As I was scrolling through Easyjet’s list of destinations for a cheap, quickish, and short getaway I stumbled across Aqaba. Mr Google told me it was a coastal city just two hours away from Petra. I’d always wanted to visit Petra before they put me in the box and bless it. After lockdown, I was determined to just explore the world.
Aqaba is a shortish 5 hour flight from London and Easyjet flights leave on either a Saturday or Tuesday. I know the idea of travelling as a solo female traveller to an Arab country perplexes people. However, Jordan is a progressive country and at my stage in life, I am not slumming it. Also, I don’t do organised tours. Not because I have anything against them, I just like to be the master of my own time. If I want to lounge around all day I can or if I just want to go visit something then I do it to my own schedule. Independence and spontaneity are precious to me.
My first impressions of Aqaba was this is small if the size of the airport was anything to go by. I travelled there at the tail end of covid restrictions still being in place. Jordan put the UK to shame, the efficiency was incredible. We, meaning the rest of the plane and myself, arrived, passport was stamped, and then into a cubicle to have the covid test with the results being sent by whatsapp later the same day. Do not be tempted to think you can walk from the airport to downtown Aqaba. Whilst it looks close, you need a car or to have prebooked a taxi. The driver was there waiting for me because I had booked into the Kimpinski.
Wowzers, the hotel is incredible. It is right on the beach, with its own private stretch of beach. Even though there is a lot of construction going on it is actually quite peaceful. From the room I upgraded to I could see Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia from my balcony. It felt truly special.
Also, staying in a club room meant I could enjoy the daily 2 hour happy hour on the terrace where alcohol and snacks – hummus and crudites were served. Alcohol is very expensive in Jordan so I fully enjoyed every minute of the happy hour hospitality. The food in the various hotel restaurants was good as was room service.
Petra & Wadi Rum in a day
Rock Star here arrived on the Saturday evening and left on the Tuesday. It didn’t leave much time to be able to do each of these wonders on separate days. The hotel advised me not to visit Petra on Sunday as it would be overrun with tourists. So, in true rock style fashion, I did both on the same day.
It’s a solid 2 hour drive from Aqaba. I had a driver from the hotel who I negotiated with to take me to Wadi Rum as well. We left at 5.30am to travel to Petra so I would be there for when it opened which was smart. When we arrived at Petra, my driver Moayyad asked if I wanted a guide. I said no. He looked at me and said when they approach you be firm and say “no thank you.” It felt like being dropped off at the school gates.
The ticket to enter the historical site of Petra is 55JD and since it is a £1 to 1JD it’s an expensive entry ticket. A guide cost about £50 although there was a sign about a free guided tour but I didn’t have time to wait around for that. The ticket also includes riding on a horse. Now that sounds all romantic, travel like Indiana Jones etc. but once you get on that horse you will be stuck on it and at the mercy of the horse handler. I decided to walk so I could stop and see the tombs that lined the way as I entered the Siq. It’s a good 30 minute walk from the entrance of the historic site to get to the Siq and that’s at a London native walking pace i.e. fast.
The Siq for me was one of the magical aspects of the ancient site, it’s the walkway through the rocks created by water millennia ago. What struck me was the lack of sounds, there are no birds. It was so peaceful. I asked a couple if they would take a photo of me.
So yes, the Treasury building is impressive and it is the first you see after walking 30 mins through the Siq. The ancient site of Petra is vast. I walked for four hours and didn’t manage to climb up the stairs to the Monastery, through fear. At least it is something to go back for.
On my way out, a group of Bedouin men were again trying to get me to climb up to see the Indiana Jones view of the Treasury. I am terrified of heights but I made it up and down, most people take 10 minutes to climb up whereas I took 30 mins. I would say steel yourself and trust that the Bedouin will keep you safe, an injured tourist, or worse, is not good for business!
Also, get your hotel to prepare a breakfast box for you. There’s is a cafe but as you can well imagine, it is expensive and packed with people who forgot to ask for a breakfast box. The Kimpinski gave me food for the 5,000 which I snacked on all day and then that night.
I wish I had more time here. When Moayyad suggested I go to Wadi Rum I thought I’d seen sand before. Anyway, I kept those thoughts to myself and we arrived in Wadi Rum. I saw the replica train used in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia film and off we went to meet Hashim, Moayyed’s Bedouin friend.
Lady Ros here had her own jeep and I was taken across this magical landscape. The light and shape of the desert changed at every turn. I learnt so much about the desert and myself. I was determined not to miss out so I climbed a little rock and sat on the edge and then we had real bedouin whisky (which is tea) whilst watching the sunset.
I left a piece of my heart in the desert and plan to go back to sleep under the stars. It was the most incredible place where time felt suspended.
Tips & Tricks
- Ensure you get a true Bedouin guide rather than fall into the tourist trap. Hashim and his friend made a fire in the middle of the sand so we could watch the sunset rather than be stuck in one of those tents that are set up for tourists.
- Aqaba is hot, the desert is cold. Bring layers with you including a jacket. I wore a long sleeved kaftan top but that was not enough. By 5 pm I was cold.
- Definitely allow a day for Wadi Rum – one full day.
- Petra was good and I am glad I saw it but it was Wadi Rum that was magical.
4 days in Aqaba was great. It’s the perfect place to fly in and out of because the roads in Jordan are so good. You can drive to the capital Amman and then explore the North eg the Dead Sea and Jerash which I didn’t get to do. Also, the beach resort of Eilat in Israel is only 30 mins from Aqaba. I know of friends who travelled there last year and said it was easy to get a visa etc.
As a single woman, I felt very safe, there was no issue in the hotel. I ventured into Aqaba itself and saw the public beaches etc. There was no issue. Obviously, dress modestly and respect the local customs. What I really liked about Jordan was it hadn’t lost its charm or soul which is the opposite of Dubai. I am not a fan of Dubai – it just feels like money money money. Jordan feels authentic and very welcoming.