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Snorkelling and Diving in Aqaba


Clown fish

When the peace treaty was signed between Jordan and Israel in 1994, one of the clauses concerned the preservation of the environment of the Red Sea and its ecology. One of the immediate results of the treaty was the establishment of the Red Sea Marine Peace Park (see their English website at 130.94.155.6/page2.html), which has resulted in some of the finest diving and snorkelling in the world. The great advantage here is the almost untouched condition of the coral, which is unmatched elsewhere in the Gulf of Aqaba. There might be more and more spectacular fish further south, but the Marine Park shelters the finest coral to be found, and it stands comparison with anywhere in the world.

Much of the Gulf of Aqaba is deep (more than 1,800 meters in depth), but the northern sector near Aqaba and Eilat has a relatively shallow shelf. Although sediment is a problem, these shallow waters encouraged the growth of coral.

The beaches of the north coasts are home to many ancient coral reef formations while patches of living coral reefs (as many as 140 stony coral species) fringe parts of the north's steep-sided edge. The Gulf has more than 300 individual sub-species of coral, a remarkably high number in comparison to other tropical reefs. The coral gardens lining the coastlines host more than 1,000 species of fish. Most of these coral and fish species are unique to the region.

Average temperatures of the surface of the sea at Aqaba :

Jordan came late to the "tourist diving industry", and approached it slowly with all regard for the preservation of marine life. This does mean that some rules are being enforced which are highly unpopular with local boatman, but the results are paying off as far as the coral reefs are concerned : anchors are seldom dropped directly over them nowadays and the deliberate breaking off of coral pieces for future sale to tourists is also much lessened - the penalties for being caught doing this are ferocious, I warn you, if you yourself should be tempted!

Professional fishermen's rights are guaranteed, however, they mostly go further out to deeper water and do not affect the Marine Park.

Water sports

A number of services are clustering around Tala Bay to the south of Aqaba: several dive centres are now based there, where they are closer to the main reefs, and activities such as wind surfing and kite surfing are being introduced - for more information call  Hatem Mansur phone 0795.773935, email hatem76@yahoo.com. Hatem's website is being updated and is not at the moment on line. Lessons from one hour upwards are available, a "weekend course" lasting five hours costs 150JD. Simple rental is also possible, prices ranging from 30JD for half an hour, but for a longer period, the rental is comparatively cheaper. Hatem has a rescue boat standing by (let's hope not necessary) and smaller sail boats are also available for hire.

Parasailing is also offered by Sindbad see their website.

There is a great new possibility : the "Neptune", a boat operating out of Tala Bay, guests can sit below water level in the large keel and view the reef through large windows... great for families and non divers etc. See www.aqababoat.com phone +962 (0) 779430969. This is much better than the traditional glass bottom boats although they still have their place. More up market options are becoming available.

Snorkelling in Aqaba


Emperor angelfish

There is no snorkelling worth mentioning anywhere near to the town. The reefs were destroyed a long time ago, many of them deliberately in order to provide access to the port. There is some coral inside the town harbour where the glass bottomed boats will take you if you ask for a short ride, but it is dead and is nothing like as spectacular as that further away.

For any worthwhile snorkelling, you have to go towards the south where the reefs are close to the shore (see main dive sites of Aqaba), and where a couple of places (the Royal Diving Club and the Club Murjan, described on the page about Aqaba) offer ready access to these reefs via specially constructed jetties, so that you can drop into the water without wading out from the shore and disturbing the sand or the marine life. Please be careful always to avoid walking on the coral (with or without fins!). If you are only planning a day or so snorkelling you will probably wish to rent the equipment; there is no problem with this, but I do advise you to apply to a reputable centre, and not go automatically to the cheapest. You can also join in organised excursions which show you the principal reefs, the price (usually about 10JD) includes the hire of your gear. You are of course welcome to bring your own.

By far the best way of snorkelling is to go with one of the dive centres. Although not all of them visit around the different dive sites (RDC stays almost exclusively "at home"), those that do are usually willing to allow snorkellers to accompany the divers to the reefs, and make only a small charge for transport. If you want a change from their "home reef" (the Cazar Reef), Seastar would ask for around 2 or 3JD from people who are already using the Club Murjan. In fact, if there is enough room in the bus being used for divers, it is quite possible that you could go with them to the different reefs for free. The final choice of the reef to be used is made by the divemaster only.

