When your vacation time is limited and you’re traveling to an exotic location you’ll probably find yourself whizzing from major landmark to the next without smelling the coffee, roses or even the camel droppings! So if you’re in Israel and planning to make the journey south to visit the Dead Sea or Eilat why not be brave and drive there. When you’re traveling independently you get to stop at interesting places along the way and not just go straight from point A to point B. Here are a few places I’ve discovered along the route down south through the Judean and Negev Desert.
Ein Fawwar is one of three natural springs that feed into Wadi Kelt northeast of Jerusalem and close to Ma’aleh Adumim. I came across this oasis in the Judean desert which few tourists know about but which many of the locals enjoy, greedily keeping its location a secret. Once you descend the sloping pathway through the dry sand and rocks you’ll see a sudden burst of color as the green foliage comes into view. The natural spring pours into a pool in regular 20-minute spurts and flows down through the reeds and desert grasses forming a narrow brook. You can paddle along the brook or even swim in the naturally formed pool. When we were there we saw stunning dragonflies and a few desert lizards. It was also quite heartwarming to see Jews and Arabs taking refuge from the dry desert heat in the refreshing water in the middle of nowhere.
Yudvata is one of Israel’s leading dairies based on Kibbutz Yotvata 42km north of Eilat. Over the years the kibbutz cafeteria has morphed into a roadway stop complete with a gas station, tourist information center, restaurant, and store.
The large store sells fresh homemade products, local arts, and crafts as well as kibbutz dairy products. The two main attractions here are the cows and the ice-cream. OK, so the cows are not real, but there are at least 25 of them lounging around and standing idly watching the visitors. Kids love to climb up on the cows for a photo op. Then there’s the ice-cream, what can I say, simply the best. Especially because you are standing in the middle of the scorching desert.
Pundak 101 or Kushi’s
The name of this stop along the Arava Highway comes either from Unit 101, the elite army unit which the owner belonged to or from the stop’s location 101kms from Eilat. Shimon “Kushi” Rimon took to the desert and opened this oasis in 1982 and the place has become a legend. The expansive oasis is constructed out of wood and is covered giving relief from the sun. Not only can you find 24-hour restaurants and restrooms here but also a collection of reptiles, farm animals, arcade games, a camel and a donkey.
Journey back to Biblical times with this entertaining and wacky “attraction.” At Genesis Land, you’ll meet a friendly Australian man dressed up as Abraham’s manservant, Eliezer, from the Bible. Eliezer talks to you like you’ve just arrived at his tent 4,000 years ago. Eliezer together with some other Biblical characters entertains the small groups with tales of their life in the desert, a snack of dates and nuts and even a camel ride. Tourists can even dress up in Biblical gear to get into the mood! Then the group gathers around a fire on the edge of a cliff overlooking the expansive Judean Desert and bakes pita bread over the fire. The whole interactive performance takes about an hour and the site also offers a venue for private events, workshops and organized groups.
The Dead Sea
It goes without saying that if you are traveling further south you should make a stop at the Dead Sea to float on the water and cover yourself with the mineral rich black mud.
Now, if you decide that going it alone is too much of a challenge for you then there are tour companies that travel along this route, although they don’t make all the stops mentioned above. The top three tour companies in Israel are Egged Tours, Dan, and Bein Harim. I’ve taken various tours with each of these companies and I can recommend Bein Harim as being the most personal and the guides very well informed.