Last week's opening of the border crossing between Aqaba, Jordan, and Eilat, Israel, opens up new possibilities for American tourists.
Eilat, Israel's most southerly port and the country's only access to the Red Sea, has long been a winter resort destination for Europeans attracted by its temperate climates and clear waters. Jordan's Aqaba, just across the Gulf of Aqaba, is much less developed, although King Hussein's vacation palace is there, and private sources are "eager to get on with" the development of tourism facilities, said Rania Atalla, director of the Jordan Information Bureau in Washington.
One tour operator opined that Jordan is not a country in which many travelers would want to spend more than three or four days, but it is home to some extraordinary sights--the ruins at Petra being among the most famous. It takes from three to five hours to drive to Petra from Amman depending on the route, but the ancient city is only an hour's drive from Aqaba.
What Israeli tourism sources were promoting last week was the new possibility of being able to fly into Israel, visit various holy sites, then going on to Eilat and using it as a base to venture into Jordan or into neighboring Egypt. There is already enthusiastic talk of joint marketing efforts and combined package tours and many reminders that the diving in the Red Sea is among the best in the world.
Travelers making the trip any time soon should pack light because they will have to walk the roughly quarter-mile crossing between the Aqaba and Eilat checkpoints--cars registered in Israel and Jordan are not allowed across the border. Rental cars are available in both cities.
In addition, day trips will not be allowed; visitors must spend at least one night once they have crossed the border. Aqaba has several hotels and restaurants.
The crossing is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.