top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes and Tony Sidgwick

EXPLORING JORDAN’S NATIONAL TREASURES

I first visited Jordan back in April 2012 over a long weekend to experience Petra and the Dead Sea, and ever since, I’ve wanted to return to see the rest of this fascinating land.


11 years later, I’ve come back with my other half and a friend in tow to explore diving in Aqaba, hike the desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, see every inch of Petra I missed the first time round, back to the Dead Sea to delight in seeing others react to floating in that water for the first time, and visiting some of Amman’s historical sites.


Our journey starts in Amman after a 3.5-hour flight from Dubai on Royal Jordanian, where we collected our rental Nissan X-Trail from Queen Alia International Airport’s arrivals hall. The adventure begins with a 4-hour road trip south to Aqaba via the scenic route on the King’s Highway, aka Highway 35. The Karak Castle can be seen enroute (one of the largest medieval castles in the Levant) in Al-Karak, where we stopped on the roadside to get a photo of the stunning green landscape that could have been anywhere in the Mediterranean.



AQABA

The entire route is so picturesque, and the landscapes change so often, that time quickly passed and before we knew it, we had arrived in Aqaba at Cloud7 Residence Ayla for our first 3 nights. Without having informed Cloud7 that we were booked to dive with Diverse Divers, we found our 2-bedroom apartment was directly above the dive centre. Talk about perfection.


Diverse Divers and our apartment above it.

One thing to note: breakfast was included in our room rate and could be taken from 3 different cafes. However, had we known about the late openings, slow service, and poor fare, we would have made use of our fully equipped kitchen and bought ingredients from the local supermarket to prepare our own breakfasts.


Aqaba sits on Jordan’s only coastal region, a 27km stretch of Red Sea coastline at the northernmost tip of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Sinai Peninsula’s Eastern flank. While Jordan’s stretch of the Red Sea is similar to any other in terms of great reefs, marine life and visibility, what makes this particular patch of ocean special is the fact that Jordan’s ruler, HM King Abdullah II, also happens to be an avid diver.


Aqaba

As a result, he has spearheaded a project managed by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) to boost tourism to the city through the introduction of resorts, activities and a marine park along its short stretch of coastline. Aside from regulations to protect the marine park, various initiatives have turned its waters into a veritable playground for divers, with some dive sites that are completely unique in the world, from a large cargo shipwreck, sunken military equipment and aircraft, and even a passenger jet for divers to explore, in addition to some lovely reefs.


Another benefit is that most of the sites are within just a few minutes’ boat ride of each other, so it’s entirely possible to take in several great dives and be home in time for a few sundowners before dinner!

DIVERSE DIVERS AT AYLA OASIS

After settling into our apartment, getting showered and changed into clean clothes after our flight and road trip, we headed down to meet with Omar Madain, our host and owner of Diverse Divers Club, for a rundown of the following days’ dive plan.


Diverse Divers offer what can only be described as a premium experience – the shop is staffed by highly qualified and friendly professionals, with well-equipped excursions run off two luxurious and spacious tri-deck yachts, the Diversity, and flagship Ultra Diversity. A tasty buffet lunch is provided on each trip, along with tea, coffee and soft drinks between dives.


The two luxurious and spacious tri-deck yachts, the Diversity, and flagship Ultra Diversity side-by-side.

After an introduction and a good chat about what the next two days of diving had in store, it was time to go out and explore the many F&B offerings of the resort. Ayla Oasis itself is a picturesque leisure destination comprising the luxurious Cloud7 holiday apartments, a Hyatt Regency, a relaxed and inviting beach club and a recreational marina, not to mention some superb restaurants and bars for an evening bite and tipple.


I Love Ayla
Ayla, Aqaba
Ayla, Aqaba

Highly recommended for some local flavours by Omar, is Deeritna restaurant, where the lamb Mansaf is excellent, and the Agbawi Sayyadieh is a traditional fish dish from Aqaba that won’t disappoint. Also worth a visit is the Ankyra Greek restaurant, which is a great place to grab a bite as the sun sets. After sundown, check out Bar Thirteen for decent pub food and a friendly atmosphere, though it’s just one of several lively looking venues along the resort’s bar street.



