Category Archives: Tourism

The best 10 hiking trails in Israel

 

Israel is a hiker’s paradise. The country is crisscrossed with trails, including the 580-mile long Israel Trail, which starts in the northern Galilee and winds its way south until it reaches the tip of Eilat. All of Israel’s trails are clearly marked by colors painted on rocks, and you can buy a set of 20 glossy maps (about $25 each) to keep you moving in the right direction.


Jerusalem area

Nahal Katlav (4 hours)Nahal Katlav Nahal Katlav

This lovely four-hour hike starts at the Bar Behar restaurant and ice cream stand, a short drive west from Jerusalem in the Bar Giora area (the restaurant is on the road to Nes Harim). The path descends, winding past a spring until you reach the nahal – Hebrew for a dry riverbed; in Arabic it’s wadi. The walk along the nahal takes less than an hour. While there’s no water anymore, it’s still very shady, a place of beauty and solitude close to the big city.

Eventually, the trail reaches the abandoned Bar Giora train station, a good place to stop and eat lunch as Jerusalem-Tel Aviv trains pass nearby. After the station, the trail climbs steeply, passing an abandoned Arab village, before looping back to the starting point. Nahal Katlav is popular in part because you can look forward to a frozen treat at the end, especially welcome in the hotter months.

The Burma Road (3.5 hours)

Burma Road

The Burma Road is steeped with history. During the War of Independence, the Jordanians blocked the main route into Jerusalem, attempting to starve the city into surrender. Under the cover of night, soldiers from the nascent State of Israel clandestinely built a bypass road, which succeeded in breaking the boycott. You can now hike this road in two parts. For both, you park your car just before the Paz gas station on Highway 38, coming from Route 1, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway. Both segments follow the Israel Trail for some of the way.

Burma Road

The western part of the trail goes along the Burma Road in the direction of Latrun, but you’ll be turning north before then to make a loop back to your starting point. This takes you through a pine forest known as Park Rabin. There is also a bike rental shop as the trail is popular with cyclists.

The eastern flank of the trail across the road kicks off with a very steep ascent until reaching the village of Beit Meir. Along the way are some great views of the highway far below. From the top, you can continue on the Burma Road toward Jerusalem, or descend through the Martyr’s Forest, established by B’nai B’rith to commemorate those lost in the Holocaust. There are various memorials, plaques and even a cave. The trail ends up on Highway 38, where you can catch a shared taxi and take it three stops back to your car.


Dead Sea area

Nahal David
Nahal David

Upper Nahal David (1 hour or 5 hours)

You might find that parts of the hike are challenging but this is a hike that is doable by parents and kids.

Nahal David
Nahal David

Nahal David is the most touristy part of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. You pay an entrance fee of about $5 (discounts for children and soldiers), then make the short 30-minute hike to David’s waterfall for pictures and snacks. More intrepid hikers can extend the hike to nearly five hours by starting at the nearby Ein Gedi Field School.

Nahal David
Nahal David

The first half hour of the hike heads up a tough mountain (including one short segment where you’re climbing straight up without any footholds). The trail then winds around until it reaches a narrow canyon that can only be traversed by hanging on rungs dug into the mountain face (think of it as hiking on monkey bars) and jumping over — or wading into — pools of water of varying depths, depending on the time of year.

Nahal David
Nahal David

The payoff at the end of the canyon (which can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to traverse, depending on how nimble you are) is an opening toward the Dead Sea called the halon (“window”). There’s room here for a medium-sized group to eat lunch and admire the stunning view. You then go back out the way you came, and climb again, before descending to the lovely Ein Gedi spring and a Chalcolithic-era temple. You’ll eventually meet up with the aforementioned short hike through Nahal David. No one’s checking at the entrance, but be nice and pay the entrance fee.

Nahal David
Nahal David

Nahal Dragot

Nahal Dragot

If adventure is your game, the lower part of Nahal Dragot (more popularly known by its Arabic name, Darga) will keep your heart beating. Indeed, the hike is considered somewhat of a rite of passage for Israelis.

Nahal Dragot

Drive along the Dead Sea road and head up to Metzukei Dragot. The Darga is incredibly challenging, with 50-meter-high walls, dry waterfalls and pools of natural water in craters that you have to swim across. Although there are metal stakes hammered into the rocks in some places, you really can’t do this hike without a rope. Or, in some places, skip the rope and jump into the water below. Warning: Don’t do this hike alone!

