Located on the Red Sea coast, yet in the Negev Desert, and just minutes from the Jordanian city of Aqaba and the Egyptian city of Taba, Eilat is one of Israels major tourist destinations. Every year, tourists from all over the world come to the Eilat region to partake of the many activities made possible by the pleasant climate, clear water, fine dining, and by the fact that the region spans three countries. (Saudi Arabia is also located not far from Eilat, but conventional tourists are not, as of yet, permitted to enter the country.)
One of the great things about Eilat's unique location is that several cross-border tours originate there. One such tour that is particularly popular is the Coral Island cruise. Located in the Red Sea, Coral Island was once part of Israel but has since come under Egyptian control, in accordance with the Israel-Egypt peace accords. The water surrounding the island boasts beautiful tropical fish, as well as hard and soft corals, making the island an ideal spot for divers. Cruises to Coral Island can be booked for both divers and non-divers (including those who wish to simply swim or snorkel.) Although passports are required, there are no border taxes involved in a round trip cruise between Eilat and Coral Island.
Another popular tour package is called the "Red Sea Triangle," which takes participants to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, thereby taking full advantage of the potential for tourism that has been created by the establishment of full diplomatic relations between all three countries. Participants cross the border from Eilat into Aqaba, where they are given the option of going for two boat dives. They are then taken to the ancient city of Petra (discussed below), where they visit ancient caves, temples, and an amphitheater, returning to Eilat in the evening. The following day, they are taken on a one-day cruise to Coral Island. The next day, they formally cross the Egyptian border and are taken into Sinai for a tour of the villages located on the peninsula, including the Bedouin village of Dahab; they are also afforded the opportunity to dive along the reefs of Dahab, among other locales in Sinai.
Of particular religious interest is St. Catherines Monastery, located in the Sinai Desert. A Greek monastery built in the sixth century, the site also contains several icons from the twelfth century, as well as the sight of the Burning Bush, from which G-d spoke to Moses in Exodus 3-4.
Until 2004, many tourists in the Red Sea area visited the casino at the Taba Hilton. It was managed by Inter-Casino, a British casino chain, but was staffed entirely by Egyptians. Most of the casinos patrons came through Israel, oftentimes spending only a few hours at the casino before returning over the border to Eilat. This practice was facilitated by the fact that people who crossed from Israel into Egypt but planned to only visit Taba before returning to Israel paid no border fees of any kind. This, coupled with the fact that the Taba Hilton was walking distance from the border meant that the patrons of the Taba Casino treated it as a de facto part of Eilat. On October 7, 2004, terrorists, using a car bomb, blew up the Taba Hilton and its casino.
Finally, one of the most popular cross-border destinations for tourists coming out of Eilat (as well as other cities in the region) is the "Lost City" of Petra, in Jordan. For more information about Petra, please visit our Petra section.
As the old saying goes, "You ain't seen nothing yet!" With the advent of the Peace Process, several ambitious new projects are being planned for the Eilat region, including a joint Jordan-Israel port, shared use of the Jordanian airport, sea links between Jordan, Israel, and Egypt, cooperation involving environmental protection, shared use of industrial installations, as well as the development of tourist infrastructure and services for the region.
With careful planning and total cooperation , the Red Sea will be able to compete with resort sites around the world. The area known as the Red Sea Riveria will run from the Sinai and Negev deserts to Eilat and Aqaba, and will run from there to Israels Mediterranean coast. These areas will offer activities and sites for both leisure and cultural tourism, including many sea activities along the coasts.