After spending a few days in Amman, Albert and I packed up the little Hyundai we rented from Budget and headed to the furthest point south in Jordan, Aqaba. Situated on the Gulf of Aqaba and bordered by Saudi Arabia and Israel, with Egypt off in the horizon, Aqaba has a desert climate and makes a perfect escape in the colder months. The drive takes about four hours along the Desert Highway during daylight hours. At night it can take much longer as the lack of light and fading painted lines make it almost impossible for someone not intimate with the route to make out the road. (Check out what driving was like at night.)
For us, that day, we made a few pit stops along the way. First, we paid a visit to the village where I served in the Peace Corps, just outside the city of Ma’an. Albert and I were only dating during our service so he never had the opportunity to see where I lived or meet some of my closest friends. Although he had been in the area (the village is pretty close to Petra) Albert was nevertheless surprised by the relative desolateness of the village. After visiting some friends and my former landlord, we drove back to Ma’an to see one of my former students off to her wedding and then back to the village for lunch.
I was eager to get on the road before the sunset because, as I mentioned above driving at night, even on the main highway can be challenging. I don’t think Albert believed me until we had the unfortunate experience of driving both on the backroads and highway after the sun had set-the bus drivers made it look so easy. After white-knuckling the steering wheel for an hour and a half, we made it to our final destination, Aqaba.
Admittedly, this trip was a little out of the ordinary for Backpacking with the Bonds. We typically try to stay in locally owned and operated hotels, like the Caravan in Amman, but during our Peace Corps days, we dreamed of staying at the Movenpick Resort and Residences in Aqaba. Albert had used the pool there once when a friend of ours stayed there and recounted stories about its luxuriousness. I was determined to go at least once and this was that time.
The grandness of the public spaces, however, belies the conditions of the rooms. I must say I was highly disappointed when we entered our room. The décor was as expected for a beachside resort, but the chair was covered in stains-to the point where I didn’t want to sit on it, the door looked like someone had taken a crowbar to it, and the balcony was littered with food left by the previous guests and pigeon droppings. This, coupled with the large drain surrounded by overgrown weeds and sludge on the private beach made me regret the choice of accommodation. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Aqaba, we recommend the Kempinski if you are looking for a large resort-like hotel as it’s newer and reputedly better maintained. If you’re looking for something budget friendly you can try Al Amer or Al Ameerah, both of which are clean and centrally located but do not have private beach access.
The city of Aqaba is a duty-free zone, thus making it an excellent place to shop. Jordanians will travel to Aqaba to shop for essential household items such as blankets and kitchenware and clothes. Buses leaving the city would often be packed to the brim with people and products. There are also a number of duty-free alcohol shops around the city where you can buy local wine and spirits, including Arak. You may be thinking wine from Jordan-really? The answer is yes-Jordan’s most popular winery, St. George has a wide selection of decent wine.
Apart from shopping, Aqaba has some great food options. There are numerous spots where you can get excellent fatayir (pies stuffed with meat, spinach, or cheese) or you can dine at one of my all-time Aqaba favorites, Ali Baba. I know it sounds cheesy but Ali Baba has excellent food, especially their mixed grill or Shish Taouk (grilled spiced chicken).
This post is part of a three part blog post series. Next up is our journey from Aqaba to the Dead Sea!
In case you missed it. Here’s our beginner's guide to Amman.
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