that contains a restaurant offering basic meals for JD2-5, and the only lodging in the desert. You can sleep on the roof (mattresses, rather worn and dirty, are provided) for JD2, or sleep in a 2 person tent behind the building for JD3. Showers are located in the building in addition to a luggage storage bin.
Behind the Rest House is a large tent where an elderly bedouin man served us tea in tiny cups, it's contents strong like espresso with a muddy bottom. After tea, we wandered over to nearby ruins, visible from the tent, and learned that the limestone walls and columns were once part of a Nabataean temple, dating from the 1st century.
Back at the Rest House, available excursions into Wadi Rum are posted on a bulletin board. Options:
Explore the desert in your own vehicle JD5
2 hour camel ride to Lawrence's Well JD7
Overnight camel trip camping with bedouins JD30
Full day jeep ride including hikes JD40
It is best to wait until you arrive to arrange these excursions. We hired a driver/guide for our ten days in Jordan, and he insisted we pay him $50 US per person to arrange a one hour jeep ride, substantially higher than the posted quotes. You don't need a middleman at Wadi.
If possible, avoid the summer months as the oppressive heat will zap your energy, spirits, and desire to explore the desert. We visited in late June, and missed out on a three day camping adventure that we canceled due to the suffocatingly intense heat. It can reach 120 F during the day, which probably explained why no other tourists were in sight. Disappointed to miss out on exploring the Wadi by camel and foot, we nevertheless got to see some of the desert by car.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 7, 2002
Wadi Rum Protected Area
Southern Jordan near Saudia Arabia border
Attraction | "Lawrence of Arabia carvings in Wadi Rum"
Leaving the village of Rum, which consisted of the Government Rest House, this police station/ jail, and a tiny shop for buying sodas and biscuits, we headed northeast into the desert of Wadi Rum.
It is a desolate land primarily filled with Bedouin nomads who pick up their goat-haired tents at whim and drift along to another sandy location with their families, goats, donkeys or camels. A couple of tiny villages and permanent concrete houses exist between Aqaba and the Saudi Arabia border.
We drove twelve kilometers northeast toward Diseh village, and came to a large Bedouin orchard beside a small concrete house. Mohammed led us through the lush, green orchard and brought us to a large sandstone jebel where we saw WW1 inscriptions and carvings of Lawrence of Arabia and his grandfather. Their faces are side by side in the rock with Arabic dates and names underneath. Our guide couldn't tell us much about them, other than who they were. It seemed an odd place to find such carvings, as this little hideaway was secluded and tricky to find. Perhaps it was one of their camping grounds during the war, as Lawrence and the Arab rebels did camp near Diseh during World War I. Only locals know how to get there, I can assure you.
This area also offers three natural rock bridges, assorted rock carvings of animals, and old Nabataean dams. No restaurants or grocery shops exist in the desert villages. Having enough water is extremely important when exploring even by car, so load up in Aqaba prior to arriving.
Transportation to this part of the Wadi Rum desert, or any other has to be arranged with a local guide or driver. Jeep or camel trips are available from the Government Rest House at the entrance to Wadi Rum. Otherwise, do like we did and hire a driver/guide to escort you throughout Jordan. You will still need to pay a fee at the Government Rest House if you use your own vehicle of JD 5.
Wadi Rum is located in the southern part of Jordan, east of Aqaba about an hour and a half drive.
In the Nuweiba port, we waited a very long two hours for what I thought was a delayed departure (being harassed the entire time by an guide who guilted us into forking over a substantially larger tip than we'd paid him in the Sinai desert and lectured us about Egyptian propaganda). But I learned that passengers must be present with tickets in hand two hours prior to departure time. This is required for both the ferry and hydrofoil (fast boat).
The ferry terminal in Nuweiba was filthy and crowded with mostly locals. There were a series of confusing lines we were led through for customs, immigration and check-in procedures. Our guide advanced us to the beginning of each long line "because we were tourists." It made me highly uncomfortable cutting in front of staring strangers, and I don't think we gained anything by it, as the wait in the terminal was lengthy anyway. We stood on the concrete loading dock with our guide for over an hour and a half.
A one way fare on the regular ferry costs $35 US and takes three hours or longer, while the hydrofoil costs $45 US and spits you across the sea in less than an hour. Considering the long wait time at either end, ten bucks is nothing to shave off a couple hours. Tickets for the hydrofoil have to be purchased at either the Arab Bridge Maritime Company Office near the port, or from one of the ticket agents along the waterfront.
The hydrofoil provided a smooth ride by skimming across the water. We sat in unassigned seats toward the back of the enclosed vehicle, after tossing our luggage into a storage bin. Sodas and snacks were available for purchase. Other than women brazenly spraying strong perfume into the air or removing nail polish, it was an enjoyable ride looking out the windows at the Red Sea and distant shores of Saudi Arabia.
Once we reached the Jordanian port in Aqaba, we claimed our luggage which was simply thrown onto the ground, and carried it into the terminal following the crowd. There an official collected passports from all passengers and left to process them. We sat in the lounge area like everyone else, and waited an hour before they called our name. Finally, we were able to leave the port. Exiting, we walked through a gated fence where Arab officials gruffly blocked our path. It was a rather rude, unsettling entry into the otherwise friendly and hospitable country of Jordan. A mob of black taxis were waiting for business outside the fence, and it was easy to grab a ride into town for JD 5.