Eilat: A winter paradise

Many have heard of Eilat’s fantastically blue water, but not everyone knows about the incredible treasures that lie beneath the surface.

FEWER TOURISTS mean more enjoyment in this beach resort city. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
FEWER TOURISTS mean more enjoyment in this beach resort city.
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The official swimming season might have passed by already, but some of you may be crazy enough to agree with me that winter is the best time of year to go scuba diving or snorkeling since there aren’t thousands of tourists on the beaches, as there are in the summertime.
When the beaches of northern and central Israel have become cool and rainy, the beaches in Eilat remain relatively warm. Two of the ideal locations to catch a glimpse of the natural coral reefs up close are the Dolphin Reef and the Coral Beach Nature Reserve. Most people have heard about Eilat’s fantastically blue water, but not everyone knows about the incredible treasures that lie beneath the surface of the water.
Located at the southern edge of the city, the Dolphin Reef is a unique place where people can interact naturally with dolphins. In other words, the dolphins only approach people swimming there when the dolphins feel like it – no one is forcing them to be there, as they do in other dolphin “petting zoos” around the world. The goal is to allow the animals that naturally live here feel at home with the people who come to swim with them in the most natural way possible. The only time you’re actually guaranteed that the dolphins will show up is during feeding times. Even then, the staff at the Dolphin Reef emphasizes that their goal is not to offer spectators a great show, but to provide a practical service for our friends who live in the sea. The reef is also home to a variety of fish and seasonal birds.
The Dolphin Reef is part of an area encompassing 10 square kilometers of wild nature, and smack in the middle of this sits a scuba diving club that was opened 25 years ago to offer scuba diving enthusiasts a chance to experience a unique ecological phenomenon. People still come from around the world to experience this unique diving adventure. The Dolphin Reef offers introductory scuba diving lessons, or the option to join a group of people who want to swim with the dolphins.
There is also a place called Stalbet Al Hamayim, which in Hebrew slang means to take it easy on the water, and that is exactly what it feels like when you enter one of the three pools located at Stalbet, on the northern edge of the beach. You can lounge in the pools, relax tranquilly on a chaise longue and enjoy a massage or other decadent and pampering treatments.
Reef entry price: NIS 46 to NIS 67.
Stalbet entry price: Starting at NIS 165.
Whether you have the entire day free or only an hour, the Coral Beach Nature Reserve is the perfect place to spend your time while you are in Eilat. It is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and offers easy accessibility to the reef.
The coral reefs in Israel are known throughout the world for their unique beauty. At the reef, you can do more than gaze at the gorgeous natural wonders, though. The reef also includes showers, toilets, shady rest areas, chairs and chaises longues, as well as a souvenir shop. In short, the reserve has everything you could possibly want or need when spending the day at the beach, especially this time of year when the weather is absolutely gorgeous and you don’t need to shrink away from the hot Eilat sun.
But you probably didn’t come all the way to Eilat to lounge around at the beach all day, and that’s a good thing because there is so much to see in the area. In the reefs, you can watch the fish and sea animals that live among the coral going about their daily activities. To maximize the experience, you can walk along the beach until you reach the bridges and lookout points, which let you experience the reef from a completely different angle. In addition, another favorite activity among tourists is to wander along the wading pools near the coast, where children can jump around and adults can get their feet wet. And for the more adventurous who don’t mind putting on a bathing suit even when temperatures are well under 40º, I highly recommend renting snorkel equipment and exploring the shallow waters for a few hours. I guarantee that you have never seen anything like this before.
If the idea of combining a walking tour with a little swimming tickles your fancy, then you should take advantage of this exciting outing organized by the nature reserve. The tour begins with some fun swimming, then an hourlong easy walk during which you’ll get to see a variety of coral colonies and dozens of different fish. You don’t need to prepare anything special for this tour; just make sure you have shoes for walking in the water, and goggles (or even better a mask).
Location: Eilat-Taba road (just across from the field school).
Price: NIS 21 to NIS 35.
At the end of a long day, you will probably be ready to dig into a hearty meal, and Barbis hits the spot. Restaurants tend to open and close pretty quickly in this unstable economy, especially in Eilat, but Barbis has succeeded in keeping its doors open for years, always keeping the quality of its food relatively high. A few years ago, the restaurant moved to its current location at the entrance of Ofira Park, which is surrounded by expansive green lawns and trees, that makes it feel like a fun recreation center in the middle of nature.
Barbis is decorated in a fantastic eclectic style that is reminiscent of an American diner from the 1960s.
The star item on the menu is, in my opinion, the hamburger, which has been receiving rave reviews for years. Barbis also offers other classic meat and seafood options, as well as salads. In the evening hours, the owners turn the volume of the music up a little bit and the restaurant starts to feel more like a cool bar, making it a fun place to hang out, in addition to being a great place to eat.
Barbis has giant screen TVs, so you can take in a ball game there, too.
Location: 19 Tarshish Street, Ofira Park ■
Translated by Hannah Hochner.