Diving in Aqaba, Jordan as new diver
A few weeks ago, I returned from a repeat trip to Aqaba in Jordan, and this time, I was diving in Aqaba. I highly recommend it as a friendly, affordable diving destination.
What makes Aqaba great for diving?
Aqaba is essentially a small port city in the far south of Jordan that has access to some good coastline, specifically, healthy reefs. In recent, decades, it has tried to become a holiday and diving resort, not last promoted by King Abdullah of Jordan, who is a sports diver. Since the 1980s, all sorts of military and marine scrap have been scuttles to previously barren sea floor to create artificial reefs and add interest for divers.
Liberal visa policies and decent flight connections to Europe have made Aqaba a great winter sun destination. Add to that the magnificent sights of Petra and Wadi Rum, bit h accessible on a day trip and the general friendliness of the locals, you have a great destination which, surprisingly is still very much under the radar. The Aqaba Tourist Information has a whole list of reasons why diving in Aqaba is marvellous, and I can only agree!
For clarification, this post is about scuba diving in Aqaba. I did see plenty of freedivers, though, and some general information might be useful for any one diving or not!
Comparison with its Red Sea neighbours Egypt (and to a certain extent Saudi Arabia and Israel) come up – so which is recommended for diving? Well, let me begin that I have not been diving in any of the other destinations, so I am quite obviously biased towards Jordan.
Egypt has a much longer coastline, and therefore many more diving opportunities – and cheaper diving. Bear in mind the major Red Sea resorts or Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam are quite crowded though, and I have heard some controversial report about the health of corals and marine life. Further south around Port Berenice, near the Sudanese border, there are some fabulous dive sites and a few resorts that cater to them – but not much else.
There isn’t much established diving in Saudi Arabia although it probably has amazing sites. However, both countries have a somewhat questionable human rights record according to our Western view. And Israel – it’s coastline is a tiny bit longer than Jordan’s and it is super crowded – and much more expensive. And some might not want to holiday a state that’s veering dangerously towards right wing politics currently. I met a divemaster from the Far East (totally not biased) who gave diving in Eilat really the thumbs down – expensive, very few corals, his experience with local dive bases wasn’t good, either.
Arriving in Aqaba
I arrived by direct Easyjet flight from Europe. King Hussein International Airport is a tiny airport 10km from Aqaba which not used a lot except by budget airlines and some commuter flights to Amman. Another option would be to fly to Eilat-Ramon in Israel and use the Yitzhak Rabin land border crossing although in my opinion, flying to Aqaba is a lot more straightforward.
There is no public transport, but a taxi is a reasonable 10 JOD with some gentle haggling to the centre.
Where to stay
Aqaba is first and foremost a port and trading city that is styling itself as a resort, so you find a wide variety of accommodation options.
Where to stay in Aqaba
I like to be near the centre of town, close to the bazaar and numerous restaurants. The city beach is not for the average Westerner, though, and if you are female and turn up in a Western swimsuit, you will get plenty of stares. However, for evening walks, bazaar and people watching I would always choose somewhere in the city centre, and then take a taxi to one of the beach clubs of South Beach, where you can swim, snorkel or just lounge.
This time around, I wanted to stay somewhere relatively cheap as I have a huge chunk of tuition fees coming up – and somewhere not too much in the tourist bubble but not too far from the Red Sea. I booked a room at the Relax House. Generally, is a great option as long as you don’t book the cheapest double, which is tiny, has no window and appears to be cannibalised for spares. The staff is lovely, though, and one another room became available, I was able to move into a large and bright room. It’s basic but clean and spacious and for the price (about 15 Euro per night) unbeatable.
If you want primarily the beach, I recommend staying in South Beach or Tala Bay about 10km from the town centre. The JETT bus even picks up from Tala Bay and South Beach.
Last time , I stayed at the lovely Amir Palace Hotel. They exclusively book through their own website now and while the hotel is nice, it is also simple, and I am not sure close to 60 Euro is a good price per night.
