National Parks in Israel

Israel has over 400 national parks and nature reserves that cover almost a quarter of the country’s surface. Some parks preserve archaeological sites, like Caesarea’s ancient Roman port city, and Masada, Herod’s mountain-top palace-fortress. Other Israel national parks are preserved for their natural beauty. National parks in Israel are spread across the country from north to south. In the south is the breathtaking Ein Gedi National Park, a desert oasis with lush vegetation and babbling brooks. Near Haifa, is the Mount Carmel National Park that covers a 40km-long mountain range famed for its wineries, villages, and forest-covered slopes. Gan HaShlosha National Park is a must-see slice of paradise, with natural spring pools where you can swim in the shadow of shady trees.

Top Nature Reserves in Israel include Akhziv National Park, with blue bays, rock pools, and sea turtle nesting sites. You can do wet hikes in several places, like Ayun Streat Nature Reserve, and Amud Stream Nature Reserve. There is a high concentration of National parks in northern Israel each with a unique character. The Hamat Tiberias National Park on the Golan has hot springs and the Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) National Park preserves an archaeological site that would have been a fishing village during Jesus’ lifetime. You can travel across the Holy Land discovering diverse, and unique national parks where you’ll see a side of Israel you never imagined existed.

Baha’i UNESCO Holy Places in Haifa and the Western Galilee

These sites were named UNESCO sites of outstanding universal value in 2008 for their “profound spiritual meaning and the testimony they bear to the strong tradition of pilgrimage in the Baha’i Faith.” The sites include the faith’s two holiest sites associated with the faith’s founders as well as the surrounding grounds, gardens and other buildings and monuments in the Haifa and Western Galilee region. The locations in this area are important points on the Baha’i pilgrimage route. The holy sites have deep religious significance for the approximate 5 million followers of the Baha’i faith.The Baha’i Sites Included in the UNESCO Inscription are:Shrine of Bab, Haifa, together with the visitor center and terraced gardens.The Mansion of Bahji, Acre (where Baha’u’llah lived and died).The Mansion at Mazra’ih (6km from Acre, once owned by Abdu’llah Pasha and used by Baha’u’llah).The Shrine of Baha’u’llah, Acre (where his remains are interred).The Bahji Visitor Center.The Garden of Ridvan, Acre (where Baha’u’llah spent time in contemplation).Baha’u’llah’s prison cell, Acre (where he was confined from 1868 to 1870).The House of Abdu’llah, Acre.The two houses of Abbud, Acre (used by Baba’u’llah’s family).The house at 75 HaTzionut Avenue, Haifa (the current Baha’i Department of Holy Places).The resting place of Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum (wife of Shoghi Effendi and head of the faith 1957-1963), Haifa.Haifa Pilgrim Reception Center.Eastern Pilgrim House, Haifa.Second Eastern Pilgrim House, Haifa.Original Western Pilgrim House, Haifa.House of Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa.The Monument Gardens where several religious leaders and their family members are buried.Various administrative buildings in Haifa and the Western Galilee.House of Abdu’l-Baha, Acre, this is where Abdu’l-Baha lived; where his son Shoghi Effendi was born and where the remains of the Bab were kept for 10 years before being moved to their final resting place in the Haifa shrine.The Baha’i FaithThe basic principles of the Baha’i faith are the unity of religion (that there is only one God); the unity of humanity (all men were created equally) and that the purpose of man is to learn to know God through prayer and reflection. Baha’i followers believe that the leaders of the world’s main religions, including Jesus, Abraham, Moses and Krishna, were all messengers sent by God to educate humanity.In 1844 the Baha’i prophet-Herald, The Bab, began teaching his creed in Persia, he was subsequently persecuted for his beliefs and executed in 1850. Baha’u’llah, one of The Bab’s followers, became the leader of the faith and was imprisoned in Tehran for his beliefs. After his imprisonment he was expelled to Baghdad and then to Constantinople (Istanbul) and to Adrianople (Edirne). He was finally banished to Acre in 1868, which was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time. Here he was confined in prison and later allowed to live in a home near Acre, under house arrest. He spent 24 years in Acre compiling the scriptures of the faith and eventually died in 1892. His son, Abdu’l-Baha took over as leader of the faith. The faith spread to the western world and following the death of Abdu’l-Baha (1921) the religion was led by an elected body.The Shrine of Baha’u’llah, AcreAfter being released under house arrest in Acre, Baha’u’llah lived in several homes including the Mansion of Baha’u’llah where he lived and wrote most of his great writings. Here he passed away and the house became his mausoleum. The shrine is the faith’s holiest site and their Qiblih (the direction all Baha’i believers face when praying).Shrine of the Bab, HaifaIn 1909 the remains of the original founder of the Baha’i faith, Bab, were secretly brought from Persia (Iran) and interred in a tomb built for this purpose and designed by Baha’u’llah on Mount Carmel overlooking the city of Haifa. The tomb was expanded in 1953 and given a golden dome which is now a symbol of the city of Haifa. The tomb overlooks a kilometer of 19 terraced gardens which cascade down Mount Carmel.
By Petal Mashraki