DIVE DAY 1:

Downstairs at the dive centre, Omar is thankfully aware that people on holiday usually like to have a lie in. Given the chilly water temperatures in April, and the fact that the dive sites are only a short jaunt away, the trips normally depart around 11am, which is a far cry from the 7am starts you’ll usually get on your average liveaboard…


On our trip in April, the water temperatures were around 21 ͦC, so a 5mm wetsuit was preferable, though the water was still a shock when we took the giant stride off the boat’s dive platform. If you suffer in chilly water, a hoodie and/or 7mm might be advised at this time of year. Also, the Red Sea is saltier than other bodies of water, so you might want to add an extra kilo of weight to account for the added buoyancy.


Our boat for the first day was the lovely Diversity, the slightly smaller of the two pleasure yachts run by Diverse Divers, but that’s not to say cramped in any way. There are plenty of lounge and sun decks to chill out on when cruising, and a spacious equipment deck to gear up in at the rear, before heading down to the dive platform for the giant stride.


Diversity's Kit Area
Lots of lounge space on the 1st and 2nd decks for everyone to be comfortable.

JAPANESE GARDEN

Our first dive site was the Japanese Garden, one of the more colourful and abundant natural reefs in Aqaba. Upon descending, you’re treated to a beautiful flat reef of colourful soft and hard corals as far as your 25 metres of visibility will show you, from a shallow depth of about 10m up to a maximum depth of 20m. We spotted a scorpionfish almost instantly, and throughout the dive we saw a few Yellowmouth moray eels, some lionfish and the big Red Sea pufferfish that are common to the area.


It was a relaxed and enjoyable dive to kick things off with, and then it was back to the boat and a ten-minute jaunt over to our next site.


Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden

THE CEDAR PRIDE

Our second dive brought us to the first of the King’s underwater playgrounds we were to experience, the Cedar Pride wreck. The Cedar Pride is the name of the site, rather than the wreck, as the ship was actually called the San Bruno when it was scuttled. Owned by the Lebanese shipping company Cedar Pride, the 80m long cargo ship suffered a serious fire in 1982 which crippled the vessel, and it remained as a floating hulk off the coast of Aqaba until King Abdullah stepped in. He had as much of the harmful substances removed from the ship as possible, before scuttling it to create an artificial reef and dive site.


The Cedar Pride

It now rests on its port side at 27m, with the starboard side sitting at around 10m, making it a superb site for recreational divers. Upon descending, you can swim down around the big propeller at the stern, before exploring the ship’s top deck and superstructures, including a prominent crow’s nest. There is also a big cargo bay with an air pocket you can surface in, though it’s recommended to keep your regulator in place, as the pocket has high levels of CO2.


One of the most thrilling parts is a swim-through underneath the ship, as it lies perched across two reefs. Swimming underneath the massive hull, with over a thousand tonnes of steel above you, is quite the experience!


The Cedar Pride
The Cedar Pride
The Cedar Pride
The Cedar Pride
The Cedar Pride

Then back up over the starboard side of the hull you can take in the two large holes caused by the explosions that sunk the ship, before swimming along the top of the wreck to take in the variety of hard corals and small animals that have made their home on the hull, including anemones, table corals, pipefish and the odd barracuda. We were treated to the sight of a baby lionfish swimming along the hull. With a body only about an inch-long you could only spot it because of the absurdly large spines for its size! Very cute…


Then it was back to the Diversity for the half-hour cruise back to port.


The journey back to Ayla looking at the Ultra Diversity.

DIVE DAY 2:

Today we were out on the flagship of the Diverse Divers fleet, the beautiful Ultra Diversity. By a lucky twist of fate, us divers had the boat mostly to ourselves, so it was a very peaceful and pleasurable cruise to the first of our sites for the day.


The Ultra Diversity
We had the boat to ourselves!
A pretty view.

THE MILITARY MUSEUM

The Military Museum is the world’s first underwater museum of military hardware, created in 2019 by ASEZA. This initiative saw a fleet of 19 pieces of hardware including tanks, helicopters, armoured vehicles, ambulances and personnel carriers, anti-aircraft guns and more sunk to rest on the seabed. They sit in formation at a depth of between 15 and 28 metres, so there is something accessible for all diver levels.


