BootsnAll Travel Network

The 1 hour ferry that took 9 hours: Nuweiba to Aqaba

*Please note that this post was originally written in 2007. Details on the ferry may have changed since then.*

So we got a taxi to Nuweiba (1.5 hours from Dahab) and bought our 1 way ticket to the fast ferry to Aqaba, Jordan. They are expensive – $70 US each. The price in LP was $55 so it had gone up a lot since then.

There were lots of goats walking around the streets of Nuweiba, like packs of dogs.

At the ferry terminal, we first entered an outdoor “holding area” and sat by a western-looking couple, much older and well-to-do. They were English. The wife heard us talking and said with relief, “OH! You speak English!” and proceeded to tell us how they had an all-inclusive tour through Viking tours and they’d had a miserable experience. They were left alone for 3 days and seemed amazed that we figured everything out for ourselves, and also seemed glad to have us to sort of guide them along. When I mentioned that I didn’t get to finish souvenir shopping in Egypt, she gave me a beautiful stone “egg” from St. Katherine’s and said she didn’t want it. Wow! How nice!

We weren’t sure where we were supposed to go to wait for the ferry, but we finally found an indoor “holding area,” like a terminal filled with people sitting on benches and lying on the floor and there were flies buzzing around everywhere. It was truly filthy. The English man suddenly got a text message from his tour agency saying the boat wasn’t leaving today because of rough seas and that his tour agency arranged alternate transport for them to get to Jordan. So the English couple left and actually ended up going back to Sharm, because they were so frustrated.

This news about the ferry was bad for us. If the ferry wasn’t going today, it meant we were stuck. I told Jim we should leave and get a car to Taba and cross into Israel, then cross right into Jordan, but the problem was we couldn’t get a refund on our $70 ferry tickets because the ticket agents went home. Ahh, Egypt. If we had been able to get that refund, life would have been SO much easier.  We were basically trapped (unless we wanted to lose $140!)

So we formed sort of a ragtag group of backpackers including Jason and Catherine from England, and Anja and Sayed from Germany. Sayed is originally from Egypt and his being able to speak Arabic was a huge help in getting updates on what was going on. No one ever offers information in these situations, you always have to ask and ask and ask. Anyway, being able to talk to these other backpackers made the time SOOO much more bearable! It was also great to finally talk with some other travellers.

waiting in the nuweiba ferry
Ragtag Group of Backpackers

We first heard that the boat would be leaving at 6pm, not 2:30pm. They said the boat would actually be in Nuweiba at like 4:30, but all the workers would wait to have their first meal of the day (breakfast) when the sun went down because of Ramadan. We couldn’t believe how crazy that was that they would make hundreds of passengers wait just for them to eat.  And if they knew that was going to happen, they could have reflected it in the schedule.

We also heard the slow ferry from the day before didn’t go, so there were actually people sleeping in there from the night before! Also, you cannot leave the ferry terminal, and there is no way to eat unless you buy snacks like cookies and chips from the vendor (or, you bring the food from home). It was absolutely, incredibly stupid and ridiculous. I think a 10-year-old could have come up with a better run ferry terminal.

Anyway, we spent the time talking to our new friends. There were so many flies buzzing around it was so annoying, and the bathroom was so utterly disgusting that I actually opted to use the squat toilet instead of the western one so I wouldn’t touch anything.  I’ve been in a lot of places with dirty squat toilets, but the smell and looks of this one were right up there near the top of my list (the winner for grossest toilet for me is still the airport on Xi’an, China).  I don’t think this picture does it justice…..

Grody urinal
I Can Hold It

I shared some cookies with the others and Anja shared some pizza she had packed, which was a lifesaver because we were all so hungry.

So we waited and waited and waited.

At one point, finally the passengers sitting around us started to eat because the sun had gone down (5:30ish) and two local women sitting on the back of the bench from me, both wearing the black robes but with their faces showing, said, “What is your name?” And I said in Arabic “My name is…” and we exchanged names.  We didn’t know any other words in each others’ language so we basically just smiled at each other. A few other words were exchanged.  I wish we could have had a conversation but of course it was not possible.

