Eilat is a very popular tourist destination for local and international tourists from all over the world. It’s home to 48,946 people, has in average 360 sunny days a year. Temperatures often exceed 40 °C (104 °F) in summer, and 21 °C (70 °F) in winter, while water temperatures range between 20 and 26 °C (68 and 79 °F). That and the beaches, coral reef, nightlife and desert landscapes make it a popular destination for all tourists. See also the Map of Eilat.
But if there are people who think that Eilat is not an ancient city, think again. Archaeological excavations uncovered impressive prehistoric tombs dating to the 9,000 years ago at the western edge of Eilat, while nearby copper workings and mining operations at Timna Valley are the oldest on earth. Ancient Egyptian records also document the extensive and lucrative mining operations and trade across the Red Sea with Egypt starting as early as the Fourth dynasty of Egypt.
Eilat is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Exodus. The first six stations of the Exodus are in Egypt. The 7th is the crossing of the Red Sea and the 9th–13th are in and around Eilat, after the exodus from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. Station 12 refers to a dozen campsites in and around Timna in Modern Israel near Eilat. When King David conquered Edom, which up to then had been a common border of Edom and Midian, he took over Eilat, the border city shared by them as well.
During the Roman period a road was built to link the area with the Nabataean city of Petra (in modern-day Jordan).
An Islamic copper smelting and trading community of 250–400 residents flourished during the Umayyad Period (700–900 CE); its remains were found and excavated in 1989, at the northern edge of modern Eilat, between what is now the industrial zone and nearby Kibbutz Eilot.
The area was designated as part of the Jewish state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The abandoned British police post of Umm Al-Rashrash was taken without a fight on March 10, 1949, as part of Operation Uvda.
The Timna Copper Mines near Timna valley were opened, a port was constructed, the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline laid, and tourism began. Construction of the city and the Port of Eilat began shortly after the end of the war. The port became vital to the fledgling country’s development.
Tourism is flourishing in Eilat. Eilat has further plans to expand airports, move the harbor further north, connect with an oil pipeline with the city Ashqelon, and have a metro and a connection with train to Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv.
Eilat offers a wide range of accommodations, from hostels and luxury hotels to Bedouin hospitality. In recent years Eilat has been the target of militants from Egypt and Gaza causing a reduced tourist inflow to the region. Attractions include:
- Bird watching and ringing station: Eilat is located on the main migration route between Africa and Europe. International Birding & Research Center in Eilat.
- Camel tours.
- Coral Beach Nature Reserve, an underwater marine reserve of tropical marine flora and fauna.
- Coral World Underwater Observatory – Located at the southern tip of Coral Beach, the observatory has aquariums, a museum, simulation rides, and shark, turtle, and stingray tanks. The observatory is the biggest public aquarium in the Middle East.
- Dolphin Reef – A marine biology and research station where visitors can swim and interact with dolphins.
- Freefall parachuting.
- Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, established in the 1960s to conserve endangered species, including Biblical animals, from this and similar regions. The reserve has a Visitors Center, care and treatment enclosures, and large open area where desert animals are acclimated before re-introduction into the wild. Hai-Bar efforts have successfully re-introduced the Asian Wild Ass, or Onager, into the Negev. The Hai-Bar Nature Reserve and animal re-introduction program were described in Bill Clark’s book “High Hills and Wild Goats: Life Among the Animals of the Hai-Bar Wildlife Refuge”. The book also describes life in Eilat and the surrounding area.
- Marina with some 250 yacht berths.
- Timna Valley Park – the oldest copper mines in the world. Egyptian temple of Hathor, King Solomon’s Pillars sandstone formation, ancient pit mines and rock art.
- “What’s Up” the Observatory in Eilat, a portable Astronomical Observatory with programs in the desert and on the promenade.
- Ice Mall ice skating rink and shopping mall.
Skin and Scuba diving, with equipment for hire on or near all major beaches. Scuba diving equipment rental and compressed air are available from diving clubs and schools all year round. Eilat is located in the Gulf of Aqaba, one of the most popular diving destinations in the world. The coral reefs along Eilat’s coast remain relatively pristine and the area is recognized as one of the prime diving locations in the world. About 250,000 dives are performed annually in Eilat’s 11 km (6.84 mi) coastline, and diving represents 10% of the tourism income of this area. In addition, given the proximity of many of these reefs to the shore, non-divers can encounter the Red Sea’s reefs with relative ease. Water conditions for SCUBA divers are good all year round, with water temperatures around 21–25 °C (70–77 °F), with little or no currents and clear waters with an average of 20–30 metres (66–98 feet) visibility.
Despite harsh conditions, the region has supported large populations as far back as 8,000 BCE.
Exploration of ancient sites began in 1861, but only 7% of the area has undergone serious archaeological excavation. Some 1,500 ancient sites are located in a 1,200-square-kilometre (460 sq mi) area. In contrast to the gaps found in settlement periods in the neighboring Negev Highlands and Sinai, these sites show continuous settlement for the past 10,000 years.