Upon first descending we immediately bumped into the two Royal Jordanian Air Force AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters, followed by a couple of Chieftain battle tanks, M42 Duster anti-aircraft guns and FV701 Ferret armoured cars, and a South African Ratel (Honey Badger) 6×6 wheeled infantry fighting vehicle.


The Military Museum
The Military Museum
The Military Museum
The Military Museum

There are too many vehicles to cover them all in one dive, especially as some are deeper which will shorten down time for recreational divers. However, it is a truly unforgettable experience with the opportunity for some great underwater selfies, so make sure you pack a GoPro at least for the trip.


The Military Museum was deliberately placed in an area devoid of reef to have minimal impact on the natural ecosystem, so there isn’t a huge amount of sea life to be seen, but let’s face it, that’s not why you’re there really, is it?


Then it’s on to the next site for what was undoubtedly the grand finale of the trip.


TRISTAR

And here we come to the last of King Abdullah’s undersea marvels, and the highlight of our trip. This site is Tristar, so named because what awaits divers as soon as their mask dips below the surface is the eerie sight of a colossal Lockheed Martin L-1011 Tristar passenger jet sitting below them on the seabed!


Tristar

Resting at a depth of about 15m at its nose, and 28m at its tail, the widebody aircraft was sunk in 2019 by ASEZA to create a truly unforgettable diving experience. This particular diver used to fly from Muscat, Oman to London Heathrow on the glamorous Gulf Air Tristars of the 80s and early 90s, making it a real nostalgia trip to explore one of these aircrafts again, even if underwater. With a length of 54m and a wingspan of 47m, and a cabin almost 6m wide, there is plenty to explore!


Tristar

We initially descended at the nose to peer in through the plane’s windscreens, which have had the glass removed, to see a small pufferfish swimming around in the cockpit. After the obligatory photos around the nose, we penetrated through the front door on the plane’s starboard side to discover a skeleton in cabin crew uniform sitting in the lavatory looking rather unamused at our rude interruption.


Tristar's skeleton

We turned right to swim around the crew area past the cockpit, keeping a careful eye out for the occasional lionfish. Then it was into the main passenger cabin, which has had the middle seats removed to allow for easy passage by divers.


Tristar's passenger cabin

Swimming right down to the rear, you exit out of the aft service door in the shadow of the colossal tailfin and its massive engine air intake – another great spot for selfies. Then around the rear of the tail (more selfies!), onto a cool swim-through under the huge main wing, dodging a cluster of Upside-down jellyfish, before once again penetrating the aircraft for a last look inside. That’ll be about time for your safety stop, which you’ll undoubtedly spend having a last, three-minute-long look down at the unforgettable sight of this once mighty jetliner resting in the depths.


Tristar
Tristar's tail

Only a short flight away for travellers from the UAE with Wizz Air, Aqaba’s excellent dive sites and hospitality offerings make it a superb diving destination for a long weekend trip. It’s somewhere you need to dive at least once in your life, especially if you live close by in the Gulf. We highly recommend Diverse Divers; you won’t find a better experience in Aqaba!


WADI RUM

Next up on our itinerary was to hike Jebel Umm ad Dami, the highest mountain at 1,840m in the Hashemite Kingdom with a night at the Wadi Rum Starlight Camp which we don’t overly recommend. There are plenty of other camps, so take the time to research. This was one that had been recommended by a friend from a great experience she had years ago, which sadly does not seem to have endured the rating.


The drive from Aqaba (another spectacular short road trip) is just over an hour to get to the camp’s head office where the car stayed until our return the following morning.


The Wadi Rum Protected Area has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011, and you cannot self-drive in Wadi Rum. You must be booked with a registered camp who provide activities such as 4x4 Jeep tours, camel rides, hiking, and camping. The 4x4 Jeep tours are all done in the battered, but notoriously durable Toyota Hilux pickup trucks favoured by Wadi Rum’s Bedouin tribes, just to give you a heads up.


The landscape of Wadi Rum is a vast valley cut into sandstone and granite rock in hues of dark and light browns, and reds, yellows and oranges. Some structures are smooth and shorter, while others are sharper and taller. There are prehistoric petroglyphs in Khaz’ali Canyon which we did not go to, and some rock inscriptions we saw, we learnt were directions for the Bedouins.


