Eilat is the southernmost city in Israel. It has a busy seaport in the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea near Jordan. Eilat is a popular resort town for both domestic and international tourists. Its beaches are noted for their calm waters, like Dolphin Reef, named for the dolphins often spotted there. The waters aren’t always calm though. On the windy day we visited the beach had waves. Known for snorkeling and diving, Coral Beach Nature Reserve has a narrow buoy-marked snorkel and diving trail alongside a fish-filled reef. It’s not a huge reef and the coral is on the small side, but there’s stuff to see and some colorful fish. Nearby Coral World Underwater Observatory Marine Park has a glass-enclosed observation center submerged offshore. It is generally safe to travel to Eilat. The border to Jordan is nearby and the two countries are at peace with each other. Egypt is pretty close too. Eilat has a desert climate with warm dry weather most of the year. Currency is the shekel and the language is Hebrew. Annual rainfall is not much more than an inch.
EILAT CRUISE PORT
Cruise ships dock in a container port next to giant cranes. Beyond the cranes our view from the ship included a parking lot full of identical brand-new cars, probably either recently unloaded from a ship or waiting to load onto one. A road went past the port. On the other side of it mostly barren sand colored hills rose up into the distance.
Security is extremely tight in Israel. Even though Eilat is a resort city there is a definite police presence. Like cruises into Australia, immigrations officials board the ship at a previous port and do a face to face check with every person on board on a sea day before the ship even arrives in port. Once we were at the port the excursions disembarked first, as most were headed for Jerusalem, 4 hours away. Once they left the line for the rest of the passengers waiting to go to port was quite long. The part of the line you can see from a window or deck on the ship appears unchanging. Not too many people are allowed between the ship and port building at once, but we did not know that before getting in line.
We watched the line from our window for about half an hour before joining the queue. The part we could see never really got any longer or shorter in all that time. Once down to the gangway, even though the line was short enough by then that we could see the door, we found that to be where the wait was long – and not moving. The line we could see from our window was just the people who had been let out of the ship. We picked a good time to come down though since the line inside was fairly short at that point. While we waited it built up behind us as nobody was let out for awhile, probably waiting for the next shuttle bus to arrive and remove people from the port. They did not have enough busses to keep a constant flow.
The line between the ship and port building was the shortest we had seen when we were finally let out. A man stood guarding the entrance with a very large gun. Security screening to get off the ship there was more like initial boarding day with passports required and all bags sent through screening while the owner of said bags walked through a scanner before they could join the next queue waiting for the port shuttle. Inside the building rows of small flags hung from wires strung across the room. Some said welcome, others were from a variety of different countries, though we did not see any representing the USA.
There were a few taxis outside the door. Either taking one of those or waiting for a port shuttle were the only options for leaving the port as walking through it is not allowed. We took the shuttle only to discover that instead of dropping people at the entrance to the port as things I read when researching online pre-cruise said, this shuttle took people all the way into town. Nice for anyone wanting to go to town, but we wanted to snorkel and the coral beaches were in the opposite direction.
We took a taxi to a snorkel beach. The day was cold and windy, but I went snorkeling anyway. There were no taxis when we were ready to leave so we walked 3k back to the port. Since we were on foot we could not actually go into the port, which was halfway between the beach we had gone to and the town where the shuttle busses stopped so we walked another 3k into town. We wanted to go to town anyway, but would have preferred stopping by the ship to drop off our snorkel gear and change clothes on the way.
The shuttle stop was next to a shopping mall with some shops inside a big mall building that you had to go through security and have your belongings screened to get into, and many more little shops and restaurants along both sides of a wide walkway paralleling a sandy beach, which is their seaside promenade. People could go directly into the little shops and restaurants without passing through security, just not the mall. It seemed that quite a lot of people from the ship chose to hang out there all day as the beach and anywhere to sit near the shore were all crowded. Mostly on land though, not too many people braved the wind and cold water to take a swim.
We didn’t pay much attention to exactly what stores were there, but it looked like a variety with a little bit of everything. One of the shops had a little storefront on the same level where everything else was, but it was just an open area with video screens and an escalator down into the actual store below.
Many of the shops and restaurants were indoors, but there were a few little stands including one selling Nutella crepes. There was lots of outside seating along the seashore and places to get food or drinks there.
The shuttle stop is on the main road that goes past the seaside promenade. At least ours was. It dropped people off on the side of the street closest to the mall. A crowd of people waited for the return shuttle at a bus stop across the street from the drop off point. When one finally came it picked a few people up at the drop off point first before turning around in a nearby roundabout and heading to the other side of the street where the majority waited. So the drop-off point was the smart place to get on. Those people would already be on the bus before it got to the crowded stop in case there wasn’t room enough for everyone waiting on the other side, which did happen.
THINGS TO DO IN EILAT
Swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Reef, visit the Underwater Marine Observatory, dive or snorkel in the Red Sea, see the world’s first copper mine at Timna Park, go to the beach, hike in the mountains, see the desert, take a boat trip on the Red Sea, take a jeep safari, see the interactive fountains, go ice skating, hike in the red canyon, bird watching, camel tours, Coral Beach Nature Reserve, botanical garden. Kite surfing is a popular activity there too. For family fun visit Top 94 amusement park (climbing walls, go kart track, paintball, etc.)
Eilat’s promenade where the shuttle stops is about 3k north of the port. The dolphin reef attraction is about 1.5 k south (captive dolphins, requires pre-booking) and it’s another 3k to Coral World Observatory, which is past the Coral Beach Nature Reserve where we went. There is a sign somewhere along the way pointing up a road into the hills toward a ranch that offers camel rides. We saw the sign, but didn’t know how far the actual camel ranch was from the seaside road or how much it cost to ride them so we didn’t go up that road.