You might like to note that a divemaster invariably remains on the beach in case of trouble, and in any case the driver is always there.

See also below the details given on Dive Aqaba. This diving centre uses boats a good deal, and non-divers are welcome to come along. There is a charge of 45JD per day on the boat for non divers which includes snorkelling kit as required, lunch and drinks all day. This is actually a pretty good deal.

This is far better than hiring a taxi to take you out towards the reefs, more rewarding and almost certainly cheaper in the end (see below for typical taxi fares). The taxi driver might or might not know the best spots, and is most unlikely to be able to direct you to the best entrance to the site. You would probably end up by having to walk over the reef - this is a Bad Thing, as I have said above, and I don't think I need to explain why!

The glass bottomed boats frequently offer "snorkelling excursions", but as explained below in the diving section, there are no off shore reefs, a boat has to come right into the shore to access the reef system, and unfortunately the same applies to the boatmen as to the taxi drivers concerning knowledge of the reefs and entrance points. At the moment there is some question in any case of limiting the operation of these boats to the area to the north of the port of Aqaba. In too many cases the boatmen have damaged the coral by unthinking practices such as anchoring immediately above the reef (or above divers!), nets have been abandoned, coral is still being regularly broken off by some incorrigible parties, and the authorities are in the process of deciding that this must stop.

For both drivers and boatmen, the question should also be asked about the availability of help in case of any trouble (which heaven forbid, but it does happen) : very few of them carry any sort of first aid equipment and obviously have no training in using it. Don't let's even think about insurance!

Some typical taxi fares from the town towards diving/snorkelling and other useful destinations :

  • Aqaba to the Club Murjan 6JD
  • Aqaba to the Southern Camp Site 6JD

  • Aqaba to the Royal Diving Club 6 JD

  • Aqaba to the Aquarium 6JD (yes, I know it's closer and should be cheaper, but....)
  • Aqaba to the ferry terminal 6JD (yes, I know it's closer and should be cheaper, but...)
  • Aqaba to airport (King Hussein) 7JD
  • Aqaba to Eilat Border 7 JD
     
  • Local in Aqaba 1 JD

Diving in Aqaba


Masked butterfly fish

IMPORTANT : Following the new security regulations, every diver needs to have his passport number to be able to dive (if Jordanian his ID card number). Without this they will not be allowed to dive either from the shore or from a boat. Please note this before you set out for a day's diving. If you have left your passport in your hotel you risk being disappointed - this point is to be taken very seriously.

There are now only twenty main diving sites in Aqaba, most of them suitable for all levels of competence. There are also five wreck sites, recommended for more experienced and technical divers. The most popular are fully described on the following page on the reefs and principal sites. It is not necessary to hire a boat to get there, all of these sites are accessible from the shore. Aqaba is all fringing reef, there are no off-shore reefs. The reef starts literally at the water's edge and extends like the fingers of your hands into canyons leading to pinnacles and drop offs. At most sites, when you are only 100m from the shore you are already descending to 50m or more, so any boat has to come right into the shore to access the reef system. When shore diving, the dive starts as soon as you enter the water and continues until the last few cms. Even safety stops (5m) are among the reefs and not hanging on a shot/anchor line in mid water.

The beaches are all easily accessible and the transport used can drive right up to the edge of the water - a big advantage. There is no problem for getting into your gear on the beach, and no clambering over rocks.

Some operators use boats exclusively; these tend to be more expensive and budget travellers will probably avoid them. But besides being more generally attractive as an excursion, one of the advantages of boats is that refreshments and comfortable seats are always available if you feel the need to pause for a while.  Most centres can offer boats as an option (for a surcharge).

Underwater photographers will be pleased to hear that Nitrox is available in Aqaba at Dive Aqaba and at Seastar. Dive Aqaba also offers Trimix  (Helium/Oxygen/Nitrogen) which is becoming more popular for deeper dives for safety reasons. No other dive centre provides this although several are considering it.

If you bring your own diving suit, then in the winter months a 5-6mm suit is OK, in summer a 3mm shortie is fine, but it is always better to be warmer when in the water, especially if you are good on air or an avid underwater photographer so scarcely moving from one pinnacle.