Nahal Dragot

If ropes aren’t your thing, there are also several tamer routes within the nahal that stick to the upper plains. The views are spectacular and you can tell your friends that you “did” the Darga.

Judean Desert

Wadi Kelt

Wadi Kelt (5-6 hours)

Wadi Kelt is the Arabic name for this area and the one used most often, though it also goes by Ein Prat and Nahal Kelt. It is one of the most popular hiking spots in Israel, with the parks authorities reporting some 60,000 visitors a year. The parking lot is too small for all the cars, so expect to leave your vehicle on the narrow road that winds down to the north from the Jerusalem-Dead Sea Highway (there are clearly marked signs).

Wadi Kelt

From the parking lot, you can hike west through a series of refreshing pools and picnic spots before ascending in the direction of Pisgat Ze’ev – or head east in the direction of Jericho.

Wadi Kelt

The eastern side of the tiyul is the more spectacular, cutting through a deep desert gorge with plenty of water in which to swim. Even in the heat of the summer, the high canyon walls and the water make this a pleasant refuge. Wadi Kelt has gotten a bad rap over the years – four trekkers were murdered in 1995 and 1997 – but there have been no incidents in 14 years. Nevertheless, you might consider hiking on a Friday or during a Jewish holiday when there are more people on the trail.

Wadi Kelt

At the end of the hike is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. George; the monastic community here dates back to 420 CE. If you were to continue on, you’d reach Jericho – but you can’t, as Jericho is part of the Palestinian Authority and closed to Israelis. You can double back through the nahal or take a quicker (but less scenic) road that runs along the top of the canyon.

Wadi Kelt

Nahal Og (3 hours)

Nahal Og

Nahal Og is a beautiful walk that winds through a number of white chalk canyons. It’s mostly flat and pleasant except for one part, where it descends through several near-vertical cliffs. To scale these cliffs, you must hold onto rungs drilled into the side of the mountain. Unlike the rungs in the halon section of the Upper Nahal David hike, however, which go along the cliff wall horizontally, these rungs are truly terrifying, as you can’t see where you’re ending up. So for those with less “spatial intelligence,” you might need a guide to tell you where to place your feet.

Nahal Og

This is a one-way tiyul; park one car near the Nebi Musa antiquities spot (there’s a sign as you descend the highway from Jerusalem toward the Dead Sea) and another near the entrance to Kibbutz Almog. As an alternative, you can start at the foot of Nahal Og and climb up – more strenuous but less scary when you get to the rungs. There are no real views, but the canyon more than makes up for it.

Nahal Og

Nahal Og actually extends farther toward the settlement of Kfar Adumim, and you can hike the entire route in about six to seven hours. As with any hike in a nahal (particularly in the Dead Sea and Judean Desert areas), if there is a chance of rain, don’t hike! There can be a flash flood at any time.

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Eilat mountains

Amram’s Pillars/The Black Canyon (4+ hours)

Amram’s Pillars

The start of the hike is off Highway 90; there is a clearly marked turn about 15 minutes north of Eilat. You then drive on a bumpy dirt road for another 15 minutes before parking your car (it’s not a loop, so you have to use two cars and shuttle between; the whole back-and-forth process can take up to an hour, so build that into your total hiking time).

Amram’s Pillars

The hike itself is worth it, though. First, stop at Amram’s Pillars, two natural rock formations at the end of a short canyon. The hike then proceeds up Mount Amir to its peak, where you’ll be treated to some great views. As you descend, you’ll have two options: a mostly flat route that goes along the Israel Trail, and another, more interesting walk through a canyon filled with ancient copper mines and digging shafts.

Amram’s Pillars

At the end of either of the two routes, you will be close to the Black Canyon – if you’re not short on time, don’t miss it. The canyon is filled with gray and sometimes black granite rock formations, white limestone chalk, plus some narrow passageways, which are fun to climb and slide through.

Amram’s Pillars

Mount Zefachot

Mount Zefachot

This Eilat-area tiyul is easy to find – follow the road that leads to the Egyptian border at Taba, park slightly east of the Eilat Field School and start climbing. Mount Zefachot is not an easy ascent, nor is it a particularly beautiful climb. There are some tricky ups and a few cliffs to keep it interesting. But this hike is all about the payoff, and it’s spectacular.

