More Jordan links
Before you start to plan a trip between Egypt and Jordan you should consider the question of visas. If you are not intending to return to Egypt on this trip, then no problem. However, if your plane (for instance) leaves from Cairo and you just want a quick trip to Jordan and back, perhaps to see Petra and Wadi Rum, then you should remember that when you arrive at Cairo airport you can only obtain a 30 day single entry visa. You will therefore need either to obtain a double entry visa before you leave Cairo or apply for another entry visa somewhere along the way to allow you to return to Egypt.
You can of course get a double entry visa from an Egyptian Embassy somewhere before you arrive in Egypt, or it is also possible to convert your single entry visa to a multi entry one in Cairo. This involves applying to the Mugamma building downtown in Cairo at Midan Tahririn (Metro Sadat) just across from the Egyptian museum. Otherwise, when you are ready to return to Egypt from Jordan, you have the choice of going to the consulate in Aqaba for a new visa, or of getting one when arriving by ferry from Nuweiba. There is no particular difficulty with either of these: the Consulate will usually deliver a visa the same day if you apply before 10am and in Nuweiba you just have to wait it out, say for an hour approximately. Obviously there is also the Egyptian Embassy in Amman. The price for a visa depends on nationality, but most nationalities seem to pay about 15USD. Don't forget that on Fridays all these offices are likely to be closed.
If you decide to return to Egypt via Eilat in Israel, then you should know that at the Egyptian frontier at Taba you cannot get a visa that will allow you to go to Cairo. At this particular entry point, only a free "Sinai pass" is available which allows you access to the east Sinai coast . You should organise your full visa either at the Egyptian Consulate in Eilat, at Cairo before you set out, or in Aqaba. There is no problem in getting it in any of these places.
This done or decided on, you can set out on the trip.
Transport around Sinai
There is a most interesting possibility started recently : the "Bedouin Bus". See http://www.bedouinbus.com/
Hopefully this will offer an alternative to the service taxis which are never there when wanted and/or charge a large price if you don't want to wait for passengers.
It is quite easy to get from the Sinai to Aqaba. Basically you have two choices : land or sea.
Land involves going through Israel. Take a bus or shared taxi from Sharm or wherever to Taba on the Israeli frontier (there is a good bus that leaves Sharm about 9am, Dahab at 10h30 and Nuweiba at 11h45 arriving in Taba about 1pm). The same bus company runs buses from Cairo to Taba leaving the East Delta station near Midan Abasiya at 9am and at 11pm. I give below the times of buses that I have, but check these times, the timetable is dated June 2001 and even if it was correct then, things might have changed. The phone number of the bus station is 261.4909. Note that Taba is a full hour nearer Cairo than is Nuweiba and the trip shouldn't take much more than 6 or 7 hours.
TIMES OF BUSES FROM CAIRO TO SINAI
When you reach Taba, walk through the frontier, answer all the questions Israeli security officers ask, take a taxi to the Arava crossing point (perhaps 15 or 20 minutes and 50NIS), walk through the Israeli frontier, pay the departure tax which at the moment is 74NIS (approx 14USD so the sum in shekels tends to vary a bit), walk through the Jordanian frontier, the visa here is free. There are money changing facilities at the frontier, no problem about that. There is very seldom much delay at this frontier; unless you have the incredibly bad luck to get yourself just behind a group you can expect to clear both border controls into Jordan within 20-30 minutes. Almost always, you can be in Aqaba in an hour or an hour and a half from Taba.
There's an interesting variation on this suggested by "a1" of the Thorn Tree for the real penny pinchers. Instead of taking a taxi to the Jordan crossing, you can take a bus from the Taba one to the bus station at Eilat, take a bus from there to Kibbutz Eilot, and walk the rest of the way to the frontier. The "rest of the way" is probably over 500 meters, on a road with no shade and no pavement, but if you are looking to save money and aren't worried about taking a fair bit of time then it is a possible way. You would save somewhere around 15-20NIS, so if there are two of you it pretty well evens out.
