This past November on a chilly “Black Friday” I had the opportunity to buy some very inexpensive tickets to Israel. I hopped on it, snapped up those tickets jiffy quick. Unbelievable, I probably should have looked at a map first because it was not Jerusalem or the Dead Sea but for under €30/ticket, I thought, “why not?” Consequently, it was off to Israel we go in January – turns out we were heading to the beach resort town of Eilat, Israel. On the furthest point in this country, we headed to the Red Sea and found this interesting and eccentric city. Again, thanks to Ryan Air.
We had a Friday to Monday flight making it a perfect long weekend introduction to southern sunny Israel. We decided to spend most of our time in the south and enjoy the bright sunshine and beach. Poor Jon wants to visit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv real bad, hmmm sounds like another trip! We found out we could’ve hopped a very early bus and head up north to tour those cities and the Dead Sea but it would have meant a 5 a.m. wake up call and out until 10 p.m. Five hours each way on the bus, not my idea of relaxing for the weekend, either.
So we decided to learn more about Eilat. This beach town is literally squished between Jordan and Egypt and reminds me a little bit of the American beach towns of Panama City, FL or Myrtle Beach, SC .
We stayed at the Caesar (Kaiser) Premier in Eilat. It is a solid 3.5 star hotel. My Google Rating is a solid 4* because our service was fantastic. Our room was small but very comfortable and we had a view of the swimming pool if I would have known we could have reserved a balcony view over the Marina I would have chosen that view. The weather in this part of Israel alone is reason enough to visit Eilat. 80 in January from Germany was amazing.
We paid for the breakfast buffet every morning and it was A LOT of food. Also, with fresh eggs, mini-quiches, fresh cucumber salads, yogurts and granolas as well as pastries and lots more. The service at breakfast is slow and you will have to chase someone down for coffee, but once we learned the coffee machine all was good.
Every night in the hotel main lobby we were entertained with families laughing, playing cards, and live music. Again, it reminded me of being at the beach in the states. I was not expecting this from my preconceived notions of what Israel would be like. Everyone was glad to be together celebrating warm weather and good times.
The amenities in the hotel were extensive including a small mall with a tourist shop, a beauty salon, a very nice swimming pool and kiddie pool, sauna and gym. Our location was perfect on the marina and you couldn’t beat the price in mid-January.
Beach ~ Promenade
Our first night in Eilat we walked the beach promenade very close to our hotel. If I closed my eyes I could’ve been back in the states. It was kinda surreal. There were boat rides, windsurfing, para-sailing, jet-skiing, paddle boarding, and swimming with the dolphins. That last one sounded really cool ~
We grabbed a bite to eat on the walkway, typical bar food on the beach but possibly the best pita I’ve ever had! Big smiles while I enjoyed my cool and fruity Mojito (Bacardi Rum & Soda water with lime juice and fresh mint.) We sat watching the sunset in January, just beautiful. Germany can be a bit gray and gloomy this time of year, I obviously needed some Vitamin D. Israel did not disappoint.
North Beach of Eilat
North Beach is a heavily populated tourist area that is well manicured and incredibly landscaped. It appears the country is investing a lot of money into the tourism industry. Both times we visited the local tourism office though, they were closed. Oh, well, that’s what Google’s for anyway, right?
In this area of Israel, the beach it has signage everywhere regarding swimming/non-swimming locations. Be really mindful where you decide to “hop” in the water. There are beach police that parole the area. As you can see, there are very few waves in this area of the Red Sea.
Camels at sunset
Saturday afternoon I made reservations for a camel ride at sunset at Camel Ranch just outside the city. This was about a 20-minute cab ride and cost about 50 shekels ($15-20) one way. We arrived a little early and met Rosey at the reception desk. She was bubbly and helpful and had us chill out for a while in bar area before we met Gil our camel leader and guide.
What fun! I met Julie, my camel, Jon had Eva. Gil told us they only work with female camels because they are milder and nicer. Hmmm! They had one little one whose names was “shim sham” who was Julie’s daughter. She stuck close to me and we became friends….
Our camel ride was an hour into the desert night as the golden sunset on the red and brown rock all along our trail. Riding a camel in Israel, was similar to riding my horse when I was younger, except you should swing one leg around the (center loop) to have more balance. They went really slow, nobody was galloping here. It was awkward at first and I kept waiting for them to spit but they just didn’t.
After our camel excursion, we headed back to the ranch where Gil prepared fresh pita on an open-fire pit and we enjoyed a cream cheese (with olive oil) spread and fresh vegetables.
Absolutely an unforgettable evening and everything I had expected and more ~ The camel ranch is over 30 years old and has an awesome ropes course too.
On Sunday, we booked a DAY TRIP to Petra, Jordan with Fun Time Travel Company. The famous site of the Nabataeans, this rock people community had 20-30,000 people living here at one time. For sure, one of the Seven Wonders of the World this famous rock building “Treasury” was used in the Indiana Jones film, the Last Crusade. This area was also used in movies like Star Wars IV, ( for the original sand people), and the most recent film the Martian, with Matt Damon.
