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- Stayed: August 2018
- Accommodation: Hi Eilat – large hostel that feels a bit like a convention centre. It’s huge. Nice dorms. Excellent free breakfast, one of the best I’ve had in a hostel. Good location. No lockers though and a weird situation with the dorm room key – there is only one key for the room so you have to check whether the key is out before you go to your dorm. Not really a social hostel but a decent place to spend a night or two before travelling on.
Shalom! I crossed the border at The Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing (also known as Wadi Araba Crossing) from Aqaba into Eilat, and it was by far the toughest entry into a country I have ever experienced – which is saying something after 10 years of travelling the world. I had been pre-warned that it can be an intense experience and it was certainly that. Leaving Jordan itself was easy enough. Mohammed was true to his word – I WhatsApped him to arrange a pick up and he charged me the discounted price of 15JD as promised to take me to the border. I had to pass my luggage through a security scanner, show my passport at window 7 and that was me out of Jordan. I was expecting to pay 10JD exit fee when leaving Jordan but I wasn’t asked to pay this – I think if you stay for a certain amount of time then this is waived.
UK citizens do not need a visa to enter Israel. This does not mean that it is easy to enter. Your luggage is scanned two more times and you can be asked to unpack your luggage but that didn’t happen to me. I was, however, given an absolute grilling for 15 minutes by the passport control guard and had to show evidence of all hostel bookings in Israel and the reservation for my flight out of the country. I was asked many questions: why did I want to come to Israel, where had I been in Jordan, did I know anyone in any Middle East country, why had I stayed in the Middle East for so long (I taught in Dubai for over ten years), did I intend to visit the West Bank (say no even if you intend to), was I or my family religious. I have a new passport as my old one was due to expire this year – I was asked why I had changed my passport, requested to show the old one (luckily I had that with me), and did I have a second passport for another country. She seemed very concerned that I had chosen to spend so much time in Middle Eastern countries but I insisted I had stayed in Dubai for the tax-free salary only and had visited many countries around the world, such as Japan and China, not just the Middle East. I hear that everyone entering gets the third-degree but I think my connection to Dubai made it a more thorough grilling. I wasn’t convinced the guard was going to let me enter she was so tough on me; I thought she was going to ask for stool and DNA samples ha ha. The trick is to stay calm, just give the information they ask for and don’t volunteer any extra information. They no longer stamp your passport on entry to Israel but you are given a card that you have to keep with you.
When you finally get through, border staff will call a taxi for you if none are waiting. I waited 30 minutes for a taxi and then I was on my way. The good news is here the taxis are metered so no fear of being ripped off by dodgy drivers, though the fares are not cheap – nothing in Israel is cheap. A 25 minute drive cost me 56 shekel (NIS).
An Israeli lady I met told me that Eilat is where the Israelis come on holiday. It is a Red Sea beach resort with all the usual things you would expect: beachside clubs, bars, diving and snorkelling centres etc. Other than spending time at the beach, doing water sports and so on, there isn’t much else to do. This isn’t where you come for a low-budget break but you can certainly have a nice time here if you like the beach. It doesn’t feel very International, with the majority of signs, menus and things written in Hebrew but I quite liked that. Lots of people here speak English which is helpful so you will be able to get by.
The hostel I stayed in was opposite the beach, which was convenient, but it was quite a congested beach area, near the big hotel resorts with the strips of beach packed with sunloungers. There were nicer beaches a short drive away. Dolphin Reef and Coral Beach Nature Reserve are two places you pay to enter to access lovely beaches, good snorkelling, facilities such as showers etc and at the Dolphin Reef you can pay to swim/snorkel with the dolphins. They are keen to explain on their website that you will see the Dolphins in their natural habitat and that the dolphins are looked after. When I took a ten-minute taxi ride with the intention of going to the Coral Beach Nature Reserve, the sweet taxi driver told me I should save my money and he dropped me off at the free Coral Beach, next door to the Reserve, in front of Aqua Sport. It was a good decision. Without paying for entry, I had access to the same attractive beach as the Reserve, with water so clear you could see the fish without the need for a snorkelling mask and Aqua Sport has a bar, food, cool music and free wifi. You can pay 12 NIS for a sunlounger or lie on the sand for free. Another main attraction here, the Underwater Observatory Marine Park, is just 1km away from Coral Beach, so you could easily visit both on the same day.
I only have one restaurant recommendation for you this time. Although I usually try out a range of places in each destination, in Eilat I spent my evenings at Paddy’s Irish Pub & Restaurant as it was so close to my hostel and the food was great. The staff here are very welcoming, providing excellent friendly service. Families are welcome and you can choose to sit inside or outside on the terrace. On the 2nd and 3rd nights they gave me a free shot of whiskey (Irish spelling) to thank me for coming back! I don’t usually drink whiskey but when it’s going free….
Selection of pictures from my stay: