Eilat Isreal sits at the edge of the Negev desert, directly across an inlet from Aqaba, Jordan. MSC Lirica docked in the port next to giant cranes used for unloading the container ships that usually dock there. The port’s parking area was full of brand new cars and busses awaiting delivery to their new homes. Whether that is from that lot or via container ship we had no clue.
Getting off the ship in Israel is something like initial boarding with all the security processes required for entering the country once you get there, and that’s not even the beginning of it since immigrations officials screen everyone onboard before the ship even docks. Only small groups of people are allowed to disembark at one time so the line inside the ship waiting to get out the door can get quite long and slow-moving. Once you finally get off the ship there’s another line to get into the customs facility and once through the building people are not allowed to walk into or out of the port so the options are either the free shuttle or a taxi.
There were a few taxis outside the door, but we took the shuttle only to discover that instead of dropping people at the entrance to the port as we expected based on what I read online pre-cruise, this shuttle took people all the way into town – the opposite direction of most of the snorkel beaches, which was where we wanted to go.
We saw some taxis parked in a lot just the other side of a raised garden from the shuttle stop in town so we hopped in one of those and asked to go to a snorkel beach. The driver didn’t know a lot of English and took us to the farthest one, Coral Beach Nature Reserve, which was 6K away. On the way we passed the road with a sign to a camel ranch, but it did not say how far up that road it would be, at least not in any language that we understand.
Coral Beach was farther south than the dolphin reef where people can swim with dolphins, but closer than the Underwater Observatory Marine Park, which has a shark tank and aquariums with fish found in the Red Sea. We could see a tower at the park in the distance from the beach where we were.
Coral Beach has a fee to get in. Once inside, it has a gift shop, which you walk through to get to everything else, restrooms with showers, a snack shack, and a long stretch of beach with lots of little shade houses containing stacks of plastic beach chairs for people to use. These are just the sort of chairs you sit in. There are some loungers you can lay on, but it costs extra to have someone unlock the cord chained around those so you can take one off the stack. Some of the little shade houses have picnic tables too.
There’s a roped off swimming area, some fenced off restricted areas where people can’t go in the water, and a snorkel trail running between a rope and a series of floats that resemble pipes along the length of a coral reef. You enter the water on a stairway at the end of a long dock. There were two of these docks, but one was closed when we were there. The snorkel trail pretty much runs the length of their beach, passing beyond the docks in either direction.
On most of it the main reef is beside rather than under you, with just small corals below, though there are spots where the reef juts out into the snorkel area, or there is a larger bit below. All sorts of fish swim about, mostly medium to large ones for reef fish. The reef is not a large one and the corals were fairly small, but some of the fish were very bright and colorful. The prettiest ones were also the speediest so the swarms of sergeant majors were about all that came out clearly in my photos.
I saw some divers swimming down below deeper in the water along the snorkel trail, some under their own power and some with powered with a device similar to what we used once when we took a power snorkeling excursion.
It was pretty windy the day we were there. The next resort over had quite a lot of kite surfers with a few wind surfers in the mix. The water was a choppy with a current, but since you can go in either direction from the dock people can swim into the current since that will be the most difficult direction. That way they know the way back will be easier so however far they go out they can make it back. We have our own snorkel gear, but they did have rentals available for both snorkel gear and life jackets for anyone who feels the need to wear one when snorkeling.
I have a dry snorkel, which means water can’t get into it. That comes in quite handy in choppy water as none splashes into the tube like it can with the open tube sort of snorkel preventing any sudden unexpected mouthfuls of water. With the open tube type snorkel you have to blow water out of the tube any time you dive under or if it splashes in. The dry snorkel has a plug inside of the end piece that closes off the end of the tube to keep water out. The drawback is that it is very buoyant making it much more difficult to dive under the water.
I started out swimming into the current from the dock and swam to the end of the snorkel trail in that direction, which was the boarder of the next door resort. Coming back with the current was of course easier, so I went on down to the next dock. At the time I thought that was as far as the snorkel trail went, and with that dock closed I turned back into the current swimming back to the dock where I had originally gotten into the water. Thinking I had seen all the snorkel area they had I got out of what would be referred to as “refreshing” water by any cruise ship snorkel tour guide. That is what they say when the water is cold.
When the water is cold it always takes everyone a bit longer to talk themselves into going toward the water at all, and then once they arrive at the water’s edge to actually get into it. Which I totally understand because I’m exactly the same. I know I went there to snorkel, and I want to do it, it’s just hard to get into that cold water. Once in though it wasn’t too bad. After that initial chill you get used to it pretty quick. There were some waves, but my dry snorkel kept the water out.
