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The southern Negev is one of the most fascinating areas in Israel. Scenic 4x4 routes wind their way through the Eilat Mountain Nature Reserve. The areas that are easily accessable by cars are more regularly visited by tourists including bus groups.
The Timna Copper Mines located in the Timna Valley are a popular option for people driving into or from Eilat on route 90 (Arava Road), its just a twenty minute drive out of town. Apart from being the site of some of the first copper mines in the world, the Timna Valley also has interesting rock formations and important archaeological sites. There is an entrance fee to the site and at the visitors can watch a short film explaining the history of the Timna Valley when they enter. A man-made lake is located inside the site and there is also a cafe and bathroom facilities. It is a large site and not advisable to visit without a vehicle, the road is on the whole asphalt and a comfortable drive in most vehicles.
The Red Canyon is a beautiful canyon of sandstone rock located on route 12 and is approx a 25 min drive from town. The canyon itself cannot be approached by car so allow 90 mins for the walk from the car park into the canyon and back. This is a fun trip and includes some scrambling within the canyon and descending with the help of fixtures in the canyon walls. There's actually quite a lot more to it than just walking but most people can take it in their stride. At the end of the canyon is a path up to the top of the canyon walls, again metal supports in the rock aid visitors along. The walk back is on a path over the canyon walls, going back through the canyon is a more challenging option. Children love this trip but it is important to remember that they should be very well supervised by adults. People with any kind of mobility issue should not attempt this walk unless already familiar with the obstacles in the canyon.
There are a lot of hiking routes in the area and many tourists come to Eilat to explore them. Obviously hiking in the desert requires special care and preparation, it is advisable to take a guide if attempting a route you are unsure of.
The most popular way to get into these mountains is by jeep. The area has marked 4x4 routes and jeeps must stick to these routes or face a hefty fine from the nature reserve rangers patrolling the area. The ecology of the desert is incredibly delicate and tracks left today remain for many years to come, marring the picturesue landscape. The 4x4 routes in Eilat vary from mild to extreme and the vehicle of choice for companies running desert tours is the open topped Land Rover defender.
Whilst the desert is a fascinating place to visit always be aware of the pitfalls. Don't go out in the summer months or on hot days, always know where you are headed and when you will be back and most importantly - tell someone.The desert can be deceptive and it is ridiculously easy to get lost, even the most savvy travelers go astray on desert tracks, have a map and know how to use it, if indoubt take a guide.
Scheduled 4x4 jeep tours into the Eilat desert are very reasonably priced and depart everyday from Eilat hotels but they need to be booked in advance. During the summer months there is also a "Desert by Night' tour which give participants a chane to see the desert night skies and nocturnal animals. Other popular sites include the Red Canyon, Timna Park, Lost Valley, Shehorat Valley, Evrona spring and Doum Palms. The average length of sceduled tours is 4 hours. Private guides are available with and without jeeps for people willing to pay the extra cost.