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Revision as of 22:58, 4 September 2011
Eilat (אילת, aka Elat)
is an oddity in Israel, because it has so many tourists and relatively few Israelis. Located at the southern-most tip of the country, within its small "window on the Red Sea", Eilat is first and foremost a resort town these days, devoted to sun, fun, diving, partying and desert-based activities. 320 km (200 miles) away from the tension often felt in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, Eilat is a convenient escape for Israelis on vacation, but during the mild winter months also attracts thousands of European sun-seekers.
Eilat (pop 85,000) is the southernmost town in Israel, isolated from the rest of the country by the Negev desert. It is sprawled along 7 kilometers of Red Sea coastline, between the borders of Egypt and Jordan, and offers spectacular views of the Gulf of Aqaba. Originally a strategic military outpost, Eilat's first incarnation was as a port, used for importing goods from Asia, such as oil and vehicles. In the 1970s, tourists began visiting Eilat. They were attracted by the coral reefs, sandy beaches, and the dry and sunny desert climate. The town began to develop, and tourism has become its main industry, serving as a popular holiday destination for Israelis and foreigners alike. Owing to being resort driven it is sometimes called the Ibiza or Las Vegas of Israel.
Today, the 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) North Beach area is full of hotels with opulent names like Herod's Palace and Queen of Sheba. The Tayelet promenade extends the length of the beach front and hosts numerous stalls, street artists, restaurants, and fashionable shops. The promenade has great views of the bay, and each evening it is full of strolling tourists. The southern beach, which has coral reefs, is protected by the Israel Nature Reserve Authority. It has many public beaches and excellent scuba diving centers. Whereas the northern beach is reachable by foot and walkable, the southern beach will necessitate transportation. The Navy and commercial ports lie between the south and north beaches.
Eilat Airport (ETH) is right in the middle of the city. Flights to Tel Aviv are frequent and take only 50 minutes, but expect to pay around NIS 250 for a one-way trip. However, tourists can arrive in Eilat on charter flights via the Ovda International Airport (VDA), also known as Uvda, 65 km (40 miles) and nearly a 50 min drive from town.
A cheaper way to get from Europe directly to Eilat is via the nearby Taba International Airport in Egypt. Charter flights to Taba are operated by several airlines, e.g. the German "Condor" (on Wednesdays from/to all major German airports). Taxis from Taba airport to the Israeli border station at the Hilton hotel run for max. 150 Egyptian pounds (40 min), from there a taxi to Eilat is around 25-30 NIS (10 min). Or take local bus 15 (6 NIS). Border crossing normally takes less than 30 min. On arrival at the airport insist on Egyptian "Sinai only" visa, otherwise you're charged 15 USD visa tax. Note that Egypt charges 75 LE tax when leaving Taba coming from Eilat.
All buses in Eilat leave from the Central Bus Station on HaTemarim Boulevard.
Egged express buses drive from Tel Aviv (390/394) and Jerusalem (444) to Eilat hourly, the trip takes around 5 hours and costs NIS 75 one way (60 for students) or 128 NIS for a return ticket. It's advised to buy tickets in advance because assigned seating is in use.
Local bus 15 shuttles from the bus station to the Egyptian border at Taba, from where you can continue on south into Sinai. There is at least one bus a day heading from Taba bus station to Sharm-El-Sheikh via Nuweiba and Dahab (Dahab 22 LE).
By car or taxi
There are a couple of ways to drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat. One is via Mitzpe Ramon. Another nice alternative is from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea via Arad, stay a couple of days there or just make a short stop and then continue to Eilat. It takes approx 5 hours from Tel Aviv, and a similar duration from Jerusalem.
If you cross the border between Aqaba and Eilat ("Wadi Araba Crossing") by walking, you can take a taxi to Eilat or walk. Taxi drivers will wait at the border, and the price will be around 35 NIS. You can also walk from the border, which will take you around 30-60 minutes. When exiting Israel through this border, you will have to pay an exit tax of 101 NIS or 32 USD (May 2011). The total trip from Eilat to Aqaba (or the other way around) takes around 1-1.5 hours including time for security screening, customs, taxis etc.
Central Eilat, that is the Promenade Area and vicinity of the central square can be covered on foot, although during the summer the scorching temperatures make walking around unpleasant. Only the closest public beaches are a sweaty stroll from the center, and dive sites will require motorised going. A limited bus system serves the south beach, as well as the suburbs. Taxis prowl the streets looking for fares. Insist on the meter or at least agree on the fare in advanace, as Eilat's taxis are famously mercenary.
