We decided to visit Eilat during Hanukkah vacation. Hanukkah usually takes place in December. And when we told this to our family, some of our relatives were puzzled. Most people associate Eilat with swimming in the Red Sea and hanging on the beach. During winter, though you can swim, the water is quite cold. So, what can you do in Eilat during the winter? Read on, and you will find out.
But first, as a promo, take a look at a short video I created after this four-day trip:
Note: you can find additional travel ideas at my previous post named Three Days In Eilat And Surroundings.
Day 1 – The Road To Eilat
Driving to Eilat from the center takes around four hours. And we always add at least one stop on the way. Since we had a Hanukkah show for kids in the morning, we started driving to the South only in the afternoon. The result of late exit, the drive, and two stops was reaching Eilat in the evening. Meaning the first day was mostly dedicated to the road and attraction on the way. Where did we stop?
Tamar Observation Point
When driving on road #25, not far from Mamshit National Park, we stopped at Tamar Observation Point.
Map of the area:
The parking is on the right, near the police car.
Road #25 as it descends towards the Dead Sea.
From Tamar Observation Point you can see Eastern part of the Negev. At the North (from the viewpoint, not in the following photo), you can see evaporation pools of the Dead Sea. Near the border with Jordan, there are two moshavs, Ein Tamar and Neot Hakikar. People in these moshavs work mainly in agriculture and tourism. Fruits and vegetables that grow in these harsh conditions and salty land are known for their tasty flavors and exported worldwide. And the mountains in front of us are Moab and Edom Mountains in Jordan.
Within a half hour drive from Tamar Observation Point, we reached our next stop.
Crocoloco Crocodile Farm
Crocoloco Crocodile Farm (official site) is not an ordinary farm. They do not raise sheep or cows. Instead, they grow crocodiles.
Map of the area:
Ticket price was 30 NIS per person (cash only), and they are usually open from 9 am till 5 pm.
After buying the tickets, we were told that another family just arrived and the tour will start in ten minutes. So, meanwhile, we wandered around. The territory of the farm is rather small. There are two pools with crocodiles, a small building with baby crocodiles at different ages and this baobab tree 🙂
Then our tour started. In Crocoloco Crocodile Farm they grow Nile crocodiles. And this is the area of adults crocodiles.
Then we went to benches in a side area and received explanations about crocodiles. For example, did you know that crocodiles are very energy efficient? Yes, they are cold-blooded, but other factors affect energy expenditure as well. Crocodiles need 1/10 of the calories of a human. And the form of their skin is optimized for heat capture.
These are crocodile excrements. As you can see, they digested everything. There is no waste, and this is pure calcium.
Growing crocodiles is not apparent. But, as it turns out, other farms around the world raise crocodiles as well. The primary purpose of these farms is crocodile protection. As soon as there farms that grow crocodiles, hunting crocodiles in the wild lose economic incentive (hunting is more expansive then rising). This concept proved itself, and the number of hunted crocodiles decreased substantively over the last years. As to Crocoloco Crocodile Farm, so far they only loaned crocodiles to other zoos.
Though Crocoloco Crocodile Farm exists many years, they still have difficulties getting all needed permits from the authorities. Therefore, there is no running water and no toilets on site.
Crocodiles and turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination. Meaning the sex of the baby determined by the temperature the egg was exposed to. But temperature affects not only the gender. Crocodiles have several favorite positions depending on the temperature. When it is too hot, they are in the water. And when it is cooler, they are on land. And how much cooler affect whether they lay in the shade, under the sun, and with an open or closed mouth. Thus, another plus of visiting this place in the winter is that you will see them closeby on land.
The tour lasted about forty minutes and then we had an opportunity to ask questions afterward. Crocoloco Crocodile Farm is managed by a married couple, who spend their younger years in Africa and for almost twenty years operate this farm.
We enjoyed the tour. Learned many new things and got to pet a crocodile. The whole visit took a little more than an hour and then we continued to Eilat. We arrived at Eilat after 18, headed to a rented apartment and stayed there for the rest of the evening.
Day 2 – Red Canyon And Coral World Underwater Observatory
One of the reasons we did not go out the evening before was a fully packed second day. Our plan included starting Red Canyon trail at 8 am, since I wanted to get to Coral World Underwater Observatory by 11 and see shark feeding. So let’s begin!
Red Canyon At Eilat Mountains
After about 20 min drive from Eilat, we reached the Red Canyon parking.
Map of the area:
Shani stream, which originates at Egypt, undercuts colorful sandstone and creates the Red Canyon. When the volcanic granite rock erodes, the quartz in it survives mechanical wear and chemical decomposition. Sandstone is made of those same surviving quartz crystals, and its red color derives from the presence of iron compounds.
