Many do not immediately realize that the small state of Israel has access to two seas, namely the Mediterranean, on which the metropolis of Tel Aviv is located, and the Red Sea, on which Eilat is located. The southernmost tip of Israel is an extremely interesting place, which in direct comparison with the high-priced city of Tel Aviv is even cheap for Israeli standards.
Behind this is that the area around the city of Eilat is a special tax zone. There is no VAT to promote tourism. As a result, the region is also a popular holiday and shopping destination within the country. The savings compared to a shopping tour in Tel Aviv are sometimes exorbitantly high. Israel is not a country where everything is super cheap. The opposite is the case, because the price level in this small state is high. Eilat is probably the cheapest nationwide.
The city on the Red Sea is by no means traditional, but rather heavily influenced by tourism. Although there are some older buildings in the old town, hotels, restaurants and shops aimed at tourists tend to dominate the cityscape. This is especially true for the waterfront, where hotels, shops, restaurants and shopping centers are built close together. It is much more comfortable outside the city of Eilat, where, for example, the Dolphin Reef is a unique place waiting for visitors.
You can get everywhere cheaply by bus
The public bus network is not only extremely well developed, it also runs on the Sabbath, unlike in Tel Aviv. So travelers don't have to worry from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, because the buses run according to the timetable. Most hotels can be reached easily and without changing from Eilat-Ramon Airport by bus. The fare is 4,20 shekels and can be paid in cash to the bus driver. It's cheaper with the Rav-Kav-Card. This can be bought and topped up in the public area of Ramon Airport. It is a prepaid card that is accepted by almost all public transport in Israel. Top-ups can be made at public transport operators at machines or counters, in many shops or at almost any ATM. Also, not every passenger needs such a card, but a single one is sufficient and simply tell the bus driver how many tickets are needed. The main advantage is that a bonus is added with every top-up, and so the price per ticket arithmetically reduced. Be sure to keep the card as it can be used again on your next visit to Israel.
Almost all tourist-relevant destinations can be reached by public transport for 4,20 shekels per direction and person. The lettering of the buses and the announcements are also in English. The drivers speak this language extremely well and are friendly and helpful, so that normally no taxi is needed at all. On top of that, Eilat is not particularly big, so the duration of the bus trips - also to and from Ramon Airport - is rather short.
Eilat invites you to go shopping
Within the urban area there are mainly attractions that are typically touristic. The Eilat Stone Factory, world-famous for its special stones, is no exception. Everything is very much geared towards selling, but nobody is pushy in this country. No pressure is exerted and salespeople often only make an effort when the customer clearly shows interest. The stones are very expensive, but a special souvenir of their stay in Eilat, especially for women. Unfortunately, cheaper “Eilat Stones” are also being sold at various stalls. A certain mistrust is required here, because the plastic is often appropriately varnished.
In the vicinity of the former Eilat-Hozman city airport, there are several shopping centers and access to the waterfront. Many shops, including stores of world-famous labels, are located here. This area of the city of Eilat is ideal for a shopping spree. Many restaurants and cafes also invite you to eat. Many locations make the gastronomy particularly attractive for a nice dinner. The price level is a little above that in Germany and Austria, but significantly below that of Tel Aviv. There are also public bathing beaches in the city of Eilat, which are monitored by the police, among others. Loungers and umbrellas can be rented at reasonable prices.
In view of the sometimes extremely high temperatures that are part of everyday life in this region of Israel in summer, the “Ice Mall” seems a little extravagant. Right in the middle of a multi-storey shopping center is a large ice rink, on which ice hockey games are sometimes played. The shops in the shopping center are not exactly screaming, but the flair is unique and the fact that there is an ice rink in the desert is definitely worth a visit and a few photos. By the way: As a rule, there are security checks in Israel before entering shopping centers, which are very reminiscent of airports.
Experience dolphins up close in a natural environment
If you take the bus towards the Taba border crossing (Egypt) and get off at the “Dolphin Reef” station, you will reach an absolutely fascinating place. And first of all: Yes, there are dolphins living there that live in the Red Sea and can come and go when they want. The animals feel very comfortable in their reef and are descendants of former Soviet military dolphins. During the Cold War, the Soviets tried seriously to train the marine mammals to be minesweepers. A private initiative brought the animals to Israel and gave them a new home in the Red Sea. In the meantime, a small family has emerged from this and the offspring remain extremely loyal to the place. With a lot of luck you can even see a female raise or even experience a calf. But the dolphins themselves decide whether and when the young are born.
