Aqaba is Jordan’s year-round aquatic playground. In winter while Amman is averaging at around 5ºC (41ºF), Aqaba is flaunting a comfortable temperature of 25ºC (77ºF). There is no bad time to visit Aqaba and therefore it’s the perfect holiday destination for the winter months. Situated along the Red Sea, its waters harbour a rich and diverse ecosystem with almost 1,200 species of fish. Roughly 10% of these fish cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Aqaba offers many options in the way of activities—snorkelling, scuba diving, Jet Skis, parasailing and boat trips—or you can choose to relax at your hotel and enjoy the beach.
One of the oldest mentions of Aqaba is The Old Testament references to Elath (modern day Israeli town of Eliat), "King Solomon also built ships in Ezion-Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shores of the Red Sea." (1 Kings 9:26). The Queen of Sheba is also said to have travelled from the holy city of Jerusalem to the port city "Ezion Geber" to visit King Solomon.
In the 12th century, Crusaders occupying the area built the fortress of Helim, and it remains relatively well-preserved. However, it has been altered considerably as Aqaba has changed hands over time. During the 14th century Mamluk sultan, Qansah al-Ghouri, rebuilt the fort just before the Ottoman Empire seized control. Then when T.E. Laurence drove the Ottoman Empire out of Aqaba during the Great Arab Revolt, the Hashemite coat of arms was placed above the main doorway. The fort is open to visitors and there is no entrance fee.
The Crusaders also fortified the small island of Ile de Graye, now more commonly known as Pharoah’s Island. It is approximately 7 kilometres offshore and daily boat trips can be arranged.
Archaeologists recently unearthed a 26x16 metre structure turning out to be the world’s oldest church. This has been dated back to approximately 300 AD—older than the 4th century Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre.
Aqaba has been inhabited since 4,000 BC, and has benefitted from its location as a crossroads for trading routes between Africa, Asia and Europe. These trading routes first connected Aqaba with southern Arabia and Yemen leading to its growth into a thriving coastal city. During the Roman period it was one of the main ports, as the long distance road Via Traiana Nova, came from Bosra via Amman to Aqaba, connecting with the west road heading to Egypt.
During the Ottoman Empire period, Aqaba continued to flourish as a junction for all trade routes. It wasn’t until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 that led to the decline of the city, reducing it to a small fishing village.
In 1965 King Hussein made an agreement with Saudi Arabia and exchanged 6,000 square kilometres (2,317 square miles) of desert land for12 kilometres (7 miles) of coastline (including coral reef) to expand Aqaba. This expansion not only allowed the construction of larger ports encouraging a boom in trade, but added to the seaside tourism that flourishes today.