Mount Zefachot

From the top of the mountain, you get a panoramic view of the entire Red Sea area. You can see four countries from this vantage point: Israel, of course, but also Jordan, Egypt, and the tip of Saudi Arabia. The sea remains a shimmering blue year round, and Eilat’s mild winters make this a perfect hike to break the cold of Israel’s more northern locales.

Mount Zefachot

Once you’ve drunk in the view, there are several options for the descent depending on how much you want to walk. If you take the longest option (about four hours), you’ll end up near Taba; you can then take a public Egged bus or taxi back to your car.

Mount Zefachot

Galilee

Nahal Amud

Nahal Amud (2-5 hours)

Nahal Amud (“pillar canyon”) is the preeminent Galilee hike. It runs from Mount Meron in the west toward the Sea of Galilee in the east. You can walk it in either direction; starting at Meron means more downhill and is generally preferred. The nahal, which parallels the Israel Trail, is gorgeous and shaded, but the highlight is the water – this nahal is not a dry creek. In the summer, the pools are crowded with campers from various youth movements. If you can make it past them, you’ll be treated to a more relaxing walk. There are a number of ancient flour mills along the path.

Nahal Amud

The best place to start is at the parking lot off Highway 89, which connects the mystical town of Safed with Acre on the coast. This is a national park, so you’ll have to pay an entry fee. You start by winding down a steep path before arriving in the nahal. After the pools, you can continue west, or bail early near Safed. There’s a trail that climbs out of the nahal toward the cemetery in Safed. Keep heading up the hill, grab a falafel on the main street to recharge your batteries, then catch a taxi back to your starting point.

Nahal Amud

The other, much shorter alternative is to double back to the parking lot. There’s an upper trail in the nahal that avoids the pools and crowds.

Nahal Amud

Golan Heights

Nahal Yehudiah

Nahal Yehudiah (4-5 hours)

There’s probably no better hike in the heat of summer than Nahal Yehudiah, where the water is so deep, you have no choice but to swim to get to the other side. There are actually some 12 trails in this canyon off Highway 87, just northeast of the Sea of Galilee. But the one that ranks on our top 10 list is “upper” Nahal Yehudiah. The path starts by passing a deserted Syrian village that was built on top of an earlier Jewish town from the Roman-Byzantine period. You’ll pass a cattle-grazing field before heading down into the valley towards the 20-meter high Yehudiah Falls.

Nahal Yehudiah

That’s where the fun starts. There are two cliffs to climb down, using rungs and ladders drilled into the side of the rock – one is four meters long, the second nine meters, which ends in the pool. Make sure your belongings are wrapped up in waterproof bags, or do like some of the more creative hikers who pack small inflatable boats to float their gear across! There’s another pool after that (though you can walk it if you don’t slip). When you’re done swimming, you can backtrack to the start on a dry trail at the top of the nahal.

Nahal Yehudiah

Gorgeous and challenging trails

Fortunately, Israel offers an over-abundance of gorgeous and challenging hikes, from the waterfalls of the Golan Heights to the breathtaking views overlooking the Red Sea. Israel’s trails are clearly marked by colors painted on rocks and tree trunks (the SPNI has a crew of volunteers who regularly check on the markers), and there is a set of 20 glossy maps you can buy (about $25 each) that will keep you moving in the right direction. The maps are available only in Hebrew, but the SPNI is looking for donors to produce English-language versions.

Linking it all together is the 580-mile long Israel Trail, which starts in the northern Galilee and winds its way south until it reaches the tip of Eilat. Inspired by the Appalachian Trail in the US, the Israel Trail was officially marked in 1995 and for the most part follows existing routes. It is indicated by distinctive white-, blue- and orange-striped trail markers (white for the snowy peaks of Mount Hermon, blue for the water and orange for the desert).


At Nahal Yehudiah, hikers climb down cliffs using ladders drilled into the side of the rock.

The Israel Trail is not a straight shot from north to south, hence its length of nearly double the actual miles from one end of the country to the other. Rather, it winds its way through the country’s most scenic geography, zipping over to the Mediterranean coast and the central Tel Aviv area before snaking up to the hills surrounding Jerusalem, then plunging south into the Negev and Arava deserts.

The SPNI is working with the Jerusalem municipality to mark a 25-mile round trip “spur” from the Israel Trail into Jerusalem, covering both urban and forest areas of the capital city.

The Israel Trail specifically avoids regions still in contention, such as the Golan Heights and the West Bank. It also must avoid army training grounds, which take up about 60 percent of the Negev.