Diving goes on all the year round, with different species to be seen in the different seasons. In June /July there are whale sharks, in February one can often see Mantas. A northerly wind blows down Wadi Araba all the year, which in the summer is a cooling breeze, but in winter it can be a bit chilly, especially when you have just come out of the water.

Even if you are alone, you are likely to make contacts and friends easily in the diving community in Aqaba. Dives are accompanied, so straight away you have the divemaster who will show you the ropes so to speak. There is absolutely no problem for women diving, in fact many Jordanian women regularly do so.

Most centres offer courses in several languages, some have more choice of language than others! (This can vary, since instructors come and go!)

Night diving or snorkelling excursions can be arranged on request, for the same day if required, but for administrative reasons, it is preferable to have at least four people in the party. There is a surcharge of 10JD per person over the daytime diving. It is also possible to have a barbecue organised after the dive - a lovely evening!

If you are travelling with non-divers, all the dive centres are happy to welcome them. They may be asked to pay a transport charge if they want to accompany you out to the dive sites. If they are snorkellers, then of course there is no problem at all, nearly all of the sites are entirely suitable for snorkellers.

Pharaoh's Island, just off the Egyptian coast, is a popular excursion from Aqaba, but is not so easy to arrange nowadays. All operators must go through Sindbad, I am not quite sure why.

I am told that diving there is not so easy to do and quite frankly not up to much, "as overuse from trips out of Eilat has somewhat trashed the reefs there" but that it is OK for snorkelling. These trips have to be booked a couple of days in advance and your passport handed to the organisers to arrange a visa with the Egyptian Consulate. (But even with the visa you are not allowed to land on the Egyptian mainland here).


The younger set : or "What to do with the children ?"

There is no crèche arrangement in Aqaba. If the children are very young, then the best thing to do is to use one of the clubs (RDC or Murjan) and take it in turns diving from the "house reef". The staff at the Clubs are happy to keep an eye out, but cannot accept full responsibilty for looking after young children.

For slightly older children most centres offer PADI's Bubblemaker: children over 8 can learn to use scuba gear in the swimming pool when there is one. Children 10 years old can already start the PADI Junior Scuba Diver or the Open Water Course. You may be starting a lifetime's passion here!

Suitable sized gear is available.

The prices of these courses :

  • Bubble : 40JD for 8 years upwards
  • Junior Scuba Diver 225JD
  • Junior Open Water Diver 295JD.

These prices were supplied by Seastar Watersports phone +962.3.201.3735, see end of page for full details.

Emergencies : or "Let's hope not!"

There is a good 6 man decompression chamber at the Princess Haya Hospital in Aqaba so it is a maximum of 25 minutes drive from the furthest dive site. It is manned 24 hrs a day. In case of an accident or necessary medical treatment, Jordan has an extremely high level of medical care; all doctors are proficient in English, many have trained in Europe or North America. Most medicines are obtainable "over the counter" at the pharmacies, but some medicines are available only on prescription, e.g. valium and analgesics like codeine, etc. Antibiotics are readily available and are very reasonably priced.

It is always advisable to bring a Certificate "Fit to Dive" with you, especially if you do have some health problems or are taking medication. Centres will typically have a diver Registration form with a short medical questionnaire that all divers must complete. PADI divers should be familiar with this as it is a shorter version of the Medical Questionnaire on Student Record Files.

All divers should carry diving insurance, since recompression chambers can be VERY expensive. Seastar strongly recommends DAN insurance cover. They have found DAN to be extremely responsive, and cannot praise them highly enough.


The prices charged for diving: I have these prices from Rod Abbotson, the Director of Dive Aqaba in May 2009. Dive Aqaba is rapidly acquiring a well deserved reputation for professionalism and reliability. They cooperate closely with the Royal Marine Conservation Society on environmental issues and the beach and sea clean up programmes. These prices will be held until March 2010

A baptism ("tryout, see how you like it") dive : 70JD (this is the Discover Scuba Diving program; PADI have changed this and there is only one program now). It all depends on how much the customer wants to do the price is the same, and it counts towards the Open Water Course.

A certificate course lasting 4/5 days : 330JD (if student has completed eLearning with PADI) 415JD with manual.  This includes certification online

Simple diving : 30JD per dive tank & weights or 40JD per dive full equipment. Discounts are given on a packages of 4 - 10 dives.

