Natural and Historical Highlights of Israel
- Experience the unique blending of natural and human history of Israel
- Explore the rich biodiversity and geographic diversity of this small country
- Visit famous historical places, such as Jerusalem, and see beautiful, less known nature reserves
- Hike up Masada, swim and snorkel in the Red Sea, float in the Dead Sea
- Tours, local guides, private A/C bus
- Lodging, all meals, gratuities, and entrance fees
|Dates||Mar 1–14, 2015|
Join an active, comprehensive adventure to Israel led by an Israeli and a veteran Sierra Club leader. In addition to visiting the classic religious and historical sites, our trip will venture off the beaten path along the breadth and depth of this fascinating country. Soak up the historical and religious ambiance, and learn about the natural history that makes Israel a critical respite in wildlife migration. Our trip will focus on the unique blending of natural and human history of Israel. We will explore the rich biodiversity of this small country, at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa. This comprehensive, active adventure far surpasses the typical tourist package trip to Israel, with an emphasis on activity, education, conservation, and personal attention.
Our trip will include places along the Mediterranean Sea, like Tel Aviv, the vibrant culture and commercial center of Israel, as well as Jaffa, the oldest port town in the world. We will visit the north of Israel, which is verdant green, including the sources of the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, and Hula Nature reserve, which is on the migration path of millions of birds. By contrast, our travel to the south will encounter a desert landscape with unique and colorful geological structures like Ramon Crater. Our trek includes snorkeling at the coral reefs of the Red Sea to see amazing colorful sea life and swimming (floating!) in the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. We will hike up Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where people chose death over slavery. In Jerusalem we will walk and learn about the places that are sacred to all three major religions. We will learn about other unique people in Israel, like the Bedouin, Druzes and Bahais. This is not a packaged tour!
This active adventure includes hiking in a variety of nature and wildlife reserves, as well as walking tours of places like the Old City of Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Jaffa. Expect to walk or hike three to five miles a day. We will stay in very comfortable hotels, including several nights in a kibbutz with beautiful outdoor areas for relaxation. This is a trip to Israel like no other.
Day 1: (Arrival day) Arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport (TLV). In the evening we have a trip orientation during dinner, and you get to meet your traveling companions.
Day 2: (Tel Aviv, Jaffa) Vibrant Tel Aviv is the cultural and commercial center of Israel. We visit various places in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, adjacent to Tel Aviv. Jaffa has a history of 4,000 years and is one of the oldest port towns in the world.
Day 3: (Caesarea, Druze Village, Bahai Gardens Haifa) We leave Tel Aviv and drive north along the Mediterranean coast. We will walk through the excavated city of Caesarea, with its ancient port and Roman Amphitheater. Later, we have lunch in a Druze village on Mount Carmel, next to Haifa. The spiritual center of the Bahai faith is located in Haifa. We walk in the beautiful gardens, which surround the Bahai shrine.
Day 4: (Acre, Rosh Hanikra Grottos, Kibbutz in Galilee) Today, we tour ancient Acre, with its enchanting streets, and underground passages. Driving further north we explore Rosh Hanikra Grottos, where the Mediterranean blue water crashes against the white limestone rocks. Tonight and the next two nights we stay in a kibbutz lodge in the Upper Galilee.
Day 5: (Banias, Hula Valley) The Banias River is one of the sources of the Jordan River. In the Banias Nature Reserve we will hike from the Banias springs to a stunning waterfall. The Banias is a beautiful place that impressed the Greeks so much that they built a temple to Pan -- the God of forest and shepherds -- there. From there we drive south to the Hula Valley, where millions of birds stop during their migration between Africa and Europe. It has become a popular place for bird-watching for people from all over the world. We will walk around this nature reserve to explore its variety of migrating and native birds.
Day 6: (Golan Heights, Gamla) We drive up to the Golan Heights for great views of the Sea of Galilee and surrounding areas. Today’s hike is in the Gamla Nature Reserve in the central Golan Heights. This reserve is home to a unique number of raptors, including rare species. Dozens of pairs of Griffon vultures, comprising the largest colony in the country, nest in Gamla’s cliffs. Visitors can view the vultures in flight from a cliff-edge observation station.
Day 7: (Mount Arbel, Sea of Galilee, Hamat Gader Hot Springs) Today we leave the Galilee and drive to Jerusalem. Along the way we will stop at Mount Arbel, where we hike to its summit for a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding region. Then we visit the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful lake with historical significance. After that we drive to Hamat Gader to soak in its hot springs. We finish the day in Jerusalem.
Day 8: (Jerusalem-Old City) Today is mostly a walking tour in the Old City of Jerusalem after we drive up the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the Old City. The Old City is over 3,000 years old and its known sites are concentrated in a small area. By walking, we see many of these famous sites such as City of David, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Hezakaya Tunnel. We walk through the bazaar and the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Day 9: (Jerusalem-New City) We visit the Israel Museum, as well as the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed. Lunch will be at the colorful Machne Yehuda Market. Later, we visit the Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem). In the evening we watch a unique light and sound show at the David’s Tower. This Citadel is a historical and archaeological site that became a landmark and a symbol of Jerusalem.
Day 10: (Qumran, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea) We leave Jerusalem and drive south to Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Later, we visit Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and take a hike to enjoy the nature trails of this amazing oasis. One of the hikes will take us to a hidden waterfall. In the afternoon we check into our hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea (the lowest place on earth). This afternoon is free to experience floating in the waters of the Sea and use the spa facilities at the hotel.
Day 11: (Masada, Ramon Crater, Eilat) Masada is an ancient fortification built on an isolated rock plateau. It is the site of the most dramatic act in Jewish history, when Jewish rebels chose mass suicide rather than submit to Roman capture. Because of its historical significance, Masada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ambitious people will have the option to hike up Masada before dawn to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Later, others can take a cable car up to the Masada site. We leave the Dead Sea area and drive south through the Negev desert to the town of Mitzpe Ramon, which overlooks the huge Ramon Crater, one of the largest craters in the world. From there we continue south to Eilat by the Red Sea. Eilat is the most southern point of Israel.
Day 12: (Timna, Lotan, Eilat) North of Eilat, we visit Park Timna, which has a variety of geological structures, including Solomon’s Pillars. These large natural pillars are the result of cracks in the hard, red sandstone. After that we visit the Eco-Kibbutz Lotan, which has a center for creative ecology. In the afternoon we return to Eilat to go snorkeling at Coral Beach National Reserve at the Red Sea.
Day 13: (Eilat, Jerusalem) We will have free time until midafternoon to swim and snorkel at the Red Sea or just visit the town of Eilat. Later we drive back to Jerusalem.
Day 14: (Departure Day) After breakfast in your Jerusalem hotel, you have free time depending on your flight time. Many flights to the USA leave Israel late in the evening, so you may have a day to explore on your own.
Note: While every attempt will be made to follow the above itinerary, this trip is subject to change, depending on a variety of factors including weather and trail conditions.
You will arrive at and leave from Ben-Gurion airport (TLV), outside Tel Aviv. It is served from the U.S. by several of the major airlines. Our hotel in Tel Aviv is less than an hour's drive from the airport. You will need a passport that is valid until at least October 2015. U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Israel.
Accommodations and Food
We will stay in comfortable hotels, including three nights in a kibbutz guesthouse.
Rooms will be double-occupancy, so if you’re a solo traveler, you will be assigned a roommate of the same gender. If you would like a single room, please contact the leader for availability and cost. The food is fresh and wholesome. If you have special dietary needs, other than vegetarian, please contact the trip leader to see if they can be accommodated.
This is an active trip with moderate hiking (three to five miles in hiking days) and lots of walking. Most hikes are optional, but you will get more from the trip if you do them. There will be opportunities for those who want more strenuous hikes. We will travel on good roads in private air-conditioned bus. This time of the year the weather is typically comfortable.
Equipment and Clothing
A daypack is needed for the hikes and tours. A camera is highly recommended. The leader will send a detailed packing list to each registered participant.
- Strutin, Michal, Discovering Natural Israel, from the Coral Reefs of Eilat to the Emerald Crown of Mount Carmel.
- Israel-Adventure Travel Map, National Geographic, 2012
- Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel: http://natureisrael.org/
- Birding in Israel: http://www.birds.org.il/836-en/Birding-Israel.aspx
- Wildflowers in Israel: http://www.wildflowers.co.il/english/
Since Israel received its independence in 1948, it has struggled with conservation issues. Two of the major issues are limited water supply and high population density.
Limited water supply has been a very major and controversial issue for the country. The south of the country is desert, yet there are quite a few towns and villages in the south that need water for both residential use and agriculture. In the 1950s, Israel drained a lake (Hula) in the north, to get more water to the south. Later it was determined to be an ecological disaster. An attempt was made to reverse that action and let the rains refill the lake. It has become a major Nature Reserve, with a small lake and wetlands, a major stop for migrating birds. We will visit this reserve and learn more about reversing such an ecological mistake.
About 60 years ago, several dedicated individuals started the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which has been a major force in attracting public attention to conservation. In reviewing their work one newspaper wrote “….Thanks to their actions, Israel has been successful, despite a high population density and an obsession with development and construction, in preserving significant spaces for nature reserves, forests and national parks.” Today Israel has 190 Nature Preserves and 66 national parks, covering an area of approximately 20% of Israel’s land mass. Yet the tension between development and the environment continues. We will visit several of the successfully protected areas.
The Israeli government has two major agencies dealing with conservation:
- Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection: http://www.sviva.gov.il/English/Pages/HomePage.aspx
- Israel Nature and Parks Authority: http://old.parks.org.il/BuildaGate5/general2/data_card.php?Cat=~~~660964978~Card13~&ru=&SiteName=parks&Clt=&Bur=237582572
The government also developed several laws protecting various wildflowers and fauna species.
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. Our members are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.