Aqaba is a delightful coastal town around a 15 minute drive from the Arava border crossing which is situated on the outskirts of Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat. The town is home to around 100,000 people and has a relaxed vacation town feel but with the added bonus of a “Souk” or Old Arab Market in the centre of town. There are a variety of dining opportunities ranging from the familiar Western themed bars serving the typical burgers, sandwiches and chicken wings to outstanding oriental seafood restaurants serving the freshest produce the ocean has to offer, in a delightful mixture of oriental spices which are both tantalisingly familiar and yet uniquely original to ones palate. I for one was most excited by the Jordanian Humus, as Israeli Humus is a staple part of our diet but the Jordanian version is much lighter with a lemony quality which brings a lightness to this sometimes heavy dip. I stayed at the lovely Kempinski resort which is a large 220 room hotel. The service is outstanding, you are greeted upon check in with a warm wet towel and welcome drink. The hotel boasts three restaurants, the main dining room, an Italian themed lobby cafe and bar and high end seafood restaurant which is open in the evenings. The rooms although slightly dated, are comfortable and spacious and every room in the hotel boasts a sea view from the balcony. I do recommend the Panoramic Sea view rooms which have a spectacular sea view and are slightly more refurbished in their aspect. The Hotel’s uniquely shaped pool is heated so you can swim year round and there is a shallow kiddies pool and kid’s club for the younger guests. The beach is entirely private to the resort and in summer they offer BBQ dining on the beach.
I was drawn to this coastal enclave because of my passion for Scuba Diving and it was here that I found something truly unique. Twenty minutes south of Aqaba is the Berenice Beach Club. Berenice Beach is situated in the heart of Aqaba’s National Marine Park. The facility offers 500m of private undisturbed pristine beach with a variety of activities, including water sports, snorkelling, yachting and much more. The facility offers it’s own private fresh water pool, pool bar, changing rooms and even a kid’s club so parents can relax on the premium beach loungers while the kids are kept busy by the expert staff. But it is the diving which is the real Jewel in the crown of this facility. The Sinbad dive club is a five star rated Padi licensed club and offers courses from Open Water One to Advanced Rescue Diver and Instructor Rescue Diver. Their equipment is only the newest Aqualung gear and is kept in pristine fashion, they even have a full setup for extended Nitrox dives for those looking for some really challenging dives. There are numerous exceptional dive spots in the Marine Park but one of the most fascinating is a site where King Abdulla II donated an old Cessna aircraft which was sunk to form a spectacular dive attraction in the park.
As wonderful as all these facilities were the next discovery was really the one that took my breath away. The diving in the Sinai Peninsula is mythical in it’s quality of both wildlife and coral. Tragically due to unrest in the region some of the best diving sites in the world (like the blue hole in Dahab) have been inaccessible to most tourists. That however is no longer the case. Berenice beach has taken to running a Sea Taxi and Diving excursion service between Aqaba and the Sinai peninsula. The diving excursion anchor offshore allowing access to these spectacular sites once again. This is a new channel which has been agreed upon between the Jordanian and Egyptian governments and has reopened the wonders of the Sinai Peninsula to the world. So if you are a diver and are visiting this part of the world this oft overlooked coastal town offers some of the most unique diving experiences in the world today and is well worth the stop.
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