Hiking in Israel is a seasonal activity, best done in the fall and spring. The Israel Trail has become a rite of passage, as a growing number of Israelis choose to hike its entire length over two to three months. While much of the time trekkers don’t have any choice but to pitch their own tents for the night, designated “Trail Angels” along the route provide hospitality – often in their homes – at low rates. Trail Angels can also be found on kibbutzim, and some even have free WiFi connections.

Top Israeli hikes

The SPNI recently finished marking a new route dubbed “The Jesus Trail.” It connects important sites from the life of Jesus, and runs for 40 miles from Nazareth to Capernaum, all in the Galilee region. The idea was initiated by an Israeli entrepreneur who runs a chain of hostels, including the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth.

Among the most popular treks in Israel, hikers can choose from a relatively leisurely route (albeit with a few ups and downs) to death-defying challenges, rappelling down cliffs or jumping past waterfalls.

Here are a few favorites:

The Burma Road is one of the easier routes, and also one steeped in history. During the War of Independence, the Jordanians blocked the main route into Jerusalem, attempting to starve the city into surrender. Under the cover of night, soldiers from the nascent state of Israel clandestinely built a bypass road, which succeeded in breaking the blockade.


The Burma Road

The trail starts just outside of Beit Shemesh. You can hike the western part of the trail in the direction of Latrun. You’ll turn north before then, though, to make a loop back to your starting point. This takes you through a pine forest known as Park Rabin. There is also a bike rental shop, as the trail is popular with cyclists.

The eastern flank of the trail is a bit tougher, and kicks off with a steep ascent until reaching the village of Beit Meir. Along the way are some great views of the highway far below. Both sections follow the Israel Trail for much of the route.

Another pleasant hike goes through Nahal Amud (“nahal” means “dry canyon” in Hebrew; the Arabic “wadi” is often substituted). This trek is in the Galilee area – it runs from Mount Meron in the west toward the Sea of Galilee in the east, passing close to the kabalistic town of Safed. In addition to following the Israel Trail, Nahal Amud is particularly shady, even in the summer.

The highlight of the hike is the water – this nahal is not a dry creek – and the pools are frequently filled with campers from the various youth movements. If you can make it past the crowds, you’ll follow the river, then loop back past ancient flourmills before reaching the spacious parking lot (and an ice cream stand – a nice treat at the end of your day).


The highlight of a Nahal Amud hike is the water.

If adventure is your game, the lower part of Nahal Dragot (more popularly known by its Arabic name, Darga) will keep your heart beating. Located in the Dead Sea area, the Darga is incredibly challenging with 50-meter high walls, dry waterfalls and pools of natural water in craters that you have to swim across. Although there are metal stakes hammered into the rocks in some places, you really can’t do this hike without bringing a rope. Or, in some places, skip the rope and jump into the water instead. Warning: Don’t do this hike without a buddy!

Another challenging hike with rungs and water is in the Golan Heights. In Nahal Yehudiah, the water is so deep you have no choice but to swim to reach the other side. The path starts by passing a deserted Syrian village that was built on top of an earlier Jewish town from the Roman-Byzantine period. Further down the valley is the 20-meter-high Yehudiah Falls.

There are two cliffs to climb down using ladders drilled into the side of the rock – one is four meters (13 feet) long, the second nine meters (29.5 feet), ending in the pool. Make sure your belongings are wrapped up in waterproof bags, or do like some of the more creative hikers who pack small inflatable boats to float their gear across.

Water is also the calling card of Wadi Kelt, by far one of the most popular hiking spots in Israel, with some 60,000 visitors a year. The hike, which parallels the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway, cuts through a deep desert gorge. Even in the heat of the summer, the high canyon walls and the water make this a pleasant refuge.

At the end of the hike is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. George; the monastic community here dates back to 420 CE. If you were to continue on, you’d reach Jericho. Instead, Israelis either double back through the nahal or take a quicker (but less scenic) road that runs along the top of the canyon. Better yet, take two cars and park one at each end. That way you can spend more time in the water.

If you prefer to look at water, Mount Zefachot is particularly spectacular. This Eilat-area tiyul starts from the road that leads to the Egyptian border at Taba. There is a steep ascent with some tricky ups and a few cliffs to keep it interesting. But this hike is all about the payoff: From the top of the mountain, you get a panoramic view of the entire Red Sea area. You can see four countries from this vantage point: Israel, of course, but also Jordan, Egypt and the tip of Saudi Arabia. The sea remains a shimmering blue year round, and Eilat’s mild winters make this a perfect hike to break the cold of Israel’s more northern locales.

