Watersports in Eilat by sashapo, on Flickr
Once a tiny kibbutz on Israel’s southernmost shore, today Eilat – with its dramatic red mountains and blue sea – is a major tourist draw. Now more tourism projects are planned in the city known as Israel’s ‘window onto the Red Sea’. Eilat is a city based around tourism, with fun activities for everyone. Whether you just want to spend your time sunbathing on Eilat’s mountain-framed beaches, diving in clear blue waters, hiking or biking nature trails, splashing with dolphins or marveling at the coral reef, you can do it in Eilat! And, the city sees less than ten days of rain a year. That’s terrible for farmers but great for tourists!
There are 51 hotels in Eilat ranging from super-luxury to youth hostels, fine restaurants, nightclubs and VAT-free shopping, the sun-splashed city of 60,000 residents is especially popular with tourists from across Europe and will likely become an ever more common destination for world travelers as it beefs up its growing roster of tourist attractions and completes a new international airport. The city is also a great base for visiting Petra – read our guide about how to get to Petra from Eilat to get all the details.
Surprisingly, in a place where the temperature can soar to 45 degrees celsius (113 fahrenheit) in summer, the next major addition will be the Eilat Ice Park. “It’s a great project and it will be open all year,” says Avi Kandelker, an Eilat native who heads the Eilat Tourist Bureau for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. “It’s going to be really huge, topped by a dome that is nine stories high.” Aside from the Olympic-size rink ringed by 3,500 seats, the complex will house a 400-seat theater for ice shows, a “snow” play area and an adjacent shopping center. “The indoor temperature will be 24 [75F] degrees – not too cold,” he promises.
The city already boasts Ice Space, an ice sculpture exhibition and snowy play area (coats included) incongruously overlooking the Gulf of Eilat marina.
Still, Eilat will surely remain better known for water than ice. The Red Sea is one of the best places in the world for snorkeling, diving and water sports amid a picturesque backdrop of reefs and shipwrecks. No fewer than 13 licensed diving centers dot Eilat’s beaches, along with nine water sport clubs. You can take a course or just an introductory dive, for ages 12 and up. Go parasailing; rent an underwater scooter, motor boat, kayak or raft; or enjoy the sea from the deck of a cruise ship or glass-bottom boat available from dozens of businesses along the marina. Consistent strong winds and calm seas also make Eilat one of the world’s choice spots for kite surfing and wind surfing. And the great year-round temperatures mean it is possible to take advantage of this almost the whole year round
At Eilat’s Dolphin Reef, home to a school of bottle-nosed dolphins, visitors from age eight and up can snorkel and dive; while from 10 and up, swimming with the dolphins is an option. The reef is a tranquil place to watch the creatures from a gently rolling dock or to immerse in one of three music-infused relaxation pools (for adults only).
The Underwater Observatory marine park and museum is Eilat’s No. 1 attraction, situated within the Coral Reserve. Sharks and sea turtles swim in large open-air custom-built tanks, where crowds gather for feeding time. The observatory provides a window onto the colorful fish and rich corals of the Red Sea.
Courtesy of Dafna Tal and the Ministry of Tourism
The coral reef in Eilat extends 1,200 meters (a little more than half a mile) along the shore. This complex and delicate ecosystem houses more than 270 species of coral and 2,500 types of underwater creatures, some of them unique to the Red Sea. The “Japanese garden” at its southern end is the largest and most well-protected diving site in Eilat.
For those wanting to delve into the surrounding desert, the granite mountains and canyons that surround Eilat offer different levels of hiking trails as well as rappelling, cross-country running and jeep tours in the Negev Desert. You can also see the scenery from the humpy back of a dromedary at the Bedouin-run Camel Ranch.
A 21-kilometer (13-mile) ring trail has recently been built around Eilat for bikers in. Most of the trail is perfect for families while the part that winds through the mountains challenges serious bikers. A bicycle trail within the city is now under construction, expected to reach as far as the Peace Promenade at the Gulf of Aqaba over the next few years.
Birdwatchers also flock to Eilat, a key stopover for migrating African and European birds. The International Birding and Research Centre monitors the visiting birds and offers guided tours as well as a two-week session for volunteers during the autumn and spring migration. Here you’ll see hundreds of species from Asia and Europe as well as resident species, including steppe eagles, sparrow hawks, white storks, blackcap warblers, barn swallows, sun birds, shrikes, hoop larks and colorful flamingos and European bee-eaters.
Also in the Eilat area is the Hai Bar Nature Reserve, an 8,000-acre sanctuary for many rare and endangered desert creatures including leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, gazelles and ostriches. Looking farther into the sky, the What’s Up observatory offers a glimpse of globular clusters, far-off galaxies and different types of nebula. And, about 25km north of the city is the amazing Timna National Park, where the world’s oldest copper mines, beautiful works of nature, and a lake amid the desert, can all be found.
Eilat’s Botanical Garden and Organic Farm recently added a rainforest exhibit – no small feat in a city that only gets rain about six days a year.
If you do happen to visit when it’s raining or chilly, visit the Kings City high-tech Bible theme park or IMAX theater offering 3-D shows. Kings City just added an amusement park for families with children too young to appreciate the theme park.
As well as year-round attractions, the number of festivals and events in Eilat is growing every year. In January, there’s the Red Sea Classical Music Festival and the International Bellydancing Festival; in March, the Chamber Music Festival; the Pride Festival for the LGBT community in June; the 25-year-old Red Sea Jazz Festival in August (and its new winter edition); plus a host of other events.
Thanks to Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs from whom this article was adapted. Source