With Jordan's wealth of attractions, its splendid Red Sea resort is often overlooked by modern-day visitors. However, it is recognized as a great base from which to explore various places of interest in southern Jordan.
The city was called Ayla in ancient times, which is a Semitic name written in historical sources in several different ways; Aila, Ailana, Elana, Haila, Ailath, Elath and Wayla. The exact origin of the name is disputed; some argue that it comes from the Hebrew root Ayl which is also the root for the word Elah, meaning Pistacia tree. While others argue it is named after the term Ayl that appears in the ancient Mesopotamic poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh. Aqaba gained its name during the Mamluk era, which means obstacle in Arabic, due to the high mountains surrounding the city and the bumpy roads leading to it.
Aqaba's greatest asset is the Red Sea itself. There you can experience some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. The temperate climate and gentle water currents have created a perfect environment for the growth of corals and a teeming plethora of marine life. Here you can swim with friendly sea turtles and dolphins as they dart amongst the schools of multi-coloured fish. Night dives reveal the nocturnal sea creatures, crabs, lobsters and shrimp as they search for a midnight snack.
There are several dive centers in Aqaba, all offering well-maintained diving equipment, professional instructors and transport by boat to a variety of dive sites.
For those who prefer to keep their feet dry, all the deep sea wonders can be viewed through a glass-bottomed boat or by submarine, or you can just relax under the sun on the resort's sandy beaches. Plus, of course, there are plenty of other water-sport activities available, as well as an extensive and interesting Marine Park.
From as far back as 5,500 years ago, Aqaba has played an important role in the economy of the region. It was a prime junction for land and sea routes from Asia, Africa and Europe, a role it still plays today. Because of this vital function, there are many historic sites to be explored within the area, including what is believed to be the oldest purpose-built church in the world.