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Family travel: Southern Israel

Head to Eilat and the surrounding area to sample seven of southern Israel’s best big adventures

Family travel: Southern Israel
Ramon Crater. Image: Natalie Jackson

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01 Dolphin Reef
Leah (8) could just about stand up with the oxygen tank strapped to her back. Giving the OK sign with her fingers, the mask didn’t quite hide her huge grin. Dolphin Reef, one of Eilat’s top spots for families, was one of the first places in the world to give dolphins a home where they can be studied but also have the freedom to swim out to sea. You can scuba here from age eight, with no prior experience needed. An instructor takes each child by the hand for 45 minutes in a magical underwater world, swimming with a pod of these inquisitive cetaceans; a hit with all three of our children.

02 Bedouin tent experience
I’m more of a coffee person but I really got a taste for the sweet Bedouin tea served by our host, sat cross-legged in his greeting tent. With the aid of a translator, he regaled tales about the Bedouin culture and way of life. The kids were mesmerised by his stories, not least the fact Bedouin men take more than one wife. The tent was basic but warm, with lots of fascinating gold and silver ornaments hanging from hooks and poles. All of which is dismantled every 30 days, when nomadic tradition dictates it’s time to pack up and move to another desert location. goisrael.com

03 Ice Mall
Eilat’s Ice Park & Mall opened in 2013 with an Olympic-size ice rink and an indoor ‘igloo’ playground, complete with slides and artificial snow. And if that isn’t enough of a kick, there’s a ‘7D’ multisensory cinema for a fully immersive viewing experience. A wide range of films are shown, from horror to Disney cartoons, complete with bumps, breezes and, in one case, the swishing of a rat’s tail under our chairs.

04 Ramon Crater
Geography is one of our kids’ favourite subjects at school but it’s nothing compared to the real thing — the views while standing on the rim of the vast Ramon Crater are extraordinary, the sun beaming through cracks in huge boulders. And this stunning view only intensified as we abseiled down the side. I worried that after this, a hike would be less exciting for the kids, but I was wrong. Our guide, Eyal, knew this crater rock by rock, and took us on a two-hour trek covering just a small part of Ramon’s vast expanse: 24 miles long and six miles at its widest point, with walls soaring to around 985ft in height.

Alpaca Farm. Image: Natalie Jackson

Alpaca Farm. Image: Natalie Jackson

05 Alpaca Farm
In the desert to the west of Mitzpe Ramon, not far from the Ramon Crater, Alpaca Farm is home to more than 200 llamas and alpacas, bred for their wool. Kids will revel in hand-feeding these fascinating animals, helping out on the farm, and taking part in wool workshops. There’s also horse-riding to neighbouring mountain ridges. And if you can’t bare to bid the beasts farewell, you can stay overnight at llama Hill, in impossibly cosy wooden cabins.

06 Camel Ranch
“Eat my dust,” shouted Noah as we sped off into the desert in our Polaris. At Negev Camel Ranch you can rent one of these single-seater, 4WDs, ride a donkey chariot, head out on a two-hour high-wire adventure — high above dramatic desert wadis —  and finish off with a thrilling, bumpy ride on the titular camels. But it’s not all high-octane fun. At Heaven’s Window — a viewpoint between two towering mountains — the panorama is breathtaking. We even spotted an ibex, nimbly scaling the peaks above us.

07 Top 94
I craned my neck to see the man near the top of the 60ft wall in the middle of the reception area at Top 94, Eilat’s adventure activity park. It turns out his name is Amit and he’s a former army officer, trying for a record-breaking time. Thankfully, Top 94 has a huge range of climbing walls, catering for all abilities. Being novices, we started on something fairly low — before trying our hand at abseiling, shooting ranges, go-karting and various other adrenalin-fuelled activities. Whilst Noah (6) was scaling a vertical wall in a self-belaying harness, Sophie (11) attempted the Leap of Faith — jumping off a ledge to reach a bar. She jumped, she screamed, and she narrowly missed the bar, the harness then lowering her gently to the floor. After lots of yelps, and shrieks (mostly by me), we decamped to the archery area, where I won the competition with my last arrow: a perfect bullseye.  

More info

Who travelled: Sophie (11), Leah (8) and Noah (6), with parents Natalie and Matthew Jackson.
Best for: Over-5s and adults.
Where to stay: iBike Hotel.
Places mentioned: Isrotel Royal Garden – Eilat.  

Published in the Summer 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family

Camera credit: Gilad Mizrahi