(MENAFN - Jordan Times) As winter ends and the weather turns warm, Aqaba is becoming a weekend destination for many Jordanians looking for some sea air and sunshine.
Some visitors, however, complained of high prices putting some of the Red Sea port city's attractions out of reach, while local residents said they found the weekly boom in tourism disruptive.
As early as last Thursday morning, bus stations in Amman were crowded with passengers bound for the southern port city, where many citizens from the Kingdom's cooler northern areas sought a preview of summer during the weekend.
Temperatures in Aqaba, located 324km south of the capital, ranged between 24C and 12C over the past weekend, while in Amman it was much cooler with a high of 15C and a low of 6C on Friday.
Nidal Zarzar, a resident of the capital, said he was heading south with his friends to enjoy the warm weather and shake off the winter doldrums after months cooped up at home.
"This time of the year is really good for enjoying a weekend in Aqaba because the weather is nice and you can do whatever you like either in the morning or at night," Zarzar told The Jordan Times while waiting at a bus station in west Amman.
Upon arriving in Aqaba, many domestic tourists head straight for the beach.
Hussein Shamri, an Iraqi student living in Amman, said he and his friends took advantage of their day off from school Thursday to spend the weekend in Aqaba.
"We first went to the beach to go on a glass-bottom boat and enjoy the spectacular view of the sea," he said.
"While we were on our way to Aqaba, my children were singing. When we arrived, they immediately went to the beach to swim," Ahmad Zaarir, a father of three, said, noting that he also planned to visit the city's museums with his family during their weekend trip.
In addition to the beach, many visitors to Aqaba go shopping for items like nuts, cigarettes and clothing, which are cheaper there due to the city's special tax status.
Warm weekends always drive up sales, local shopkeepers said.
"Nuts and cigarettes are much cheaper compared to Amman. Every weekend, our sales increase by 70 per cent," Shaaban Masri, a nut vendor, told The Jordan Times on Friday.
On the other hand, souvenir seller Yousef Suliman said he gets few Jordanian customers because the items he sells are expensive and marketed to foreign tourists.
The city's nightlife also picks up on the weekends thanks to the many visitors from other parts of the country who frequent the city's cafs or enjoy camel, horse or carriage rides, business owners said.
Muhannad Abu Aisheh, a manager at a caf, estimated that his business increases by about 50 per cent on weekends.
"In the morning people go to the beach and the market. At night, they gather at a caf to enjoy an evening with friends and relatives," he said.
Ashraf Shawi, one of the owners of a caf on the beach, added that tourists are more willing to spend money than local clients.
"Although I receive many local customers, I prefer tourists because they do not complain about the prices," he noted.
This, however, is not always the case. Mohammad Tawaha, a resident of Irbid, complained that prices in Aqaba are frequently unaffordable.
"Meals are really expensive at restaurants and most people cannot afford them," he told The Jordan Times at an eatery near the beach.
His friend Mousa Zoubi voiced amazement when he learned that he had to pay to use public utilities.
Moamen Riady, a university student who lives in the port city that has a population of 133,000, said most Aqaba residents do not go shopping on the weekends because, he alleged, merchants raise prices to take advantage of the influx of visitors.
"I go shopping on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday because prices are affordable. I avoid Thursday, Friday and Saturday, because shopkeepers increase prices significantly," he said.
Salam Abu Zaid, another Aqaba resident, added that she and her friends avoid going out on weekends because the city becomes too crowded.
"We cannot enjoy our time on the weekends because people from across the Kingdom come here," she said.