DAY 1: King Herod’s fortress, Masada
High on a rugged plateau above the Dead Sea, on the edge of the Judean Desert, the ruins of King Herod’s mountaintop fortress formed the last stronghold of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the year 73. The atmospherically preserved ruins at this sprawling 840-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site include King Herod’s northern palace, built on three rock terraces above a dramatic gorge below.
Persuading our 13-year-old daughter to enter the cable-car that whisks visitors to the top was a challenge. Despite being more than happy dangling from a harness up a mountain later in the week, asking her to walk into a metal box hanging from a steel rope produced a bit of a meltdown.
Park entry and cable-car from £12 per adult / £6 per child. parks.org.il
DAY 2: Sandboarding at Dror Bamidbar
Yellow Saharan sand and a blue, cloudless sky provided a stunning setting for sandboarding at Dror Bamidbar. Though it’s fairly hard work carrying a modified snowboard up the dunes, the fun of surfing down is well worth the sore calves. Standing, seated or kneeling, the dunes are yours to tackle and if you fall, the worst that can happen is you get sand in places you didn’t know you could get sand in. Sandboarding from £100 for a group up to six.
DAY 3: Top 94 & Timna Park
Eilat’s extreme adventure playground, Top 94, is home to a five-storey climbing wall, gun ranges and rope park, with archery, mini bungee and Krav Maga lessons among the activities on offer. After some climbing, we hit the go-kart track to watch our nine-year-old drive with surprising skill. Entry and activities from £10-30.
Later, at Timna Park, we cycled through King Solomon’s famous copper mines. The red hills and desert landscape proved the top-spot of the trip for dramatic photos, while the hiking trails, led by a local desert guide, took us to places mentioned in the Bible. Park entry and activities: £10 per adult, £8 per child.
DAY 4: Boat Trip & Camel Ranch Eilat
A glass-bottom boat tour of the Red Sea is a classic Eilat pursuit. It put me completely at ease, lulled by the gentle waves against the hull as life on the reef went on beneath. Captain Dov let our children, Noah and Leah, steer for possibly longer than the majority of the other passengers would have liked, but the kids had a blast. From £18 per person for two hours.
Back on dry land, we ticked off another Eilat must-do at the Camel Ranch Eilat. How can you come to the desert and not ride a camel? We climbed aboard for a brief convoy between Eilat’s spectacular mountains before zip-wiring ourselves around on the ranch’s high wire assault course until the sun went down.
Come nightfall, we had just about enough energy left to hit Eilat’s night market. Family of five, from £110.
DAY 5: Nature Reserve & Birding Center
A day touring in an open-top Land Rover always means fun, and at the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, inland from Eilat, a safari style drive-through tour allowed us to get close to endangered animals, including beautiful species of deer. £6 per adult / £3 per child.
Back on the coast, Eilat’s International Birding and Research Center is a conservation marvel. It has transformed a former industrial waste site into a green oasis. Israel is a key stop-off for birds migrating between Europe to Africa, so there were loads to spot. Free.
DAY 6: Mitzpe Ramon & the Ramon Crater
The Ramon Crater at Mitzpe Ramon is the world’s largest natural crater — it’s more than 30 miles wide — and what better way to kick off a visit here than to abseil off the highest point? Controlling the rope allows you to descend at your own pace and enjoy epic views of the crater. Our daughter, Sophie, was a natural. Put her in a hard hat and harness, and she’s good to go, however high, it turns out. The visitor centre, which does a riveting job of explaining the topography of the area, is also a tribute to the crater’s namesake: Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who died in NASA’s fatal Columbia mission. £12 per adult, £6 per child.
DAY 7: Coral World Underwater Observatory
Shark pools and giant stingrays kept the kids entertained at Eilat’s Coral World Underwater Observatory. However, the big draw was the dolphin reef, where five resident dolphins — who are free to come and go from the sea at will — can join divers and snorkellers. As a first-time diver — which my scuba-proficient family clearly found hilarious — instructor Ariel was calm in the face of my anxious expressions and the bond he and the other instructors had with the dolphins was amazing.
The dives are carefully controlled; swimmers aren’t allowed to touch the animals, who breached and plunged around us. I spent more time close to the surface in the company of tiny blue jellyfish, while the rest of the family swam into the deep as the dolphins played around them. From £55 per person.
Close to the beach, the Isrotel King Solomon hotel lived up to its reputation of grand buffet dinners. It has an extensive pool area and family or interconnecting rooms (sleeping five), from $2,000 (£1,500) per week, B&B.
A week’s car hire costs from £99. carrentals.co.uk
Published in the Family 2019 issue, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)