Southern Israel has a brand-new airport, and the bottom half of the nation—along with neighboring Jordan—is now a whole lot more accessible for travelers, especially those flying in from Europe. The Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport inaugurated daily domestic and international flights from Europe (many on low-cost carriers) on April 2, 2019. Most U.S. travelers will have to fly through Tel Aviv. The airport replaces the now closed J. Hozman Eilat Airport. That two-room airport—which was set in the middle of the city—became too small to handle the increasing number of passengers coming into Eilat.
Located 11 miles north of the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, Ramon Airport will serve as the new southern gateway to Israel, and it is expected to welcome 2.25 million passengers per year, which would make it the second-busiest airport in the country. (Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main hub, served more than 20 million passengers in 2017.)
So after touching down on the new landing strip—a dramatic entry set in the middle of the vast Negev Desert—where should you go? Here are six easy-to-reach spots from the Ramon International Airport that are well worth exploring.
1. Shaharut, Israel
This tiny desert village (current population: 120) is about to become far more recognized: It’s the site of the latest opening from luxury spa resort specialists Six Senses. Expected to debut at the end of 2019, Six Senses will offer 58 suites and villas, several restaurants, and a massive spa, including two pools, a fully equipped gym, and a yoga studio boasting desert views. The resort will coordinate camel safaris as well as mountain biking, craft workshops, bird-watching, wine tours, hiking, and a tented Bedouin dining experience. Can’t wait for the opening? Shaharut, a village situated 42 miles north of the airport, is a popular starting point for a desert hike to the springs of Yotvata, where the views of the massive Arava rift are epic.
2. Eilat, Israel
With its population steadily increasing and more tourists flocking in from Israel, Europe, and beyond, Israel’s southernmost city is growing by leaps and bounds. Bordering the tip of the Red Sea, Egypt’s Sinai Desert, and Jordan’s port of Aqaba, the port city of Eilat—11 miles south of the new airport—is known for its sunny weather and Red Sea beaches, water sports, and incredible coral reef diving. Those who don’t dive can view the Red Sea’s colorful bounty at the Coral World Underwater Observatory Marine Park, which has an underwater aquarium, museum, and shark, turtle, and stingray tanks. And at the nearby Dolphin Reef marine biology center, visitors can swim and dive with dolphins.
Eilat is also on the radar for bird-watchers given its location on an avian migration route between Europe and Africa. Flamingos can be seen perched on the salt flats just outside the city, and the International Birding & Research Center is also worth checking out. One more attraction: The city is tax-free, making it a great place to shop, too.
3. Timna National Park, Israel
Only seven miles from the airport are some of Israel’s finest natural formations. The 15,000-acre Timna National Park was the site of the world’s first-ever copper mine, the remains of which can still be seen. But the main attraction is the impressive Solomon’s Pillars, towering sandstone columns that have been naturally formed into mushroom-like shapes. There are also hiking trails and a small lake (yes, there’s a lake in the desert) with pedal boats for rent.
4. Red Canyon, Israel
A 35-minute car ride away from the airport is the entrance to the Red Canyon in the Eilat Mountains. The canyon itself features shades of red, brown, yellow, and white and has hiking trails of varying difficulties. One that descends into its first riverbed is kid friendly, while a more challenging one takes hikers into a second creek but rewards the extra effort with striking views.
5. Kibbutz Ketura, Israel
This 500-person kibbutz 20 miles north of the airport welcomes visitors to its charming guesthouses to experience communal living in the desert. The kibbutz has several enterprises that guests can tour, including a large date palm grove; Ketura Sun, the first photovoltaic solar field in the Middle East; the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies; and Algatech, an algae factory that produces Astaxanthin, an antioxidant derived from freshwater algae. Visitors can also enjoy the kibbutz swimming pool, rent bikes, and hear an in-depth presentation on kibbutz history.
Next to the guesthouses, Café Kolot serves coffee, homemade baked goods, locally produced dates, wine, and light meals, in addition to selling items made by kibbutz members.
6. Go to Jordan
The Wadi Araba border crossing into Jordan is just 20 minutes from Ramon International Airport, making it a better starting point for travelers interested in southern Jordan than that country’s main airport, Queen Alia International near Amman, more than 190 miles north of the popular ancient site of Petra. By most accounts, visas may be purchased at the border, but check your country’s entry requirements before traveling; for those entering with a guide or tour group, paperwork is usually taken care of (Why Jordan Tours are knowledgeable and reliable). Once in Jordan, the Red Sea town of Aqaba, desert preserve Wadi Rum, and historic wonders of Petra are all easily accessible.