Destinations

Eilat: Girls just wanna have fun – but underwater

With names such as Cindy, Shy, Luna and Nikita on the bill, I assumed I was off to see a four-piece girl band belting out tunes on a floodlit stage.


But if I was heading for a gig, wasn’t I a little overdressed? I could certainly lose the flippers, and as for the snorkel, how would I sip my beer?


Fortunately, the girls turned out not to be 19-year-old wannabe popstars, but a small family of dolphins in Eilat’s Dolphin Reef.







Find out more


Where is it?: In Dolphin Reef beach, 15 minutes from Eilat and near the main port.


Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday 9am to 5pm; Friday, Saturday and Bank Holidays 9am to 4.30pm.


Prices: entrance fees: £5 per adult; £4 per child (under 15).


Snorkelling: £27 per adult; £23 per child (under 15) – clients must book in advance.


Introductory dive: £32 per adult; £29 per child (under 15) – clients must book in advance.  All wet suit and equipment hire is included in the price.


Facilities: snorkelling and diving centre, restaurant, beachside café and bar, relaxation pools, children’s activity centre, underwater photography centre and souvenir shop.


Website:dolphinreef.co.il.



The reef is the only natural environment within easy striking distance of the five-star hotels, bars and fairground rides of the resort. More than 25,000 British holidaymakers visited Eilat, on the Israeli side of the Red Sea, last year, but few left the comfort of their hotel to head to this hot spot, which is a 15-minute drive away.


Perhaps if the dolphins did tricks for the tourists like they do in Florida or Cancun the reef would be more popular, but the park prefers its nine bottlenose dolphins to display more authentic behaviour.


Visitors who do venture to the reef will find a secluded beach, a botanical garden with heated relaxation pools and a dive centre. If visitors prefer to stay on land, they can sit in comfort on a wooden floating deck and take in the views, enjoy a cool drink and wait for the dolphins to appear. But for those who do dream of diving, or even snorkelling with dolphins, this is the place to do it.


Not being a qualified diver, I chose the latter and waded out in flippers until the water was deep enough to swim.


Apart from the flippers, this was a much more civilised way to enter the water and one that is safer for children than jumping off a boat to see what lies beneath.


Groups are small and taken out with a leader who signals when to stay close, when to stop, and crucially, when a dolphin is near.


The first time our guide pointed, I could see nothing but water. Nor could I hear anything. But a moment later. a high-pitched chatter became audible and knew I was close. I followed their sounds until I had two dolphins swimming around me – one to my right and one below. It was a wonderful experience and one I’ll never forget.


Not everyone agrees, however. Despite the peace and beauty of the reef, charity organisation Marine Connection has suggested the dolphins are becoming institutionalised. Captivity officer Andrina Murrell described it as an “unnatural environment” and one that’s “expensive to visit”.


Dolphin Reef admits it is unable to allow the dolphins back into the open sea, despite an initiative that ran for six years giving them access through an underwater gate.


In 2002, the Nature Reserves Authority closed the gate because of uncontrollable feeding by visitors outside the reef, a decision Dolphin Reef described as “extremely sad” and one it hopes to see reversed in the future.


For now, with a half-hour snorkel costing £27 per adult it certainly isn’t a cheap activity, particularly as capturing the moment on camera costs extra. But even in that short time, it’s hard to doubt the staff’s sincerity for the welfare of the dolphins.


It may be more expensive than other attractions in the area, but it’s cheaper than watching a live band – and that’s music to my ears.



 


 

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