FINALLY….at 6:30pm (we had been there since NOON in this hot, humid, smelly, fly-filled terminal) we were herded onto some large buses. I know this probably doesn’t seem like THAT long of a time- noon to 6:30 – but oh my god, it really seemed like FOREVER.
The bus was full and they squashed me into a seat with a woman and I literally had to shove my giant backpack on my LAP where it almost touched the ceiling… it must have looked pretty funny. Jim and Jason had to stand in the crowded aisle and when the bus stopped, men in the seats had the audacity to violently PUSH their way in front of Jim and Jason, who were carrying giant packs. Insane.

We left our baggage in a large cart by the boat, hoping we’d see it again someday.

On the boat finally, we had to hand over our passport because we did not have a Jordanian visa.

The boat didn’t leave until 8:12pm.

As expected, though, it took one hour to get to the port. We were all so happy that this ordeal was almost over!!  It wasn’t, yet.

When the boat stopped, we had to sit and wait probably another HOUR for them to simply let us off because of our passports or whatever. We were starting to reach breaking point. We should have been in Aqaba (the port in Jordan) at about 4pm and it was now like 10pm, and we still had a 2 hour drive to Petra ahead of us!

So finally we were let off the boat and again thought it was almost over. It was MAYHEM outside of the boats where several small flatbed trucks were piled high with everyone’s luggage. We literally had to walk through piles of luggage, in the near-dark, to find our bags. I so wish I had a photo of Jim standing in a big truck, on TOP of a giant pile of other people’s bags, searching for ours, while dozens of others did the same, in the dark. Picture that.  It was surreal.  Luckily all of us found our bags.

We were put on another bus and lead to the immigration terminal where we thought we’d be given back our passports. Again we had to wait a long time for them to finally call our names one by one to get them back.

So FINALLY we were able to get in the cab we were sharing with Anja and Sayed to Petra. After a half hour, we stopped at a desolate truck stop in the middle of nowhere, Jordan, and got a delicious kebab in a pita. Oh man, it was soooo good after not eating ALL DAY.  I still remember that kebab and how amazing it was.

We drove the rest of the 1.5 hours and got to our hotel in Petra at 2:00am. The whole ordeal was so horrible, so awful. I would recommend to anyone to NOT take the ferry during Ramadan, and otherwise, be prepared to wait all day and be sure to pack some food! I would highly consider driving to Taba instead and crossing the border there.

We slept in the next day and went to Petra, which was within walking distance of our hotel.

Looking back on this situation….while it was obviously a horrible horrible day, of course it made for a good memory!  Many times the WORST experiences end up being the most memorable and, in retrospect, fun to think about — believe it or not.

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20 responses to “The 1 hour ferry that took 9 hours: Nuweiba to Aqaba”

  1. Shawn says:

    Funny post, I can’t help from cracking up. Not because of the headache you had, because, I am in Nuweiba right now after traveling Egypt for five months. Heading to Jordan.

  2. Yann says:

    Good to know, I am going the other way, but it is still good information.

    The thing is, in Jordan transport are not better !!!

  3. Luci says:

    I did that ferry trip back in July. It was a bloody nightmare and it took around the same time as yours did so I feel your frustration!! Luckily I was staying in Aqaba that night but the night before, we climbed Mount Sinai for the run rise so was up since 2am that day. Bloody tired!

  4. Vin says:

    Thanks for sharing. I plan to take this trip with a bicycle in a few months time.
    I can’t help see an irony with the title “Quit Whining and Go Somewhere” – clearly this was somewhere to make an exception.

  5. Kelly says:

    Ha! Good point. Actually, there is plenty of complaining in my blog, but the title was more referring to people who always SAY they want to travel, but never make it happen. 🙂 Gpod luck in your passage!

  6. Sammie says:

    Thanks so much for sharing pictures and pertinent info!

  7. Shirley says:

    We took the ferry both ways. I thought the first trip was bad enough, with a “fast 1 hour ferry ride” taking 4 hours from the time we got inside the boat (oh, yeah, no windows that opened and hundreds of people, in the middle of summer). Then after chasing around to get my passport back with the visa, the “4 or 5 hour” bus trip across the Sinai in a bus so bad that we opened the roof vent and windows (in the heat of the day in the desert) rather than the pitiful excuse for airconditioning. Even the Egyptians thought it was too hot! So on the return trip we left Cairo just before midnight, arrived at 6 a.m. for the 7 a.m. ferry. Which was late. It was supposed to come at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., just after 12, in another half an hour, around 4 p.m., maybe tomorrow, and finally we stopped asking and just slept on the dirty wooden benches with hundreds of others. The 7 a.m. ferry left at 11 p.m., so at least it was technically the same day!