We did not have additional maps, and the marking of the trails is clear. So we decided to go with the green path until it meets the black way for the second time. Then, return using the black, green, and blue trails. Here we are on the green path looking back towards parking.
Inside The Canyon
The trail inside the narrow canyon is not long, and it took us about twenty minutes to pass it (this includes my photo and video stops). When you exit the narrow part of the canyon, you will signs (bottom left), that tell you to turn right. These signs lead you back using the black trail.
It seems that the Red Canyon is #instafamous. These youngsters were taking selfies frequently. And since there was about a dozen of them, jams were created. But, this gave me additional time to photograph 😉
Red Canyon Trail – Summary
Passing the Red Canyon Trail took us about one and a half hours. Though there were several ladders on the way, my daughter, who is in the first grade, had no difficulties in completing the track.
We enjoyed this route, and this is probably one of the most beautiful trails in Israel. Moreover, it is cyclic and not extended. Thus, families with children and less fit people can appreciate it as well.
Coral World Underwater Observatory
Coral World Underwater Observatory (official site) is probably the most well-known attraction in Eilat. Here is background information from the official website:
Eilat is blessed with the most amazing and unique coral reef in the world, with an underwater marine observatory situated in the heart of the reef. The park offers its visitors a rare opportunity to enter the natural and abundant marine kingdom of the Red Sea – an unforgettable experience for both young and old.
The park has a spectacular display (over 800 species) of fish, coral, sharks, mollusks, stingrays, turtles, and many other animals from the Gulf of Eilat. And, the most impressive place of all – the Underwater Marine Observatory, the only one of its kind in the world! The observatory is a tower situated in the middle of the sea, without any fences or cages, offering a rare view of the Red Sea, with its bright colors, tones, and the marine life in the Gulf of Eilat. The tower is comprised of two display halls. These halls are submerged at a depth of 12 meters under the sea, offering visitors a natural view of the coral reef’s spectacular beauty through huge plate glass windows.
Last time we visited the Underwater Observatory Marine Park was around five years ago, and since then the shark aquarium was significantly improved. Moreover, my daughter did not remember anything from our previous visit thus we decided to revisit this attraction.
Map of the area:
Tickets to Coral World are quite expensive. I have searched different sites, including various credit card clubs and have not found anything. The only discount I saw was around 10% off if you buy at the official website. After a while, I saw discounted tickets at htzone.co.il and grabbed them. I purchased regular entrance including Oceanarium show.
As I mentioned, I wanted to get to 11 o’clock shark feeding. We arrived at the entry fifteen minutes before. But, the lines were long (though it was December, i.e., off-season) and barely moving. Since I had pre-ordered tickets, I needed only to print them, but there are no self-service stands, and we had to wait.
It has been 40 years since the opening of the Underwater Observatory Marine Park in Eilat, and a new attraction has just been opened, following an investment of 26 million shekels: Shark World – the biggest shark pool of its kind in the Middle East, covering an area of 1000m2. It offers a rare opportunity and an exceptional experience to have the Red Sea sharks at your fingertips and get the feel of what it’s like to meet them.
The water pumped into the pool undergoes a complicated process as it is drawn up from a depth of 40 meters. The 575 square meters pool is 6 meters high, contains three million liters of water and is located right at the center of the complex.
Note: all quotes, unless stated otherwise, were taken from the official sites.
Sharks world has a glass corridor with fish around you. It seems very cool in promotional photographs, but here is how it looks in reality.
Here is the clearest shot I was able to get. So, if you want to make a similar photograph, come either at the opening or towards closure of the marine park.
At the second part of Sharks World, there were digital and regular stands with explanations. We skipped some of them since it was packed. And here are some interesting truths about sharks. The fact that sharks have no bones to break makes them sturdy and resistant to other predators and rough ocean storms.
Red Sea Reef
The Oceanarium is a huge simulator. In a spacious, air-conditioned hall containing 140 seats, a film is screened on three huge high-quality HD screens, and the visitor takes part in a journey through the depths of the Sea.
The visitors sit on sophisticated platforms that move in every direction following the movement of the film.
The Oceanarium movie lasted for 30 minutes and told the story of scientists who research and protect sharks. The film was in Hebrew. It is a regular movie (not 3D), and the platform you are sitting on is moving by the film. The movements are not swift and suitable for all (these are not roller coasters). Nonetheless, there are also several non-moving platforms.
The Underwater Observatory
Amazon And Rare Fish Aquarium
Inside the aquarium, there was a diver and an instructor outside. She gave brief explanations about sharks in Hebrew, English, and Russian.
