As we drove into Aqaba after a long day in Wadi Rum, we saw a Safeway. We tend to visit grocery stores to buy drinks and snacks and it was pretty exciting to see a name like Safeway.
When planning this trip, we knew the stay in Aqaba needed to be a nice respite from camping in the desert of Wadi Rum. So we booked the ultra luxurious Al Manara by Marriott. It turned out to be even swankier than we anticipated. It was super nice and we got upgraded to a huge suite overlooking the bay. It’s the type of place that put a hand-written note, addressed to me, in our room before we got to it. And there was a big plate of really fancy sweets. I may have decided I love macaroons after that. Such a fun thing to have when you first walk in.
It is a relatively new hotel and with it being a little more expensive than some of the others in the area, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. We were obviously not alone, but the hotel/resort is big enough that we didn’t run into many other people there. The art on the walls was really fancy and big. I didn’t take any pictures of any of the paintings (other than those in our room), but a lot of them were more than 6 feet tall and 12 feet wide. It was pretty special. Really everything there was above and beyond our expectations. If we ever get back to Aqaba (this is our second time, so who knows?), we will do our best to stay here again, but I suspect the prices will catch up with reality at some point and we won’t be able to fit it into our budget. But yeah, it’s a really sweet place.
After seeing how nice the hotel was, we couldn’t resist going to dinner in the on-site restaurant. That turned out to be an excellent choice. We tried a few traditional Jordanian dishes, including an amazing lamb and yogurt dish. Everything was really tasty, even if it was a bit more expensive than we could have found back in town.
Red Sea Snorkeling
We got up bright and early the next morning to eat a fancy breakfast before heading south to go snorkel the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea with Aqaba Adventure Divers. We rented all the equipment: snorkels, masks, fins, and wetsuits. Yes, it was cold enough that even I wore a wetsuit. We snorkeled the Cedar Pride ship wreck, Rainbow Reef, and finally the Japanese Garden. Jess brought her phone in a waterproof case out to snorkel, but I think she mostly gave up trying to use it (something about water pressure making the touch screen impossible to use). As you can imagine, we don’t have many photos. But the snorkeling was pretty good.
We swam out from shore to the wreck and there really wasn’t anything to see until we found the wreck. It was about 50 feet from the surface to the highest point on the ship (on its side) and then another 30 feet to the ground. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the wreck. I don’t usually find them super interesting, but it was fun to hold my breath and dive down deep enough to look into the hull and even swim under the mast. I decided *not* to swim under the mast, but I was deep enough that I could have.
From there we floated south to the Japanese Garden. This was what I expected the snorkeling to be. There was a lot of colorful fish and the coral looked pretty healthy. There was a bit of a current on top of the water and we drifted further south to a place they call Rainbow Reef (not to be confused with the diving company of the same name in Key Largo). We spent some time exploring the coral there and then made the long swim back north and back to shore. The shore was rocky, so we exited the water wearing our fins and walking backward. It is somewhat comical how bad I am at walking backward in fins. My feet are so wimpy. I really missed my scuba booties! We returned to the dive shop for some quick hot showers before driving back north to our hotel.
We arrived back at the hotel earlier than we originally planned, so we had some time to goof around in the fancy pools. It was still pretty early and the sun had not warmed up the pools yet, so we didn’t last too long. After swimming we took some real showers in our fancy rooms before packing up and saying goodbye to Aqaba. On our way out Brett and Jess were in awe of a 300 series Land Cruiser in the hotel parking lot. I guess we don’t have those back home. It looked way too big for my tastes, but they thought it was super cool.