    I was coughing and ill by the time the boat came – Cairo in summer can do that to you. So two lovely Palestinian Jordanian guys my husband had been chatting with carried our luggage and wouldn’t let my husband do anything except support me on board.

    Fortunately as a woman, I got to go to the front of the queues (almost entirely composed of men) and so my husband and I and the friends travelling with us got on and off with less hassle when the time came.

    The car was in the parking lot at Aqaba – with a flat battery!

  8. Shirley says:

    By the way, the photo looks like the waiting area in Jordan (which was quite civilised), not like the woolshed in Egypt.

  9. Kelly says:

    Hi Shirley, wow, that sounds terrible. It really makes you appreciate transit that is run in an orderly fashion. You are right, the picture of us waiting in the terminal doesn’t look that bad, but it’s because we dragged those chairs to an area sort of away from everything else. Just on the other side of us was a giant room packed with people all over the place and it was filthy (see the toilet pic). Glad to hear you made it out of there in one piece and with your sanity!!!!

  10. Chris says:

    We just got back from the Sinai, and did the ferry trip across and back, on a visit to Petra. Late both times, and I can tell you that the toilet in Nuweiba is still in the same disgusting state, even after the cleaning team had passed by!
    The return ferry was choc a block but we lucked out with an upgrade to first class. Once docked it took an hour and a half before we disembarked (possibly due to the health forms everybody had to fill out) but the circus with all the Egyptians/Bedouins with their duty free carpets, hi fi’s and god knows what else trying to pass through customs was incredible. But at least they gave us tourists a quick passage through.
    I must say we had been warned in advance to give ourselves plenty of time and expect the worst!

  11. michael connellan says:

    I was in Aqaba on 27th and 28th of February 2010 and thought it would be a good idea to take the ferry to Nuweiba and then bus up to Cairo see the pyramids afternoon of 2nd march before flying to London morning of the 3rd. Consulted with Arab Bridge staff in their aqaba offices and it was suggested that the slow boat would be a good option for me. I could go to the port at 22.00hrs 1st March and get passport stamped in readiness for boarding at around 23.00hrs where i could get a nice cabin for 10 dollars and get my head down. the ferry would leave at 01.00hrs 2nd March and would dock Nuweiba at 04.00hrs but i could disembark at 05.00hrs clear immigration and catch coach to cairo leaving at 06.00hrs and hit Cairo midday. that then was the plan.

    Reality was somewhat different…got to aqaba port at 22.00hrs and got passport stamped and then waited outside the terminal with a few hundred travellers of whom I was the only european.Waited there for six and a half hours watching and killing cockroaches whilst cats played with and killed small rats.

    Scheherazade ferry docked about 04.00hrs and first group of thirty or so passengers off were under armed guard. Next load of passengers came running off ferry to get to the front of the immigration queue. next off were the lorries and then there was am announcement which saw all the foot passengers run to form a queue. Much pushing and shoving with a guy with a uniform and pick axe handle trying to get us passengers into a line. Then a bus shuttles back and forth to ferry taking foot passengers to ramp head….handed passport in at egyptian immigration desk on boar (for collection in Nuweiba)..went off to get cabin…checked it out before handing over ten dollars…not good so asked for something better…paid twenty dollars for cabin with bathroom of sorts…pretty foul but slept in clothes and put handkerchief on pillow to avoid contact with any putrid bedding. Ferry left about five so set alarm for up expecting to dock but boat going about ten knots…eventually arrived 10.00 hrs but not allowed to disembark til about 11.00hrs..walked off over car deck and ramp..cleared immigration got passport back and cleared customs before going to bus park at 11.30…eventually left there at 13.30…arrived Cairo bus depot at 21.00hrs after passenger had epileptic fit…tyre blow out and a whip round topay a fitter to change wheel. so late and tired I did not get to see pyramids

    Long story but hope it gives a feel for what lays ahead for anyone contemplating this journey…it is not recommended by me

  12. mm says:

    well, as any experienced traveler already knows DO NOT AND DO NOT make such tight plans and DO NOT DO NOT travel for hundreds of miles hoping that you’ll have an afternoon to see the pyramids. if you don’t have a whole week for the pyramids and cairo then why going? just to shoot a few pictures in the run and brag to your friends when you get beck home? get a life, guys!!!