If you have a bigger budget, the Lacosta Hotel is not just close to the beach and some of the best restaurants in town, it is also lovely, friendly, with huge rooms but – no pool. Easy to be mixed up with the Laverda Hotel , which has a star less but sits like a Moorish Castle on steroids next to King Hussein Street and the city beach. Doesn’t have a pool either but has some sustainability credentials.
If you want a pool AND be in the centre, the Kempinski is probably the best choice – five-star, large pool, close to the city beach and all the pared-down elegant style you could wish for.
All of Aqaba’s Dive sites are a short drive south of town, along a relatively undeveloped beach. Coming from town going south, they start at the South Beach, in view of the port, stretch along a public and a private beach and culminate in a small low key Divers Village” before stretching further south to Tala Bay which is home to some upmarket resorts.
Some exceptions are mostly for advanced divers. The closest to town is the “Tristar”, an old commercial passenger jet that stood around the airport looking sad until it was scuttled to the sea floor by royal decree. A little south, and a great drift dive is the “Power Station “Dive site, which, as the name says, is facing a disused electrical power station, a little north of South Beach. These are really only accessible by boat. All other sites can be accessed from the beach, and it is just a matter where to stop, as the sea floor drops down to 100m, with two wrecks a little further out, which are really technical dive sites and not for beginners.
In terms of a dive site guide, I like this by the Royal Jordanian Marine Conservation Society the most. You can download the PDF: unfortunately the site is not secure, and it is not that up to date, with the Tristar site missing. Another good dive site guide is the one by Arab Divers.
But let’s get back to what’s easily accessible to the novice diver.
Corals and fish attracted me most to diving from the beginning. And Aqaba certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Sure, it’s probably not like Indonesia, but talking about easily accessible, safe, welcoming country with a reasonably good human rights record – one of the best in the Middle East – with good flight connections from Europe and some World Heritage Sights on your doorstep – Jordan scores pretty high.
You will find intact smaller coral and a plethora of fish. From small and colourful butterfly fish, angelfish, triggerfish, clownfish, curious-looking pufferfish, the deadly scorpionfish to larger barracuda, moray eels, even the rare shark making it up the Gulf of Aqaba.
Aqaba is well known for having some of the most accessible wrecks – all sorts of decommissioned military gear, starting with a tank at just 7-10metres depth, a vintage military airplane, to some ship wrecks. The “Cedar Pride” small freighter is probably the most famous of them. Almost all were scuttled, i.e. transported to their current site without any loss of life – which I much prefer to the “graveyard wrecks”. Pretty much any of these sites are accessible from the shore and, from my perspective, easy to dive.
Honestly, wreck diving is perhaps the thing I am least interested in, but I could not help but be impressed by the easily accessible wrecks of Aqaba.
Here’s me en route to a deep dive, passing the Lockheed C-130 again. Since a storm broke it in half, the interior is somewhat less impressive – but if you are a novice diver and really into wrecks, this is accessible with a proper guide.
Aqaba has at least twenty dive centres. Practically every school is associated with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), probably th emost well-known diving school association worldwide. One or two are also affiliated with Scuba Schools International ( SSI). I haven’t really seen many other affiliations like CMAS or NAUI. However, as a novice diver, it doesn’t really matter.
It pays to do a bit of research which school you want to dive with, and compare their programs and pricing as they can be quite different. Some have fancy motor yachts that they want you to dive from, which is fine if you want to log many dives, and some offer classroom lessons. On the other end of the spectrum you will find relatively simple operations with shore-based diving only and all course work to be completed online.
Some dive centres are based in the Tala Bay hotels, some in the Divers Village on South Beach, some in the town centre. Location doesn’t matter so much, since most offer a complimentary shuttle from your accommodation to the dives sites.
Having completed my Open Water certification with SSI, I wanted to continue on SSI, but one of the school I contacted didn’t bother to respond, the other one was a reputable school based in a luxury resort. They do have two boats that want to get filled, and while I do not blame them and the communication was very good, equipment hire would have bumped up the price considerably.
So, having booked my accommodation in town first, I noticed a diving school right next to my hotel which had excellent reviews, contacted them and reserved my course. They are called Petra Divers and I was very happy with my choice. So all I can report is that I have been very happy with that school, with no issues at all.
