“It’s Always Sunny in Eilat,” read the promotional brochures.
Before booking my trip to Israel, seeing the Red Sea had always been a dream, but I couldn’t explain why. Maybe it’s the biodiversity or the fact that it borders multiple countries. I’d never heard of Eilat before I signed up for a press trip to Israel’s southernmost city, but I knew it was my chance to see an area relatively untouched by western travelers. I asked an Israeli about it and he offered not-so-pleasant comparisons with a lesser version of Las Vegas. But I soon found out how wrong he was.
Despite the 4 hour distance from Jerusalem, the city featured all of my favorite things: beaches, seafood, and friendly locals. Israeli travelers come here for their holidays, especially as there are flights from Ben Gurion Airport. A new airport in Eilat will only add to the connections. The discounted shopping and luxury hotels are also part of the draw. International travelers can take advantage of border crossings to get to Jordan.
As soon as we arrived in the as-advertised sunny Eilat, my fellow bloggers and I boarded a ship for an afternoon of sailing, swimming, eating, and drinking. I couldn’t be any happier if I tried. It was our first look at the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba and our guide quickly pointed out the borders with Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Further south, it touches Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Yemen before becoming the Arabian Sea. It amazed me how this one body of water brought together the countries that are so very different. Over the course of my visit, I saw the sea from sea level, from above in an airplane, and from below while scuba diving.
It didn’t take long to realize that Eilat is where Israelis come to relax. Many of the beaches had beach clubs where people came to sit around with friends, sharing drinks and conversation. Local guides brought us to a Shabbat celebration where we enjoyed cheap Coronas and dancing. Some even offer scuba diving straight from the shore.
The laid-back attitude was easy to catch as we explored the city. Our new local friends showed ups their favorite restaurants and over the course of the few days, we found authentic Italian fare at Pastory, craft cocktails at 5th Avenue, fresh seafood at Fish Market, and a full Israeli breakfast spread, complete with bubbles, at Mosh Beach. Another night it was live music at Three Monkeys Pub, a lively watering hole near the water.
But there was plenty to keep the tourists busy as well. Non-divers and younger ages can see the sea life that lives in the sea at the Underwater Observatory Marine Park. In addition to the aquarium-like exhibits, you can climb the stairs to the namesake underwater observatory, offering a clear view of the sea without putting on a swimsuit. At nearby Dolphin Reef, you can see the family of dolphins that lives in the bay, take an introductory dive, or just relax and snack on their beach. The relaxation pools and the observation deck above them is a local hangout. In town, there’s a musical fountain show twice per week that lights up the night.
If you’d rather experience the natural landscapes beyond the hotels of the city, you don’t need to travel far to feel like you’re in another world. Timna Park is a massive attraction north of Eilat that boasts copper ores used during the days of King Solomon. Today, it has hiking trails, a restaurant, camping, and cycling. Camel Ranch- Eilat is named for its camels that transport you through the grounds, but you can also take advantage of the ropes course and dune buggies. My new friends and I wove our way through the hills near the Egyptian border, staying far enough away from the guard towers above.
Despite hosting over three million travelers annually, Eilat is still somewhat under-the-radar. Even the Israelis underrate it. But on my next trip back to Israel, I’ll spend much more time in the south.
It takes less than four hours to drive to Eilat from Jerusalem. In addition to renting a car, you can take a private shuttle transfer or a public bus from companies like Egged. But keep in mind that not all travel on Shabbat. Flights on Arkia and Israir run daily at varying times. The new international airport is set to open in early 2018 and will offer international connections. A rail plan has also been proposed.
Where to Stay
You’ll find all ranges of accommodation in Eilat, many of which are right by the water. King Solomon is a mid-range business hotel with an extensive breakfast buffet and an outdoor pool. HI Eilat Hostel is a part of the Hostelling International chain, located near the beach, and has both private and dorm room options. Apartment rentals can be found on sites like Booking and Airbnb. And part restaurant, part guesthouse, Colonia Eilat has a restaurant, dive shop, and glamping.
My trip was coordinated by Visit Israel, Eilat Tourism, and TBEX.