Springtime is definitely the best time of year for visiting the Negev.
The weather is at its best, warm but still comfortable, and for most people the desert is a welcome change of scenery and pace.
1. Dror Bamidbar – Negev
At Dror Bamidbar in Ramat Hanegev, you can try something completely new: sandboarding. Dror claims to have the only sandboarding center in Israel, and for kids who’ve tried out skateboarding on the ground and surfboarding in the sea, this is the next experience – speeding down the sand dunes. When you’re tired out you can enjoy a jeep ride in the Tzin Valley, visiting a Nabatean fortress, canyons, springs and a desert oasis. You’ll cook your own meals, desert- style, out in the open under the sun or stars.
Book your place in advance at: 054-304-6054
2. Sde Boker, Ben-Gurion’s home – Negev
Even when David Ben-Gurion was physically in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as he led the fledgling State of Israel as its first prime minister, his heart was always in the Negev desert.
His love of the desert and determination to make it bloom was one of the goals towards which he worked all his life. When he finally retired from political life, in 1963 at the age of 77, he didn’t retire to a luxury home in a plush area in the Center, but to a small simple home in Kibbutz Sde Boker.
Ben-Gurion asked to be buried on the grounds of the kibbutz, so that his burial place might bring visitors to see the desert, and that his home be left as it was as a museum.
Apart from visiting his home, you can see an exhibition of his political and personal life in an adjacent hut and a movie relating his relationship to the Negev.
Open from Sunday to Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Fridays and holiday eves, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information: (08) 656-0469 3. Ein Avdat – Negev
From Sde Boker you can see Ein Avdat National Park, a delightful oasis in the middle of the desert, with its pools and waterfall in the canyon of the same name. The water flowing from the Ein Avdat spring has, over the many years, cut a deep, narrow canyon through the soft chalk. This water supply and its lush greenery are, not surprisingly, a gathering place for local animals such as the ibex and other species of wild goats.
There are two designated walks, one starting from the lower end and climbing back up on iron rungs connected to the wall on the higher end. The other option is walking along the stream bed to the pools and waterfall, returning on the same path.
It’s possible to buy a one-day combined ticket which includes a visit to the nearby ancient Nabatean city of Avdat, which sits on the old spice route where traders traveled with expensive spices and incense from Arabia to the Mediterranean ports.
You can see the remains of the city, its winemaking production and the agricultural techniques farmers used to conserve the meager rain they received.4. Gan Garoo and Park of Springs – Beit She’an
Valley Outside Australia, there’s only one place you’ll find kangaroos roaming freely among visitors – and that’s Gan Garoo.
You can buy food to feed them, although on busy days, you may find that the kangaroos have had more than enough and will refuse your proffered hand. Koalas lounge around in the eucalyptus trees, and there are a parrot sanctuary and a petting corner with other animals mostly found in Australia.
In the maze compound, there are five mazes for you to try to extricate yourself from, along with a set of riddles, the answers to which you can find in the mazes.
Got the answer? You can enter a monthly draw for a prize.
Next door is the Park of Springs, designed to preserve the natural beauty of the delightful area springs, such as Ein Migdal, Ein Shokek and Ein Muda. Visitors driving freely in the area had started to disrupt the natural beauty; now, you can only explore the attractive terrain on foot, by bike or in an environment-friendly motorized vehicle that you can rent. You can also board an electric shuttle and get off and on whenever you want, and enjoy a stroll or dip in the warm pools. Fifteen kilometers of paths were paved to get visitors to the springs without ruining the vegetation. You will also find some ancient ruins, migrating birds stopping off on their flight from Europe to Asia and fish ponds.
Gan Garoo is open Sunday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Fridays and holiday eves from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays and holidays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On the eve of the first night of Passover, it will close at 1 p.m. The Park of Springs is open every day from 8 a.m. For more information: (04) 688-1427 5. Caesarea
The ancient ruins at Caesarea’s national park attract thousands of visitors every year. The magnificent remains of the old Roman theater host frequent musical performances, with the backdrop of the sea behind them and the cool sea breeze on the audience. But in its heyday, this theater witnessed far more grisly performances – as gladiators fought each other to the death and lions ravaged luckless prisoners.
Caesarea was, at the time of Herod, second only to Jerusalem in importance.
There are the remains of the great port he built using revolutionary engineering feats. The ruins of his temple and his palace testify to the significance he placed on this once unimportant town.
Today, if you head over to the harbor, you’ll be able to understand far more of what went on in Caesarea. In the visitors’ center you can watch a film, The Caesarea Experience, which attempts to put all the many layers of Caesarea into perspective.
Afterwards, chat virtually with some of the most famous inhabitants of the city, such as Herod and Hannah Szenes, each from a different era. Finally, with the help of computer technology, go up to the Time Tower and “see” all the ruins brought back to their original glory.
6. Manara Cliff – between Rosh Pina and Kiryat Shmona
If you like views from above, you’ll love Manara Cliff just outside Kiryat Shmona. You’ll be transported from the road at the bottom to the cliff top by the longest cable car in Israel, a 1,940-meter ride that ascends 750 meters. The view of Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) is magnificent.
There are two intermediate stations on your trip. One is for extreme sports, such as rappelling from a 42-meter-high cliff; the other is to take a trip on the mountain slide, in a two-person cart that can reach up to 40 kph. Children over three are allowed to be passengers if they are with someone over 12, to drive and control the speed. Children can also try their skill on the bungee trampoline dome, jumping up to a meter high while attached in a harness.
At the cliff top you’ll find a variety of activities for young children, including riding on the cliff train.
For more information: (04) 690-5833 7. Old Jaffa
Tel Aviv’s ancient, beautiful twin city is the oldest working port in the world, famous since the days of the biblical Jonah. It is mostly loved for its ancient alleyways, picturesque courtyards, art galleries, jewelry boutiques, museums and delightful restaurants, which you come across by chance as you wend your way up and down the stairs and around the Old City.
Some sections, such as Kedumim Square, have been completely renovated, and when you go down beneath the plaza to the new visitors center, you’ll be able to see a film on Jaffa as well as some of the excavations of the area. In the plaza is the new Zodiac Fountain, complementing the zodiac theme that runs through the entire area.
The port area, once sleazy and rundown, has now been rebuilt and boasts modern eateries and boutiques, and it’s still fun to take a short boat ride from here along the Tel Aviv coastline.The author is an Israel travel and web content writer, who also teaches workshops and gives email courses on writing essays for publication.