Eilat Mountains and the Arava Desert
While Eilat has so much to offer, there are some exceptional attractions worth seeing in the surrounding mountains and Arava Desert. Going out into the wilderness will allow you to fully experience the beautiful, pristine places, view birds and other animals in their natural habitats, and visit interesting farms and kibbutzim.
If you head north of Eilat on Road 90, near Amram’s Pillars you will find the beautiful Eilat Salt Pools. These salt pools attract many local and migrating birds. Especially striking are the colorful flamingos, most of which arrive in the winter, though some do show up in the summer. The acacia trees provide shelter to all kinds of songbirds. Parking is available.
Speaking of birds, the Ostrich Farm, located on the Shlomo River about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) south of Eilat is an interesting place for young and old alike. There are about 30 ostriches and ostrich-riding events take place occasionally. Ancient drawings found at the Timna Park indicate that at one time this area was home to wild ostriches.
Another fascinating water place to visit in this parched desert area is the Netafim Stream/River in the Eilat Mountains that is about 14 kilometers (4.3 miles) long with part of it running into the Sinai Desert. The river is fed by the Netafim spring, Ein Netafim, and is present all year round, unlike rivers and streams which form only from seasonal rain. This fresh-running spring is located about 7 kilometers (8.7 miles) north of Eilat and attracts many animals. The spring is no doubt a major factor in the preservation of many species which rely on this fresh water source. Besides the large numbers of birds attracted to Ein Netafim, there are also wild goats, ibexes, gazelles and hyraxes. There is also a beautiful waterfall.
North of Eilat
The Chai Bar Yotvata National Biblical Wildlife Reserve, located 55 kilometers (35 miles) north of Eilat, between Kibbutz Yotvata and Kibbutz Samar, is in an area known as the Yotvata Salt Flat. This is not just a fascinating refuge for wild animals, but a real project to try to reintroduce Biblical animals that once lived in the region. Some of the animals bred here, such as wild donkeys, have been successfully reintroduced into the wild.
The reserve is divided into three main areas. One area is a place where herds of grazing animals can roam freely. Another section is for large, enclosed predators, reptiles and other desert animals. The third area is a dark room where you can view nocturnal animals that are active only in the dark of night.
Overnight camping grounds are available, as well as a guided safari tour through the reserve.
Also north of Eilat is an amazing small canyon that was created by erosion through the sandstone. It is quite steep and narrow and not more than three meters (9.8 feet) wide. The colors of the eroded stone, mainly red but also some purple and pink hues, are very beautiful. This is a very popular hiking area and is suitable for families.
Tastes from the Eilat Desert
In the beautiful area of the Red Canyon is an organic, vegetarian restaurant run by members of the nearby Kibbutz Neot Smadar. They also sell goat cheeses and yogurts made from their own herd of goats, as well as olive oil and red and white wine. Jams, preserves, juices and dried fruit, all certified kosher are made from their organically grown fruits such as peaches, apricots, olives, almonds, nectarines, plums, pears, dates and grapes, vegetables and herbs. This unique oasis in the midst of the arid barren wilderness exists in large part thanks to its elevation, which allows deciduous fruit trees to grow in the desert.
Other small-scale Israeli farmers who produce organically grown, kosher-certified products from the challenging Negev landscape include eucalyptus honey produced by Edward Philipov and extra-virgin olive oil from Doron Akiva. These unique products offer a taste of the desert and are a great way to support organic Israeli farmers.
Eilat Mountains and the Arava Desert: Did You Know?
Eilat and the Arava Desert area are so dry that you can quickly become dehydrated without even feeling thirsty. A product for rehydration sold in all pharmacies in Israel called Rehydran is recommended when touring the arid south. Eat salty foods like olives and high-potassium foods like orange juice before setting out. Most important and somewhat contrary to what you might think: Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink!