Located beside the glittering turquoise waters of the Red Sea, Eilat attracts crowds of water babes keen to take advantage of a wide range of water sports including stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling and SCUBA diving. This resort is recognised as one of the most popular diving locations in the world due to excellent water conditions and the pristine Red Sea reefs teeming with marine life. Other attractions include meandering desert hiking trails and of course the VAT free shopping is an added bonus.
A hot desert climate and 14 kilometres of beaches stretching from the Jordanian and Egyptian borders, ensures that this Israeli resort remains a popular destination. Another major attraction is bird watching, as Eilat is a major migration route for hundreds of millions of passerines and waders and three million birds of prey on route, twice every year, between Europe, Africa and Asia.
The International Birding and Research Centre, which is based in Eilat, works to maintain and improve habitats, renew food sources and conducts research in order to safeguard the migratory route. The on-site Bird Sanctuary features a fresh water lake, which attracts kingfishers, waders, waterfowl, herons, flamingos, gulls, waders and a multitude of human spectators who are welcome to watch the birds being tagged and released.
Although Eilat offers a wide choice of hotels, to experience true tranquility, the utmost privacy and the freedom to indulge in a long lie-in and to whip up my own breakfast at leisure, I opted to stay in a comfortable and spacious two bedroom private property which can accommodate up to six guests. Featured on the airbnb website, the property is located in a peaceful neighbourhood and within walking distance to the desert trail, a well stocked supermarket, an excellent bakery and a pizza restaurant. Keren, who resides in an adjacent property, is a most delightful and charming host.
She welcomed me on arrival and escorted me around the property, demonstrating how to use the air conditioning, lighting, cable TV and utilities, and she offered to do my laundry in her own washing machine (essential for dusty hiking gear). Amenities include complimentary Wifi and free on-site parking and the modern and airy property features an open plan kitchen, dining area and lounge with a plump sofa bed and direct access to a private garden with sun loungers, a barbeque, outside seating and dining areas and a large outdoor swimming pool, which is prettily illuminated in the evening and provided the ideal spot for a cocktail or two whilst I studied my itinerary for the next day.
After a restful slumber I was up with the larks and hailed a local taxi to make my way to the Red Canyon, located less than twenty kilometres from my base. Hiking options include the black trail, for those with vigour to spare, or the green trail, which is well marked and ideal for those of us seeking a less strenuous experience. Both trails lead to a river bed and then into a short trail, which heads toward the second creek and a large rock protruding from the river bed comes into view.
Those that climb atop the rock will be richly rewarded with a wonderful view of the natural surroundings. Hiking along the second creek, the canyon’s sides gradually narrow to reveal the splendours of the Red Canyon. I must admit that I felt a trifle weary and dusty after my adventure, which involved negotiating steep ladders and steps attached to the sides of the rock, but the spectacular sight of a swirling kaleidoscope of red, white and yellow sandstone hues flooded by the golden sunshine was simply unforgettable and well worth the effort.
Eilat’s Timna Park is another major attraction, which is located in the desert, 17 miles north of the city. Another area of natural beauty with geological, scenic and archaeological importance, the horseshoe shaped valley covers 15,000 acres and is surrounded by steep cliffs. In the heart of the area stands Mount Timna, which is 453 metres above sea level and as I scanned my surroundings, peering intently into my binoculars, I was most fortunate to spot a herd of ibex that had clearly identified me as an intruder.
Timna Park, the site of the world’s oldest copper mine, dates back to the 5th millennium BC, and the area is well known as the site of Solomon’s Pillars, which are natural structures formed by water erosion through crevices in the sandstone. Another huge red sandstone rock, known as the Mushroom, due to its shape, attracts visitors from afar and it’s the ideal place for a breather in the shade.
Or to cool off in the long term, the Coral Beach Nature Reserve, which stretches over a kilometre, is the most popular spot for snorkelling and diving. With over 250 spectacular coral species and more than 1,200 fish species including lionfish, parrotfish, clownfish, turtles, rays, octopus, barracuda and moray eels, marine life explorers will be mesmerised.
The area around a pair of huge rocks, named Moses and Joshua, is also a popular site for divers and the Japanese Gardens at the reserve’s southern end is a protected zone, and it’s worth noting that the number of divers is limited to 32 per day. And, 30 metres down into the briny, the wreck of the Satil, a large Israeli missile ship, is waiting to be inspected by passing divers.
For those of us who prefer to remain on terra firma, the Coral Beach Underwater Observatory provides the opportunity to observe the intoxicating beauty of the Red Sea’s marine life whilst remaining dry surrounded by large glass windows. Other attractions include stingray, turtle and shark pools.
Later that evening, after a leisurely lap in my own gorgeous swimming pool, I reclined lazily on a sun lounger in the garden and, comforted by the scented fragrance of the flowers carried along by the balmy breeze, I reflected on my time in Eilat, which, is surely one of Israel’s treasures and the overall experience of my time in Eilat was simply wonderful.
Top tip: Flights
Fly from Luton, Stanstead and Gatwick direct to Tel Aviv. For more information, visit easyjet.com.
Top tip: Accommodation
Take advantage of the freedom and privacy a luxury apartment offers. Airbnb offers a wide range of options for those keen to experience a ‘home from home’. For more information on the featured apartment, visit airbnb.co.uk.
Top tip: Day trips and tours throughout Israel for up to 6 passengers
Main image courtesy of Dafna Tal for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism