At the top of many divers’ bucket list — and rightfully so — the Red Sea has much that divers desire: warm water, a temperate climate, thriving reefs, amazing wrecks, caves, walls, drop-offs, and even visits from pelagics like dolphins, whales, and whale sharks. Divers sometimes overlook one section of the Red Sea — the Gulf of Aqaba — when planning trips to the region. After my trip there, I’m here to tell you should consider a land-based Red Sea-diving trip to Aqaba, Jordan — and here’s why.
Scuba diving in Aqaba
For a moment, let’s put aside the fact that the waters in the Gulf of Aqaba are warm year-round — ranging from 78 to 82 F (26-28 C). And never mind that the sites are close to a calm shoreline, making entries/exits a breeze. Even without those perks, the diving in Aqaba would still stand out for its frequent crystal-clear visibility and astonishing array of diverse marine life. On my first two dives, I crossed multiple critters off my must-find bucket list. As the week went on, the list got shorter. Stargazers, Spanish dancers, crocodilefish, stonefish, and some that I didn’t even know existed, i.e. slipper lobsters.
Every dive offered the thrill of potential discovery: always in the back of my mind was “what will I find on THIS dive?” The answer never disappointed.
Dive sites in Aqaba
The many coral gardens each feature their own specific attractions, such as Rainbow Reef, Japanese Gardens, and Seven Sisters. All have diverse, colorful offerings, scores of fish, and mazes of healthy coral. Then we have the wrecks, such as the Tank — a shallow anti-aircraft vehicle in excellent condition. The C130 is also in pristine condition and home to many schools of fish, a moray eel or two, shrimp, and more. If you hear a motor above you, flip over and wave. It’s probably a glass-bottom boat checking out the plane — and you — both easily visible in the clear waters.
The one dive you must do is the Cedar Pride. This 240-foot (74 m) cargo ship was scuttled over 30 years ago and sits at around 75 feet (25 m). It rests on its side, fully intact, making for some amazing photo and video opportunities. It’s also a prime location for divers of all skill levels, including those still in training. You’ll likely want to do multiple dives on this wreck to do it justice. In addition to so many incredible recreational sites for divers of all skill levels, tec divers aren’t left out in the cold. Ashraf’s Groto, Al Shorouk wreck, and Taiyong are several of the sites designated for the more highly-trained and adventurous divers out there.
Where to stay
Red Sea Dive Center was a gracious host for my week-long stay in Jordan. Don’t let the simplicity of their website deter you; this family-owned resort with an intimate, congenial atmosphere has everything you need for an incredible diving vacation. They offer simple, clean, comfortable single, double, and triple air-conditioned rooms. They aren’t anything fancy, but who needs fancy? After a day of diving I just want food, drink, and sleep while I prepare to dive the next day. The AC worked great; there’s a satellite TV in each room; and there’s a mini-fridge. The resort’s Wi-Fi works great, but it’s not very strong in some of the rooms. Your best bet will be in the common areas, where it’s plenty strong enough to do your business while you eat, drink, and make friends with your fellow divers.
Started in 1992, the dive center is a 5-star PADI dive resort that takes divers and snorkelers out daily to the best local sites. Most trips are shore dives, but they do have a boat for several sites further afield. Any training you may want or need is available as well.
We did two dives a day from the beach, usually from small shelters. Between dives we ate snacks, drank tea and water, and talked about all the things we had already seen and were going to see on the next dive. And if we were lucky, we got a history lesson regarding the lands (Israel and Egypt) easily visible on the other side of the Gulf.
The onsite restaurant also has lots of different options that should appeal to just about any appetite. Everything I had there was quite tasty and brought to my table quickly.
When to go
April and October are the best months thanks to a more-comfortable outside temperature, a lot of marine life, and good visibility. But if you’re willing to brave the desert heat (113 F/45 C) June, July, and August are also excellent with mirror-like calm seas and visibility up to 130 feet (40 m). During this time, you can sometimes see larger pelagics like dolphins and whale sharks. Water temperatures are generally between 78 and 82 F (26 to 28 C) year-round.
If you’re going to be in Jordan, you’ll want at least one dry day to see some of the historic sites. The Dead Sea is quite far away, but it’s still doable from Aqaba if you want. A little closer and easier to reach are the iconic Petra and Wadi Rum desert. Each of the two will take a day to explore and the Red Sea Dive Center can arrange transportation for you. I went to Petra since it was one of my all-time most-desired bucket-list destinations. Some tips if you want to go: It’s a lot of walking — a lot. Much of it in sand, so wear appropriate footwear.
Though there are placese to buy both, bring a lot of water and a snack. It’s about a mile to the Treasury (the first iconic monument), and then another mile or two to the end of the area if you just stay on the main road. There are a lot of side areas to explore, including the Monastery. If you’re feeling energetic, you can hike up the 1,000 or so steep steps to the Monastery, about a mile up the mountain. They do offer donkey rides to the top, but they treat the donkeys very badly, hitting them constantly with switches, so I can’t recommend that. I would, however, recommend getting a guide if you’re at all interested in the history of the area. Also, if you want to miss some of the crowd and all of the sun, you can do a night tour.
In short, my trip to Aqaba, Jordan will not be my last. I’ll be staying with Red Sea Dive Center again and diving with the owners Abdullah and Omar as much as they will let me. I’ll also explore some of the lesser-known historic spots I didn’t have time to see on my last trip. If you want to go somewhere with a great climate, warm, clear water, amazing marine life, healthy coral, numerous sites for many diving skills and styles, and a full-service resort, head to Aqaba and the Red Sea Dive Center.