Soon flights will start landing in the new Ramon International Airport, which is situated about 20 km north of Eilat. Until then, flights are still landing in Ovda Airport, 60 km away from Eilat, which only makes it a little bit longer to reach the sunny city at the southern tip of Israel.
Eilat lies between the colorful mountains, the flat yellow Arava and the beautiful turquoise Red Sea. I’ve spent much of my childhood in Eilat and still visit the area once in a while, so I can assure you, there’s lots to see there! If you only have 3-5 days and want to experience the Israeli desert and the sunny city of Eilat, here are some travel ideas which could help you plan your trip.
(Almost) Only Hiking
Planning to come on the tightest budget and to hike through the beautiful landscapes of the Eilat Mountains and Arava? Make sure to come with a good tent, sturdy hiking shoes, a sunhat, sunscreen and enough water (at least 3 liters a day in winter and at least 5 liters a day in summer). And do not attempt to hike after rainfall, because there’s a flood hazard. Here is my suggestion for a few days of hiking and having a fun time in Eilat and the area:
Day 1: Hike from Eilat Field School to Mount Yoash
Wake up early and start the first part of the Israel Trail – or the last part depending on how you look at it – from Eilat Field School to Mount Yoash. Expect a long hike through the beautiful Eilat mountains, around 8 hours of hiking, about 14 km. Before you start hiking, read more about this trail in my post: Hiking in the Eilat Mountains: From Mount Yoash to Mount Zefahot. It shows the trail if coming from the opposite side, but it still gives you the overall feel.
At the end of the trail, you can set up your tent at the Mount Yehoram Campground. There are no facilities in the campground, so you should make sure you have enough food and water for the night and the next day. There’s an option of paying for someone to bring you water to the campground or for someone to hide water for you in advance. Check out the list of water caching service providers here.
Day 2: Explore the Red Canyon
Wake up early, before sunrise, and climb up Mount Yoash, which is a very short walk from Mount Yehoram Campground. From the top of the mountain, you can see a beautiful view of the Red Sea, the mountains of the area, Jordan, Egypt and even a bit of Saudi Arabia, and the view is even more magical at sunrise. It should take you around one hour to climb up and down. If you want, you can pack something to eat on top of the mountain.
Afterward, you can start your way to the Red Canyon. You can try hitchhiking, but there are times when this road is quite empty. It takes about 3 hours to hike along the road to the Red Canyon. Please be careful and don’t walk in the middle of the road! You can read my post: Hiking Around Eilat – Beautiful Red Canyon for all the details.
After hiking the Red Canyon, you can catch bus number 392 back to Eilat (not on Shabbat). Last bus leaves around 7:30 PM, so make sure not to miss it. If you do miss it, you can camp near at the Red Canyon Campground. If you get to Eilat this day, you can set your tent on one of the southern beaches or in the Eilat Field School (at a cost). Read more about camping options in the area in my post: Camping Sites in and Around Eilat.
Day 3: Discover the Underwater World
This day is meant for a bit of relaxation, away from the mountains and into the underwater world. If you chose to camp in the southern beaches area, then you can wake up and walk to the Coral Beach Reserve, which is situated right in front of the Eilat Field School. It’s a lovely beach, where you can rent a mask and a snorkel (ID needed) and snorkel above the most northern coral reef in the world! The entrance is at a fee (35 ILS per person), as the place belongs to the INPA, but it’s worth the price. You can easily spend there around 3-4 hours.
Watch a bit about coral reef conservation in Eilat by GoEco:
Afterwards, you can sit down and relax on one of the nearby beaches, such as the Migdalor Beach or the Village Beach, or you can take a bus (number 15 or 16) to one of the more northern beaches. One of the most popular beaches in Eilat is Mosh’s Beach. It’s also one of the southern beaches, but is much nearer to the city center, north to the Eilat Port. The service on Mosh’s Beach is perfect, the music is fun and there’s a lot of food and drink options. You can relax here for the rest of the afternoon.
Day 4: Hike Through the Arava to Schoret Canyon
This day will have the longest hike, around 18 km. Unlike day number 1, you won’t have to climb up and down mountains, but you’ll still have to walk this long distance on a trail that has no piece of shade along it, so get ready for it, pack enough water and snacks, and wake up as early as you can. If you’re coming from the southern beaches area, you can wait for the first bus to the starting point, bus number 16. It leaves the Eilat Field School area around 9:00 AM and gets to the Ice Mall around 20 minutes later. From there, you can begin the hike along the Arava towards Schoret Canyon, passing by a number of interesting points along the way. You can read more about this hike in my post: Birds, Agriculture and Ancient Wells Just Outside Eilat.
After visiting the Flamingo Pools, you can hike back to the path junction that led to the pools and turn towards road number 90. You’ll have to cross the road to the other side to get to Schoret Canyon. Lately, they’ve put a road barrier in between the two lanes, so please cross very carefully and make sure there’s no car coming your way. This is under your responsibility! After crossing the road, continue according to the signage until you reach Schoret Canyon Campground. There, you can set up your tent. The campground is without any facilities, so make sure to pack enough water for the day and the day afterwards.
Day 5: Schoret Canyon and Back Home
On the fifth and final day, you can take a hike in beautiful Schoret Canyon (the Black Canyon). There are some really nice lookouts along the way, as well as an interesting ancient leopard’s trap. From the Schoret Canyon Campground continue on the green-marked trail until you enter the canyon. This is also part of the Israel Trail, so you might see the orange-blue-white marking on some stones as well. After about 1.2 km you will get to a fork in the trail. Choose the red-marked trail. After an easy climb and about 1.5 km, you’ll get a point where the red trail meets a black trail. Turn right on the black-marked trail and continue along it until you get back to the campground. It’s an easy and very nice trail, that is about 4 km long and takes about 2-4 hours to complete.
*If you want, you can make your hike longer by hiking to Amram Pillars and back. Instead of turning right on the black-marked trail, turn left and hike about 4 km until you reach a trail junction. Continue straight on the red-marked trail until you reach the blue-marked trail. Turn right and follow the signs to Amram Pillars. Those pillars are a beautiful example of erosion in the desert and are very similar to the Solomon Pillars in Timna Park.
After the hike, you can continue hiking back to road number 90 on the same trail you hiked yesterday. If you want to catch a bus, you’ll need to walk a bit further south from the place where the road to the Canyon meets road number 90. Walk about 4 km south to Schoret Industrial Area (in Hebrew: אזור תעשיה שחורת) and try to catch any bus driving south. That will take you to Eilat and from there you can catch a bus to Ovda Airport. If you want to get to Ramon International Airport (still not open for international flights at the time of writing – February 2019), then you can walk to Schoret Industrial Area and try to catch a bus driving to the north. The airport is just one stop afterward, but it’s an 11 km walk from the Schoret road junction.
Another option is to hike along the Israel Trail throughout your 4-5 days.
With a Rented Car
With a rented car you can make the most out of your trip but at a bit higher cost. Renting a car can cost around 100 ILS per day, not including fuel costs. Two of the major car rental companies in Israel are Shlomo Sixt and Cal Auto. Check out this deal for a better price. The roads are very easy to navigate and most are paved.
Let’s say your starting point is Eilat. I recommend you use a navigation app like Google Maps or Waze.
Day 1: Explore Timna Park and its Surroundings
Drive from Eilat to Timna Park, 30 km north of Eilat. It is open from 8:00 AM, so it would be best to come as early as possible to avoid the warmer hours. There is no shade in Timna Park. The entrance fee is around 50 ILS.
You can either drive between the different sites with your car or rent a bike from the entrance to the park or from the park’s shop near the artificial lake and ride along 14 km of bike trails that have been marked throughout the park.
Highlights of the park include Solomon’s Pillars and Hathor’s Temple, the Arches Site and Ancient Mined (the most ancient copper mines in the world!), and the Mushroom, a unique formation in the red sandstone.
You can easily spend here the entire morning. You can eat lunch near the park’s lake (either buy food from the park’s restaurant or bring your own) and then move on to Elifaz, the kibbutz that is situated right beside Timna Park. In the kibbutz plantation, you can taste different types of vegetables grown in the Arava (if the season permits). The entrance to the plantation costs 30 ILS per person. For more info about Elifaz’s plantation and how to get there, you can call the kibbutz at: 08-6356230 (You’ll need to add the international dial code +972 if you’re not calling from an Israeli number).
Then, you can continue northwards. If you have time and are interested, you can pay a short visit to Samar Dunes (near Kibbutz Samar), which are one of the last remaining sand dunes in the Arava. Run up the majestic dune and roll your way down, or bring with you something to slide on!
You can stay the night at one of the kibbutzim in the area. I recommend Kibbutz Lotan, an eco-friendly Jewish settlement, that is one of the leading places in the world in the natural building field. You might get a chance to sleep in one of their cool natural buildings! They also have a nice tour in their eco-park, which takes place every day at 9:00 AM. Talk with them on the phone +972-54-9799030 or by email [email protected].
Get a glimpse of Kibbutz Lotan in this video by Kibbutz Lotan:
This day is also possible without a car (by public transportation):
You can get on any bus driving to the north along road number 90 from the Central Bus Station in Eilat and ask the driver to stop at Elifaz/ Timna Park Junction (in Hebrew: אליפז/ פארק תמנע). The bus ride should cost around 14 ILS. From the junction, you can continue by foot to Timna Park and pay the entrance fee (around 50 ILS). I recommend you rent a bike from the visitor center at the entrance and paddle along the many bike trails in the park. A regular bike rental will cost you 60 ILS for half a day, and an electric bike rental will cost you 85 ILS for 4 hours.
At the end of the day, you can choose to camp inside the park. If you bring your own tent, you’ll pay about 104 ILS (the park admission price included). If you prefer something fancier, you can use one of the park’s tents at a higher price. Email the park for more info and reservations: [email protected].