Traveling to Israel
Traveling to Jordan was very interesting to say the least. Our tour was a little expensive at $199/person and that was with a discount. Our tour included a bus ride to Petra and an entrance fee, as well as our lunch. It did not include Visa and Country entry fees leaving Israel ($55) and ($65) to get into Jordan. By the way, YOU WILL NEED AMERICAN DOLLARS for this exchange. We didn’t have this and unfortunately had to pay with Israeli Shekels (it wasn’t a good conversion rate either.)
We had to show our passports (BLUE) Visitors passports ONLY about 5 times between the two borders. At the borders scanned our bags and we went through metal detectors. It is heavily guarded. After finishing at both borders and going through a biometric passport machine we were finally in Jordan. This is where we met Maen, our Jordanian guide. Maen was professional and funny and gave us lots of information about the region of Petra as well as other areas of worth visiting in Jordan.
Uh, Oh! Be careful
Maen told us we would be stopping for a potty/coffee break at a tourist shop on our way to Petra but to be careful because things were really expensive at this store. (Sita Souvenir.) They had beautiful views of the “moonscape” so we took lots of pictures. Unfortunately, the temperature had dropped more than 30 degrees and I was wearing a thin sundress. After all, it was 80 degrees in Eilat.
I negotiated with the sales lady for a skirt for $25 (American) and her boss agreed. Twenty-five dollars- again no cash machine, no cash, had to use my card. Something just didn’t feel right and when we stopped for lunch I checked my bank account and they had charged my card $180.
Yup… OUCH!! As soon as I talked to Maen, he agreed that we would stop on the way back to talk to the owner. My friend Cheri suffered much worse. He sold her a scarf, a lock and a few patches for $600. When we stopped on our way back he refunded me the balance of my skirt and gave me an additional cheesy souvenir faux painting, but he would not work with Cheri’s husband and just gave them another scarf instead. PLEASE… only use cash (their) currency when you are in Jordan or Israel. We found ATMs very hard to find and none at all in Jordan.
Visiting Petra was unforgettable and an incredible experience! However, this whole nasty experience left us nauseous. As soon as we arrived back in Israel I notified Isaac our bus driver with Fun Times and on his suggestion, I wrote an email to the company regarding this shifty transaction. Of course, I told both companies I would be writing about this as well. I gotta warn my peeps!
Please don’t let my experience taint your impression of visiting. I think overall it would be a shame to miss this experience for a few bad apples. After all, we have shysters in America too.
Another recommendation to visit Petra would be to fly into Ammon and rent a car and drive down. There’s a Marriott right there!
Israel Gulf Restaurant
Service and tip are included in Israel.
Dips at restaurant
Fresh fish & lamb
Mojitos and falafel
ATMS, $$ Cash and Currency Exchange
Not all ATMs were American or German card friendly. Initially, it took us several attempts before we found a participating machine. Once we did find a machine it would only give us 400 Israeli Shekels ($1 to .29) at a time. I don’t think it would have helped ordering these ahead of time at a local bank either.
Dollar $ vs Israel Cash
If you are visiting Israel I would recommend bringing some American dollars. Without a doubt, don’t bring too much but we needed them several times on this trip. Who knew? We needed them to cross the border into Jordan and leaving the Israeli border as well. Most vendors are very happy to take American dollars. Also, we couldn’t find a good ‘ole bank or credit union open so we were stuck with Sheckels and Euros.
Be very careful about currency exchange. Not so much in Israel but once we crossed into Jordan it was very, very difficult figuring out the currency exchange and the internet did not work well. My recommendation would be NOT to use your credit/debit cards at a vendor. Only deal in cash and local cash, if possible.
Flying Ryan Air to Eilat
This was our first “long” flight on Ryan Air (5 hours) to southern Israel. Here are a few tips before you go.
1) Give yourself plenty of time to check in at Baden-Baden (there’s extra security.)
2) Bring your tourist passport (Official will only delay you everywhere and you need a visa to go to other countries)
3) The “shuttle” to Eilat is inexpensive $8, however the return $10 is not so easy. They were over an hour late and had overbooked our bus so bad we had people sitting on the floor and because our driver was late he was traveling about 100miles/hour (no kidding) to get us there on time. Cra~cra!
4) Pack light – with Ryan Air’s new policy – they mean it! 1 BAG is 1 BAG, your purse had better fit in or your bag HAS to fit their size. As a frequent traveler, I thought this was a no-brainer, the tickets are already so inexpensive for this flight, pay the extra for the bag included and pay for PRIORITY it’s only a few bucks
5) Flying out of Eilat – our shuttle said to give yourself 4+hours to catch your flight, normally I would laugh about this but after several security stops we arrived with just 10 minutes to spare. Get their early!
6) Beginning January 15th, Ryan Air has changed its baggage policy. If you have not booked a “Priority” ticket… please read the new policy here – you may get stuck paying extra money to check your bag, €40 each
So I will definitely be planning another trip to Israel as I still have to see Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It’s just a must. And… I am also not so put off that I would let it deter me from visiting again.
I hope this blog has helped you “know before you go!” Make sure you’ve taken copious notes and are prepared on what to expect. Well, at least a little bit.
Like I always say…