AQABA: THE ONLY COASTAL CITY OF JORDAN SHARES BORDER WITH EGYPT & ISRAEL

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My co-traveler Sambhavna in the cruise!

AS WE BID ADIEU TO the mystical Wadi Rum, we stuffed our faces with fresh watermelons from the fields. Within an hour, I and other travel bloggers reached Aqaba, the only coastal city in Jordan. It was different from everything else in Jordan. We headed straight away to the cruise for what turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our vacation in Jordan. Located at the north east tip of the Red sea, its beauty is characterized by Gulf of Aqaba.

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My co-travelers Nandita and Sambhavna enjoying the cruise!

Being a border town junkie, what made it most exciting for me was the discovery that Aqaba lies at a crucial crossroad of Asia and Africa. As our cruise moved, we were excited when our guide pointed to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel within few minutes. We were shown an impressive white building in the distance. It was Taba Hilton, Egypt. On 7th October, 2004 a terrorist attack killed 34 people in the hotel. Ten floors of the hotel collapsed when a truck drove in its lobby and exploded. Since then, the hotel has been rebuilt. Formerly called Sonesta Hotel, this hotel was a bone of contention between Israel and Egypt. After many negotiations and intervention by UN, it was granted to Egypt. The Hilton group took over consequently. 6 kilometers away from Eilat, Israel, a visit to this hotel is tax free for the Israelis. However, post the terror attack, the hotel has seen lesser number of tourists from Israel.

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Taba Hilton, Egypt as seen from Aqaba,Jordan. A terrorist attack claimed many lives here.

I sat on the floor of the cruise, my legs dangling and flirting with the cold water of red sea. I was so absorbed with the views that I didn’t even realize when my co-travelers jumped in the water for a session of snorkeling. Never mind, I concentrated on tasting the refreshing sea air. I have seen many beaches in India but this was the bluest sea I have seen in my life till date. In fact, I noticed many shades of blue. The barren brown coastline complimented the azure water. A live barbeque at the rear of the cruise hung precariously over the sea.

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Snorkeling is a must in the beaches of Aqaba!

I was dying to see Eilat in Israel up close and personal. Due to lack of time, I settled for its view from the comfort of Movenpick Hotel. Later in the evening, I was again close to the border when we settled for a dinner at the upmarket Royal Yacht Club.

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Eilat in Israel, as seen from Movenpick resort, Aqaba.

Overlooking the marina, it was a perfect place to end the day. The small boats and yachts moored to the harbor made for a picturesque foreground for a setting sun. Many water related activities can be booked from here. We were pleasantly surprised to see a Bangladeshi steward serving us dishes, mostly Mediterranean. It was an unhurried evening spent leisurely in good company. The place was ideal for my ‘Me Time’ and as everyone was engrossed in conversations, I veered off surreptitiously to soak in the silent beauty of the place.  I sampled only the vegetarian fare. The food was good but not extraordinary. What was more satisfying was the ambiance of the place.

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Sunset at the Royal Yacht Club, Aqaba.

Post dinner, my group decided to take a post prandial walk in the markets of Aqaba. Aqaba is the kind of place which grows on you slowly. We passed many touristy shops, spice markets, even a Mc Donalds etc. The al fresco cafes at Raghadan Street were full of burqa clad women smoking sheesha with their male friends dressed in western clothes.

Pics above: Mohamed and his musical Ice Cream

We were walking casually in the Pizza Street in main market area when groovy music pulled us in. At Bakdash Ice Cream parlour, young Mohamed single handedly pounded ice cream with a long wooden log. The churning made a quirky upbeat music fit for energetic dance steps! It was the first time I tasted ‘Musical Ice Cream’. What makes the ice cream different (for me) here is the Arabic flavor. Try, Toot Shami, for instance. Mastic (plant based resin), Sahlab, fresh cream are some of the ingredients used. We asked Mohamed to repeat the ‘game’. It was one of my best moments in Aqaba.

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Aqaba from the cruise window!

To my great luck, I got separated from my group and ended up wandering alone on the streets of Aqaba. As I pretended to find my hotel, I kept my eyes peeled for anything fancy or interesting. I stopped for a moment at Al Sharif Hussein bin Ali mosque dedicated to Hussein Bin Ali, the leader of great Arab revolt.

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Al Sharif Hussein bin Ali mosque is white beauty.

