Aqaba offers its visitors an enchanting blend of attractions and activities and what was once a sleepy little fishing village on the Red Sea has undergone a vast expansion over the last decade and its municipal borders have extended to 375 square kilometers.
Aqaba’s growth can be attributed to several factors, but in part, it is due to the founding of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) scheme whereby Aqaba became a tax-free zone and Freeport offering preferential tax and credit policies to investors and limited tax-free shopping to consumers.
Aqaba has become a favorite destination for European tourists since low-cost vacation package deals are quite attractive during the periods of economic hardship that have plagued Europe over the last few years. ASEZA has initiated a charter flight incentive scheme, as well as other aggressive marketing strategies to encourage European tour operators to include Aqaba in their programs and the KingHusseinInternationalAirport near Aqaba now, accommodates 20 charter flights a week, in addition to regular commercial service.
Aqaba can be reached by sea, air or land. As mentioned above, flight service has increased. Cruise ships stopping off in Egypt regularly pass through Aqaba, and there is a daily, round-trip ferry running to Nueiba. Aqaba can also be reached by car. Travelers can drive there from within Jordan or from Saudi Arabia, Israel or Iraq.
Foreign visitors usually stay in Aqaba for a week, and it is ideally situated to provide the visitors access to some of the world’s unique attractions. The striking desert landscape of Wadi Rum and the red rock city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are a short drive away. Aqaba, with its excellent accommodation and entertainment options, is an ideal hub from which to explore these sites, as well as others.
Israeli Tour operators have begun to take advantage of this recent influx of European visitors to Aqaba by offering one-day excursions to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Tourists can cross over to Eilat at the Arava border station and take an early morning domestic, round-trip flight to Tel Aviv where they will be met by a tour guide and transferred to the Old City of Jerusalem for a guided tour. Afterward, they will continue on to Behtlehem and see all of the important sites. From here, travelers will return to Eilat via Tel Aviv, and then cross the border and return to Aqaba in the early evening.
By Brent J. Mitchell