Flora, fauna and fun

While elsewhere in the country people are wrapping up warm for winter, it’s time to head south to Eilat.

The Underwater Observatory Marine Park (photo credit: Dafna Tal)
The Underwater Observatory Marine Park
(photo credit: Dafna Tal)
Eilat is undoubtedly the country’s leading seaside resort. You only have to head south anytime during the school summer break and you’ll find what seems like the entire teenage population of the country sprawled along the beaches and hanging out in every bar, café and reasonably priced hotel, with plenty of the adult crowd around as well.
But it also makes a lot of sense – possibly more – to hang out by the Red Sea when, farther north, people are huddling under umbrellas or just wearing three layers of clothing, and certainly when the mercury level in Eilat is below 30 degrees Centigrade.
Luckily, Eilat and its environs have plenty to offer us all year round. For starters, it might be a good idea to dwell on the reason why the gently lapping body of water down there goes by the name of the Red Sea when, in fact, the English translation of the Hebrew name – Yam Suf – translates as “Reed Sea.” This is not just a matter of a conveniently dropped “e.” The sea really turns crimson at sunset, as do the hills here and in Jordan at sunrise and sunset, respectively.
Eilat is known worldwide for the richness of the submarine life it offers, and you don’t have to be a scuba diving expert to catch an eyeful of some of the fantastic colors and shapes on display below water.
A trip to the Undersea Observatory Marine Park in the southern part of Eilat will open your eyes and, no doubt, heart to a mesmerizing spectrum of shades and textures of a myriad of fish of all shapes and sizes, as well as intricately fashioned coral. The park boasts no fewer than 800 species of fish, coral, sharks, mollusks, stingrays and turtles, which are all clearly visible through the glass-paned submarine observatory halls a full 12 meters below the sea, as well as from the outdoor pools. Add to that the Oceanarium with its HD screening of the Journey into the World of Sharks movie; the Amazon Hut, where you can catch an eyeful of a whole host of impressive creatures from South America, such as a huge anaconda, piranha fish and crocodiles; or a fun cruise out into the sea in a glass-bottomed boat.
For more information: (08) 636-4200 and
Just up the road, visitors to the Dolphin Reef can get very close to some of our friendliest mammals. There, members of the bottle nose variety of dolphins go about their daily business – feeding, hunting, socializing and rearing their young. They communicate with human beings, who can observe the friendly sea creatures from floating piers and other observation points and even swim alongside them. The site also offers the ultimate chill-out facility, with its relaxation pools, as well as workshops for people interested in getting a better idea of the life of the dolphin, and for therapy practitioners.
For more information: (08) 630-0100 and www.dolphinreef.co.il
Eilat isn’t just about the sea. The desert landscapes and animal life also provide the visitor with an abundance of hands-on and aesthetic benefits. The Camel Ranch at Nahal Shlomo, a 10-minute drive out of town, for example, offers a wide range of activities for the whole family, such as camel safaris – half-day camelback trips and delightful two-hour sunset camel tours.
What’s more, the Adventure Park Activity Center provides a combination of play and adventure that is an exciting, intensive and challenging experience.For more information: (08) 637-0022 and www.camel-ranch.co.il
If it’s flora you’re into, the arid surroundings notwithstanding, there is plenty to see, smell and admire at the Botanical Garden of Eilat. The lush facility was created on the site of a former military outpost and houses rare plants from all over the world, as well as a man-made stream and waterfalls, bird sanctuaries and a rain forest. There is also an organic farm on the site.
For more information: (08) 631-8788 and www.botanicgarden.co.il
There’s also plenty of exciting fauna to be observed – some from close quarters – at the Hai Bar Animal and Nature Reserve, a 20- minute drive north of Eilat up Route 90 between Kibbutz Yotvata and Kibbutz Samar. The reserve comprises an open area of some 12 sq.km.
full of desert wildlife, such as ostriches, oryxes and Asiatic wild asses. There is also the fascinating Predators Center, which houses sand foxes, sand cats, tufted-eared caracals, leopards and striped hyenas, as well as various species of vultures. The Desert Night Life Exhibition Hall at Hai Bar offers visitors a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of the area’s nocturnal creatures, including the garden dormouse, desert hedgehog and Egyptian fruit bat.
For more information: (08) 637-3057; (08) 637-6018 and www.redseadesert.com
Nearer Eilat, Timna Park offers visitors a chance to get close to some spectacular geological formations and desert landscapes, such as the famous Solomon’s Pillars, as well as family-friendly attractions such as pedal boats on the artificial lake there and filling bottles with a multicolored palette of sand. Sustenance is available at the lakeside restaurant, and there are overnight camping facilities, as well as ranger driving tours and mountain biking trails.
For more information: www.parktimna.co.il Back in Eilat, the surreal-like Kings City theme park provides a voyage-throughtime experience for all ages, as well as plenty of fun interactive items.For more information: (08) 630-4444.
And, of course, the local accommodation offerings cater to all tastes and budgets, from luxury five-star hotels to hostels and B&B facilities.
For more information: www.redseaeilat.com This article was made possible with the help of the Israel Tourism Ministry.www.goisrael.gov.il