Welcoming migrating birds The Aqaba Bird Observatory is a bird sanctuary in an artificially created wetland that hosts various bird species. Because it houses an exceptional diversity of attractive habitats for birds, the observatory is a bird heaven with its deep waters, trees and wild plants. Its central location, where the edges of three continents overlap (Africa, Asia and Europe), is an invitation for birds to converge to all three continents every migration season. Of the more than 435 species recorded in Jordan, around 350 are migratory, ending their migration journey in the country to breed. Some of these birds are rarely seen species and a few are endangered. You can visit this unique cluster of lakes and develop your knowledge and passion for bird-watching. It is a sanctuary and an inviting environment even for the more delicate of migrating birds like the pelicans.

Discovering the Bonsai of Aqaba Even if you’ve been to Aqaba several times, the new and unique bonsai experience is sure to delight you and your family. Talented chef and entrepreneur Khaled Abu Elsamid, born to a Jordanian father and Chinese mother, has brought back the ancient art of bonsai cultivation using local trees, such as the Dwarf Jade, Arabic Gum Tree and Pink Pixie. The word “bonsai” is a two-word combination that translates to Bon (pot), and Sai (to cultivate or plant). We are used to seeing full-size trees anywhere we look. What we have not yet seen is these same trees in miniature size. Abu Elsamid’s project is to train indigenous trees to thrive in small pots, with the same appearance as their full-sized cousins. These trees are easily adaptable to be displayed in homes. You can visit Desert Bonsai on Wadi Rum Street in Aqaba, near the Aqaba International School. There, you will find trees for sale, services and workshops, or make an appointment to visit the garden. The Make and Take Bonsai workshops are three to four hours long and the number of participants can vary from two to six people. It includes an introduction, plant selection, plant shaping, pot selection and plant potting. Essentially, you will go through the whole process of turning a plant into a starter bonsai plant, then take it home and continue training it for many years to come.
Unearthing holy beginnings You can’t go far in Jordan without stumbling onto ancient civilisations. Unearthed treasures bear silent witness to the richness of the past and its glory. Visiting Aqaba and its surroundings yield a variety of things to see. Why not add a visit to the oldest-known purpose-built church? It is older than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. A group of archaeologists unearthed this historic third-century church in Aqaba over a decade ago. The ancient mud-brick complex was identified as a church based on its basilica form, eastward orientation and specific finds. The latter included fragments of glass-made oil lamps, a collection box with coins and the remnants of a bronze cross. At the time, its peripheral location within the Roman Empire is likely to have saved the church from destruction during the Great Persecution that broke out just a few years after its construction. The church was probably in use for about a century before an earthquake devastated the region. Layers of sand have helped preserve its walls, some of which are more than two metres high. You can visit the church located on Rashid Street in the city of Aqaba itself, not too far from the InterContinental Hotel Aqaba.
Visiting Aqaba Castle Did you know there is a castle in Aqaba? The Aqaba Castle, known as the Mamluk Castle or Aqaba Fort, is a fortress originally built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Ayla (the name of ancient Aqaba) was recaptured by the Muslim leader, Salah Ad Din Al Ayyubi in 1187 and the fortress was destroyed. It was re-built in the early 16th century under the Mamluk Sultan Al Ashraf Qansuh Al Ghawri. During the Ottoman rule, the fort was used as a station for pilgrims travelling to and from the Holy Land. It is said that it was from this castle that the legendary Laurence of Arabia travelled to Cairo to announce the victory of the Great Arab Revolt over the Ottomans to General Allenby. The campaign and battle were depicted in the film Lawrence of Arabia. The fort is located next to the Aqaba Flagpole, which carries the flag of the Arab Revolt. Adjacent to the fort is the Aqaba Archaeological Museum, which was once Sharif Hussein’s residence, grandfather of the late King Hussein of Jordan and leader of the Arab Revolt – that’s another historic destination to visit!
Finding where beauty meets art – in an Aqaba kitchen! How would you like to amaze your friends by producing unique flower creations in a kitchen? In Aqaba, you do not have to go any further than Abeer Jamal’s workshop to learn this unusual art. Abeer Jamal infuses simple jelly with colour to produce an array of intricate flower designs to please any eye – and palate, as they are edible too! This mother of three is certified in pastry-making and teaching others to work safely in the kitchen. She has conducted workshops in food and soap production and teaches children at local schools and centres in Aqaba and other parts of Jordan. It was two years ago when Jamal’s aspiration to rise above the ordinary led her to specialise in the art of 3-D jelly creation. In any colour of the rainbow, the resulting flower creations can also be used to decorate cakes. You can check out her Facebook page (3-D jelly made with love) where you will find many of her edible flowers. Workshops are on offer for both adults and children.