The Dolphin Reef is not a dolphinarium and certainly not a dolphin show. The absolute highlight is that they get a few fish a few times a day, but the rest of their food they hunt for themselves. The marine mammals are extremely curious and if they are in the mood they interact with the visitors and show them tricks or make a lot of fun by making someone wet with a targeted jump. The animals can, however, be observed very close to nature and decide for themselves whether they pay attention to the visitor or simply swim their lanes and look for food or even provide for offspring. The animals must not be touched and that is a good thing, because dolphins can seek contact with people and then you can get close to them. But the predators are unpredictable and sensitive to being forced upon them. The natural instinct then simply tells the animals that in theory it could be a hazard. This is especially true for females who are currently raising a young animal. The Dolphin Reef is primarily a research station that finances its work by providing tourists with a wonderful place to swim and linger and also various observation activities (snorkeling and diving) with the dolphins can be booked. Here, too, the focus is on observing the animals, because if they are looking for contact, they come incredibly close by themselves and if they no longer want to, they just swim away. The zoo keepers and researchers expressly forbid proactively approaching the predatory mammals, because they could interpret this as a danger and it is common knowledge that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures, but they are predators and can react brutally and brutally when they do feeling threatened or just in a bad mood.
Even without a snorkeling or diving excursion, a day at Dolphin Reef is an unforgettable experience, because the animals can be observed in a unique environment in the Red Sea. For example, if you sit on the jetty for a long time, it can very well be that one or more of the intelligent marine mammals become curious and just swim to you to look. It can happen that they straighten up, lift their head vertically out of the water and try to interact with you. Can be very good and the chances are very good. Those who are not so patient can also watch the feeding. However, the animals generally do not show any unnatural feats. But that doesn't prevent them from playing in a natural way and from doing one or the other nonsense. By the way, the zoo keepers are extremely informative, so that after a long conversation you can tell the difference between males and females, know which dolphins are a couple, who may be pregnant and what the animals like and what they don't like at all.
There are also an enormous number of birds on site that roam freely in the area and the large animals are not afraid, but rather come by for a visit from time to time. Feeding is forbidden, but the birds don't know that. As in the entire city of Eilat, there are also many cats, some of them extremely intrusive. By the way, chairs and umbrellas are included in the entrance fee at Dolphin Reef, so there is also a nice beach for swimming. Food and drinks are also available at fair prices. Private areas can also be reserved in advance.
Entry to Dolphin Reef costs 69 shekels and is valid for two visits. That means that you can come on two different days and admire the dolphins or just spend a nice day at the booth at a great location. A reservation is not required, as admission can simply be paid for at the cash desk by credit card or in cash. But if you want to have a private area or take part in a diving or snorkeling tour with the dolphins, you have to reserve in advance. If you choose to do so, admission is already included in the package.
Insight into life in the Red Sea
If you drive a few bus stops after Dolphin Reef, you can visit a camel ranch at the “Camel Ranch” station. This could be a nice experience, especially for children. But a few stops further is the Eilat Underwater Observatory. It is a large aquarium that is divided into several buildings. The absolute highlight is a kind of tower that is built into the depths of the sea and offers an incredibly exciting view of the natural conditions in the reef through glass panes. A possibly unique experience that could be remembered.
However, there are some negative sides to this attraction, because first and foremost it is really overcrowded, so that you feel pushed through the individual stations. There is really a lot to see, because special sharks, rays and rare or unusual fish and other sea creatures are simply fascinating. In some places, for example in the turtle enclosure, the question arises very quickly whether the small tanks are a bit too small in view of the size of the reptiles and the number of them. The huge turtles obviously don't have a lot of space, even though the species is considered to be extremely agile and, by the way, also biting. The latter is expressly warned on signs in various languages.
The Underwater Observatory should definitely be visited in the off-season, because only then can you really take in the beautiful aquariums and the underwater observatory. However, it is questionable whether this place is really right for very young children. It is certainly an experience, but they cannot do much with the animals either. From a certain age, however, the children will definitely take lasting and great impressions home with them.
Admission to the Underwater Observatory is by no means cheap at 89 shekels (around 22 euros) per adult. Therefore, you should carefully consider whether you want to visit this overcrowded place in the high season. In the off-season, however, you will have a lot of peace and quiet and exciting experiences. Tickets are available online as well as traditionally at the cash desk for cash or card payment. Food and drinks can also be bought on site, but unfortunately not very cheaply.
Trips to neighboring cities are very expensive
Eilat borders directly on Egypt and Jordan. Actually, it is only a stone's throw away that can also be done cheaply by bus. But crossing the border is not only extremely time-consuming, it is also exorbitantly expensive. Israel levies an exit tax, Egypt and Jordan collect for entry and then again for exit. At least Israel does not ask to pay again when it crosses the border again. It is cheaper to Taba (Egypt) than to Jordan, but you also have to face reality: Taba has pretty much nothing to offer and is an extremely run-down seaside resort. The highlight here is a very small market with a bus station and that's it again. For historical reasons, this small village, which urgently needs a general renovation, also has its own international airport with a very long runway. Some tour operators offer charter flights there. The conclusion: A trip to Taba is definitely not worth it, unless you are into the most meticulous border controls, for which you also have to pay a lot of money, and a run-down village. Caution: Egypt stamps the passports and many states that are not on the best of terms with Israel know exactly where Taba is and can then refuse entry. It is also to be expected that before departure in Eilat-Ramon a lot of questions will be asked about what was actually done in Taba.
