Although Jordan is best known for its desert scenery and ruins, this Middle Eastern country is also a prime destination for scuba diving. At 17 miles long, Jordan’s coastline may be short, but it makes up for its length with warm water, excellent visibility, colorful marine life, healthy corals, and striking artificial reefs.
Let’s dive in!
What to know about Aqaba Marine Park
Venture to Aqaba, and you’re bound to have an unforgettable adventure. Jordan’s only coastal town is located on the Gulf of Aqaba, an extension of the Red Sea, and is home to the country’s sole marine park. There, researchers and employees protect the area’s biodiversity and educate the public on sustainability — and travelers can jump in to get their own feet wet.
With warm water temperatures, Jordan doesn’t really have a designated diving season; rather, snorkelers and scuba divers can splash throughout the entire calendar year. It’s a good idea to use a three-millimeter wetsuit in the summer (when the water can reach up to 82°F, or 28°C) and a five-millimeter wetsuit in the winter (when the water temperature hovers around 68°F, or 20°C).
Divers at Aqaba Marine Park will also enjoy visibility of up to 100 feet (30 meters). It’s a lucky benefit of swimming in the Red Sea, which is known for its clear water.
And since more than a thousand fish species live in this area (along with turtles, eels, rays, and even whale sharks), diving trips always provide a great opportunity to encounter these animals in their natural habitat. Keep an eye out for them!
Fortunately, plenty of tour companies — such as Dive Aqaba, Arab Divers, and Aqaba Adventure Divers — have set up shop in Aqaba, letting travelers choose from a long list of operators.
No matter your skill level, you can find the perfect dive site in Aqaba. Beginning and intermediate divers might want to splash in the Japanese Garden (a hotspot for turtles, snorkelers, and divers alike) or the Aquarium (a site bustling with fish and other marine life, as its name suggests). If you’re an advanced diver with the appropriate certification, however, we suggest heading to sites like Yellowstone Reef, the Taiyong Wreck, or the Shorouk Wreck.
If you’re not ready for a technical dive, but you’d still like to explore a wreckage site, you’re in luck. Over the past 30 years, the Jordanian government has deliberately sunk a number of decommissioned vehicles — including a few ships, a tank, and an airplane — to create artificial reefs and provide unusual dive sites.
The best-known example is the Cedar Pride, a shipwreck not far from shore. In the early 1980s, a fire gutted the ship while it was anchored in Aqaba, but the hull remained afloat. The Cedar Pride bobbed in the city’s port for several years, until the king decided to incorporate the ship into the natural landscape. Crews went to work cleaning the Cedar Pride and siphoning its oil, finally sinking it on its port side in 1985. Since then, corals have covered the wreck, and vibrant fish have made it their home. The ship lies at a maximum depth of 82 feet (25 meters), and its mast is only 23 feet (seven meters) below the surface. Intrepid divers can swim inside the ship, although no one should attempt this without first completing a wreck specialty course.
The Tank, an M42 duster once used by the Jordanian Army, is another vibrant artificial reef in the marine park. Sunk in 1999, the vehicle is now covered in soft corals and surrounded by marine life. The Tank is an easy dive, since it rests on sand in only 18 feet (six meters) of water, and many divers combine the excursion with a trip to the Seven Sisters, a nearby group of coral pinnacles.
Finally, the airplane — a C-130 Hercules — is the newest addition to Aqaba Marine Park. In 2017, the Jordanian government removed the plane’s engine and propellers, then sank the aircraft near the Tank. With a 130-foot (40-meter) wingspan, the plane is massive, so there’s something eerie about seeing it in clear, blue water.
Since the government removed the cabin doors before sinking the C-130, divers can safely swim through the stripped-down plane. The cockpit is accessible too, although skittish divers should be warned that they’ll find a model of a skeleton manning the flight deck.
No matter which site you choose, you’re bound to have a great time exploring Aqaba Marine Park. Make a splash, explore your surroundings, and enjoy your underwater foray.
Cover photo by Sam Soffes