Sharks in nature do not eat every day. But here, they are fed twice a day. Therefore, each time the divers give them small amounts of food. And since sharks are not hungry, they do not hunt and eat other fish. But if one the fish in the aquarium gets sick, sharks will attack it.
The guide told us a little about these turtles. The turtles were wounded and could not be returned to the sea. As it turns out, turtle’s favorite treat is jellyfish. Plastic bags in the water looks like jellyfish. Many turtles try to eat the bags and either die or get injured. Thus, the guide asked us never to leave plastic bags on the beaches and if you see some, then pick them up and throw them away.
Afterward, the turtles ate fish, and it was time to end the visit. We spent four and a half hours at Coral World Underwater Observatory and loved it. But, I should warn you that since I love animals, I am biased.
Evening Walk At Eilat Promenade
The promenade is quite dull, and there is not much you can do. We enjoyed the sea breeze, and we saw several small attractions, like carousels. Also, there were several street artists.
Shopping In Eilat
As you probably know Eilat is declared by law as free trade zone. Therefore there is reduced tax there. Theoretically, items should be around 17% cheaper, but practically this is not the case. From our experience, this is not the case. Some things were less expensive then in other cities in Israel, while others were more expensive.
My wife checked out some clothing and accessories stores on the promenade. Additionally, on another day she visited Mall Hayam and after both times was disappointed. She said the variety of items and shops was limited and the whole experience boring. And the prices are not old.
Day 3 – Sailing, Dolphin Reef, And Musical Fountain
Sailing On A Boat At The Red Sea
We had some time till our 11 o’clock sail, so we hanged out on Hananya Beach. As you can see by the water circles in the photo above, according to my daughter, hanging out is throwing stones into the water.
The cruise boat we took was not an ordinary one. It is a two level cruise boat with another level underwater. The underwater hall has many windows, and it allows you to see the coral reef and marine life.
The trip from Hananya Beach to coral reef took about 40 minutes. During this time, we heard some explanations about Eilat, the port, and other things. Also, the underwater space was closed all this time. Only when we reached the coral reef, near Coral World Underwater Observatory, the crew opened the sunken room, and we went down.
Cruise on a boat at the Red Sea – Summary
When we left the coral reef, the lower deck was closed, and we returned to the upper one. The ship has restrooms and a small cafe. Which might come in handy since the cruise took almost two hours.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience. Kids love such things, and you get to sit and relax for almost two hours. On the flip side, if your purpose is to see the coral reef, then you will be disappointed. Everybody I talk to say that thirty years ago the coral reef was in much better shape. Today, not much is left ( 🙁 ), and if your primary goal is to see corals and marine life then visit Coral World Underwater Observatory.
Also, this is not the only boat with glass floor/walls in Eilat. Several firms offer similar cruises.
After returning to Hananya Beach, we headed to Dolphin Reef (official site).
Map of the area:
Dolphin Reef – Rant Time
If you take a closer look at the map, then you will notice that this is a small part of the beach, where dolphins come to visit. There are no real free extra activities, and the entry prices are not low. Currently, it is 69 NIS per adult and 48 NIS per child. That is what bugs me about Dolphin Reef. You pay around 200 NIS per average family and get nothing. Nearby beaches are of the same quality, and they are free. Moreover, there is no chance a dolphin will swim near you since the area where people swim is separated from the sea by a fence (but there is such chance on when you swim on other beaches). And if you want to swim with the dolphins, you will have to pay extra.
It is not my first time to Dolphin Reef, and I knew that the dolphins could freely swim into the open sea, they are not tamed, and there are no shows. But, last time we witnessed a feeding, thus we asked a crew member about it. I was thinking there are some feeding hours, however, hence the dolphins swim and hunt freely in the sea there are no constant times. Dolphins are fed only when they ask. Therefore, if you want to see dolphins from up close, you might need to wait more than several hours.
We spent about one and a half hours on the beach and another hour at the decks trying to see a dolphin from a close distance. We were unlucky in doing so and about to leave. Just bore going we saw crew members coming with buckets of fish to feed the dolphins.
He told many interesting things about the Dolphin Reef and its inhabitants.
Questions And Answers
The Dolphin Reef started as a commercial project. Dolphins were brought, and this part of the sea was closed, essentially it was transformed into a big aquarium. Over time as public critic rose, nets were removed, and the dolphins gained free access to the sea.
Currently, there are four dolphins, three females and one male. All of them were born at the dolphin reef and the crew hopes for a new generation soon.
We asked about wild dolphins in this area, and as it turns out, they almost never come to visit. Our guide remembered only one instance when dolphins from the open sea came in here. There are two main reasons for that. First of all, dolphins swim in big packs. Thus they are looking for a lot of fish. Eilat is located at the end of the gulf. Therefore there is less fish and no reason for dolphins to be attracted here. The second reason is noise. There are two ports in this area, significant boat movement, and dolphins do not like the noise. Dolphins that were born at Dolphin Reef are used to it, but not others.