They have experienced teachers – who err on the cautious side, good equipment, no frills but very good prices and a very easy way to book – just email or phone up, pay a deposit of you want to sign up to the-Learning, pay on site. Really, as a novice diver, I appreciated that all equipment (except a dive computer which I did not really need as I stayed close to the instructor) was included, that they had equipment in my size and everything fitted well.
My instructor was incredibly caring and knowledgeable, and accommodated my requests for “lots of fish” so I know a lot of the shallow reefs of Aqaba now.
Style of Diving
I visited in January which is low season for Aqaba. Each morning having arranged a meeting time with y instructor, I would amble to the office after breakfast, and be picked up by my instructor. As a small diving school, Petra Diving do not have a bot so all my dives were shore-based. And quite rightly, 95% of all Aqaba dive sites are easily accessible from the shore. I did see some dive boats bobbing up and down near us, as well as snorkelers boats, but to be honest unless you dive the “Tristar” or “Power Station” or some of the technical dives, you require no boat.
Depending on the dive site, a number of vans would pull up every morning and disgorge divers on a windswept beach, we’d get ready on some benches then walk about 100-200m on quite compacted sand to the waterline with all our gear on. The entry was full of mid-sized stones, probably man made, so you need a good boot. Then another 50m somewhat wobbly entry until you can submerge. My instructor was extremely helpful and provided assistance when needed, and we also helped each other with tanks when not diving, so I didn’t find it difficult.
We would go out on small groups, and usually the instructor to student ratio was 1:2 at the most. After my dive, my instructor would take another small group while I drank tea and did my online learning. At some point, I was diving with even two instructors (one was a guest), so the attention every diver would get was immaculate.
In the early afternoon we’d go to another dive sites by van, and same again. Usually I would be finished diving at 14.00. I only did two dives a day, veering somewhat onto the conservative side, as some of my dives were decompression dives.
What else is there to see and do in Aqaba?
Which brings me to other things to do on Aqaba. So, yes, Aqaba is a proper city and always lively. Coming home from diving, I would have a small rest, maybe lunch. Some days I just sat by the beach or in a restaurant near my hotel and soak up the sun – it was January, after all.
Often I would walk to the centre and the long bazaar streets. I even bought some traditional dresses as well as cosmetics, Aleppo soap, henna, spices… the secret is firstly to ask locals where to shop, and secondly steer away from the more touristy shops around Ayla Circle and Princess Salma Park.
The wind made it too cold to sunbathe, really. So I would usually be out and about, fully clothed, enjoying the sun and the street life.
Pretty much any restaurant I tried was good. I had my favourites, Khubza and Seneya, and Al Shami to begin with. They are still good but then, so are others. Anything that is a bit outside the touristic centre and filled with people is usually good. Usually restaurants are super full on weekends beginning Friday, when locals descend onto the sea, and it’s very lively out there.
I shopped at Al Shaab Nuts which is an Aqaba institution. Their biggest shop is in Zahran Street, in fact, there are several. If you like roasted nuts, you must visit this shop. I also looked at a bit of gold jewellery, but Aqaba is not as good for shopping as, say Amman, but can provide some nice distraction for a bit. I brought back tons of genuine Aleppo Soap, Dead Sea products, natural soap, henna powder, incense and several kilograms of nuts.
Apart from strolling round the city, which is more rough and ready that Arabian Nights there is some interesting development on the fringes of the city, with a bird observatory, the new-ish Ayla Marina and some very fancy-looking apartment developments near the marina.
Trips from Aqaba
Diving aside, Aqaba has a huge advantage compared to, say, Israel and Egypt: Accessibility to two world heritage sites within two hours.
Wadi Rum is less than an hour from Aqaba and easily reachable by share taxi, JETT Bus or public bus. You can easily take a day trip but I recommend spending at least one night in a desert camp.