Parrotfish among coral at Coral Beach
The main beach is in the North beach, and many of the major hotels are situated here. The south beach area (Coral Beach) is protected by the Israel Nature Reserve authority, but recent years have seen a decline in the marine life and reef quality. Fortunately, since the removal of the controversial fish cages from the Gulf water in 2008, a steady recovery of corals has been seen at all dive sites. While many divers head south to the Egyptian Sinai coast to Dahab or Sharm el-Sheikh, to experience better diving conditions, many divers still prefer Eilat, with far smaller crowds, interesting macro life and easy, unpressured surface entries.
- Coral Beach - is the best place for scuba diving and located here are some of the best dive clubs in Israel offering technical diving courses, rebreather, nitrox, tri-mix etc.. The whole coastal area is protected by the nature reserve authority and divers are expected to follow regulations. The south beach is a great place for snorkeling, windsurfing and kite-surfing plus it has fantastic views over the bay.
- Underwater Observatory. - One of Eilat's most popular attractions is a good way to view the Red Sea marine life without getting wet. It's white tower (Eilat's most famous landmark) offers great views above water and goes below the surface where the marine life is seen. In the marine parks aquariums are sharks, sting rays and turtles, plus lots of multi colored Red Sea fish. The huge glass windows allow visitors to get a great view the tanks occupants. The Oceanarium simulator is also a lot of fun for kids - a little scary for the smaller ones though. All in all it's a nice family morning out.
- Dolphin Reef - , South Beach (3 km south of town towards the Egyptian border), tel +972-8-637-1846. Entry fee: 42/28 NIS adults/children. Not just a tourist trap, the staff actually work to rehabilitate dolphins for life in the open sea - from whence they came. However in the past, the occasional release of the dolphins into the bay resulted in the immediate consumption of many of the nearby coral reef's inhabitants. The dolphin release project is since on hold. Various paid options are available for interacting with the dolphins, starting with snorkeling with the dolphins at NIS 227. It's a very nice beach with lots of small pools and rich shrubbery. It has a fantastic spa (relaxation pools) and is well worth a visit. For those who want to get up-close to a dolphin book your swim or dive as early in the morning as you can. The dolphins get weary of visitors as the day goes on. Piers leading out onto the water allow everyone to get as near to the dolphins - as the dolphins want.
- "What's Up" The Observatory in Eilat , "What's Up" The Observatory in Eilat has begun a new show. With the addition of a special camera we can show you the deep sky as well as the moon and planets on a computer screen rather then through the eyepiece of the telescope. We can now collect photons in a way the eye could never do and see the wonders of the sky in living color. Watch the image build as the light is collected and hear tales about the personalities of the heavens as well as scientific explanation of what is going on up there. "What's Up" is suitable for all ages as well as being accessible to the handicapped although there are no toilet facilities at the site.
- Kings City in Eilat  is a biblical theme park in Eilat, which has been inaugurated in June 2006. Built over a 40,000 square feet area on three levels, the park resembles a king's palace. The palace has four sections: Journey to the Past, Cave of Illusions and Wisdom, Bible Cave and King Solomon Falls.
- The Negev desert surrounds Eilat and its scenic Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve has some of the most spectacular desert routes in Israel. Trails include ancient trading routes and the Great Rift Valley. Desert Hiking, 4x4 jeep tours and camel treks are major attractions in this area of the Negev desert.
- Every summer, the Red City music festival is held in Eilat (sponsored by 99 ESC radio station.) This beach festival is held on the beach and consists of consecutive days of all night performances (Hip-Hop, rock and especially trance)
- Red Sea Jazz Festival This annual event takes place in the last week of August and Jazz musicians from all over the world come to Eilat, for a week of fun, sun and lots of Jazz.
- Kite surfing, Club Med Beach, ☎ 08-6373123, . Eilat is one of the best locations in the world for learning how to kitesurf. The weather and sea conditions are perfect for beginers with steady northern winds and a calm sea. KiteXEilat offers various beginners classess.
- Scuba Diving (Lucky Divers), Simtat Tsukim 5, ☎ 972-8-6323466. 3. No license and no experience necessary SCUBA diving. As is legal in Eilat, an experienced dive master will accompany you on what could be your first ever SCUBA experience. They provide a short tutorial of the basics, and worry about all the technical details leaving you able to concerning yourself solely with breathing--and of course observing the magnificent neon subaquatic landscape. 180 NIS.
The Ginsburg-Ingerman Overseas Student Program  of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev  offers short-term academic programs at the Eilat campus. The programs focus on Hebrew language, Marine Biology and Gastronomy.
