The steep canyon of Wadi Qelt links Jerusalem to Jericho and has a number of interesting religious sites along its course, as well as springs, plants and wildlife, and often breathtaking views over the mountains and desert. The whole canyon is hikeable, although it would take a full day, and even in the spring and autumn the heat can be intense. Map.
The key sites of the wadi are linked to the highway that connects Jerusalem with Jericho and the Dead Sea, and are well signposted in both directions. Beware of extreme heat in summer and flash floods in winter. The spectacular St George’s Monastery (9am to 1pm daily) is a must see in Wadi Qelt, built into the cliff face in the 5th century.
Turn right off the access road and park in the car park, from where it is a steep 10-minute walk to the monastery – expect to be hassled by donkey-taxi vendors the entire way. The paintings inside the main chapel are worth the walk, and parts of the original mosaic floors are visible below perspex screens. Up another flight of stairs there is a beautiful cave chapel.
Drinking water is available at the monastery. You’ll see signposts along the way for the three main springs (Ein Qelt, Ein Farah and Ein Fawwar) but don’t drink the spring water, it’s not safe and you can become sick after drinking.
Another road off the highway towards Jericho will take you to the complex of Nabi Musa (Prophet Moses; 8am till sunset). About 10km north of the Dead Sea, this is where Muslims believe Moses (Musa in Arabic, Moshe in Hebrew) was buried.
A mosque was built on the site in 1269, under Mamluk Sultan Baybar (it was expanded two centuries later) and annual week-long pilgrimages set out from Jerusalem to Nabi Musa – they continue today.
The road beyond the mosque takes you past a Muslim graveyard – including the tomb of a former imam of Nabi Musa, sadly today covered in graffiti – and then into the Judean desert for some 20km. The road passes solitary camels, abandoned tanks and vast open desert.