The desert experience has presented a challenge for mankind and has aroused its curiosity. Over the years, the human race has learned to get to know the ways to the desert, to cope with it and to adjust its own life style to desert conditions.
Eilat, the oasis of this area of Israel, is the ideal starting point for hikes and motorized excursions, on land and sea. Even if you have chosen not to live in the desert, but in other, more comfortable places, you are invited to tour or hike through the desert during your stay in Eilat - and to discover a whole new world.
The Eilat area is one of the most interesting, fascinating and beautiful parts of Israel.
The Negev Desert, the Arava, and the mountains of Edom and Eilat are noteworthy for their rich and varied scenery and their uniquely strong colors.
This area changes color throughout the day, depending on the strength of the light and the angle of the sun's rays. If you can manage it - don't miss the sunrise and sunset over the Negev plains.
The Timna copper mines and the ruins of ancients agricultural villages which remains in the area indicate extensive and continuous human activity in this area, from the seventh millennium BC to this very day. In general, the area abounds with surprising archaeological discoveries, the "jewel in the crown" being the mines and their environment.
Legends attribute the establishment of the mines to King Solomon; evidence attesting to this may be found in the Bible.
The old roads prove that many years ago, Eilat was a crossroads, through which caravans laden with perfumes, spices and copper used to pass. Some say that the children of Israel traveled these roads on their way to promised land, following the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.
Ancient rock paintings found in the area indicate the former presence of a diverse animal population, including tigers and ostriches. The great majority of these animals were hunted to extinction, through the incursion of animal and plant groups from tropical Africa, Iran, the Arabian deserts and the Mediterranean coast gave rise to a new range of habitats and species.
The climate in this area is exceptionally arid, with an average rainfall of 30 mm (0.12 inch).
The frequency of water flow in the various riverbeds in the area is only once a year, yet on exceptionally rainy days during the winter, these riverbeds overflow, causing floods and dangerous erosion.
During this days, the roads leading to Eilat are closed until danger has passed.
At the 20 km marker (1) on the Arava road, turn westwards following the route marked in blue, and continue to the Amram Pillars. Some 7.5 km from the road, the track ends in a parking area (2). A five minute walk will bring you to the Amram Pillars (3), a series of pillars of rock along the western wall of the Amram crater. They were carved into the colorful sandstone of the cliff walls by the flow of water, cutting deep ridges and creating the pillars like a relief sculpture. Halfway back along the trail, as you pass the fork in the road (4), turn southwest and follow the trail marked in green. This will lead you to the mouth of the Shehoret rivulet (5). Park your car and walk along the "green" trail in a westerly direction until you arrive at the mouth of the canyon with walls a sheer 20 meters high. Here you will see dark granite rocks and boulders that are among the world's most ancient - some 600 million years old! After about an hour's walk through the canyon, the terrain begins to change. The walls drop away and a wider vista opens up as you walk between pale young chalk rocks and sandstone in a variety of shades; their presence here at the same level as the base rock is evidence of a geological rift. Together, they create a fascinating panorama. Carry on another 1 00 meters along the right side of the arrow until you find red markings (6) and follow this trail to the right (in a northerly direction).
After a short, steep incline, you will arrive at a lookout point affording a view of the entire Arava basin. Now continue eastwards following the red markings until you reach another lookout point and then descend to the plain below, where you meet the trail marked in black (7). This trail I leads southwards (to the right) back the parking area (2). Along the way, you will pass characteristic desert flora, and if you are lucky, you may also see some desert fauna. It takes about three quarters of an hour to get to the Amram Pillars and back. The tour through the canyon takes about three hours.
The southern Arava is part of the Syro-African fault, which starts to the north of Israel. The topography in the fault area is most interesting: the mountains of Edom are over 1,500 meters in altitude; those of Eilat reach a height of some 900 meters; and yet the Dead Sea, just to the north of them, is the lowest place on earth; approximately 400 meters below sea level.
For those of you who prefer marine excursions to the overland kind, we recommend that you take one of the daily cruises which depart from the Eilat Marina. Dozens of yachts and boats set out each day on cruises through the Gulf of Eilat and along the maritime border with Jordan and Egypt.
You can also go on a short cruise to the Taba border - only two hours long, including a stop for a swim; or take a whole day on board a luxurious yacht with a full luncheon provided.
Another option is an excursion to the coral-island in the waters of the Sinai Peninsula, where an ancient Crusader fortress can be seen. This cruise requires a valid passport, as the island lies within Egyptian territory, and it must be booked at least a day in advance.
Tickets for the various cruises and additional details are available at the Marina, the various information centers in Eilat and at the hotels.
If you are an adventure looking for unique experience, choose to view the desert by camel, donkey or jeep.
These excursions are organized by various travel agencies, which also offer original Bedouin Style hospitality. The tours, all led by guides, vary in length from several hours to several days; those lasting more than day also includes full board and open-air accommodation. For your information, riding a camel or donkey requires no previous experience. Anyone, including children, can enjoy it!
If you prefer to explore on your own, please stick to the approved, marked paths and take up-to-date maps with you. During the summer, it is not recommended to set out during the hottest hours.
It is always preferable not to travel at night. Don't forget to pack your hat, high-tropped shoes, food, and - most importantly - a sufficient quantity of water; at least one and half litters per person per day.
Information and additional suggestions for excursions are available at the Israel Nature Society offices, the Israel Nature reserve Authority, the desert Study center at Kibbutz Samar, The travel agencies and the municipal information office.
You will be able to find a very respectable variety of camel trips with a Bedouin atmosphere in Eilat, but there's nothing like the real thing! Many tours companies offer trips of one or more days into the Sinai desert and there you will meet Bedouins, in their natural habitat, and become acquainted with their life style in the most informal manner.