There is NO WAY to avoid the "Israeli stamp stigma" if you go this way. Sure, they would stamp it on a sheet of paper, but since the Egyptians and the Jordanians will not, then their frontier stamp is just as much a giveaway as the Israeli stamp itself. After all, an exit stamp from Taba, followed by an entry into Jordan at the Arava crossing can hardly be interpreted any other way! If you are hoping to go to Syria on that passport in the future, obviously you cannot take this route. Otherwise if you want to go there another time, you will have to ask for a new passport, whether or not yours has expired. Note that you don't need to say you have lost it or offer any other explanation - just ask for a new one. Nobody cares particularly - as long as you pay! Anybody hoping to get around this by using a secondary passport should know that you MUST exit Jordan by using the same passport as the one you arrived with.
There are ATMs at the border to exchange money.
IThere are now (white) service taxis that would take you from the border to the bus station in central Aqaba. The fare is 1JD IF THE TAXI IS FULL. If you are less than a car full you would probably be asked to pay more to make up the price. You have the choice of saying Yes, or of waiting for others to show up - up to you!
Ordinary taxis do wait here, but they have to pay the concession fee and so tend to charge rather more than the standard fares. If you decide to splurge or to share with other people to go directly to Petra, then DO NOT pay more than 45JD (total for the car) from the border. You may well find others on the bus/taxi from Sharm wanting the same thing as you. If you go to the bus station and find a bus, the fare is 5JD from Aqaba to Petra. The trip takes somewhere over 2 hours. Note that the last bus leaves at 3pm. You should be able to get this easily by taking the 9am bus from Sharm.
Closing of the Arava Crossing
The Arava Crossing is open Sunday – Thursday 6:30am – 9pm, Friday – Saturday 8am – 8pm
Be careful about Jewish religious holidays when it might be closed all day, better to find out beforehand. The official times are given at http://www.iaa.gov.il/Rashat/en-US/Rashot
It is certainly closed for the Yom Kippur and for the Islamic New Year. It can also be closed for the Eid al Fitr.
I believe, but am not sure, that Taba has approximately the same closing times.
Island" about 20kms south of Taba
Sea usually means the ferry service from Nuweiba. The same thing applies regarding bus/service taxi from Sharm. The bus whose timetable I have given above is the only one which gets you to Nuweiba in time for the ferries.
There are now (September 2011) two fast services in either direction: from Aqaba to Nuweiba at 8am and at 1pm (13h00) and from Nuweiba to Aqaba at 11am and at 5pm (17h00). The fare for this service is 75USD in economy class or 95USD in first class. There is also a "normal" ferry leaving Aqaba at midnight and a truck ferry. I suggest that for details of these you consult the Arab Bridge Maritime website at http://www.abmaritime.com.jo/english.html
I should perhaps warn you, that it is not unusual for the "slow boat" to take ten or twelve hours to make the crossing - it has been known to take three days! Incidentally the phone number in Nuweiba of the ferry service is 069.3520.365. They also have an office in Cairo in Abdel Khalek Sarwat street, open from 9-13.30 (1.30pm) daily (except Friday) and there is a special number for English speakers at 02-5773561.
One thing here : if you arrive in Nuweiba several hours before the ferry departs, instead of hanging around the port, which is boring and just as dirty and unattractive as most ports, take a taxi and go somewhere! You can go to the town of Nuweiba, or which personally I think is a far better idea, go somewhere close to the sea where you can settle on cushions, take a nap, look at the waves and have breakfast or lunch and drink something cool. You might like to go to "Dolphin Beach" (where you have a chance of meeting the dolphins which visit here) or to Habiba Camp (see http://www.sinai4you.com/habiba/). It is a five minute taxi ride to either of these places from the port, the taxis know the names well, and you can make arrangements with the driver to pick you up again in plenty of time for the ferry. If he should fail for any reason, in both places it is easy for the reception to call you another taxi.
Between Taba and Aqaba
A new service is now in operation here. You can get from Taba to Aqaba by Sindbad XPRESS, a fast ferry service operated by Sindbad. The fast boat leaves from Taba Heights Marina in the morning between 7.30h and 8.30h daily.
You can buy the ticket on the boat BUT you have to make reservation by phone 24 hours before! Phone: +962 3 205 0077 in Jordanl
It is absolutely obligatory, not only to take a return ticket for this ferry, but to return on it within 7 days. NO exceptions are allowed, and the booking will be refused if you cannot do this. The background is that this service is not really for independent travellers but for package tour customers, for whom hotels, guides, etc are also being arranged, and who just want a quick visit from one country to the other.
Sindbad XPRESS departs from Aqaba to Taba from the
Royal Yacht Club (next to McDonald's) in the evenings, between
19.30h and 20.30h. You can also buy your
tickets beforehand at Sindbad's office in Aqaba.
(I have this detailed information from www.your-guide-to-aqaba-jordan.com which is an excellent site for information on Aqaba and round about)
Visa in Aqaba
You can get a visa without any problem when you arrive in Aqaba. What happens is that all the passports are collected by an official on the boat, and everybody makes their way to a series of waiting rooms. They deal with the "easy" cases first, ie Jordanians, and the nationalities not needing a visa, then the groups, then those tourists already having a visa. After that, YOU! The visa for Jordan is free.
Much the same advice concerning taxis when you arrive, there are usually quite a few service taxis waiting; since the last bus to Petra will have left; your alternatives are to spend the night in Aqaba or to take a service taxi.
Special ASEZ visas
The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA for short) has introduced a special Economic Zone visa for Jordan, to be known as an "ASEZ visa". This is a new rule, and the details have already been changed several times since its introduction in April 2002. Right now the conditions are these:
Anybody arriving in Aqaba, whether at the port, at the airport or from the Arava crossing from Israel can get a free visa for Jordan. There is no obligation associated with this visa, providing they leave the country within 15 days and do not need to register their visa for "renewal". Their passports are not subject to any special checks when they leave the Economic Zone.
(People arriving at entry point other than Aqaba, who say to the authorities that they are going to Aqaba can claim a free visa, but with the obligation to register with the ASEZA visa office in Aqaba within 48 hours of their arrival in Jordan. Failure to do this brings liability to pay for the visa plus a fine of 1.5JD/day for each day non registered.)
Anybody arriving in Aqaba can if they wish, ask for a normal visa (usual price=10JD) instead of the free ASEZ visa. In this case if they want to stay longer than 3 months they can register at their local police station as per current practice. I warn you the immigration people are usually incredulous at the idea of people WANTING to pay for a visa, and the procedure might well take longer than usual!
Anybody holding an ASEZ visa, and wishing to stay longer than 3 months must extend it at the ASEZA office in Aqaba and not with their local police station as holders of a normal visa can do, so remember this and be careful about claiming the ASEZ visa if you will be in Jordan for longer than 3 months. Everybody without a specific exemption must pay the 5JD exit tax whether holding an ASEZ visa or not and wherever leaving the country. Travellers staying in Jordan less than 24 hours are considered to be "in transit" and are exempt from the tax, as are certain cruise ship passengers.
Please note that these visas differ from the usual Jordanian visa in that they expire when you exit Jordan at any border. They CANNOT be used to re-enter Jordan at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge in the same way that Jordan visas can.
The background is that ASEZA visas are issued in order to attract business and investment into Aqaba. Tourists are then not restricted from using them to travel around Jordan, although ASEZA do, apparently, reserve the right - if, for instance, someone enters Aqaba on a free ASEZA visa then immediately leaves Aqaba in order to travel around Jordan - to rescind their ASEZA visa on the 'border' (Wadi Yitm road/Wadi Araba road etc) and ensure they buy a Jordan visa for 10 JD. In practice, this never happens - but that is the principle on which the ASEZA visa system was set up.
They are intended to benefit Aqaba, and Aqaba alone - not the whole of Jordan. ASEZA visas are for entering Aqaba only, and not at any other point.
Which route to choose?
The Israel route : if you are intending to go to Syria in the near future, you CANNOT take this route. In that case, read no further! In favour : you are not held to a timetable, you can leave Sharm when you like. The drive along the coast - quite beautiful - takes between three and four hours. Supposing you leave about 8 or 9am, you would be in Taba (say) by 1pm, you will probably take about an hour or an hour and a half to Aqaba and you can get to Petra quite comfortably by 5 or 6pm. It is also cheaper (see lower down!)