Guide to Mitzpe Ramon and the Surrounding Negev Desert

The small community of Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel sits on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater); a 38 km wide crater formed thousands of years ago. Perched on the northern ridge of the crater, overlooking the Negev Desert, Mitzpe Ramon has breathtaking views across the desert and plenty to see and do.The community was founded in 1951 to accommodate workers constructing the road to Eilat. Immigrants from Romania and North Africa settled here and the town grew to be a thriving community and the gateway to the Negev. Although Mitzpe Ramon is in the desert it enjoys relatively cool weather thanks to the winds which blow in across the crater to the elevated town. Mitzpe Ramon even experiences snow several times a year. In recent years the area has become a center for organic farming, homemade food products, spiritual retreats, and natural living. A visit to Mitzpe Ramon offers a completely fresh and unique experience, unlike anything you could experience in any other part of Israel.Getting to Mitzpe RamonIf arriving from Tel Aviv take the #40 highway south to Mitzpe Ramon; the town is about 85 km south of Be’er Sheva. If setting out in Tel Aviv you can take #660 and from Jerusalem bus #470. Trains travel from Tel Aviv arriving in Be’er Sheva and from there you can continue on to Mitzpe Ramon by bus #65 or #64. Driving from Tel Aviv to Mitzpe Ramon will take you about 1.15 hours and the bus or train and bus combo will take you 1.15-3 hours. Once in Mitzpe Ramon you can explore the town on foot or by car and take organized excursions into the desert.Mitzpe Ramon AccommodationThere are about six hotels in Mitzpe Ramon including the famous Beresheet Hotel, a luxury hotel of the Isrotel chain which overlooks the crater. Each room has views of the crater and there are spa treatments on offer as well as gourmet food. Chez Eugene is a recommended chic boutique hotel and there is also the Ramon Suites Hotel and Ramon Inn. In the surrounding areas, there are many B&Bs and small inns as well as campgrounds. Try the ibex Unique Desert Inn or Khan Be’erotayim for a desert experience. Budget accommodation can be found at the Green Backpackers Hostel, Mitzpe Ramon Hostel, or the basic Succah in the Desert.Mitzpe Ramon EateriesThe region is known for its organic farms and traditionally edible products like honey, wine, cheese, yogurt, and olive oil. Among the top-rated restaurants in Mitzpe Ramon, there is Hahavit (the Barrel) a bar/restaurant with standard pub food; Beresheet Dairy Restaurant in the Beresheet Hotel has stunning views and Hakatze serves hearty Israeli food in simple surroundings. At Hadassar Natural Living Restaurant you can enjoy locally sourced, organic, vegetarian fare in bohemian-style surroundings. Other dining options are the generic Café Neto, an Israeli coffee house chain, and fine dining at Chez Eugene.Attractions in Mitzpe Ramon & the Negev1. Ramon Crater and Makhtesh Ramon Visitor CenterThe crater (makhtesh) is 38 km long, 6 km wide, and 450 meters deep; this natural wonder looks like something out of a space odyssey. At the Makhtesh Visitor Center, you can get a bird’s eye view across the crater and learn about the history, facts, and figures of the site. To really experience the crater take one of the themed excursions by jeep or on foot into the heart of the makhtesh.2. Ein Avdat National ParkNestled in the Zin Valley this national park centers on the Ein Avdat Spring which flows to a beautiful 8-meter high waterfall and pour into a pool below. The water attracts local wildlife and allows vegetation and trees to grow around the oasis. There are several streams in the park and hike trails through the canyon and along the