Jordan - Diving in Aqaba by Chris Coates
With a coastline of about 17 miles, there is not a great deal written about diving in Jordan apart from a few articles in various dive magazines over the last few years. Whilst travelling through the country I was able to spend a few dives diving out of Aqaba with my partner.
First appearances of Aqaba are not great, it is an ugly city dominated by a large port. Eilat sits just across the Israeli border and this also adds to a rapidly growing urban sprawl. There are dozens of cheap and not so cheap hotels with a number of international chains looking to expand. We found a cheap(ish) hotel (the Shweikh) costing less than 20 pounds a night (for 2 with breakfast) a short walk from the dive centre.
Our first impression of Dive Aqaba was a little quirky, one of the centre's young staff was asleep in a chair. He was unable to say a great deal but to come back later, which we did and eventually Rod arrived, a friendly relaxed diver steeped in BSAC and UK diving he is a relaxed laid back person. Rod quickly sorted out kit with the staff and we were asked to return for 9:30 the next day for diving.
Aqaba's dives are lined along the coast down towards the Saudi border (a 25 minute drive). For our 4 dives we were to shore dive with Rod. A minibus ran us to the site known as the Saudi border and we kitted up in a chilly wind. Most of the sites are in the Marine Park but this site sits just outside, I was expecting it to have been fished heavily although this was not the case as we saw a good sized Napoleon wrasse within minutes, the corals were excellent and fish life was abundant. A nice dive along the sloping wall was a good start and the only downside was litter from other water users (cans, plastic bags) which to Rod's credit he picked up along the dive. The water was a chilly 21degrees, after 45 minutes many of us were quite chilled and the windy beach made for a rapid de-kit.
The second dive was to the Seven pinnacles within the Marine Park this was about 10 minutes drive back towards Aqaba. We enjoyed a leisurely coffee and chat with Rod before returning to the water again by the shore. Within a few minutes the viz was noticeably poorer at about 15-20 metres but again the life and corals were excellent. Rod knows the sites perfectly and following a great swim through heavily populated pinnacles with all the usual Red Sea species we got to the latest addition to the reef a deliberately sunk M40 tank with anti-aircraft guns mounted on it. While not heavily populated it was home to plenty of life and made for good pictures. At a shallow depth it is a comfortable dive for anyone though the chill water saw us exiting after a good 45 minutes.
Our third dive was to the famous Cedar Pride, deliberately sunk in the mid 1980s it is a great wreck. Large, tilting to the port side it is a fantastic dive and situated by some excellent reefs is packed with life. Open and accessible to anyone, its holds are a great swim through and the bridge offers a nice prospect for those seeking more fun. Packed with life and some impressive corals it was probably the highlight of our trip complemented by the great reefs that you swim through back to the shore. Viz was a very good 30-40metres and even the chilly water did not prevent us spending nearly 50 minutes on the dive.
To finish off Rob took us back to the Cedar Pride, this time via a circuitous route from the South (again through some very impressive coral reefs). We reached a spot a little deeper than the wreck at a site marked by a sunken barge and then proceeded under the Cedar Pride (some 27m deep) this is a fantastic spot and the soft, hard corals plus very abundant marine life made for a memorable spot. Well worth a second dive, the viz had dropped down to about 25 metres and we swam back along a recently laid cable. One item worth mentioning is litter, unfortunately it is a problem in places but Rod spent much of his dives gathering bits for disposal something I do not see very often.
I can really recommend Aqaba for anyone looking for a land-based dive trip. Having dived mainly in the UK and Mediterranean I was very, very impressed with the variety and quality of marine life. Although a busy port and a large growing population sit right next to the park it is very good diving. There are plenty of dive shops throughout Aqaba but the going rate seems to be about 20 pounds a dive (25 dinars) with extra for kit, many however buy packages in groups with good discounts. Diving in January was colder than I expected and it may be worth bringing a good suit with you. Much of the kit we hired was old and looked in need of replacement but generally was adequate for the diving.