Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Eilat - Astral Village and Snorkelling

In the middle of the summer, where it is typically 27-32C every day in central Israel, many people like to get away and try something a bit we went down to Eilat. In mid-July, the temperature is consistently in the low to mid-40s Celsius or about 107-110F. But it's "dry heat" as everyone says - with humidity of only about 20-25% and absolutely no chance of rain.

It is about a 4 hour drive through some beautiful desert areas - including areas where you can take a camel ride, see wild mountain goats or visit crater sites and stop at some historical spots like the City of Beersheva or S'de Boker Kibbutz (Israel's first Prime Minister's home). I had to throw in this photo of an Ibex (mountain goat) family, taken along the way.

Eilat is a port and resort town, which is a very popular tourist destination for Israelis and for Europeans (who can arrive at Eilat's small commercial airport or drive about 4 hours from Tel-Aviv).

There are many hotels - ranging from 5 star beachfront big name places to small out of the way hotel suite complexes that are some distance from the beach. The big attraction is the refreshing azure red sea water. Along the coast, there are coral reefs with many colourful fish, corals and other water attractions. From the resorts and hotels, people rent boats, go water skiing, para-skiing, jet-skiing or just enjoy the beach. Along the coast there are many places to scuba dive or snorkel.

We stayed at the Astral Village Hotel - a collection of three-person suites, equipped with fridges and stoves in each of the rooms. The hotel has a large swimming pool and is located about 5 minutes' walk from the beach.

It was reasonably clean and was one of the few hotels available with flexibility as far as the number of nights reserved. Many of the hotels in the area have three to five night minimums, especially during peak tourist season. Astral Village has full dinner and breakfast buffets, neither of which offered particularly tasty food. The biggest drawback of the hotel was that the swimming pool closes at 6 p.m. (some nights 7 p.m.) for the evening. We were told this is common in Eilat. It seems to me that when it is 42C during the day and it is still 28C at night, the evening is probably the best time to swim in the pool - after spending the time earlier in the day at the beach and after dinner. The pool is not even in a shaded area.

Eilat night life is varied with lots of clubs, pubs, shops, restaurants and an outdoor market. The prices, particularly of the hotels, are wildly expensive and the whole area can get very crowded during peak times. There are a few great attractions, like the coral reef aquarium and Dolphin Beach, where you can swim with dolphins. But for many, the biggest attraction is just putting your face into the water, with a mask and snorkel and getting the feeling that you are inside a giant salt water aquarium.