I heard about a new Musical Fountain in Eilat. And after the Dolphin Reef, we visited the fountain, which is located at Gan Binyamin Central Park.
Map of the area:
The musical fountain is free, and there were two half-hour sessions three times a week. But, I will not list the opening hours. When preparing this post, I saw that the musical fountain is closed for reconstruction and an upgrade. Thus, do not visit it in the meanwhile.
Maybe it was not the best musical fountain, but it was nice, and we loved it.
Day 4 – Timna Park And Makhtesh Ramon
After our last night in Eilat, we headed to Timna Park.
I have visited Timna Park (official site) several times previously, but this time there was a special event. For those who are not familiar with Timna here is essential information from the official site:
Park Timna, located some 25 km north of Eilat, combines beautiful scenery with special antiquities and history and a variety of activities the whole family will enjoy. The horseshoe-shaped valley covers some 60,000 dunams and is surrounded by steep cliffs. In the center is Mount Timna, 453 m above sea level. Timna Valley is a geological window revealing a variety of minerals including copper, iron, and manganese.
Timna is the site of the world’s first copper mine. Thousands of ancient mining shafts can be seen throughout the park as well as remains of smelting furnaces dating back to ancient imperial Egypt. Copper was the first metal used to create work and household tools, weapons, costly ornaments and cultic objects. You will thrill at the stories of Hathor, the goddess of copper, and the deified Pharaoh Ramses. Moreover, you will find remnants of Egyptian mythology and fascinating history.
You will also see exciting finds at the Temple of Hathor near the spectacular Solomon’s Pillars, at the Mushroom, the impressive Arches, and of course, the ancient rock-drawings depicting hunters of ostriches and ibexes, Egyptian battle chariots and other images.
Map of the area:
When entering Timna Park, there is a small building. Inside this building, there is the ticket box, cafeteria, restrooms, and several exhibits. Near that building, there is another one which shows a short multimedia show about this place.
A Day In The Life Of An Archaeologist
Since it was Hanukkah vacation, there was a special event. You were given an opportunity to feel how it is to be an archaeologist.
You have probably seen the process in the video at the top of this post. But, I will describe it shortly. The area that archaeologists were interested in was divided into two-meter squares. In each square, there were tools and a plastic bag. You collected everything from your square, filtered it, and put the significant finding into the plastic bag. And, of course, there were several archaeologists on site helping people and answering questions.
The primary purpose of this research was to find slag. Slag is stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. And using the amount of residue in an area, you can estimate the quantity of copper that was prepared. Moreover, if a specific area has more slugs, then most likely there was a furnace in there. And additional excavations will be performed.
After digging for an hour and a half, we continued to the Mushroom. The Mushroom is a unique natural red sandstone rock sculpture. Such shape is the result of faster erosion of the lower part of the rock.
Since it was getting late and we had a long drive ahead, we decided to visit only two additional places at Timna Park before driving home. The first one was the Chariots.
In this area, two works of rock art were found. “The Chariots” and the “Ibexes.” Both dated by the researcher Rothenberg to the period between 14th and the 12th centuries BCE. During this era, there was increased activity in the valley by Egyptian expeditions. However, the artists who painted “The Chariots” and the “Ibexes” are assumed to locals and not Egyptians.
Solomon’s Pillars And Hathor Temple
Our last stop at Timna was Solomon’s Pillars.
In reality, there is no connection to Solomon. But, the name originated from a theory that the copper mines in this area were part of King Solomon’s activity.
There is a new route next to Solomon’s Pillars that leads through Egyptian rock engravings to Hathor’s Temple. If you do not want to climb all those stairs, you can go along the pillars, and after several minutes you will reach Hathor Temple.
Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. She was one of the most important and popular deities throughout the history of ancient Egypt. Royalty and common people alike worshiped Hathor.
She was also believed to be the patron goddess of miners.
The Hathor Temple is the main ritual site in Timna valley. And the archeological findings here helped to date the copper industry.
Though there is still a lot to see at Timna, because of the long drive ahead, we skipped other points of interest and headed north.
Stop At Makhtesh Ramon
Near the visitors center. And if you want to find more check out Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center post.
That was our last stop before reaching home. Hope you enjoyed this post and it gave you fresh ideas for your next adventure.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Eilat and its surrounding area during the winter. Even though the city does not offer many attractions, there are plenty nature and animal-related places to visit. We enjoyed the long weekend, hope you did too.
What are your favorite attractions in Eilat area? Let us know in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!