I was dispassionately asking the address of my hotel to the strangers on the road. Not so much to get back to my hotel but to steal an opportunity to interact with locals. Little did I know 3 strangers will bite my bait which I did not even aim at them. Al-Hussein Bin Ali Square is a lively space in the middle of a crossroads. Families and friends sit here and while away their time eating ice creams, clicking selfies and rescuing their kids’ promiscuous balloons.

Pics above: The Syrians who asked me to click their pictures and send them on Facebook

Just as I was about to sit on a bench, a Syrian boy and his friend Sozi Hamdoun approached me. They looked at the DSLR dangling from my neck. “Photo Photo? How much?” They were taken aback when I said I would take many pictures and will inbox them on Facebook without any charge. I dropped the last bit of my pretense of finding my way to MovenPick hotel. I was rather feeling happy to get lost in an alien country. They had happy go lucky personalities for an apparently conflicted Syria. The boy was expressionless while the lively girls giggled, pouted and flirted with the lens. It was the first time I was clicking a stranger in a far away country.

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My Syrian friends(briefly though!)

Small interactions like these make a visit to any destination memorable. They had the same mannerisms and perhaps similar issues in life which an urban person of their age has in my country, India. Yes, we are all the same, yet different. When they learnt that I collect currencies, they offered me notes from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I accepted the Egyptian 5 pounds. Its value is not much. But it is my prized possession now. Every time I will see it, I will remember them.

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Marsa Zayed Mosque as seen from the rooftop of Movenpick resort, Aqaba!

I finally did find my hotel. The night was spent staring at the Aqaba city from my balcony. Late night, with special permission, some of us spent some time at the rooftop of the hotel. The views helped us understand the landscape of Aqaba. The next morning, I repeated the same, this time getting a better view of Marsa Zayed mosque. It is a redevelopement project undertaken by U.A.E.

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Aqaba cityscapes!

The ancient ruins of Ayla were visible from the balcony of the hotel. Built in 7th century A.D., it was one of the first Islamic cities. It is a recent discovery and still in a state of restoration. Other points of interest in Aqaba are: The Aqaba Archeological Museum, Souk By The Sea (Street market open on Friday evenings), Aqaba Fort and the ancient Church.

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Me on the cruise! Pic by Stuti Shrimali

How To Reach: Air Arabia runs economic yet comfortable flights from India via U.A.E. Check my review of the flight in previous blog.

When: I went in the month of May and the weather was pleasant.

Where to stay:  I stayed in the luxurious Movenpick Resort. It’s review will be up soon.

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The beach at Aqaba

Related Blogs:

15 REASONS TO VISIT JORDAN

WHY AIR ARABIA – ECONOMY CLASS IS GREAT TO REACH JORDAN

WADI RUM – MARS ON EARTH

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I enjoyed every minute on this cruise!

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Dining area of cruise!

NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

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Aqaba

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21 thoughts on “AQABA: THE ONLY COASTAL CITY OF JORDAN SHARES BORDER WITH EGYPT & ISRAEL

  1. You have beautiful photos from this cruise, looks like an amazing trip! I love snorkeling and I bet it was awesome in Aqaba! Really interesting to hear about the history of that hotel and that the UN had to intervene and give it to Egypt!

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. This looks like an absolutely amazing place! Jumping into the water from the boat is one of the best parts 🙂 It looks like you had a great time meeting the people, eating the food, and seeing all the sights! Will definitely be checking this place out sometime. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love your stories about enjoying wandering lost and taking photos of locals (and sharing them too). It’s such a strange highlight, but at the same time, it’s an authentic connection with people and you’re able to really feel the country. It sounds like Jordan is a very warm and welcoming place.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I liked the deep blue waters of Aqaba beaches. As Jordan is very near to Dubai i would surely make it in my wish list. Also the brown sand and mountains with blue water makes a very beautiful contrasting combination. I love the description of the places you cover as many of them are offbeat locations and you make people aware of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jordan is a country that I know very little about. The photos make it look beautiful and an interesting place to visit. For me one of the joys of travel is getting to meet new and different people, and it sounds like you must enjoy that too.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Liked this place. “Border town junkie”… never thought of that term but I guess I am one too, having been some border areas of the Himalayas. The gory history is saddening but from the pictures it looks like a very pleasant town to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Aqaba looks like a charming town with laid-back locals. I like that you got to explore this place on a cruise. The water is so blue and the weather looks great too. There is not much to do but the place looks beautiful. The musical ice cream looks delicious and colorful.
    Iza c/o Kathy James (Walk About Wanderer)

    Liked by 1 person

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