Landscapes of Wadi Rum.
Landscapes of Wadi Rum.
Some rock inscriptions we saw, which are directions for the Bedouins.

The hike up to Jebel Umm Ad Dami is stunning and took under 2 hours for us to do in a loop with lots of photo stops. A group of Polish hikers stormed it in an impressive 45 minutes from top to bottom.


The Jebel Umm Ad Dami hike

When reaching the top, you have views of the rugged mountain terrain of both Saudi Arabia and Wadi Rum’s Protected Area as far as the eye can see. There is normally a Jordanian flag up on the pole which marks the top, but the flagpole was bare on our visit. On an even clearer day (if that’s possible), it is said you can see part of the Red Sea and the Saudi border.


Reaching the top of Jebel Umm Ad Dami
Views of the rugged mountain terrain of both Saudi Arabia and Wadi Rum’s Protected Area.

After the hike, we trekked over to find our fasting guide (we were in Jordan over the holy month of Ramadan) at a shaded area where he had taken refuge from the sun and had setup a spot for us to have some freshly brewed mint tea, and eat a packed lunch of assortments thrown into individual blue plastic bags with a cream cheese triangle (I’m pretty sure these need to be refrigerated), a tin of tuna, a small carton of hummus, 2 bits of Arabic bread, a cucumber and fruit, a small packaged Swiss roll, and a carton of juice. I am not a stranger to whipping up cream cheese and tuna in Arabic bread as a lunch staple. It was often the only thing I would be willing to eat that was available from the corner shop in a remote part of Dibba, Fujairah I worked at many years ago for a kids outdoor adventure camp. That Arabic bread, tuna and cream cheese brought back nostalgia.


After the quick break, we headed to the Wilderness Zone to see some more landscapes, only to first drop into our guide’s aunt’s bedouin camp so they could share some news and gossip. Luckily, we killed time there with the cutest baby goats while we patiently waited to move on.


Baby goat in the Wilderness Zone.

Once we headed out, we were taken to see a small arch for less than 10 mins before it was invaded by a large group of tourists. Then it was straight back to our camp whose only other guests were an Italian couple and their 2 sons. With little to do at the camp itself, we climbed up the rock decked to watch the sunset, before the underwhelming dinner. This should have been an exciting meal as it was cooked underground for 2 hours which we thought was going to be full of mouth-watering flavours, only to have the pot brought up and opened with everyone’s phone cameras at the ready, to show us a tray of dried out chicken drumsticks, and another tray below it of dried out chunks of potatoes and courgettes – served with plain rice. And with that, we had an early night.


Wadi Rum's small arch.
Our Wadi Rum Starlight Camp.

The Burdah Arch tour is one I would have loved to see, but it would have required an extra day which we did not have to spare. We were gone by 9am the next day and back at our car for a 10am departure to our next stop.


PETRA

After a 1.5 hour drive along the Desert Highway, aka Highway 15, we reached the Rendezvous Hotel Petra, a basic but perfectly located accommodation just a 2-minute walk from Petra’s main entrance. There is plenty of free parking at the back of the building to safely leave the car for the duration there.


Petra was just as good the second time round, if not better! I got to see so much more of it, and it’s just as magical as I remember. Despite the overcast weather on the first day, it was much busier especially walking through the Siq to the Treasury, but we covered 22km without any hassle all the way to the Monastery and back. We hit our all-time step count. The lead up to the Monastery alone has about 800+ steps, and then 800+ steps to get back down. Tony and I climbed up every viewpoint available to get the Monastery from all possible angles!


The Treasury in Petra
The Treasury Petra
Petra
The Monastery in Petra

The second day was so much better for photos weatherwise with clear blue skies, and best of all, it was about half as busy. Walking through the Siq was smooth sailing this time round. We made sure to climb up the Al-Madras Trail opposite the Theatre (lots and lots more steps to climb here) which is a beautiful hike up to face the Treasury from above, which is worth everything. A tent has claimed the only viewpoint available, to which you must enter and buy a drink from its keeper to see it. This may be the smartest business ploy in all of Petra.


Petra
Up on the Al-Madras Trail looking down on the Theatre.
The only way to see the Treasury view on the Al-Madras Trail.
Looking down at the Treasury from the Al-Madras Trail.
The many, many stairs of the Al-Madras Trail.