Sodom Day Tour

By tradition, this area is the site of Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical cities that were destroyed in a storm of fire and brimstone, punishment from God because of their people’s depravity (Genesis 18-19). These days, Sodom is much better known for its desert hiking and cycling trails than for sodomy. And for that we have this day tour. Normally, a day tour occupies about a half day, but I added several hiking opportunities to this day you and that means you will be busy the whole day. It’s breathtaking nature in action. Look also for the stories behind the cursed cities in Israel. See also the maps of the Dead Sea.



‘The Situation of Man’

The Situation of Man
The Situation of Man

Atop a bluff overlooking the Dead Sea Works stands this modern sculpture, a rusty steel column with old steel railway ties striving to climb it like desperate worms.
Next to the sculpture, a viewpoint looks out over a crazy juxtaposition of smoke-spewing heavy industry, electric-blue evaporation pools, green farm fields (over in Jordan) and the wild, tawny beauty of the desert.

Mountains of Moab
Mountains of Moab

Views are best in the late afternoon, when the setting sun turns the mountains of Moab a reddish gold.

Mountains of Moab
Mountains of Moab

The 600m-long access road intersects Rte 90 250m north of the main entrance to the Dead Sea Works. Turn off at the white-on-brown sign reading ‘Plant Viewing Point’ (ignore the yellow ‘no trespassing’ sign) and follow the green signs marked (in Hebrew) ‘LaMitzpeh’ (‘to the scenic lookout’). Beyond the sculpture, a 4WD road continues to the Amiaz Plateau.

Lot’s Wife

Lot's Wife pillar, Mount Sodom
Lot’s Wife pillar, Mount Sodom

About 11km south of the southern end of Ein Bokek, high above the west side of Rte 90, a column of salt-rich rock leans precariously away from the rest of the Mt Sodom cliff face. It is popularly known as Lot’s Wife because, according to the Bible, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt as punishment for looking back to see Sodom as it burned (Genesis 19:17 and 19:26).

Dead Sea Works

Dead Sea Works
Dead Sea Works

Israel’s only major natural resource – other than sunlight and the gas fields off the Mediterranean coast – is the Dead Sea, from which products ranging from magnesium chloride and anhydrous aluminium chloride to table salt and cosmetics are extracted. Founded in the 1930s, the DSW is now the world’s fourth-largest producer of potash, an important component of agricultural fertiliser.
By day, the rusty (from the salt air) smokestacks, pipes and holding tanks of the DSW complex look like a mid-20th-century industrial dystopia, but by night, when the sprawling facilities are lit by thousands of yellowish lights, the site has a mysterious, otherworldly beauty.

Mount Sodom

Mount Sodom
Mount Sodom

Two trails head down the steep flanks of Mt Sodom from a lookout point, reachable by 4WD, whose views are at their best in the late afternoon.

Ma’aleh HaSulamot (Ladders Ascent; 1½ hours to walk down), named after its many stairs, connects with Rte 90 across the highway from the sun-blasted huts of the Dead Sea Works’ first workers’ camp, built in 1934.

Another descent to Rte 90 is Shvil HaDagim (Fishes Trail; 1½ hours down), so named because of the many fossilised fish you can see in the rocks.

Mt Sodom, 11km long and up to 2km wide, is one of the world’s stranger geological formations. Start with the fact that it’s made almost entirely of rock salt, a highly soluble material that in any other climate would have melted away. In fact, over the millennia the area’s rare rainfalls have dissolved some of the salt, creating deep in the bowels of the mountain a maze of caves (closed to the public) up to 5.5km long.

Many are connected to the surface by shafts that hikers need to make sure they don’t fall into, and some are filled with delicate, eerie salt stalactites. And then there’s the matter of Mt Sodom’s summit.

A respectable 250m above the surface of the Dead Sea – the views of Jordan’s Moab Mountains are gorgeous – it also happens to be 176m below sea level.

West of Mt Sodom, Wadi Sodom is ideal for mountain biking. If you start at the top (accessible by 4WD), it’s about two hours, mostly downhill, to the Neve Zohar area.

A round-trip circuit that connects with beautiful Wadi Pratzim (Wadi Perazim), whose upper reaches pass the famous Flour Cave (closed to the public), is another option.

