Last Updated on March 8, 2021
After trekking through the Negev Desert, doing a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, wandering across the Lower Gallilee in northern Israel, road tripping to the Dead Sea and the Ein Gedi oasis hike plus my sunrise climb to Masada and a day of desert fun in Timna Park, I was ready for a vacation.And in Eilat, I would finally get a break to recharge my batteries before heading back north to explore more of Israel and visit the West Bank.
Eilat is basically a resort town, and I was
shocked surprised at first about how touristy it was when we arrived there just in time for sunset and went for a stroll along the promenade, which was filled with people who were doing the same thing. It reminded me of a lot of European beach resorts with its long beach promenade which was lined with massive hotel complexes, restaurants and shops that sold everything tourists could possibly need.But I had found a lovely hotel which had only recently opened (I would definitely recommend it in my Hotel Tip category, but I was on vacation after all, and so I refrained from taking my camera out while I gorged on the glorious breakfast buffet every morning. I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of the best breakfast buffets I’ve ever had. You can book Hotel Soleil via Booking.com, which is where I had found it) and Eilat might be touristy, I was here to relax for a couple of days and go for my first ever dip in the Red Sea.Wedged between Jordan and Egypt, Israel only gets to call a tiny part of the Red Sea to call their own, but they’re using it well. Eilat is not only a popular vacation spot with foreigners but also with Israelis, even though it is quite far from everywhere, separated from the heavily populated north of the country by the massive Negev Desert. When we drove down to Coral Beach the next day I understood why it was such a popular vacation spot.Upon arrival, we paid the entrance fee for the nature reserve and rented snorkeling equipment, and while I was a bit disappointed at first by the rocky beach, I quickly understood what this was about: the underwater life, and not the beach! I’ve never been to a place where the reef is as close to the shore as it is in Eilat, and at this part of the beach you can’t even just walk into the water because it is part of a protected nature reserve. Instead, a couple of long piers have been built over the coral, and you step into the water via a set of stairs at the end of them – right next to the reef.My first thought when I stepped into the water was how cold it was! The Mediterranean and the Dead Sea had both felt like a bath tub in comparison, and especially after a long hot summer and the proximity to Egypt, combined with the sweltering heat, I would have expected the Red Sea to be much warmer.When I turned towards the reef though, the shock about the cold water was forgotten in an instant – I was wowed by the coral and the beautiful fish instead. I couldn’t believe how much marine life was happening here, so close to the shore! I also couldn’t believe that I didn’t have an underwater camera to document it.I tried to take some photos from the pier, but just imagine what these would look like had I had an underwater camera. I even saw tropical fish like parrot fish and clown fish here!
There were more colorful and bigger fish than I’d seen on any other snorkeling trip, and entire families of fish were swimming past me as if I wasn’t even there. While I had been a bit skeptic at first if the money for the beach and the snorkeling equipment was worth it (NIS35 /US$9 admission, NIS30 /US$7.72 gear rental), I was now ecstatic about the reef life I got to see without having to dive. In my head, I was already planning to bring my nephew here to introduce him to this mesmerizing, colorful underwater world, and didn’t want to leave water anymore.This experience alone made driving down to the most southern tip of Israel worth it, and combined with some beach time and surprisingly good food, I left Eilat just the way I wanted: completely recharged and ready to see more of Israel.
How to get to Eilat
The cheapest way to get to Eilat from Tel Aviv is taking the Flo Shuttle, a daily door-to-door shuttle service for only $17.
Where to stay in Eilat
Eilat has accommodation ranging from basic backpackers hostels to 5* resorts (the Dan Hotel). I stayed at Soleil Boutique Hotel which I’d recommend. Double rooms start at US$99 in the low season, including the amazing breakfast buffet (it will fill you up for the entire day, trust me). Arava Hostel is a popular budget choice.
Where to eat
I highly recommend Pedro’s and Olla, both places where I had excellent vegetarian food (but both places aren’t vegetarian restaurants – in fact, Pedro’s is a steakhouse). CafeCafe also has lots of vegetarian food and good coffee.
Eilat: The best beaches and day trips
From Eilat, you can visit the spectacular rock formations in Timna Park (30 mins north of town) or hike in the Harei Eilat (Eilat Mountains) Nature Reserve for superb views over both Eilat and Aqaba in Jordan. For both places I recommend visiting in the early morning or it will get too hot.
The Red Canyon
The Red Canyon is also a 30-min drive from Eilat, but northwest of the city, closer to the border with Egypt (in fact, you will drive along the border fence for a while). The stunning canyon is in fact a narrow gorge, part of Wadi Shani, and named after the red stone that it is made of. The hike itself can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be: There is a short 2-kilometers trail which is well-marked and has handles and ladders to get into the canyon and to navigate the more difficult sections. You don’t need to be an experienced hiker for this part, but you definitely need proper hiking shoes and a good fitness. If a 2-km hike isn’t enough for you, there’s a longer 5 kilometer hike you can do.You can get to the Red Canyon by taxi, but expect to pay a lot. There is also a public bus from Eilat – #392 to Beersheva runs every weekday and stops at the Red Canyon. There are only four buses per day though (at 9am, 1.30pm, 3pm and 5pm; and back to Eilat at 12pm, 1.15pm, 4pm and 7.45pm) and you’ll have to walk about 1.5 kilometers from the bus stop on the main road to the entrance of the canyon.
Admission is FREE.
The best beaches in Eilat
Beaches: Don’t miss Coral Beach, and I also liked Dekel Beach where you can hang out on a floating beach bar in the Red Sea. You can take bus 15 from the city center to both these beaches if you don’t have a car.