Nahal David waterfall at Ein Gedi
Surrounded by majestic cliffs and very close to the Masada National Park (http://www.parks.org.il/BuildaGate5/general2/data_card.php?Cat=~25~~736559308), Ein Gedi is one side of a popular tourism triangle for people who like to hike, sunbathe, bird-watch, explore archeology or relax in a hot-spring spa.
Israeli tour guide Mordechai Weiss (http://www.rabbiguide.com/) suggests beginning a tour of Ein Gedi with an hour-long hike to the lower David Stream (Nahal David), which offers a scenic vantage point.
“It's an easy uphill walk with steps and handrails to the waterfalls and water holes,” says Weiss.
“It’s the most accessible hike in Ein Gedi, even in a wheelchair at its very beginning. There are a number of stations along the way to stop and catch your breath or to take a dip in the water. And be on the lookout for the ever-popular mountain goats and hyraxes.”
The David and Arugot streams flow year-round through deep canyons surrounded by lush vegetation, in sharp contrast to the surrounding desert.
“My personal favorite is the walk to the Arugot,” says Weiss. This is one of the largest riverbeds in the Judean Desert, starting near Jerusalem and ending at the Dead Sea.
“The trail leads to the Hidden Waterfall and back. But you need to set aside more time for this hike.” It will take two to four hours, depending which route you choose.
Weiss advises would-be visitors to time their excursion carefully. “The park does not allow for entry already one hour before closing time, and you are probably traveling to the area from a distance,” he explains. “The lower David Trail offers you more flexibility with your time, with a number of waterfall and swimming options available after only a few minutes of hiking.”
On the lower David, you can see the remains of a synagogue dating back to Talmudic times 1,600 years ago. Inside is a preserved mosaic floor with colorful depictions of desert animals similar to those you can still see today.
This synagogue dates back 1,600 years.
Those with more time and lots of energy may opt to hike Ein Gedi’s upper David Trail, which begins at the David Stream and continues up to the Shulamit Spring, passing the Dodim Cave and the Ein Gedi Spring, along with a fourth-century BCE Chalcolithic temple.
The nature reserve is open weekdays in summer from 8 am to 5 pm and in winter until 4 pm; Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and on Fridays from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm.
Where to stay
If your Ein Gedi exploration will include an overnight stay, you may want to book a room at one of the Dead Sea’s many hotels in the Ein Bokek area right on the beach, south of Ein Gedi.
But if you prefer staying in the nature reserve or next to it, the options run the gamut from the Ein Gedi Hotel (http://www.ein-gedi.co.il/en/), soon to unveil its all-new spa; Kibbutz Ein Gedi; the Ein Gedi Field School and Hostel (http://www.zimmeril.com/site.asp?site_id=512); and the Ein Gedi Beit Sarah Guest House (http://www.iyha.org.il/eng/Index.asp?CategoryID=77&ArticleID=63), run by the Israel Youth Hostel Association (http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/IsraelExperience/The-surprising-youth-hostels-of-Israel-13-Jun-2011).
Kibbutz Ein Gedi, founded in 1953, has a botanical garden planted with plants and trees indigenous to Israel -- such as olive, pomegranate and fig trees -- alongside tropical transplants from Madagascar, Australia and Africa. An aromatic garden is filled with biblical perfumed and medicinal plants.
The most popular paid tourist site in all of Israel, Masada National Park, is Ein Gedi’s near neighbor. You can get up to the top of this famous plateau via cable car or on foot. At the top you’ll see the restored remains of a fortress town where a band of Jewish men, women and children held out against masses of conquering Roman troops during the first century. They ultimately chose mass suicide rather than enslavement, and so Masada has become a symbol of heroism.