As an incentive there is no value-added tax in Eilat. Therefore many duty free shops line the boardwalk and culminate in a duty free shopping centre know as Mall HaYam (The Mall of the Sea). Top brands can be found, and it is joked that the first thing an Israeli does on before leaving Eilat is to fill up their petrol tank to the brim.
The main promenade is packed with stylish restaurants catering to tourists and locals alike, offering some of Israel's finest cuisine prepared by Israel's master chefs. Mainly owned by the major hotel chains. The vast variety of restaurants understandably come at a price, but they don't get as pricey as the restaurants of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
- For Eilat's cheap yet excellent falafel, check out the falafel joint just across the street from the bus station at the International Birdwatching Centre, on HaTemarim Boulevard.
- Pago Pago floating restaurant is an attraction in itself. The restaurant is strictly non-kosher, serving great sushi, sea-food and fantastic steaks. Not just good food but a nice relaxing evening bobbing on the waters of the marina. It's well moored so no chance of drifting off. The restaurant is a little pricey, but no more than other restaurants and you definitely get far more for your money. If you only spoil yourself with one good restaurant during your visit to Eilat, Pago Pago is definitely the restaurant to go to.
- Pedro's Restaurant, for an excellent steak, the hang-out restaurant of Eilat's diving instructors, you'll have to get a cab because it's nowhere near the tourist haunts. Well worth the effort if you are steak lover... or if you consider yourself an honorary local, either way, it's hard to tell what's tastier, the restaurant's meat or the punters..
- Ginger Restaurant,  restaurant and bar. The who's who of Eilat are found in Ginger, its the new 'IN' location for Eilat's elite. Not nearly as expensive as it is exclusive, its good spot for dining if you don't mind seeing your picture in the local Eilat gossip pages.
- Barbis,  American Foods Restaurant, is a great burger place in the middle of the tourist center. Prices are cheap and the burgers are tasty and huge.
For a Holiday resort the expected assortment of Pubs and Bars exist on the Promenade and are also densely packed in the main square.
- The Unplugged bar is a good option. If you're looking for a place with stuck-up people, barbie doll bartenders, or tough-looking bouncers, look somewhere else, because Unplugged is nothing like it. The drink selection is somewhat limited, but still fairly good. The music ranges from American pop to Israeli trance, and they play songs in both Hebrew and English. You have the option of either sitting at the bar, chilling on a big couch, or dancing with the friendly locals. This place is often crowded, even on a Monday night.
- While evil isn't heard, seen, or spoken at Three Monkeys Pub live bands and an all-ages dance floor crowd is. Located towards the end of the promenade at the Isrotel "Royal Beach".
- Bears pub is central fixture in the main square. With a laid back feel and hookahs available Bears lends itself to chatting to the soundtrack of Israeli tunes.
- Arava (Beit Arava), Almogim St 106, ☎ 972 8 6374687. checkin: 24 hour; checkout: 9 am. This Motel has a homey feel, there are many tables and grills outside to allow relaxation away from the crowds. Mostly the rooms are private but they do offer dormitory accommodations for a cheap price. Starting at 70 NIS for dormitory.
Extreme but cheap. Possible at the North Beach, next to the Jordan border, and also at the South Beach--aka Coral Beach--preferably to the south of the bar called "Migdalor". Pros: stay close to the sea and pay no money for it. Cons: temperatures can be really hot, even at night; have to find out the water/shower/etc.
- North Beach: passed the main hotels closer to Aqba.
- South Beach: bus route 15 to Migdalor bar. Then just walk at the shore and find yourself a place for a tent.
Important Note: When staying outdoors please keep all your garbage with you and do not light fires – the beaches are protected by Israeli Nature Protection Organization.
Sleeping "almost outdoors" - stay at the organized camping site. There is only one such site in Eilat, owned by the Field School which is situated on the South Beach. In addition to a clean and quiet camping area, they provide running water, shower and electricity. The organized camping is paid on daily basis (30 NIS, 2008).
The Field School offers also rooms at reasonable prices, recommended to book in advance.
Getting there: take a bus route 15 from the Central Bus Station (CBS) – gets directly there for less then 5 NIS (2010). A cab From the CBS would cost about 25 NIS.
The hillside around the Central Bus Station contains motels which usually have a room designated to a dorm. You can find some real gems hidden among them but be prepared to take some time checking them out.