water’s edge. If you like this attraction you should also visit Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea.3. Alpaca FarmThis fun attraction is home to a herd of alpacas and lamas; the farm also offers accommodation and light meals. A visit includes feeding the alpacas and getting an informative talk from one of the guides.4. Nabatean Avdat AcropolisThe ancient Nabatean civilization set up rest points along the spice route which ran from the Arabian peninsula north to Syria and the Mediterranean. The remains of some of these Nabatean cities include the khan or roadside motel where they had a wine cellar and mud-brick structures. Another Nabatean site in the area is the Ramalia Cisterns, huge wells which were dug out by the ancient civilization to preserve water.5. Desert Jeep TourA desert jeep excursion is a perfect way to discover the crater and the surrounding desert. The thrill of bumping and jumping over rough terrain is unforgettable. Jeep tours can take you to nearby Zin Valley or into the crater and you can see stunning scenery, camels grazing, local Bedouin, and shepherds herding their goats. Many of the tours combine the jeep trip with a stop for coffee in the desert, a dip in a desert spring, or to show you geological wonders.6. Mitzpe Ramon “north”The old industrial zone of Mitzpe Ramon has been gentrified and turned into a hub of boutique specialty stores and places of entertainment. Check out the bakeries, restaurants, craft workshops, Mitzpe Ramon Jazz Club, and Faran cosmetics factory where the products are inspired by the natural surroundings.7. RappellingRappelling or abseiling down the cliffs of the Ramon Crater is a once-in-a-lifetime experience – not just because of the actual activity but also because of the unique location and views as you descend. Several companies in Mitzpe Ramon lead visitors to the edge of the cliff (literally). You don’t need any prior experience, just the guts to hang yourself over the side of a cliff on a rope!8. StargazingFrom Mitzpe Ramon you can take a stargazing excursion into the desert where there is very little artificial light from cities and the wide-open sky can be seen unhindered by skyscrapers or city pollution. Ira and Pam Machefsky run Astronomy Israel; they take visitors to the rim of the crater and set up telescopes, provide a warm blanket and explain the night sky with enthusiasm and humor.9. Rota WineryNorth of Kibbutz Revivim on route #222 is this organic winery where there are wine and cheese tasting as well as tours of the farm. Erez Rota is an artist who used to live in Tel Aviv before moving south and establishing his farm. His metal sculptured art installations can be seen scattered across the farm.10. Neve MidbarThis mineral water health spa features natural thermal bath waters. It is located off route #222 and offers use of the pools plus the option for spa treatments at an additional fee. Visitors can enjoy the coffee bar and cafe.11. Neot Smadar Goat FarmHere you can get a picnic basket filled with the delicious locally-produced cheeses and yogurts made using milk from the 150 strong herds of goats. At the farm, there is a café and store where you can by goat milk products. The store also sells organic products produced on the kibbutz.12. Bedouin Tent ExperienceVisit a real Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert. Visitors can join the Bedouins of the Negev for some dates and black coffee and have the opportunity to see how Bedouin live. Some of the Bedouin offer tours into the desert where they explain about the foraging of food in the harsh surroundings and about the plants they use for traditional medicine. There are Bedouin tent experiences which include a meal, entertainment, and even an overnight stay in the tent.
By Petal Mashraki

