I arrived in Eilat from Aqaba, Jordan, and came here for New Year’s, mainly to relax, enjoy the warm sea, and do nothing.
My hostel, the HI Hostel Eilat, was a great base for doing nothing: I was sleeping in a half-empty 4-bed dorm. I was feasting on an excellent breakfast buffet. And my accommodation was located right on the main strip leading to the airport to my left and the Egyptian border to my left. I sat and watched planes start, took walks to the beach, and enjoyed the sunny December temperatures of 20°Cand more.
However, the city is not kind to the budget traveler. They call it the “Las Vegas of Israel” for the glitzy resorts and the casino ships cruising the Red Sea. Falafel is the cheapest fast food and starts at NIS18 (€4.50) per sandwich. The produce market is not downtown. Instead, you’ll find restaurants serving everything from pizza to sushi, catering to the resort guests.
The city is a tax-free zone, which makes for great deals shopping for exclusive clothes and electronics.
Nothing in the city bears witness to the fact that archaeologists believe that people have settled in Eilat as far back as 7,000 BC. The copper mines in Timna Valley might well be the World’s oldest. Eilat is mentioned in Egyptian scripts as a trading partner if Elim in Thebes. The Nabataeans of Petra passed here with their caravans moving between Gaza and Yemen.
No memories of this rich culture are visible in today’s Eilat. The oldest bit of history is the flag planted in 1948 when forces of the new State of Israel pushed through and claimed access to the Red Sea.
(scroll down to read all about what to do in Eilat and practical info on getting there, back & around)
Eilat Sights & Activities
Beaches & Sea Promenade
Several pebble beaches run along the coast. Eilat and its resorts sit on the northwestern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba (aka Gulf of Eilat), an extension of the Red Sea. Bus #15 goes along the coast on the road towards Taba (see below for more on Taba), and serves beaches further away from downtown Eilat. You can find a list of the city’s beaches with short descriptions of services here: eilat.city/en/list/beaches.
Also on the tip of the Gulf, is the promenade with a fairground. Music is playing until late at night and families as well as groups of young travelers enjoy the rides and games.
For the geeky and the romantic ones among you, the Observatory of Eilat, “What’s Up,” runs a portable astronomical observatory on the promenade. They also offer stargazing events in the desert. I couldn’t find their website but here is an article on their services: israel21c.org/starry-starry-israeli-night.
The Red Sea
As mentioned above: Eilat is located on the Red Sea. This makes it a watersports paradise: dolphins, corals, diving, snorkeling,… Eilat has it all!
Diving along 11 km of coastline creates 10% of the tourism income of the area. Water conditions for SCUBA divers are good all year round, with water temperatures around 21–25°C, little or no currents and an average visibility of 20–30 meters.
Dolphin Reef is a marine biology and research station where visitors can swim and interact with dolphins in a more natural way — interaction is not forced but has to be initiated by the dolphins. Website: dolphinreef.co.il.
The Coral Beach Nature Reserve right off the beaches of the city is an underwater marine reserve with tropical marine flora and fauna. Website: parks.org.il/sites/English/ParksAndReserves/coralbeach.
Located at the southern tip of Coral Beach in a funky structure submerged in the sea, the Coral World Underwater Observatory is the biggest public aquarium in the Middle East. It houses shark, turtle, and stingray tanks as well as a museum and simulation rides. Website: coralworld.co.il.
Desert & Sky Adventures
The distance from the sea to the desert is short. Here, you’ll find camel rides on the Camel Ranch, several quad tour operators (book on the promenade or via your hotel) and skydives with a unique view of four countries — Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Links: for camels camel-ranch.co.il; for skydiving skydive.co.il.
Timna National Park
Timna Valley Park is home to the oldest copper mines in the world. Explore the Egyptian temple of Hathor, the King Solomon’s Pillars sandstone formation as well as ancient pit mines and rock art. More info in Timna NP: parktimna.co.il.
New Eilat, as it was established after 1948, was erected on a vast salt marsh. The Eilat Salt Marsh is a unique ecosystem and an important stop on the main bird migration route between Africa and Europe. The International Birding & Research Center guards what remains of the marsh: only 5% of its original expanse. Click here for info on the IBRCE and annual bird migration through Eilat.
Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve
Hai-Bar was established in the 1960s to conserve endangered species, including Biblical animals, from the region. The reserve has care and treatment enclosures, and a large open area where desert animals acclimate before re-introduction into the wild. Hai-Bar has successfully re-introduced the Asian Wild Ass (Onager) and the Arabian Onyx into the Negev. Click here for more info on Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve.
Apart from the aquarium, there are currently two museums in Eilat:
- The Eilat City Museum chronicles the establishment of the city of Eilat after 1948. Website: shimur.org/Eilat
- The free Eilat Art Gallery displays works by locals artists opposite the Eilat City Museum.
- The Eilat Erotic Museum, the first erotic museum in Israel and the Middle East, has closed its doors. Website for status updates: eilat.city/en/the-erotic-museum
In 1987, Eilat held its first international Jazz festival. The Red Sea Jazz Festival takes place on the last week of August and attracts big names from the world jazz scene. Alongside the performances held in the port area, there is a variety of related activities, workshops and the traditional and popular “Jam Session.”
Since 2001, the city also hosts one of the largest gay pride events in Israel — Eilat Pride. During the 3-day festival, there are simultaneous parties at different locations throughout the city, with international DJs and drag performances.
Eilat Red Sea is an international underwater photography competition (a.k.a. Underwater Photography Olympics). During the event, the city hosts dozens of professional and amateur photographers from around the world, who compete in a variety of categories. On the last day of the festival, an open exhibition is held, showing the best photographs of the year.
There are other annual international festivals as well as many musical performances, exhibitions, theater, stand-up comedy, food and art events, and international sports competitions.
(scroll down to find out about transport options)
Please note that there are two airports associated with Eilat:
Eilat Airport is set smack-bang in the center of the city. This puts it into walking distance the resort hotels and about 500m from the Central Bus Station .(see below for national bus connections)
Ovda Airport, served by RyanAir, is 50km North of Eilat. Public transport from Ovda to the rest of the country is very spotty. So it is best to organize transportation before arrival, or you might find yourself shelling out a lot of money for taxis. Bus #392 connects Ovda to Eilat (and Tel-Aviv — see below). Eilatshuttle offers minibus shuttle services from/to Eilat and other parts of the country to/from Ovda Airport.
However, I hear that they are currently building a new airport (Ramon Airport) near Timna NP, about 25 km North of Eilat. It is slated to replace both, downtown Eilat and Ovda airports.
All buses to/from and in Eilat are operated by the national bus company Egged. Tickets for journeys within the city cost about €1.25 (NIS4.90).
Important national routes are:
- To/from Jerusalem: Buses # 444 and #445 take you along Route 90 and the Dead Sea. Sites passed include Masada, Ein Bokek, and Ein Gedi). Buses run multiple times a day, and the journey takes about 5 hours. Please note: Pre-booking your tickets is advisable to guarantee that you get the connection you want.
- To/from Tel-Aviv: Buses #390 and #393 take you along Route 90 and via Beer Sheba. There is only a handful of buses per day, and the journey takes about 5h.
- To/from Beer Sheba: Buses #394 and #397 take you via Route 90 and run hourly throughout the day. Bus #392 goes along Routes 12 and 40 (with sites such as Ovda Airport, Ramon Crater, and Avdat).
For prices and schedules, check the Egged website (in English): mslworld.egged.co.il.
Borders to Egypt and Jordan
You could call Eilat the Israeli border hub: Buses will pass through here, taking tourist groups on super-short 1- or 2-day trips to Petra and the Giza Pyramids in Cairo. But if you want to take it a little slower, you can organize your own border crossings.
The Israel-Jordan crossing is slightly more difficult because there is only one very-early-morning direct bus. Click here to get my full account on crossing the Eilat/Aqaba border. Or: Click here for more info on all the options you have for going from Israel to Jordan over land.
Egged bus #15 is a regular public bus between the Taba Border Crossing to Egypt and downtown Eilat. For the current bus #15 schedule on the Egged website check here (in English).