Jordan may appear at first glance like a vast, empty land, but its territory has been inhabited for 6,000 years and it is home to an enormous number of historic sites and natural wonders. Most of them are easily accessible just off of the King’s Highway, which stretches from the capital, Amman, down to Aqaba on the Red Sea. As the country’s only port, Aqaba has long been linked to the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, or T.E. Lawrence, and to the famous 1962 film by Sir David Lean. The massive Aqaba flagpole is, at 131 meters (430 feet), one of the tallest in the world and commemorates the Great Arab Revolt of 1916 against the Ottoman Empire in which Lawrence played a key role.
Aqaba is a decidedly quieter place now than in the heyday of revolt, whether one comes for the deepwater dive spots, duty-free shopping or its new high-end residential and resort district. Old Aqaba, with a fort that dates from the era of Christian crusaders, continues to be a wonderfully atmospheric neighborhood. There, after a long day in the desert heat, visitors can seek out a Turkish bath for a massage and scrub or take a break from exploring at any number of cafés that overlook the port.