We went to explore the church and its surroundings for last, before stopping in at the Nabataean restaurant for some lunch before the last walk out of Petra. And for good measure, Tony and I went to see the Museum which was completed in 2019 to get in touch with some of the history. It’s well done and all inclusive, so well worth the visit.


THE DEAD SEA

We are back on the road for another scenic 3-hour drive, headed for some total relaxation. After all the walking we did in 3 days between Wadi Rum and Petra, we thought nothing better than to be treated to a luxurious resort stay for our night at the Dead Sea. We went with the Movenpick Resort & Spa which is reputed to be the nicest of the resorts, if not a little dated and overpriced. It has a very late check-in at 4pm, and a very early check-out at 11:30am which is only seen in the small print after you have booked and paid to see there is no refund in the receipt – luckily, we had a very pleasant check-in experience at 2pm.


The Dead Sea coming into view.
The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea, which is actually a salt lake, is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, being 9.6 times saltier than the ocean. It is the lowest land-based elevation on Earth with the lake’s surface at 430.5 metres below sea level! The lake itself, believe it or not, is 304m deep, making it the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. Sadly, it rapidly recedes with each passing year. Today, it is 605km2, compared to 1,059km2 back in the 1930s.


In the Dead Sea, Jordan
In the Dead Sea, Jordan
In the Dead Sea, Jordan

I vividly remember the first time I set foot in the Dead Sea and it was so much fun to watch and listen to everyone else’s reactions to their first time. It is a truly unique experience that everyone should have when they visit Jordan.


AMMAN

Having landed in Amman on both trips to Jordan, but never having visited the city, I decided this trip we’d dedicate a few hours to seeing some of the historical sites before heading back to the airport for the rental’s 9pm drop off. It turns out it was perfect timing. I rented a room out at the Grand Hotel Madaba to avoid lots of luggage in full view in the car around the city, and especially to be able to freshen up with a good shower and clean clothes before our flight. The Grand Hotel Madaba was obviously not the closest option between Amman’s town centre and the airport, but it had the best reviews for the price as we only needed it for a few hours.


We went to the Citadel National Historic Site which sits on one of Amman’s 7 hills and provides fantastic views of the old city. From here, you can perfectly see the Roman Theatre without having to actually go there. There is lots to see amongst the manicured gardens with the Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad palace and mosque, and the archaeological museum.


Looking at Amman's old city from the Citadel National Historic Site.
The Roman Theatre you can perfectly see from the Citadel National Historic Site without having to actually go there.
Citadel National Historic Site's Temple of Hercules.
The Citadel National Historic Site mosque.
The Citadel National Historic Site looking over at the old town of Amman.

From the Citadel, we walked down around to the much talked about Rainbow Street which is known for its roof top restaurants and pubs, but the street is overhyped for what it is. We tried the Mijana restaurant to get our last Mansaf fix, only to be disappointed. It was nowhere near as good as the ones we had in Aqaba and Petra. However, 20 minutes’ walk down the hill from Rainbow Street is the colourful and bustling Sha’ban 9 Street. This is well worth the walk to see one of the most vibrant market districts of Amman. We recommend stopping for tea at the Umsiat Amman 1946 Restaurant, an old-school traditional tea shop full of antiques, with a cosy balcony overlooking the street.


Sha’ban 9 Street
Sha’ban 9 Street
Sha’ban 9 Street

A few hours is all you need to feel you have seen the best of the city. It was worth the time.


At the airport, be sure to make use of your credit card benefits to get into the private lounge and sit back to enjoy a few local brews before boarding. Jordan has some superb local wines and beers which we highly recommend trying.


Thank you Jordan, for such an incredible week of adventures!


THE JORDAN PASS

An absolute must to purchase before travelling to Jordan, is The Jordan Pass: https://jordanpass.jo

  • Hassle-free entry to over 40 of Jordan’s tourist attractions including Petra and Wadi Rum.

  • The cost of your tourist entry visa is included in the pass.


DIVE CENTRE

Diverse Divers Aqaba


ACCOMMODATION INFO

Cloud 7 Residence Ayla Aqaba


Rendezvous Hotel Petra


Movenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comentários


bottom of page