With 360 days of sunlight and 20 beaches, Israel’s resort city of Eilat offers an array of adventures—from snorkelling with wild dolphins and kayaking on the Red Sea to hiking in the Red Canyon. By Khursheed Dinshaw
Take one step at a time to the left till you reach the ladder,” said my guide Efraim Katzir. I was gingerly perched on the thin edge of a protruding rock. A few careful steps later, I made it down the ladder of metal rungs firmly fastened to the rock. As we walked on the dry, meandering riverbed of River Nahal Shani, steep rocks formed 30-metre-tall walls on both sides. The further we hiked, the narrower the trail became, with the rocks closing in on us to a point where the route was just one-metre wide. When the sunlight hit the reddish rocks, it was clear why they called this place the Red Canyon.
My outing had begun in the resort city of Eilat, located 20 minutes away on the southern tip of Israel. The first part of the hike featured an innocuous-looking straight dirt road peppered with gravel and pebbles. This path led us to a surreal trail marked by red sandstone typical to the region. The Red Canyon is primarily made up of Nubian sandstone, which gets its rosy hue from iron compounds. A few shrubs growing on the otherwise barren land presumably provided food for the fauna in the area. The vegetation was the kind that can survive for a long time without rain—retama bushes and saltbushes, acaciaraddiana and ochradenus baccatus. Noticing my curiosity, Katzir explained, “Saltbush can adapt to the weather here by throwing out surplus salt while the minute hair on its leaves acts as a shield against strong sunlight.” The regularly spotted fauna at the Red Canyon includes Nubian ibex, red fox, rock hyrax, birds like hooded wheatear and sand partridge, and lizards like the Sinai agama and ornate mastigure. The partridges are difficult to spot since they blend so well with the landscape, but you can hear them loud and clear. The Red Canyon offers two trails for hiking. Though both are circular, the shorter one takes an hour and the longer one about thrice as long. Maps are provided, and there are plenty of hikers along the way to keep you company.
After the trying hike, I opted to cool down by observing marine life at the Underwater Observatory Marine Park (coralworld.co.il). Eilat is a port on the Gulf of Aqaba and Israel’s only outlet to the Red Sea. The marine park makes full use of this strategic location. It is divided into different zones: The Underwater Observatory Tower lets you see hundreds of species of fish and coral in their natural habitat in the Red Sea; the Rare Fish Aquarium allows you to feed rarely seen marine life, and the Turtle Pool and Shark Pool offer an intimate peek into the lives of these elusive creatures.
At The Underwater Observatory Tower, I enjoyed a diver’s vantage point by merely walking down the stairs to six metres below the sea level. Since this observatory is situated in the midst of the reef, it lets you see natural life take its course with players like corals, varied fish, sharks, stingrays, and turtles of the Gulf of Eilat. Among the many wonders, I spotted Arabian pinfish, flashlight fish, spotted eagle ray, live sharksucker, Red Sea needlefish, amberjack, flowerpot coral and blacktip reef shark through the glass windows.
Wanting to get closer to the marine life, we drove to Dolphin Reef, where one can snorkel or dive with dolphins in their natural habitat. The reef on the bank of the Red Sea is home to a school of four bottlenose dolphins—one male and three females. Neo is the 14-year-old male, while Nana is the eldest female at 24 years old. These are not captive dolphins and have access to the open sea. Once you don a wetsuit and collect your snorkelling gear, an instructor takes you through a set of instructions. There is one guide for three people during the 30 minutes that you are in the water. During this human-dolphin experience, tourists cannot touch the dolphins. There are ample tropical fish and corals to look at as well. If you are confident enough, scuba diving is also offered at Dolphin Reef. If you don’t want to snorkel or scuba dive, you can head to the floating pier to see the antics of these second-generation dolphins whose parents were brought to the reef from Russia.
The next day, we opted for another outing on the Red Sea. A short drive from our hotel, Leonardo Plaza Hotel Eilat, got us to Kisuski Water Sports (kisuski.co.il). Buttoning up life jackets, we hopped onto a six-seater motorboat with reggae thumping through the speakers. The military port offered us a glimpse of a docked naval ship, while the industrial port held a huge shipment of cars neatly lined up. “These are mostly shipped from Asian countries,” Katzir said of the automobiles. We glided past a sole Israeli enjoying stand-up paddleboarding in the sunny weather and admired the strength and skill of a trio of windsurfers. Kayaking, parasailing, banana boats, boat tubes, and jet skis added to the myriad options available. The adventures were just beginning.
Air India (airindia.in) flies to Ben Gurion Airport from India. The airport is about 20 kilometres from Tel Aviv and 50 kilometres from Jerusalem. A cab can be hired from either city to reach Eilat.
Leonardo Plaza Hotel Eilat of the Fattal Hotel Chain is a luxury hotel conveniently located on the banks of the Red Sea. There is a beach in front of the hotel. leonardo-hotels.com