Akaba is Eilat's neighboring city in Jordan and a beautiful seaside resort. The costs of being able to enter Jordan and then leave again are really exorbitantly high. It makes a lot more sense to take a separate flight to Aqaba, because that not only saves a lot of money, but also paid and sometimes harassing checks by border officials from both countries. Here, too, is very strictly controlled, subjectively even a little stricter than in the direction of Taba. Here, too, you have to be careful with passports: Jordan stamps them and you have exactly the same problem with countries that are not well-disposed towards Israel. Entry can be refused. If you have been to Jordan, many questions about your stay at Eilat-Ramon Airport are asked before departure. Akaba is otherwise a very beautiful town that has a lot to offer. However, it makes much more sense to travel there on your own. The borders from Israel to Egypt or Jordan are not like those from Germany to Austria or from Austria to Slovakia. High border fences guarded by soldiers also testify to this.
Impressive desert including canyons
Eilat is the southernmost tip of Israel and is surrounded by the Red Sea and the Negev Desert. This can be seen, for example, when taking the bus and is really very impressive. Walks are possible. Just leave the city and you are already in the middle of the desert. There are also guided tours that can be booked through agents, directly from the providers or via the hotel reception. There is something for almost every interest. If you want to do it on your own, you can simply get off at a bus stop and then explore the desert. Please always pack enough drinks.
The Red Canyon is a bit reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in the USA and is really an impressive experience. With the bus 392 this can be reached for 4,20 shekels. Alternatively, guided tours can also be booked. This is even highly recommended, because the most beautiful places can be visited with a guide. Here, too, you should definitely pack enough drinks, because the canyon is practically in the desert and it can get really hot, especially in summer.
The magnetic stripe has to work
In Israel, you can pay with Mastercard and Visa branded credit and debit cards almost everywhere. It is important that the magnetic stripe of the card works and is activated by the bank. In this country, payments are usually made using a “swipe” over the magnetic strip. The payment is confirmed with a signature, even if you would otherwise always pay with a PIN. European cards are programmed in such a way that the chip should be used primarily, and Mastercard and Visa in particular only allow the use of the stripe if NFC and chip are not possible. You should therefore definitely clarify the functionality of the magnetic strip with your bank, because you need this in Israel and also at the ATM.
Vpay and Maestro brand debit cards are rarely or not at all accepted in shops. This is because Vpay cannot do magnetic stripe transactions at all and many banks have blocked this at Maestro as well. The consequence of this is that you cannot pay with these cards and you will not get any money at many ATMs. It is therefore very important to bring a Visa or Mastercard debit or credit card with you. If you cannot do this, bring enough cash with you to exchange at an exchange office or bank. Your bank may charge an overseas fee for credit and debit cards. You have to ask yourself whether this is the case. Some credit institutions charge a fee, others do not.
Modern airport in the middle of the desert
After years of delay, the Eilat-Ramon-Airport was opened, a state-of-the-art airport. Alongside Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion, it is the small country's second international airport. This replaced the Eilat-Hozman city airport and the civil use of the Eilat-Ovda military airport. In Ramon you can find everything that belongs to an international airport and you can also enjoy great views of the apron through the glazing.
The security precautions are very strict. Every passenger has to go to a so-called interviewer before departure and is then classified. However, the questioning is absolutely harmless and the officers are extremely friendly and even explain every single step on request. But be prepared to answer many questions about passport stamps from Egypt, Jordan, Arab countries and Turkey. Simply answer honestly and then you will quickly have it behind you. Incidentally, it is not forbidden to ask the officer after the interview why he was interested in one or the other. This is explained quite openly, so it's a myth that there is a great deal of secrecy going on.
The classic security check is very meticulous, but drinks are allowed. This is allowed in Israel and it is also pointed out. The worst that can happen is that the officers ask to have a drink from the water bottle in front of their eyes. If you don't tip over or suddenly feel sick, you've passed the test.
In general, it is strongly recommended to be at Eilat-Ramon-Airport at least three hours before departure. This offers a lot of gastronomy that is not particularly expensive. Better to be early than late at the airport, because it can take a long time to pass the security check. In Ramon, unlike in Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion, the duty-free offer is classic. Refrigerators, televisions or washing machines are not sold here.
Eilat Airport is primarily offered as a winter destination by various airlines, including Wizzair, Ryanair and Lufthansa, from German-speaking countries. Due to the lavish subsidies that beckon per arriving passenger, the prices are often very low. So when the corona pandemic is over, a vacation in Eilat is certainly worth considering. Important: Non-stop flights from European airports to Eilat-Ramon are currently planned in the 2020/21 winter flight schedule, as the lifting of the entry ban for foreigners is not foreseeable. However, this can change at short notice.
More impressions in the slideshow: