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Eilat – there’s more than the sea to see
By BARRY DAVIS
06/06/2014
There is so much to do in Israel’s southernmost city that a week is not enough.
 
Anyone old enough, or who immigrated long enough ago, to recall Eilat of the 1970s can’t help but be amazed at the evolution of our southernmost city. Back then, there were just a couple or so decent quality hotels and a few hostels. Eilat was considered by many to be only a stop-off en route to the open expanses and tranquility of Nueiba, Dahab and Sharm e-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula.

But, of course, much has changed in the interim. Sinai was returned to Egyptian control and Eilat began to sprout in every direction. Today, there are dozens of hotels in the southern resort to suit all tastes and pockets, and an increasing number of tourist attractions designed to offer the visitor plenty of alternatives to just lazing by the pool or by the gently lapping waters of the Red Sea.

If you’re looking to get out and about and flex a few muscles, the Top 94 Extreme Park should be just the ticket. The park is located just north of Eilat, near the Givat Shehoret nature reserve, and offers a wide range of challenge and fun facilities for all ages, levels of fitness and degrees of courage.

For starters there’s the cliff, named after the late Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avraham “Bren” Adan, who raised the improvised inkdrawn Israeli flag in Eilat in 1949 when the IDF conquered the southernmost tip of the State of Israel. The cliff is a daunting dare, rising a full 19 meters, but is suitable for novice climbers too. Eight people can tackle the ascent at the same time.

There’s more vertical exertion offered over at the climbing walls enclosure, stretching 9 m. up and 24 m. across, and accommodating large numbers of climbers in tandem. The walls have been designed to suit kids, muscular adults and a take-it-easy mind-set. You can take any of several routes up to the top.

And if you prefer to tackle verticals in a downward direction you can get yourself over to the rappelling facility, where you can glide down a 20-m. cliff side, with the moral and – should the need arise – physical support of a professional guide.

Back outside, you may want to try combining arm strength with eyesight and accuracy, at the archery spot, or get in some firearm practice at the shooting and target range. The complex houses an indoor shooting range, 45 m. long and 15 m. wide, and an 80-m. outdoor range that offers various types of shooting.

If you fancy a bit of daredevil driving, you can try the country’s longest go-kart track – all 430 m. of it – with uphill and downhill gradients, side slopes and a tunnel. Meanwhile, if you prefer physical pedal power, you may want to join in one of several bicycle tours at the nearby Eilat Mountain Reserve. The routes are suitable for all ages and levels of athleticism. The park guides will be happy to accompany members of the public along the trails and provide any equipment necessary. For cyclists who like to do things in twos, there are a number of tandems available.

And if you still have some energy to expend, not to mention a bit of aggression, you can offload all of that, as well as some color, at the paintball arena.

The glistening and ever-inviting waters of the Red Sea notwithstanding, Eilat is, of course, located in an arid region. While visitors to the city can marvel at the unique red-brown shades and textures of the mountains on either side – the Israeli side at sunrise and the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian side in the evening – it is always nice to catch a refreshing eyeful of some vegetation too. That can be found in abundance at the Botanical Garden of Eilat located at the town’s northern entrance.

It was created on the site of a former military outpost, and built on stone terraces. Inside the gardens you can find rare and exotic plants that hail from all over the world. After the dry heat of Eilat, there is nothing like casting your eye across a rich spectrum of colorful flowers and trees, and reveling in the delightful cooling resonances of a reconstructed stream and waterfalls. There is a fascinating bird sanctuary, while the gardens’ highlight is a succulent looking rain forest.

Visitors can ramble around the grounds on their own, or on guided tours.

Eilat is located right slap-bang in the middle of one of the world’s major bird migratory routes. Millions of feathered friends pass this way on their way south to Africa in the fall and back to Europe in the spring.

Members of the public can get a better handle on ornithological habits at the Eilat Birding Park. It was built in the early 1990s by the International Birdwatching and Research Center of Eilat and monitors the migratory habits of birds as well as carrying out extensive ringing and research activities. Visitors can catch glimpses of birds of all types, shapes and colors from the center’s walkway and, particularly, from special hideout locations where birds can be observed availing themselves of the gastronomic delights at the nearby salt pools and among local vegetation.

And if you fancy getting a bird’s-eye view of Eilat, the surrounding desert and the sea, with a substantial adrenalin rush thrown in, you couldn’t do much better than to pop over to the airport and Skydive Eilat. While you can skydive at all sorts of places around the world, it is fair to say there are few better views to be had while you float through the sky over the Red Sea, the Arava Desert, Eilat, Aqaba and desert areas of Jordan, including the spectacular landscape of Wadi Rum and the Mountains of Edom.

Prior to your leap of faith, you receive instructions from your guide, to whom you are strapped when you make the jump and, after pummeling through the sky at high speed for a few minutes, the instructor pulls the cord and you float gently to the ground, with plenty of time to enjoy the view. You have to be at least 12 years old to do the jump. Sounds like an ideal bat/bar mitzva thing to do.

Back on terra firma on the Camel Ranch at Nahal Shlomo – a 10-minute drive from downtown Eilat – offers the ultimate desert experience, with a hump. The ranch has a camel tour for all the family lasting 90 minutes followed by a tasty snack as well as two-hour sunset camel tours, followed by supper in a Beduin tent.

If you have more time to spare you could go for the four-hour desert ship excursion that passes along Nahal Shlomo and Nahal Tzefahot to a lookout point where you can enjoy the view and take some snaps. Half an hour of gentle loping after that a pit stop is made for a snack, before another 30-minute stretch and arrival back at the ranch under a star-studded desert sky.
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