* The Red Sea is a favourite with divers and swimmers. And one of its best underwater experiences is at the Dolphin Reef Eilat
* A 20-minute drive to the west of Eilat lies the spectacular Red Canyon
* Buskers, twinkling lights, illuminated yachts in the bay, duty-free shops and a bustling market ensure there’s never a dull moment in Eilat even if one were to skip the sea and the mountains altogether
“How can a waterbody with more than 50 shades of blue be called the Red Sea?” I ask Efraim, my guide. We are cruising the Gulf of Eilat in Israel and I can’t stop running my hands through the silky ripples in the waters that are, in turn, azure, cerulean and cobalt. Efraim explains the various theories behind the coloured etymology of the Red Sea — from biological to biblical. Some say that the name comes from the extensive blooms of the Trichodesmium erythraeum algae, which, upon dying, turn the waters a muddy red. Others attribute the name to the mineral-rich red mountains near the sea. And yet another school cites the use of ‘red’ to describe the ‘south’ direction in certain Asian languages as the reason.
Whatever the name, the blues keep me busy till my eyes fall upon Eilat, the bustling resort town at the northern tip of the Red Sea, in the distance. Blessed with sunny days, it is a hub for entertainment and leisure.
The Red Sea is a favourite with divers and swimmers. And one of its best underwater experiences is at the Dolphin Reef Eilat.
After a brief training session, I put on my wetsuit and snorkel through the waters with my instructor to greet bottlenose dolphins. These are second-generation dolphins who live in the reef — the waters of which are completely open. The reef was constructed about two decades ago in a bid to help tourists interact with dolphins. With fair warning that it’s the mammal’s prerogative to interact with humans, I embark on my first Eilat adventure. Within minutes, one dolphin swims alongside us. All temptations to give in and reach out are prohibited: The dolphins are not to be touched. I see other explorers who chose to interact with the dolphins by scuba diving. My half-hour session is spent being regaled by not one but four dolphins, one of which escorts us to the shore.
Filled with a gush of adrenaline, I sit on the beach to bask in the sun — and the excitement of swimming with dolphins. In the distance, someone at the floating pier — constructed for those who cannot get into the water — conveys that she has captured my time with the dolphins on camera.
I spend the rest of the afternoon at the nearby Underwater Observatory at the Marine Park Eilat. It has coral reefs that are painstakingly preserved by the park’s team.
The road to paradise
Out of the blue waters of the Red Sea, I turn my attention to some adventure by land. A 20-minute drive to the west of Eilat takes me to the spectacular Red Canyon, which, truly, is red. A gorge in the Eilat Mountains, it flaunts its sandstone formations, and is a part of the Wadi (‘valley’ in Arabic) Shani.
I embark on the two-hour self-guided circuit by following the green markers. After walking a few hundred metres on gravel, I reach the narrower part of the gorge. Metal ladders and handles driven into the stone ensure that my fellow travellers and I have “helping hands” to manoeuvre the way through the surreal scenery. Unfolding before us is a scene that looks straight out of the James Franco-starrer 127 Hours. Dry waterfalls, sharp turns and narrow rocky passages spanning less than 2m make up the canyon’s terrain.
Although the trail is treacherous in places, it teaches me a lesson: Often, the journey is the destination. With scores of photos on the camera and a sense of accomplishment, I return to the starting point by following the black markers on stone.
Eilat by night
A very different kind of a walk awaits me at Eilat Marina at night. It shows me the liveliest and the most energetic sides of the port city. Buskers, twinkling lights, illuminated yachts in the bay, duty-free shops and a bustling market ensure there’s never a dull moment even if one were to skip the sea and the mountains altogether. I stop by a street food stall to get my hands on a crêpe before heading to one of the many hair-braiding experts at the market.
Luxury hotels line the promenade. Just like any city high on entertainment quotient, Eilat, too, has a live trick up its sleeve. And that’s the WOW Vegas Show at the Isrotel Theatre. For 90 minutes, dancers, acrobats, ventriloquists and Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra impersonators liven up the stage. My glitzy tryst with the city ends just like it started: With a canvas full of colour at the mesmerising Musical Fountain Eilat — and this time, it’s not restricted to blue.
Ananya Bahl is a travel writer based in Mumbai
- Getting there
- Direct flights via Air India and El Al Airlines connect Delhi and Mumbai respectively to Tel Aviv-Yafo’s Ben Gurion Airport. Eilat is about 350km from Tel Aviv by road.
- The Leonardo Plaza Hotel Eilat offers sea-facing rooms, access to a private beach and a clutch of restaurants (leonardo-hotels.com).
- See/ Do
- Visit Timna Park (25km from Eilat), which is located in the Negev Desert and is home to King Solomon’s ancient copper mines. On a day with moderate temperatures, one can go hiking here.
- On the road back to Tel Aviv, stop by Mitzpe Ramon for a panoramic view of the Ramon Crater, one of the world’s largest erosion cirques. Make some time for an alpaca farm close by.