  13. michael connellan says:

    Hello…was not banking on seeing pyramids as I have visited Cairo before many times and I am well aware that things can go wrong…it was just a loose plan and I have no complaints about my trip…I just wanted to relate my experience in the hope that it would give others undertaking the trip one persons perspective…..and for info i do have a very nice life and dont really feel the need to brag…I do however have one little motto which I could share with you mm…’ it is nice to be important…but it is more important to be nice ‘

  14. Dave says:

    Presently In Petra and have been thinking about taking the boat out of Aqaba and found the posting from Michael Conellan really helpful. Who is this mm individual though. He contributes nothing worthwhile from what I can glean .

  15. Dave says:

    Took ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba and it is every bit as bad as described….it is probably not appropriate to say that European ferry services are massively better and would be closed down if operated in the way that Arab Bridge operates its ships…what is more appropriate is that European ferries are cheaper and dont enjoy such high yields…Arab Bridge are coining it for absolutly no effort.

    Nice to see that ‘mm’ has done the decent thing and cleared off

  16. kelly says:

    I went back and deleted some of the venomous comments. I just don’t feel like seeing that hostility on my blog.
    Thanks for the comments Dave 🙂

  17. Amin says:

    i have read your post, and wow, i also noticed you deleted some of the other negative comments, i bet there where loads because i feel like making a negative one now. I am planning to do this trip and actually, if its Ramadan, you HAVE to wait for people to eat.

    why is your schedule more important then people starving after fasting all day in hot countries? seems pretty narrow minded i would say.

    its a shame you didnt like travelling in the arab world, are you american? because i have backpacked 52 countries, and even slept in the jungle in borneo for three monthes.

    just because your white stop believing life OWES you anything, because it does not. the world does not owe you anything, you owe the world.

    life is hard, oh boohoo you had to wait a few hours for a ferry without luxery vending machines and food provided at your fingertips (in the month of fasting) while you where in AFRICA?

    I guess backpacking just isnt for you. stay in the west, enjoy life, and close your mind to culture.

  18. kelly says:

    Amin, do you care to explain why or how “I owe the world”?

    “just because your white stop believing life OWES you anything”
    Wait a minute – you are really trying to make this a racist thing? You have got to be kidding!!! ROFLOL!!

    If you read the post, you would have seen that we were also waiting with an Egyptian man, and there was a Hispanic man with us too. These “non whites” were just as frustrated as the “whites” were. Do you think expecting scheduled transportation to function in a timely and organized manner is just a condition held by white people?

    I did enjoy traveling in the Arab world. But if you buy a ticket for a boat/bus/plane (etc) anywhere, that is set to leave at a specified time, then it is expected that that method of transportation will leave at that time (or thereabouts). That is standard for most of the world. If it was known that the ferry was going to be delayed by the late dinner, then all they had to do was tell us that when we bought the ticket.

    Congrats for sleeping in the jungle in Borneo. I guess that makes you better than me? Keep judging.

  19. Dan says:

    I wish Amin would go back to Borneo and keep sleeping. Because I’ve been to infinity countries, therefore I win the “Name-drop the most countries I’ve had a stopover in” game. The cactus lounge in Singapore airport counts, right? I’ll sign off with Amin favourite motto “Wherever you’ve been, I’ve been, but 20 years before you!” Tot zeins Amin!

  20. sandyfoot says:

    Slight technical difficulties on ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba!

    Looks like the Pella is a salvage operation, or more likely just another future dive site.

    Thankfully this has not become a re-run of the al-Salam Boccaccio 98 ferry disaster in 1996.

    The AP stated; a ”Jordanian man died while 1,246 other passengers and crew members, most of them Egyptians, were rescued following a fire”, on the Pella.

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