You can also take a bus to Kibbutz Lotan and stay the night there as suggested in the rented-car option. The kibbutz can arrange a lift from the junction to the kibbutz itself.
Day 2: Discover the Beaches and Underwater World of Eilat
On your second day, wake up and make your way to Eilat (if you want to take a tour of Lotan’s eco-park, you can do it in the morning).
I recommend starting your day early in the Coral Beach Reserve, where you can snorkel above the beautiful reef. You will need to put an ID at the reception to be able to use the site’s snorkel and mask. If you want to see the underwater world much more clearly, you can visit the Underwater Observatory Park, though it is super pricey (about 100 ILS!) If you do want to visit the observatory, you should definitely book the tickets in advance through their site, as it is a bit cheaper there.
After enjoying your time under the water, you can sit down and relax on one of Eilat’s beaches. As I’ve already mentioned, Mosh’s Beach is one of the best.
In the evening you can do some pub crawling around the different night venues of Eilat. My favorites are Mike’s Place, Paddy’s Irish Pub, and Bears Pub. Some would also recommend the legendary Three Monkeys Bar, but I find it too noisy.
If you prefer something a bit different, on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings there’s also a nice musical fountain show in the park behind the Eilat Museum.
If you aren’t interested in camping, you can check out the Arava Hostel, which was recommended to me by some people. There’s also the Shelter Hostel, which is more Christian-oriented but also recommended.
This day is also possible without a car (by public transportation):
Use bus number 15 or 16 to get to the Coral Beach Reserve and to the more southern beaches.
Day 3: Drive Through the Eilat Mountains
On the third day, set out early in the morning to the Eilat Mountains, one of the most beautiful geological areas in Israel and the surroundings. At the time of the formation of the Great Rift Valley, secondary rifts were also formed horizontal to the Great one. Those rifts made it possible for us to see many types of rocks each beside the other, which makes the Eilat Mountains so colorful. Some of the darker rocks you see are about 500 million years old! Road number 12, which makes its way through the Eilat Mountains, is one of the most amazing drives in the area. It winds between the different mountains and valleys as it stretches beside the border with Egypt.
Drive about 8 km from the beginning of road 12 and you’ll see to your left a little mountain with an antenna on top of it – that’s Mount Yoash. You can stop in the dirt parking lot and climb up to the top of Mount Yoash to enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, of the Egyptian territory to the south, and of the enchanting Red Sea to the east. If you don’t have problems waking up really early, I recommend you try to come here at sunrise. The sunrise is amazing from Mount Yoash. The climb up and down takes about an hour (if you stop to appreciate the view from atop).
There are mainly trails in the area, which you can see are marked by signs along the way. The most popular trail is the Red Canyon, so after Mount Yoash I’ll recommend you return to your car and continue through the mountains another 11 km or so until you see the turn to the Red Canyon (in Hebrew: הקניון האדום). You’ll need to drive a few minutes on a dirt road that is quite bumpy, so be aware of that, especially because you’re using a rented car. Drive slowly and carefully. When you’ll get to the end of the road, you can start the hike. Read more about it here: Hiking Around Eilat – Beautiful Red Canyon. It shouldn’t take you more than two hours.
Continue along road number 12. You’ll reach the Ovda Valley, where Ovda Airport is located. If you want to see one of the most interesting archeologic finds in the area, you can turn right about 45 km from the Red Canyon towards a site called the Leopards’ Temple. It’s an ancient open-air temple, with rocks that are arranged in the shape of leopards on the ground.
From the Leopards’ Temple, you can continue about 5 km to the road junction with road number 40. There’s a nice mini-restaurant on this junction, called Pundak Neot Semadar. The menu includes vegetarian options, including shakshuka, different kinds of toasts, humus, tahini and salads. You can eat here lunch.
Then, continue about 8 km east on road number 40 until you see a brown sign indicating right towards Mount Ayit. This is another lookout, but this time over the Arava and the Edom Mountains (which are on the Jordanian side). You can see some of the settlements down below, including Lotan and Grofit.
After the lookout, you can continue on your way back to Eilat (or to Ramon Airport if your flight is leaving from there). If you’re coming back to Eilat for the night, you can make a quick stop at the Bird-Watching Park that’s near the Arava Border Crossing (Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing). If you’re traveling in the bird migration season in the spring, you might be able to see some birds before sunset. The entrance to the park is free of charge.
Part of this day is also possible without a car (by public transportation):
It would be difficult to make the full circuit with a bus, but you can definitely catch bus number 392 from the Central Bus Station in Eilat to the Red Canyon. Ask the driver to stop for you at the Red Canyon junction. From there, you’ll need to hike a short way on the dirt road to the beginning of the trail. Make sure to ask the driver where and when you should wait for the next bus back to Eilat.
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Wishing you a wonderful time in Eilat and its surroundings!
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