Eilat, located at the very southern tip of Israel, can be reached by air and also by road through the Negev desert. The straight drive will take around 4-5 hours from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The distance is not huge (300-350 Km), but, the main roads are not great and there is a fair number of trucks on the roads resulting in a slower drive.
Caution is urged on these roads both from a speed trap and safe driving perspective – desert driving can be very monotonous so watch your speed and stay alert.
The desert is full of exciting things to see so it often makes sense to turn the journey into a full day or even two day trip if time allows.
Here are some of our recommendations of things to do on the way to or from Eilat. (It depends a little on whether your endpoint is Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and how much doubling back you are willing to do and how much time you have).
- Qumran – The ancient village where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written and found 2000 years later.
- The Dead Sea – stop to enjoy the views over the lowest point on earth and to float in the extremely buoyant salt waters.
- Ein Gedi – A genuine desert oasis and some easy and moderate hikes in the area
- Masada – The desert stronghold that withstood the Roman Empire for 3 years after the fall of Jerusalem and sacking of the Temple
- Lot’s Wife – An unusual rock form near Sodom – named after the story in Genesis where Lot and his family were saved when Sodom and Gemorrah were destroyed. Lot’s wife disobeyed instructions and looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.
- The Ramon Craters (Makhtesh Ramon) – A set of craters caused by massive geological erosion – an almost unique phenomena. You can learn about them and have an amazing view at the lookout point in Mitzpe Ramon. See also Ramon NP
- Sede Boker – Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister) was a visionary who believed in making the desert bloom. He lived in and retired to Sede Boker. You can visit his simple kibbutz hut now turned into a museum and heritage center. He and his wife are buried a short distance away. And there is an outstanding view of the desert from that point. See also Sede Boker NP
- Ein Avdat – Nahal Zin – Near Ben Gurion’s burial site – a tremendous wadi (dry river bed in the desert.) Some amazing hikes and natural wonders.
- Timna Park – King Solomon Mines – located 25 kilometers north of Eilat.
- Amudei Amram & Shchoret Canyon / Mountain – Two of our favorite desert hikes located just north of Eilat.
- Flash Floods – A seasonal attraction – but pay attention to road closures – they can be lethal. Treat these huge sheets of flowing water with the respect they deserve and heed signs and police instructions.
- Red Canyon – Hiking is one of the coolest things to do in and around Eilat and there are so many great and beautiful places there to launch your hiking journey. One of them is the Red Canyon in Eilat Mountains, which is a 20-minute drive from Eilat’s city proper. It offers strikingly beautiful yet surprisingly accessible hiking trails. There are some trails (short and well-marked) that are ideal for family hiking; other trails are more challenging, begging the bravest and most adventurous hikers to explore.
- Hit the beach – Eilat is also home to several of the most stunning beaches in Israel. If you want to take a break from all the hikes and just want to swim, relax and work on your tan, you will find no shortage of beaches in Eilat. Some beaches are connected to a hotel and resort and have facilities such as shades and lifeguards, while others are “wild beaches” – undeveloped, quiet, and remote.
- Dolphin Reef – Dive into the turquoise waters of the Red Sea and play with the friendly bottlenose dolphins — the clowns of the sea! The Dolphin Reef is also home to many colorful and beautiful corals, fshes and other marine inhabitants. Facilities near the Dolphin Reef also include guided scuba diving and snorkeling.
- Birdwatching – Eilat is also a popular destination for birdwatching. The International Birdwatching and Research Center in Eilat founded a birding park and sanctuary in 1990 with the purpose of monitoring and researching bird migrations. The park is open 24/7 for people who are interested in birds, bird migration and birdwatching. Guided birdwatching tours are also available in the park.