A new winter escape in the Middle East

Could the beaches and diving sites near Aqaba in Jordan become a new winter escape for European travellers?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Aqaba, Red Sea, Jordan

I’m on a motorboat out in the Red Sea when the captain turns down the engines so he can be heard and show us something interesting.

“Over there,” he says, pointing to the north, “that is Israel”.

“Over there is Egypt,” he says as he points to the west.

He moves his arm to the south as he says, “that is Saudi Arabia”.

And, as he gestures towards our nearby shore to the east, “of course, that is Jordan”.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

As someone who has not done much travel in the Middle East, it’s quite exciting to be able to see four countries at once… even if it is just their shorelines.

For all four of these countries, this part of the Red Sea is seen as a bit of a playground for tourists – and one with a lot more potential.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

Particularly for the nations for which stability and security are factors that discourage foreigners from visiting (and let’s be realistic, that’s almost all of them), there’s a hope that the Red Sea could become appealing enough to warrant a holiday.

The Jordan Red Sea

I am spending the day out on the water with my G Adventures tour group on a boat that has left from the city of Aqaba in Jordan.

Of the four countries that we can see, Jordan is certainly the safest and the most stable. While it’s famous for popular landmarks like Petra and Wadi Rum, the Jordan beaches are becoming more of an attraction.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

Out on the boat, we are cruising down the coast to stop at a few spots that are good for diving and snorkelling in Jordan.

Snorkelling near Aqaba

There are natural reefs here and our first stop is at one of them. For someone like myself who prefers snorkelling to diving, this is a great place to be able to just jump in the water and swim around.

It’s much clearer than I expected and there’s a lot more going on underwater than I expected, as you can see from these photos:

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan
Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

We have lunch on the boat and then travel a little bit further down the coast, to an area that’s more popular with scuba divers.

While there are natural dive spots around here, there are also some man made ones. It’s an attempt by the local authorities to give divers a deeper variety of things to do, encouraging them to visit this part of the Red Sea.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

Where we stop turns out to be very cool. Submerged in the water is an enormous plane – an old Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

It was lowered into the water in November 2017 and has been placed at about 17 metres below the surface. If you’re a diver, you can go down and get much closer – even go inside and see the cargo hold.

For a snorkeller like me, it’s still quite spectacular. The plane is 30 metres long and the wingspan is 40 metre wide. It means you can never quite see the whole thing at once and parts of the plane seem to appear from the deep as you swim along it.

Nearby is another cool spot for both diving and snorkelling near Aqaba. It’s called ‘The Tank’ and has been around for quite a while. This American M42 Duster tank was placed on the sea floor here in 1999.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

It’s only about six metres deep so it’s easy enough to dive down to. After so long underwater, it has attracted a lot of sea life that have made it their new home.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

Visiting Aqaba in Jordan

These new diving attractions, coupled with the natural ones that are already here, and the variety of beaches near Aqaba, could indeed be enough to grow the tourism industry here.

In Aqaba itself, there are a lot of hotels and restaurants, cafes and bars. It is not too crowded but it certainly is busy enough to have a pleasant holiday feel, with a nice mix of local and foreign tourists.

What’s likely to change things quite dramatically, though, is the recent announcement of new low-cost flights from Europe to Aqaba.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

Towards the end of 2018, Ryanair will launch new winter services that will bring tourists directly to Aqaba from Sofia, Athens, Cologne and Rome. The idea is that these will be tourists looking to escape the cold weather at home who are looking for a safe Middle Eastern country to enjoy the sun and the sand.

It’s also worth noting that Ryanair clearly sees Jordan as a huge opportunity, and it will also be connecting Amman all year to European cities like Bucharest, Warsaw, Brussels and Prague.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

As I’ve mentioned, I have been seeing Jordan as part of a G Adventures Highlights of Jordan tour and I think it’s a fantastic way to see all the main sights in the country in an efficient and affordable way.

But maybe it won’t be too long until Jordan goes the way of a country like Egypt, which I can see just across the water. It may be a destination where some people come because they want to explore the history and culture of the country on tours – while others will come just to relax at a resort on the coast.

Red Sea snorkelling near Aqaba, Jordan

Either way, as long as an increase in tourism is done sustainably and it benefits local communities, I think it could be just the thing to help a wonderful country like Jordan boost its economy while sharing its treasures with the rest of the world.

3 thoughts on “A new winter escape in the Middle East”

  1. Way cool underwater snaps Michael! Not in a million years would I think of Jordan and diving. No way. Amazing how we miss these links by painting nations with a broad brush. Good to see Jordan is safe, stable and so darn inviting. Rocking post 🙂

    Reply
  2. this definitely makes me want to explore more of the Red Sea! I recently went to Hurghada (Egypt) for a diving trip and I absolutely loved the house reef in front of the iDive centre in Hurghada, so many corals and colourful fish! it was the best experience of my life, and it convinced me that the Red Sea has so much to offer!

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