Sleeping

The Mt Sodom area has several well-marked camping zones (chenyonei layla) without facilities, including one up on the Amiaz Plateau (Mishor Amiaz) and another further north at Wadi Tze’elim.

Mt Sodom International Bike Race: www.desertchallenge.co.il

Map of Dead Sea - Sodom Day Tour
Map of Dead Sea – Sodom Day Tour

Abraham Path hiking

The Abraham Path in the Negev currently crosses the northern section of the desert from west to east starting at the city of Beer Sheva, today the ‘capital of the Negev’ and largest city in the south of the country, but known as the place of Abraham’s Well which, according to the Book of Genesis, was dug by Abraham when he entered the city.

The Negev section of the Abraham Path is currently split into seven stages. It’s the first stage or the final two stages which are perhaps the most interesting for those looking for a one or two day hike, although the entire hike, which would take up to 7 days, covers some of Israel’s most spectacular landscapes, and diverse communities. Once developed, the trail will continue south along the Dead Sea, through Sodom and beyond.

Stage 1 – Beer Sheva to Lakiya. Lakiya is a Bedouin village unique in the fact that women lead the development of their community. Recommended as a one day hike.
Stage 2 – Lakiya to Meitar.
Stage 3 – Meitar to Har Amasa. Passing through the Yatir Forest, this forest was fully planted in the last 100 years
Stage 4 – Har Amasa to Tel Arad. Tel Arad is a site important in the creation of modern religion
Stage 5 – Tel Arad to Arad.
Stage 6 – Arad to Kfar Hanokdim. Descending towards the Dead Sea, the day ends at a unique touristic Bedouin village
Stage 7 – Kfar Hanokdim to Masada, Dead Sea. End at the magnificent Masada Fortress, beside the Dead Sea.

Click here for the map.

Abraham Path, Israel 2 Abraham Path, Israel 3 Abraham Path, Israel abraham-path-david-landis-64

The Arava, Hiking, Biking and Swimming in the Desert

Part of the Great Rift Valley that runs for some 5000km from northern Syria to central Mozambique, this austerely beautiful and sparsely populated desert stretches from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and has as its backdrop the majestic multi-hued Jordanian mountain range known in Israel as the Edom (Red) Mountains. Map.

The desert scenery is most spectacular around the settlement of Tzukim (aka Zuqim, or Zukim)(map) on Hwy 90 between the Dead Sea and Zihor Junction.

Arava
Arava

The Arava is becoming known as a center for outdoor activities, especially cycling. A popular 33km bike trail runs along a wadi (dry river bed) between Zofar (map) and Paran (map), and the desert terrain is a favorite destination for 4WD enthusiasts. In rainy years, Eshet Lake near Paran (map) is a popular swimming spot.

Arava
Arava

Kibbutz Neot Semadar (054 979 8966 (gallery), 08-635 8170 (tours); http://www.neot-semadar.com; Shizafon Junction; gallery entrance 18NIS, two-hour guided tour 250NIS; tours & gallery entrance 11am-2pm Sun-Fri)(map)
A true oasis in the desert, this kibbutz has lush green surrounds and a bizarre pink tower in which residents have established an arts center and a gallery where artisan crafts are sold to the public. The community was established in 1989 and focuses on promoting cooperation, creativity and learning in daily life. It supports itself through agriculture (orchard and olive grove), a winery, a solar field and the workshops it runs on self-awareness and Eco-building. The kibbutz is located on Hwy 40, halfway between Mitzpe Ramon and Eilat (10km up Hwy 40 from Ketura Junction on Hwy 90).

Kibbutz Neot Semadar
Kibbutz Neot Semadar

Timna Park (08-631 6756; http://www.parktimna.co.il; day ticket adult/child 44/36NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, 8am-3pm Fri )(map)
The colorful sands and craggy mountains of the Timna Valley, 25km north of Eilat, are full of minerals including copper, iron and manganese. This park incorporates traces from one of the world’s first copper mines,

King Solomon's Mines
King Solomon’s Mines

and is home to thousands of ancient mining shafts, the remains of smelting furnaces dating back to ancient imperial Egypt, temple remnants and ancient rock drawings depicting ostriches, ibex and Egyptian battle chariots. Other attractions are geological phenomena including Solomon’s Pillars

Solon pillars
Solon pillars

(two huge columns of granite formed by rainwater some 540 million years ago) and the Mushroom, an eroded monolith in the shape of…you guessed it. You could easily spend a whole day hiking here, but the park is so spread out that you’ll also need a car. Information about walks is available at the visitor center, accessed off Hwy 90.

