A winter visit to Eilat

This time of year Eilat is a haven for northern Europeans escaping sub-zero temperatures, and is also a great place for Israelis to enjoy sunshine during the cold, rainy months.

GET THE boutique experience at Eilat Orchid Reef Hotel. (photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
GET THE boutique experience at Eilat Orchid Reef Hotel.
(photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, which is located on the shores of the Red Sea, attracts thousands of visitors every summer. Many Israelis enjoy the summer vacation there relaxing by the pool or at the beach, visiting attractions and shopping in the VAT-free air-conditioned malls.
Due to this incredible feeling of freedom and fantastic weather, Eilat has also unfortunately become known as a place where wild youth party all night long.
As a result, many people choose to avoid these experiences in the summer months and instead visit Israel’s most famous vacation town in the wintertime when things are much calmer. This time of year Eilat is a haven for northern Europeans escaping sub-zero temperatures, and is also a great place for Israelis to enjoy sunshine during the cold, rainy months. Other benefits are that hotels are not as crowded, and prices are a little lower in the off-season.
Coral World
Coral World Underwater Observatory is definitely the No. 1 attraction in Israel’s southernmost city. Just like every other site in Eilat, which is packed in summer months, a visit to Coral World in the winter is a completely different experience. The observatory was built on top of the coral reef, and a visit there is the easiest way to watch fish and sea creatures go about their day in their natural habitat. Visitors can learn about all the various species which live in the Red Sea, including the most vicious animal in the water: sharks. You can opt for a guided group tour or instead walk around the site at your leisure. But be sure not to miss the Oceanarium, a simulator where visitors can experience firsthand the world of sharks. There’s also a pool with rare fish, a pool where you can stick your hands in to touch and feed the fish, a pool with turtles, and the most popular of all: the shark pool. And if you’re lucky, you might get to see the sharks being fed by one of the observatory’s scuba divers. Hours: Daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tel: (08) 636-4200.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
If the visit to the underwater observatory has piqued your interest and you’d like to see the fish and sea creatures for yourself, I recommend going snorkeling or scuba diving. One diving company popular among locals is located 1.5 km. from the Taba Border Crossing. There are caves under the sea 40 meters from the shore, and scuba divers and snorkelers alike can enjoy the natural beauty of the coral reef. To reach the site, pass by Coral World and Village Beach. About 300 meters after Village Beach, you’ll see a large billboard, where you can park your car. Across the street, you’ll see a small sign and ropes, which show you the best place to enter the water. The ropes continue into the water and mark the spot where it’s okay to go diving and snorkeling. This is especially helpful for amateur divers. Follow the ropes into the water and you’ll find two large rocks about 20 meters into the water, which sit just above the caves. This is a nature reserve, so make sure not to do anything that might harm the natural environment.
Next to the Eilat Orchid Reef Hotel, you’ll find one of the best restaurants in town. Called Mykonos, it offers guests an authentic Greek culinary experience. With tables that reach the sandy beach, it attracts young people with its good music and tasty food. The restaurant is located in Coral Beach at the southernmost tip of the city, which is also a magnet for surfers and surf schools. Mykonos offers amazing brunch and lunch menus. On Thursday evenings starting at 6, the restaurant offers ethnic music and Greek delicacies. Greek dishes available all week long include souvlaki and moussaka.
Location: Just in front of the Orchid Reef Hotel. Tel: 072-394-5541.
Eilat Orchid Reef Hotel
Many vacationers in Eilat flock to the large hotel chains, but I prefer staying at smaller boutique hotels such as the Eilat Orchid Reef that offer more personal attention. The recently renovation hotel is located across from Coral Beach away from the hubbub of Eilat’s city center. Its location makes it a favorite with scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts. The hotel has 79 rooms, including deluxe, deluxe with a sea view, and deluxe with pool access rooms.
There are also gorgeous suites with private pools that are perfect for couples or families with up to two children.
Because the hotel is relatively small, it doesn’t have a large lobby. Instead it has a nice reception area, from which you can continue on to the inner courtyard where you’ll find the pool, swings, chaise longues and an exercise room.
The breakfast buffet overlooks the sea, and hotel guests have access to snorkeling equipment and bicycles that they can ride along the boardwalk. Kayaking and surfing rentals involve an insurance charge. Prices: Starting at NIS 404 for a couple during the week including breakfast, and NIS 518 on weekends.
The Orchid Hotel
If you prefer a Thailand-style vacation without having to travel to southeast Asia, check out the Orchid Hotel run by the same chain. With an incredible view of the Edom Mountains and Eilat’s beaches, and cottages with private pools, this hotel is a favorite among celebrities.
The hotel has 194 rooms and wooden cottages. Some of the units are a distance up the hill, and guests are welcome to use electric golf carts, which makes you feel like you’re vacationing at a Thai resort. Some of the fancier cottages include a private pool and deck. But be forewarned – the prices are just as steep as their location at the top of the hill. The Orchid’s spa was designed to foster a tropical vacation atmosphere for hotel guests and visitors from outside of the hotel. Prices: Starting from NIS 378 for couples in midweek including breakfast, and NIS 629 for half-board. On weekends, NIS 455 for stay with breakfast and NIS 725 for half-board.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.