There are at least two famous Pharaoh’s Island locations known to tourists all around the globe. One is near Shepperton Lock on England’s River Thames; the other one is also known as Ile de Graye and sits in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, just a bit away from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. It is the latter that is our topic here, and it is a delightful topic indeed: this is among the top travel destinations in the Aqaba Gulf, whether for those who want to see another of the country’s great historic fortresses or for those eager to get some snorkel/diving time in before they leave Jordan.
Pharaoh’s Island is about 17km or so from Aqaba itself and a mere 250m away from the Egyptian coastline. It is said that the oldest structures on the island date back to the 10th century BCE, when King Hiram of Tyre had plans for a major harbour to be erected on the island, as it would have furthered his trading interests-especially his export of cedar, for which Tyre was known and for which it has been mentioned in the Christian Bible-in the area. Two millennia after Hiram’s time, more structures were set up, this time by the Byzantines and the Crusaders. Later, the island was taken over by Saladin, who constructed the fortress whose remains you now see on the island. For a time, the governors of Aqaba itself inhabited the fortress, but later moved the mainland. TE Lawrence too was known to have visited the island, and did so clandestinely given that he was not given permission by the then-ruling Ottomans to visit the isle. The story has it that he built his own punt out of whatever materials he could find on short notice, found a guide willing to help him get across the waters, then skipped off across the sea on his adventure.
Pharaoh’s Island is on the tentative list for UNESCO’s Heritage Sites, having as it does such a significant history. Many people coming to it go to see the fortress, which is definitely as good a ruin as any you shall see on the mainland. It has undergone significant renovation and restoration, so you can expect decent integrity to the site. There are a number of companies that organise trips to the island, and some even provide lunch and barbecue experiences with the trip. This can be quite a fun outing, especially if you are a history buff or at all interested in mediaeval architecture.
Pharaoh’s Island is also quite well known for its dive and snorkel sites. There are quite a number of nice coral reefs around the island, and you might find a trip to them enjoyable. There have been allegations, however, of the reefs being slightly degraded now compared to before. That having been said, some people still report fun trips to the area. It may be best to hire an experienced guide for the dive there-someone who knows the area very well-so that you can find out which spots are best and most likely to yield a good diving experience.