Getting out of the water was freezing though. As soon as any part of your body lifts out of the water the wind hits, which feels that much colder when you’re wet. The plus side of the wind was it worked something like a blow dryer albeit cold if you walked around in it for a bit. After drying off as much as I could and sitting in the beach chair wrapped in the towel to warm up for awhile, I took a walk down to the end of the beach nearest us, then turned and went to the opposite end to try and get my swimsuit dry. The second direction took me first past the open dock to the snorkel trail, then the closed one. Beyond that the snorkel trail curved inward toward land and there was an entrance to it on the beach so the snorkel trail did not extend quite the full distance of the resort’s beach in that direction. This meant I had not actually swam the entire length of their snorkel trail, but by then I was closer to dry than wet and not inclined to go back into the cold water so I missed that portion.
We didn’t stay at the beach as long as we would have without the wind. John had decided not to snorkel at all in the wind and waves, so he just stayed in a beach chair while I snorkeled. He’d had about enough sit on the beach and relax time by the time I was done snorkeling and beach walking and I’m not much of a sit on the beach and do nothing person even when it’s warm so we decided to head back figuring we’d have a bit of time to check out the town before going back to the ship.
There were no taxis in the lot so we headed back on foot. The bonus of having taken the shuttle rather than a taxi directly from the port was knowing the location in town where it dropped people off. It was about a 3k walk back to the port. There was one open beach we passed by that seemed to be a public beach where people could go without paying, but it didn’t have much for amenities and we did not see anyone snorkeling there, just one guy fishing and one lady getting out of the water after having a swim.
Another beach we passed later seemed to be where all the locals go with quite a large and full parking lot, but there may have been a charge to use that one.
Most of the shoreline was fenced off either as pay to enter resorts, a private hotel beach, or industrial areas. Unfortunately walking back to the ship doesn’t mean you can actually get to the ship. You can’t walk into the port so unless you manage to flag down a taxi somewhere on the way, walking back means walking all the way to the shuttle stop. We wanted to see the town anyway, and while it would have been nice to be able to stop by the ship and drop off our snorkel gear and change clothes, even if we could have gotten into the port doing so also would have meant going through the whole disembarkation security procedure again, though by then there wouldn’t likely have been a line.
Along the way we came across two nice young men who looked local, but turned out to be students from the USA studying in Jerusalem and visiting Eilat for the weekend. We walked along with them for awhile. One said his parents were originally from Yemen. He had grown up speaking Arabic as well as English, and learned Hebrew and Yiddish in school. We’ve met a lot of Europeans who speak multiple languages, but not many Americans who do and that was the first time I’d ever met an Arabic Jewish person.
It was another 3k past the ship into town. The shuttle stop was next to a place with a shopping mall and a beach, which is their seaside promenade. The beach was pretty crowded, as was an open air café with tables along the beach so it looked like a good amount of people from the ship decided just to hang out there. Most of the people were on shore, but there were a few swimming in the water, nobody snorkeling. There was another of the pay beaches on the outskirts of town that may have had snorkeling, but we didn’t go into it so I don’t know for sure.
After hanging out in the seaside promenade area a bit we went in search of the shuttle, which appeared not to come around very often. We waited awhile where we had gotten out that morning, but noticed an ever-growing crowd of obvious cruise ship passengers directly across the street waiting for it to come by going the other way. City busses came and went on both sides, and a couple private tour busses passed by, but for quite some time there was no sign of a cruise ship shuttle. There were people with crew badges among those on the opposite side of the street so eventually we crossed and waited there.
Finally a shuttle came along, stopping where we had gotten off that morning to let people off. There were a few waiting on that side and it did let them on before heading about half a block or so to a nearby roundabout and coming back the other way where it stopped for the awaiting crowd. It ended up having enough seats for everyone so nobody had to wait for the next shuttle, which was a good thing since boarding was a free-for-all with nobody knowing or caring who had been waiting longest. Obviously the other side of the street where it let people off would have been the better waiting place since the few people who stayed over there got on first. Especially important to know if it had been so crowded that not everyone got on since the wait between shuttles was so long.
Eilat is a resort town near the tip of the Aqaba Gulf of the Red Sea, directly across the bay from Aqaba, Jordan. By land it’s also near the boarder of Israel and Jordan and not too far from Egypt. It’s a nice place to visit and we’re always happy to add another country to the places we’ve been.