Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Several daily Arkia Airlines flights (tel. 800/444-888 toll-free inside Israel, or 08/638-4888) arrive from points north. The downtown airport is right in the heart of town, next to the hotel district, and can receive only smaller aircraft; larger planes and international flights land at Ouvda airport, 60km (37 miles) north of Eilat. Aqaba's international airport, just on the border near Eilat, will be designed so that arriving planes will be able to taxi to either Israeli or Jordanian gates at the new Shalom-Salaam International Terminal. One-way flights from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem are approximately $160 (£80); if you fly both ways, you'll miss the Negev Desert close up, but there are good flight/hotel packages offered by Arkia. El Al passengers can also purchase an add-on to Eilat with their flight ticket to Israel. The bus ride from Ouvda to town can take an hour.
If you arrive from inside Israel at Eilat's little downtown airport, you will be right at the bottom of the hill, where Hatmarim Boulevard meets Ha-Arava Road (the road north to Beersheva). It will be a 10-minute walk or a quick, inexpensive taxi ride to almost any Hatmarim Boulevard hotel or to hotels on the North Beach. All the local city buses (no. 1, 2, or 15) run every 20 to 30 minutes or so, from early morning until about 7 or 8pm, daily except Saturday, stopping early on Friday (about 3 or 4pm) in observation of Shabbat.
By Bus -- There are a number of daily buses (except on Shabbat) from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Eilat. The trip takes about 4 1/2 hours. If you arrive by bus, you will be planted in the center of town on the main street -- Hatmarim (or Ha-Temarim) Boulevard. From there, hostel row, just around the corner on Ha-Negev Street, is within walking distance; local city bus no. 1 or 2 goes from the Central Bus Station to the North Beach area, around the lagoon, and down as far as the Jordanian border. You must take a taxi or city bus no. 15 if you're heading out to Coral Beach. There's a baggage checkroom at the bus station in case you have to seek out a hotel room. It is best not to even think about carrying luggage even short distances in Eilat's hot weather. For your return bus ride out of Eilat, the Egged information phone number is tel. 08/636-5111. Reserve your bus seat leaving Eilat at least 2 days ahead; on weekends, holidays, and summer vacations, 4-day advance reservations are necessary.
By Car -- The trip takes approximately 4 hours by direct road from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Getting to Jordan
Bus service is now available from Eilat to Aqaba, Jordan, at the United Tours Terminal in Eilat. Fares are NIS 8 ($2/£1) each way. Buses stop at the hotel district, the airport, and the New Commercial Center in Eilat before continuing on to Aqaba via the Arava Crossing north of Eilat. Passengers must have a Jordanian entry visa and must pay a crossing fee of NIS 75 ($19/£9.40) from Israel into Jordan. For those coming from Aqaba to Eilat, the crossing fee is NIS 24 ($6/£3). As regulations are constantly being revised, check with the Eilat Tourist Information Center for the latest information.
The Eilat Tourist Information Center (tel. 08/630-9111; email@example.com) is located in Bridge House, a small building on the North Beach Promenade not far from the Spring Onion Restaurant. Pick up an English-language map for NIS 5 ($1.25/60p) and free copies of other tourist brochures, including Events in Eilat. You can also get help and advice on booking accommodations and tours, as well as bus schedules, discount coupons, and schedules of events in the region. The staff here is often well attuned to the problems of budget travelers, and can also give advice about local travel agencies that specialize in area excursions, diving and snorkeling, and travel to Sinai and Jordan. The center accepts American Express, MasterCard, and Visa when booking rooms, travel tickets, and tours. In the same building, you'll find the Eilat Tourist Information (E.T.I.) Attractions desk (tel. 08/637-0380; fax 08/637-0434). At E.T.I., you can book tours of the Eilat region, diving cruises, and excursions to Sinai, as well as package tours to Petra and to Egypt. E.T.I. booking desks can be found at most major hotels. Hours for the Eilat Tourist Information Center are Sunday through Thursday from 9am to 9pm and Friday, Saturday, and eves of holidays from 8am to 3pm.
Eilat has no VAT tax, but because many supplies have to be shipped in, prices tend to be higher. Tip: Gasoline for your car will be 15.5% cheaper in Eilat than in the rest of Israel, as there is no VAT in the city, so fill up before heading back north.
There are three easily distinguishable areas in Eilat: the town itself, built atop hills that roll toward the sea; Coral Beach, with its great snorkeling, about 6km (4 miles) south of town on the western shore of the harbor; and North Beach, a 10-minute walk from the center of town on the eastern shore of the harbor. North Beach is the most central and busiest public beach, and where you'll find the most restaurants, bars, and better-quality accommodations. It is also the site of an elaborate marina system that started with the building of an artificial lagoon, cutting several hundred yards inland in back of the "hotel row" section. Around this lagoon are hotels, restaurants, and a promenade filled with pubs, discos, shops, and endless street vendors -- a major way to spend a hot summer evening.