I stayed at the Caravan Station Camp this year. Shameless plug, I know, but it really was a lovely classic Wadi Rum Camp right in the middle of the protected area with all the classic trappings: goat hair tents, a huge dining tents, stargazing, campfires, Bedouin BBQ… at some crazy low price. Don’t be alarmed by this. They make most of their money by selling tours, which they offer at good prices, certainly lower than some of the well-established camps/those with a pro internet presences. They communicate prices clearly and really accommodate solo travellers by merging them into small groups. Note only cash is accepted, as in most camps, and there is no ATM in Wadi Rum Village.
Getting back is super simple too – as most guests check out between 9 and 10am, the camp owner arranged for a taxi AND found me some travel mates so this cost even less than the JETT bus.
Petra is approximately two hours by taxi, JETT bus or public bus. JETT charges the same as for a Wadi Rum ticket, making this a good deal. A public bus caught at no fixed schedule from the bus station by the police station charges about half. Some hostels can arrange for local bus pickup even. Best way is to ask in your hotel before going to the bus station – or use the scheduled once-daily JETT service.
While you can theoretically see Petra on a day trip, I do not recommend it, There is simply too much to see, and a two-day ticket is just around 5 Euro more expensive than a single day one, which costs around 70Euro. And you need a passport to buy the ticket. If you leave in the early morning by bus, you will get around 8 hours in Petra, which is not bad and will let you see the Treasury and the main attractions but there is a lot of walking involved and if the weather isn’t good, you don’t get that next day chance.
I recommend you spend a night. Nomads Hostel is a great clean budget choice but separated from the entrance by a massive hill. Petra Boutique Hotel is an upmarket independent hotel 5min walk from the entrance but with an altogether more forgiving gradient.
Although Israel is super close and there is a border crossing close by, I would not go on a day trip into Israel. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are miles away, and I am unsure what you can get in Eilat that you cannot get in Aqaba. And this is coming from someone who loves to travel in Israel but everything at its time.
What to bring
To be honest: not much, especially if your diving centre specifies that diving gear is included in the price.
I travelled with a 30l day pack and really pared down on stuff: comfy slip on sandals, a beach towel/coverup, rash vest, swimsuit, sturdy walking shoes for Wadi Rum, jeans, a merino sweater, long sleeved tops, contact lenses, money, camera, toiletries, underwear. Smartphone or tablet if you want to take a course as they tend to be online self-study.
The diving centre provided all things diving including even a mask.
The Small Print
I travelled to Aqaba in January 2023 on a budget flight and did an Advanced Open Water Diver Course. I paid my way and did not receive any discounts or other favours for a mention on this blog post. The underwater photographs are courtesy of Petra Divers and have been used with explicit permission of the owner.
This post contains some affiliate links to Booking.com, which means I may earn a small commission if you choose to book through one of these links.
As always, please let me know if you have been diving in Aqaba, if you want to dive there, or if you just want to visit! I would be happy to help with any tips.
10 thoughts on “Diving in Aqaba, Jordan as new diver”
We visited Aqaba in December and it was nice to sit in the sun on Christmas day. We only went for a swim, but you didn’t need to go far to see corals and fish.
Niiice! I had no idea it was possible to go diving so close to Wadi Rum and Petra. It is interesting to dive in an area with such a long history, to see such modern military wrecks underwater. I have to admit, I was not expecting that. Really interesting post!
Loved the post – as an out of practice diver myself this is definitely tempting me back!
Hi Cheryl, out of practice is a potential problem here, too… only cold murky lakes near me… need holidays to dive nicely
Incredible photos and what an experience! I’d love to visit Jordan and this looks like it was such a great activity. Good to know what other things you can do in the area too. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Katie, thank you for your comment! This was my second trip to Jordan and won’t be my last. Jordan might not be the top top diving destination, what’s near Aqaba (Wadi Rum, Petra) makes this an incredible base. For fish and generally easy diving Aqaba is excellent though
I would love to learn how to dive! Thanks for sharing this epic destination and would love to visit Wadi Rum too 🙂
Hi Hannah, then you can go to Jordan and do both easily … 😉
Wow! That was an informative and interesting article!
HI Danielle, Thank you very much for your comment!