Narrow canyons and sandstone cliffs dot the landscape around the Eilat marina. Narrow canyons and sandstone cliffs dot the landscape around the Eilat marina. Narrow canyons and sandstone cliffs dot the landscape around the Eilat marina. (Photo: Sergei25/Shutterstock)

Pack your bags and escape to this beachside destination

The coastal city of Eilat draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year from all around the world.

While Israelis have long traveled south to the resort town of Eilat for domestic getaways, the Red Sea region is a hidden gem for Americans making the rounds in Europe. The beachside destination is about to open the Ramon International Airport later this month offering nonstop flights from Europe, and several luxury resorts have opened there in recent months. And now, for the first time, the sparkling city landed on The New York Times' annual list of 52 places to visit – sixth on the list to be precise.

The Times lauded Eilat's "prismatic waters" and a breathtaking coral reef "with hundreds of varieties of neon fish, sharks and stingrays." So for anyone planning to travel through this newly accessible Red Sea paradise, we’ve put together a little guide to show you what you can expect from Eilat.

Winter sun

Eilat A Marine park observatory with hundreds of thousands visitors annually allows to explore wonders of Red Sea from close up. (Photo: Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock)

Eilat is blessed weather-wise: rain is rare, sunshine is near constant and wind is minimal. Even in winter, most days are warm and sunny. Though Eilat is primarily a beach destination with many large full-service beachside hotels such as Herods Palace and Dan Eilat catering to those who want to while away a week on the sand, it also puts visitors within reach of several fascinating nature sites. A national park and an underwater nature reserve are all accessible from here.

Scuba diving

Diver in Red Sea coral reefA visitor goes for a dive in the Red Sea, a diverse ecosystem. (Photo: Elisei Shafer/Shutterstock)

The Red Sea, just below the city of Eilat, is home to Israel’s only coral reef. Supremely calm conditions make this a prime spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Beneath the surface is a psychedelic garden of coral thronged with fish, underwater anemones and other creatures that run a spectrum of colors, bearing unusual sheens, patterns and textures. Dive companies like Aqua Sport will bring first-time divers out for an introductory session in the company of an instructor, allowing even novices to get below the surface. Certified divers can take their pick from a range of options: embark on daily shore dives to nearby reefs, wrecks and walls, or take a boat trip to nearby ports. If the thought of descending that far makes you nervous, try snorkeling instead. Trip Advisor reviewers who snorkeled in the region praise the corals as “amazing” and note how tropical fish can be seen even in the shallows.

Hiking

Mushroom rock in Timna Park The "mushroom rock" is a hoodoo that's been formed over millions of years. (Photo: Sergei25/Shutterstock)

The hiking routes around Eilat are well worth exploring. “If you want to really experience and understand Israel, you should take to the trails,” recommends Shmuel Browns, a licensed Israel tour guide. “Depending on your direction, Eilat is the start or end of the Israel National Trail, a 620-mile trail that runs the length and breadth of Israel. Walking for a number of hours through a narrow canyon, climbing a ridge or mountain for a 360-degree view of your surroundings and watching the changing forms of the sandstone cliffs as you hike by is a different experience than driving up to a site by car.” If several days is too much time to devote, try a day trip to Timna Park instead. Its vast open landscape – an otherworldly vision of strange rock formations – sticks in visitor’s heads. Look for “the mushroom,” a huge boulder standing atop a column – resembling the vegetable from which it takes its name.

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Pack your bags and escape to this beachside destination
The coastal city of Eilat draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year from all around the world.