Timna National Park
Timna National Park

Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve (08-637 6018; http://www.parks.org.il; adult/student/child 29/25/15NIS; h8.30am-4pm Sun-Thu, 8.30am-3pm Fri & Sat) (map)
Wild animals that are mentioned in the Bible are bred at this nature reserve 35km north of Eilat, as are other endangered desert species. Divided into three areas – an area where herds of desert herbivores live in conditions similar to the wild; enclosures containing large predators, reptiles and small desert animals; and a ‘dark room’ to view nocturnal animals when they are active – it can be thoroughly explored in two hours if you have your own car. The reserve’s inhabitants include asses, oryx, addax and ostriches, and its flora includes acacia groves. You’ll find it on Hwy 90 about 42km north of Eilat, between Kibbutz Yotvata and Kibbutz Samar.

Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve
Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve

Kibbutz Ketura (www.ketura.org.il) (map)
One of the most interesting of Israel’s kibbutzim, Ketura has transformed itself from an agricultural kibbutz into a leader in innovative eco-technology. Founded in 1973, it is unusual in that it is a CABIN multinational, religiously pluralistic community. Home to the internationally renowned Arava Institute (http://arava.org), which researches and draws attention to ecological problems in the region, it runs businesses including a date plantation, a dairy farm, a photovoltaic solar field and an algae factory producing the powerful antioxidant Astaxanthin. The kibbutz is located on Hwy 90, 50km north of Eilat.

Kibbutz Ketura
Kibbutz Ketura

Kibbutz Lotan (08-635 6935; http://www.kibbutzlotan.com)(map)
Embracing an ecological vision known in Hebrew as tikun ‘olam (repairing the world), this kibbutz is known for its sincere and long-demonstrated commitment to sustainability and cooperative action. Visitors can take a guided daily tour at 9.30am (20NIS), spot wildlife in the kibbutz’s nature and bird reserve, discover the therapeutic delight of watsu (water shiatsu) in the kibbutz’s heated pool, or sign up for a one-week ‘eco-experience’, four- to seven-week ‘green apprenticeship’ or short permaculture workshop at the ecology education center. Regional bus 20 from Eilat stops at the kibbutz, and Egged buses to/from Tel Aviv stop on Hwy 90, nearby.

Kibbutz Lotan
Kibbutz Lotan

Samar Bike (052 551 8904, 052 304 0640; http://www.samarbike.com; Kibbutz Samar) (map)
Based at Kibbutz Samar, 34km north of Eilat, this outfit runs bike tours across a variety of trails in the Arava and can supply pick-up and drop-off services and logistics for those wanting to cycle part of the Israel National Trail. It operates a small guesthouse on the kibbutz that is tailored specifically towards bike tourism.

Samar Bike
Samar Bike

Sleeping & Eating

Desert Routes Inn (052 366 5927, 08-658 1829; Hatzeva; dm/d/tw/f US$27/208/208/285)(map)
The owners of this khan (desert inn) close to the Jordanian border in the Northern Arava are a mine of information about the area and can organize jeep, hiking and rappelling tours. They offer private and dorm rooms, and also operate a nearby camping ground. There’s a communal kitchen and hospitality tent, making it a great option for self-caterers.

Desert Routes Inn
Desert Routes Inn

Desert Days: Negev Eco Lodge (058 484 2357, 052 617 0028; http://www.negevecolodge.com; Tzukim; d weekday/weekend 450/525NIS, per child extra 50NIS)(map)
Nine cabins made of straw bales and mud provide a base for city dwellers seeking a tranquil desert escape. The surrounds are stony and stark, but there is an unusual string of desert pools to soften the overall effect. Each cabin can sleep up to six, and green features include self-composting toilets, recycled grey water and solar-generated power. Breakfast costs an extra 50/30NIS per adult/child. To reach the lodge, turn off Rte 90 at Tzukim and follow the ‘Desert Days’ sign.

Desert Days: Negev Eco Lodge
Desert Days: Negev Eco Lodge

Neot Semadar Guesthouse (054 979 8433; http://www.neot-semadar.com; d weekday/weekend 430/480NIS)(map)
A minimalist aesthetic is the hallmark of these sustainable built and attractive cabins, which are set in a garden on the edge of an olive grove. Each is equipped with a fridge and kettle, and the room charge includes a breakfast basket. Other meals can be taken at the nearby inn.