- Youth Hostel, Derech Ha'arava 7, ☎ 08-6370088, . checkin: 3PM; checkout: 10AM. Not at all expensive yet very clean and nice place to stay. One can book entire room or bed basis as per the need. The cafeteria serves very good breakfast as well in the morning. Dorms: 28$? Private rooms $66.
- Cactus B&B, ☎ +972 (0) 54 5948139, . A new & nice place to stay, off the beaten track, very colorful & cozy.
If you reach Eilat and have backpack on you may be accosted by people offering their houses or parts of them for your accommodation. These are really a gamble, because you never know what to expect and people tend to exaggerate their descriptions. Usually, it would be a nice air-conditioned room with a double bed, shower, tv, sometimes WiFi and some kitchen stuff. Price per day: 200 NIS and higher, however negotiable, depending on how long are you staying. Start the negotiation as you see the apartment.
- [Holiday Inn] - Express Beat Eilat, Tel: +972-3-5390808, . Located on the city's north side (opposite the Crowne Plaza), ten minutes away from the beach and the shopping center.
- [Holiday Inn] AFI Patio Eilat, Tel: +972-3-5390808, . Guestrooms, some with balconies facing the pool. Family-friendly. 15-20 min walk to the beach.
- Club Hotel Eilat, (Eilat), ☎ *6090, . Eilat Club Hotel is the largest suites hotel across the Middle East and the only hotel across Israel designed and built under the inspiration of the sea.
- Club Inn Eilat, ☎ *6090, . Eilat Club Inn Hotel is a resort located in a wadi over looking a breathtaking desert view.
- Prima Music, Almog beach., ☎ 972-8-638-8555 ([email protected], fax: 157-8-634-1961), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 11:00. The Prima Music is an exceptionally designed, concept hotel situated under picturesque desert mountains and overlooking the magnificent Red Sea at Coral Beach on the outskirts of the Eilat.
Eilat's North Beach is positively packed with luxury hotels, but in season rates can be as high as US$200 per night.
- Crowne Plaza Eilat, Tel: +972-8-6367777, . Family-friendly hotel on the Promenade, featuring the Freckles Club for kids.
- Dan Eilat, Tel: +972-3-5202552, Fax: +972-3-5480111, . Central beach front hotel with a great pool area.
- Herods Palace Hotel, North Beach. checkin: 3 pm; checkout: 11 am. Formerly but no longer run by Sheraton, Herods offers a "near Las Vegas" experience, with staff in togas wandering around a pompously decorated palace. Service isn't quite up to scratch though, although the (separately charged) Vitalis spa is excellent by any standard.
- Le Meridien Eilat, North Beach, tel. +972-8-6383333, . Le Meridien offers a wide range of suites featuring various luxury levels. The hotel features 245 luxurious suites designed and built to unusually high standards.
- Yotvata Kibbutz - specializes in fruit cultivation and dairy farming. It supplies much of the milk and several varieties of fresh fruit and packaged goods to the Negev / Eilat region under its logo of a setting sun with two linked palm trees. They also take in traveling volunteers and have a Hebrew school for foreigners.
- In Israel itself, Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea are a few hours away by bus, and can be easily visited in a day or two on organized tours.
- South of Eilat is the border crossing to Taba Egypt, where the Taba Hilton and nearby Taba Heights beach resorts are situated. Here begins the Egyptian Sinai peninsula where St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai are located.
- Within walking distance of Eilat's North Beach is Israel's border with Jordan. A short drive away is the Rabin border crossing to the adjacent Jordanian town of Aqaba, Jordan's largest port and tourist resort. Further inland is the ancient Jordanian city of Petra.
- To get to the Egyptian border take a taxi (35 NIS) from Eilat to the border, or take bus line 15 (6 NIS) and walk across. On the Egyptian side there is a minibus station as well as further along a full bus station. Note the border can take between 20 min to 2 hours. You will need to pay an exit fee when leaving Israel (94.50NIS - Apr 09) and if travelling further south than Taba another fee (75EGP - Apr 09) at the checkpoint south of the border. If you plan to continue further than the Sinai, deeper into Egypt (Cairo) then you need to apply for a visa in the Egyptian consul in Eilat. The embassy is open from 9:30am to 2pm on Sunday to Thursday. It takes aprox. 20 min for European and American tourists, and costs 100 NIS. Remember to bring a passport photo with you to the embassy - it is required for the visa, and the embassy has no photo-taking facilities. If you don't have a passport photo handy, you can take one on the 2nd floor of the shopping mall right at the corner of the Eilat beach. If you are on an organised tour, some tour companies can arrange the visa on the day of the tour at the border.
|This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!