The Red Sea

Jordan. A country whose stunning deserts and history have earned it a spot on every intrepid traveler's bucket list. Ancient tombs, cities, and monuments riddle its narrow valleys. Nature reserves and pink sandstone cliffs dominate Jordan's vast landscape. It truly is a nature lover's playground. 

With Jordan's many offerings - including treks through the ancient city of Petra and Wadi Rum camping - it is not surprising that Aqaba, Jordan's only seaside town, is often overlooked by tourists. Having seen Petra, camped in Wadi Rum, and basked in the warm waters of the Red Sea - I implore anyone considering a visit to Jordan to spend at least a day in Aqaba. I can promise you won't regret it. 

Snorkeling the Red Sea.

Aqaba is bordered on all sides by Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. It is Jordan's only coastal city, and populates its southernmost region. Upon arrival there, you will immediately be greeted by its pleasant humidity, random American fast food joints (Dairy Queen?!), and glorious sunshine. At least, I hope you're greeted by nice weather. Snorkeling on a dreary, cool day would hardly be worthwhile. As you look out across the city, you'll notice the mountains of Israel and Egypt - dancing deceptively as mirage waves bend light, warping an otherwise immovable visage. 

If it is anything like it was when we visited, it will also be damn hot. Even well into the fall. And the clear blue waters of the Red Sea will prove incredibly welcoming. Especially if you've just come off a day, or two, or three exploring the dry, dusty - crazy beautiful - city of Petra. 

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My visit to Aqaba was short, but sweet. I was in Jordan on a tour with Intrepid Travel - a company specializing in small group tours and sustainable travel. The day we left for Aqaba, our Intrepid group was to spend a second day exploring Petra's many trails, buildings, etc. By the time the four of us - my fianc√© and two new friends, Chantal and Rene√© - made it down to the dining area for breakfast, our other group members had already skipped out to explore the city at sunrise. Smart thinking if they were to avoid the crowds and horse drawn carriages rocketing down the Siq. 

We had all already spent the entire afternoon prior - some of us with a great degree of discomfort due to food poisoning - exploring as much of Petra as is possible in a day. While there was still so much I would have loved to see, the healing waters of the Red Sea were calling. I couldn't imagine having left Jordan without spending at least a few short hours there. Fortunately, we had hatched a plan to break away from the group and explore the sea a few days prior whilst camping in Wadi Rum, so now all that was left to do was eat a good breakfast and hope our car showed up. (Huge thanks to our Intrepid leader, Faisal, for arranging the trip for us. He is an angel.)

The drive itself was longish, but pleasant. The winding roads ascending the mountain and away from Wadi Musa were captivating. I loved watching them snake around each corner, the asphalt harshly contrasting with the light sands to either side. There is - or at least there was when I was there in October 2017, a gnarly, bumpy section of the King's Highway heading south toward Aqaba and Wadi Rum where I could have sworn we were going to lose a tire... and thus catapulting over the side of a cliff. But alas, that did not happen. Crazy bumpiness aside, it was great popping Pringles and taking in the barren landscape which characterizes so many parts of the country. We were all really looking forward to unwinding on the boat on the sea. The go-go-going of the past few days had us pooped. 

As we came upon the boat we were to cruise on for the rest of the afternoon, the four of us were over the moon with excitement. It was BEAUTIFUL. I mean, truly. Faisal really outdid himself on this one. As we set off from the dock, we watched the colors of the water and coral pass below us. It was quite windy, so the water was rather choppy, but you could still frequently glimpse the life that thrived beneath us when hitting a pocket of calm. (Pro tip: Fellow travelers with long hair, do not forget to bring some hair ties with you. I really regretted not having a few with me.) The water reminded me of the Mediterranean off the coast of Greece. I thought I would never see blues like that again, and yet, here it was. 

We made our way south towards Saudi Arabia, sprawled out among the white beds in the front of the boat. My new friends and I shared anxious, excited looks as we approached our first snorkel spot. I'd read about the shark attacks across the way at Sharm el-Sheikh, and wasn't particularly keen on ending my Jordanian adventure in a face-to-face stand off with a hammerhead, but as soon as I jumped into those waters, fitted my snorkel, and swam nearer the coral, all anxieties washed away. 

The sea was teeming with life. After having snorkeled there, I am not the least surprised that it is considered a world class dive spot. I saw Dori's and Nero's galore, darting back and forth between rainbow colored coral. Massive sea turtles dove to unseen depths and beyond. It was mesmerizing. I felt tremendously intrusive being in this ethereal underwater world, though. I am not the strongest swimmer. and the wind was sending waves of water straight into my snorkel. Result? A convulsing, uncoordinated primate stirring tornadoes of sand and kicking Chantal in the face with a flipper. (Sorry!). Apart from the choking on highly saline water, the whole experience was really lovely. Just what I needed after having camped two nights in Wadi Rum, and run around Petra the day before with food poisoning. It was so nice being able to cleanse ourselves from all the dirt and grime of the past few days and get some crucial napping in. By the time we met our driver to head back toward Wadi Musa, I'd entered a completely otherworldly consciousness. One you only fall into after having experienced such a beautiful day. We tossed our belongings in the car, buckled up, and watched as Aqaba's shoreline disappeared in the distance. I floated back to Petra on a dream. 

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TravelShaylyn Berntson