Dive Aqaba uses their boat Laila One, and there is a 10JD per head charge for lunch and drinks on the boat all day. They charge 45JD per day on the boat for non divers which includes snorkelling kit as required, lunch and drinks all day. They have the use of several boats which are moored at the Royal Yacht Club. Divers board the boats at the new jetty by the big flagpole. Transfers are provided from the dive center to the jetty and back and they also offer pick ups from any hotels in Aqaba.

Their email is diveaqaba@diveaqaba.com Tel/Fax. 00962 3 2034849
website
http://www.diveaqaba.com

I believe the prices charged by the other diving centres in Aqaba to be slightly less; Dive Aqaba, as can easily be seen from their website, is an "up market" concern.

The diving centres in Aqaba are :

Aqaba Adventure Divers, Aqaba -Jordan. Tel: -962.3.201.3060.  fax +962.3.203.9060 email talal_abumahfouz@hotmail.com. Website: www.aqaba-divers.com . This centre is located in Aqaba at the south beach 12 km south of the town in a small tourist village, with 8 rooms, Bedouin tent coffee shop, seafood restaurant and the dive center. It is just opposite the Gorgon One reef!

AQABA INTERNATIONAL DIVE CENTRE, King Hussein Street, Aqaba. Tel/Fax +962.3.203.1213 email confusingly is diveaqaba@yahoo.com, website http://www.scubadivingplanet.com/company.asp?id=10344

AQUAMARINA GROUP, PO Box 96 Aqaba 77110 Jordan. Fax: +962 3 203 2630
E-mail:
Aquama@go.com.jo website http://www.aquamarina-group.com/Diving.html

Barracuda Dive Club P.O Box: 294, Aqaba 77110 Jordan.
Tel: +962 3 2060 501 Fax: +962 3 2060 502 Mobile: +962 79 5881 170
email
info@goaqabadive.com. This is a new club, established in 2007 and located opposite Seastar's Club Murjan. Another excellent website can be seen at  http://www.goaqabadive.com/

DIVE AQABA,  email diveaqaba@diveaqaba.com, in the Al Khedrah Building, opposite to the Golden Tulip Hotel near Pizza Hut. Tel/Fax. 00962.796.600.701 website http://www.diveaqaba.com. They will pick up from most hotels.
Dive Aqaba offers PADI 6 courses, and technical diving courses through to instructor level - they are the only centre in Aqaba offering this.

INTERNATIONAL ARAB DIVERS VILLAGE PO Box 1967, Aqaba 77110, Jordan Phone 962.3.203.1808   fax:  962.3.203.1808. Their website is at http://www.aqaba-divevillage.com/  E-mail: info@aqaba-divevillage.com. This centre is 12kms south of Aqaba, and includes a small hotel and campsite, it is popular with backpackers! Phone +962.3.203.0566, fax +962.3.203.0560, email

RED SEA DIVING CENTRE, between King Hussein and An Nahda Streets. Tel. +962.3.201.2323 Fax +962.3.202.8969 email rsdiving@go.com.jo

THE ROYAL DIVING CLUB, PO Box 21, Aqaba Tel +962.3.201.2323 Fax +962.3.201.8969 email royaldiving@yahoo.com The RDC has its own beach/swimming pool close to the reefs (see Aqaba) and has a pier stretching out over their home reef.

SEASTAR Water sports, P. O Box 2624, Aqaba. Tel 00962 3 2013735,
Fax 00962 3 2033735,
Mob: 00962 788074828. Offices in Al Saada Street (opposite the Days Inn Suites), Aqaba Tel. +962.3.201.3735 Fax +962.3.203.3755 Email is website http://www.aqabadivingseastar.com. Seastar usually work from the Club Murjan south of the port (see Aqaba) and also close to the reefs. Like the RDC there is a swimming pool with full facilities and a pier over the reef.

For full details of the main dive sites in Aqaba please see following page : the reefs and main diving sites of Aqaba

I have these photos courtesy of http://perso.wanadoo.fr/pnoel/index_US.html to whom I owe many thanks

6Red Sea Diving Center and all have nice new centers based in the south with swimming pools and accommodation...these centers are all opposite Gorgon One dive site...they go shore diving up and down the coast and arrange boat diving at extra cost for those that want.


 

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