The Israel National Trail

Criss-crossing the entire land of Israel, and stretching just over 1000 kilometres (around 630 miles), the Israel National Trail (‘Shvil Israel’) is the kind of experience every hiker will remember for years after. National Geographic have listed it as one of the world’s “most epic” trails and when you hike it you’ll understand marries mountains with desert, coastal plains with green fields, snow-capped hills with warm waters in the Red Sea, Roman and Crusader ruins with Arab/Druze villages...basically, it’s a taste of everything the land of Israel encompasses.Rare OpportunityIt also offers the hiker something else too - a chance to understand more about the Biblical significance of the land as well as the opportunity to meet Israelis from every walk of life...not just those whose villages and towns you’ll pass through, but those who will aid you practically, as you continue on your journey. (But more of that later.)The trail itself is easily marked in colorful stripes - blue white and orange - and is the brainchild of Avraham Tamir and Ori Dvir, who love hiking and nature. Inaugurated back in 1995, first and foremost its aim is to give hikers the chance to experience Israel in its most natural settings. What’s also great about the National Israel Trail is that you don’t have to complete the entire stretch. If you're not an expert hiker, or you only have a few days to spare, that’s fine - you can focus on one particular part of it or even take day trips. But for any ardent hiker, between 4-6 weeks will need to be set aside in order to complete the entire stretch.Trail AngelsOn a practical level, strong boots, snacks, and a hardy water bottle are all must-haves, particularly for when you’re in remote areas of the trail. The SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature) sells high-class topographical maps, in English, with an emphasis on the hiking trails - they are an invaluable resource!There’s also more good news - all along the route, you’ll be able to call upon the services of “Trail Angels”. These wonderful people provide hikers with a place to shower/sleep, kitchen facilities, and quite often dinner, or at the very least a coffee and a chat, in their homes. Getting to meet locals in their natural habitat? It doesn’t get much more authentic than this! Some Trail Angels also partake in a water-burying scheme (in the desert areas) which really comes in handy when you’re halfway through your day and parched.It’s up to you whether you want to work your way up or down the country, but since trekking in Israel’s summer can be unbearable, we suggest you begin your journey in the autumn or winter. Here’s an example of an itinerary, beginning in the south, in mid-February.Timna, the Arava and the NegevStart your journey in Eilat (on the tip of the Red Sea), and spend your last day of ‘freedom’ on the beach, enjoying views of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi. With its endless palm trees and clement waters, it’s the ideal place to enjoy some R&R.Trekking through the Eilat Mountains, and the Arava desert, pass through Timna Park - 15,000 acres set in a valley shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by Mount Timna and some very steep cliffs. The geology is quite fascinating (our tip: look out for the Pillars of Solomon, two sandstone columns that tower above you). Heading up through the vast desert expanses, you’ll pass Kibbutz Neot Samdar (they sell excellent vegetarian produce) and arrive in Mitzpe Ramon, a small town that sits on the edge of the magnificent Ramon Crater. (It’s actually possible to hike, bike, or take a jeep tour inside the crater). About 35 kilometers north, you’ll arrive at the Midreshet Ben Gurion, an intimate community that boasts scientific institutes, the burial site of David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister), and some striking views of Wadi Zin. Call upon Trail Angel Arthur du Mosch, who leads tours of the desert, is an expert horse-rider and actually caught a leopard in his home, many years back!Judean HillsThe Judean Desert, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHead north through the Negev to the Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest forest which, despite receiving very little rainfall, is home to some of the country’s most varied woodlands (including a unique eucalyptus with red blossoms). Enjoy some archaeology - the Yatir Ruins (associated with the Biblical city of Jatti).From there it’s into the Judean Hills. Don’t miss the breathtaking views inside the ‘British Park’ and sites such as the Luzit Caves, Kidon Ruins, and Monastery of Beit Jamal. Trek through dirt tracks, pass caves and look over Highway 1, which served as a battleground in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The trail continues through the Sharon coastal area, including Tel Aviv. The ‘White City’ (named after its Bauhaus Buildings) can be a good place to enjoy a couple of days’ rest, some good coffee, and sandy beaches.Carmel and the GalileeIt’s then north to the incredibly lovely part of the trail, with wondrous views of the Galilee and steep ravines in which you can hike. The path runs through Kibbutz Yagur, where you’ll find more helpful Trail Angels. Dip your feet in the Nakhash Stream, sip at your water bottle and breathe in the clean air.Further north, you’ll arrive at Mount Tabor, rising up from the very flat Jezreel Valley. Green all year round, it provides magnificent observation points. (Our tip: don’t miss the caves and the Greek Orthodox/Franciscan churches).Mount Meron, the Yesha Fortress, and the Upper GalileeAbout 70 kilometers north, just after the spiritual center of Safed, you’ll arrive at Mount Meron which, at 500 meters above sea level, is Israel’s largest peak. It is home to ‘Elijah’s Chair’ (a huge lectern-shaped rock that is rumored to be where the great prophet sat). Parts of the area are a protected nature reserve - and don’t miss the village of Meron either (where you’ll find the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai).Another 30 km north, you’ll arrive at the imposing Yesha Fortress - built by the British during the Mandate period. Today it’s used by the Israeli border police. Hike up the path that leads to a splendid panorama of the Hula Valley below. On your left, you will see the villages of Metula and Kiryat Shmona and, across the Valley, the Golan Heights (whose peaks might even still have snow on them).You will also find at the site a plaque that remembers the 28 men who died fighting here in the War of Independence (our tip: don’t miss the small grove nearby that has 28 trees planted in memory of the men). The last part of the trail - the Hula Valley, Upper Galilee, and Naftali Ridge - will see you hiking when spring has truly arrived - with luck you will have blue skies and sunny days, and all around you will be fields carpeted with brightly colored crocuses.On the eastern side of the Naftali cliffs, the trail will afford you views of planted forests (after the Second Lebanon War, a reforestation project was undertaken). Don’t miss the Saadia Scenic Lookout, the Manara Cliff, and the Shepherds Spring. And by then, you’re homeward bound and you can honestly say you know the land of Israel a great deal better!
By Sarah Mann
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