Against (besides the Syrian bit) : Israeli security asks a fair number of impertinent questions - just answer them, don't try to be clever and try not to get annoyed! Be sure to change enough shekels for the taxi + the departure tax which is 66 shekels.. Note that any odd shekels can usually be spent in Petra.
Ferry from Nuweiba : in favour : it is closer to Sharm (about 2 hours drive - but if you are taking a bus, you will end up on the same one that continues to Taba), it just involves getting onto the ferry and then getting off in Aqaba. If you have luggage this is to be appreciated (even though they do supply luggage trolleys at the frontier posts). Against : you are tied to the boat's schedule, you should arrive at least an hour ahead of departure and the schedule does tend to be VARIABLE! You must pay in USD (no other currency accepted!) and the price is 50USD for the fast boat, 45USD for the slow one! If you decide to take this route, HAVE THE USD READY. Otherwise you are chasing around trying to find a bank (open) that will change money. Also when you arrive in Aqaba, your options are limited. Another disadvantage when you arrive in Aqaba, even if you have your visa ahead of time, immigration takes a fair bit of time, since everybody arrives together. There also seems to be a departure tax from Egypt of about 10USD when you take the ferry... .
Some people insist that they prefer the boat ride rather than a bus. This is undoubtedly a point of view, but the "fast boat" is a hydrofoil and is completely enclosed. Personally, I find it no more exciting than the bus, and the view of the coast from the bus is incomparably more attractive than that of the sea. No, for me, the only real argument in favour of the ferry is avoiding the Israeli stamp, unless, of course you are travelling with somebody Arab who usually cannot go through Israel.
Going the other way : Jordan to Egypt
Exactly the same procedure in reverse and almost exactly the same arguments in favour of the land route. Just one warning : if you have already been to Syria, you will be questioned about your visit. If you have anything written in Arabic, you must expect to justify it. DO NOT TRY JOKING ABOUT ANYTHING, HERE ! You will regret it ! Just contain any indignation, and tough it out!
There is one trap that I should warn you about if you do go through Israel : as stated in the first section, if you are going to Egypt "proper" you should get your visa ahead of time. At the Taba frontier, they only deliver "Sinai passes" which are free but which are good only for the East Sinai coast, including St Catherine's Monastery, but not including most of Sharm el Sheikh or the Ras Mohammed Parks, either marine or land. To go to Cairo you need a full visa, which you can get quite easily at an Egyptian Consulate either in Aqaba or in Eilat. In Aqaba it usually takes three or four hours - beware of Friday closing. If you take the ferry then there is no problem, full visas are available on arriving at Nuweiba. There is also the Egyptian Embassy in Amman if you have time to spare when you are there.
There is a bus from Taba to Cairo at 10am and another one to Sharm at the same time. If you are heading for Dahab and you can catch the bus for Sharm, you could be in the sea by midday! Note that by taking the early morning bus from Petra, you should just be able to make it. Otherwise your only chance is service taxis from Taba. The next buses to both destinations leave at 2pm. Something else to pay going this way is the "Sinai tax" of 17LE, or a bit over 5USD. Sorry!
From Aqaba, the fast boat leaves at 8am and at 5pm. Although you can obtain tickets for these ferries at almost any travel agency in Jordan, I advise you to wait until you are in Aqaba. It can and does happen that the fast boat is cancelled for some reason, in that case you would be stuck with a fairly expensive ticket, and with the choice of the slow boat, which amply merits its name, or the land route. In Aqaba, the travel agencies are aware of the vagaries of the schedules and you are fairly sure of being informed. But as ferries go, this service is actually pretty reliable. Incidentally, do not rely on any information given to you by your hotel. It might be correct, and it might not be! If you want right up to date information, the name of the company running the ferries is "Arab Bridge Maritime" and their telephone number from outside Jordan is +9188.8.131.5240 or 03.201.3240 if you are already in the country. Their website is at http://www.abmaritime.com.jo/main.html
Note that there is a Jordanian exit tax of 8JD unless you have been in the country for less than 24 hours, in which case you are considered as being "in transit".