Neot Semadar Guesthouse
Neot Semadar Guesthouse

Kibbutz Ketura Country Lodge (057 941 9109; http://www.keren-kolot-israel.co.il;  weekdays/weekends NIS350/400, d 440/530)(map)
Ketura’s guesthouse is comfortable and extremely well maintained. Three types of room are on offer: the ‘Marulla’, which sleeps up to four and has a private terrace; the two-room ‘Pitaya’ family suite, which sleeps up to eight; and the four-room ‘Argania’, which can also sleep eight. All have kitchenette and cable TV, and there are communal BBQs. Facilities include a basketball court, football field, alternative health centre (treatments from 180NIS), bicycle hire, and on-site coffee shop (open 8am to 11pm every day except Shabbat). Guests receive a free tour of the kibbutz and are welcome to join members for a dairy dinner (adult/child 35/30NIS) in the communal dining hall. Egged buses traveling along Hwy 90 will drop passengers at Ketura (40 minutes from Eilat; be sure to specify Kibbutz Ketura, not Ketura Junction). From Eilat, Regional Council bus 20 also stops here.

Kibbutz Ketura Country Lodge
Kibbutz Ketura Country Lodge

Kibbutz Lotan Guesthouse (08-635 6935; http://www.kibbutzlotan.com;  weekday/weekend 300/370NIS, d 370/440NIS)(map)
There are two types of accommodation on offer at this kibbutz: simple but comfortable guesthouse cabins with kitchenette, bathroom, air-con and outdoor seating area; and hippy-ish mud eco-domes (some with private bathroom and some with shared facilities). Prices include breakfast in the kibbutz tea house, and other meals may be enjoyed with kibbutz residents in the communal dining room. Lotan is known as a ‘baby-butz’ because it is relatively small and many of its residents are  young (the average age is 40), so there’s a lively atmosphere. Facilities include shady gardens, a children’s playground, a basketball court and a soccer field. Meals make the most of home-grown vegetables and dates, as well as dairy products made on site, and both vegans and vegetarians are catered for. Egged buses travelling to/from Eilat will drop passengers on Hwy 90 near the 1.5km-long access road to the kibbutz (45 minutes from Eilat); Regional Council bus 20 comes to the kibbutz itself.

Kibbutz Lotan Guesthouse
Kibbutz Lotan Guesthouse

Midbara (052 701 0444; http://www.midbara.co.il; Tzukim; d weekdays/weekends 800/900NIS, q 1200/1500NIS)(map)
The settlement of Tzukim is becoming a tourism hotspot, with a boom in construction of desert lodges. Midbara is definitely the most attractive of these, offering 11 well-spaced, comfortable and stylish mud cabins scattered along a valley planted with fruit trees. All its cabins have kitchens, a few have indoor fireplaces and most have a private relaxation pool and hammock. Children love the free bike hire and on-site animals (chickens, a camel), so it’s a great spot for a family holiday. Note that prices drop for stays of multiple nights. Tzukim is 113km north of Eilat. To reach the lodge, turn off Rte 90 at Tzukim and follow the ‘Desert Days’ sign.

Midbara
Midbara

Nof Zuqim (08-658 4748; http://www.nofzuqim.co.il; Tzukim; standard weekdays/weekends 820/1130NIS, d with panoramic view 1040/1430NIS)(map)

Nof Zuqim
Nof Zuqim

A great deal of thought has gone into the design of these mud cabins overlooking a stony wadi in Tzukim. Each is extremely well equipped and tastefully decorated, and has an outdoor BBQ and private balcony with hot tub. It’s worth paying extra for a cabin with a panoramic view, as the mountain vistas are magnificent. A delicious breakfast can be delivered to your cabin for 54NIS per person.

Nof Zuqim
Nof Zuqim

Neot Semadar Inn (08-635 8180; http://www.neot-semadar.com; Shizzafon Junction; labneh 26NIS, cheese platter 50NIS, mains 40-45NIS; h7am-7pm Sun-Thu, 7am-3pm Fri)(map)
A lush rear garden gives this roadside inn its name (neot means ‘oasis’). Operated by the kibbutz of the same name, it serves home-made goats cheese and labneh, as well as a range of salads, egg dishes, dips, pasta and cakes made using organic produce. Be sure to try one of the home-made fruit nectars or juices.

Neot Semadar Inn
Neot Semadar Inn