I srael may be most famous for its sun, sand, sea and Biblical sites , but it also has some great places where you can get to know a wide variety of local and exotic animals and enjoy other fun activities at the same time.
1. Camel Riders – Mamshit
If you’ve never ridden a camel before, why not give it a try? With all the desert sand, it might be worth learning to ride the “local” form of transport.
At Camel Riders in Mamshit in the Negev, you can enjoy getting to know the camels as well as riding on one, for anything from a short ride around the camp (and a great photo opportunity) to a trek of several hours. The treks follow the old “spice route,” and on the way your guide will point out the other animals in the area and the desert vegetation.
The camels are all very people-friendly and carry their passengers carefully and patiently. That doesn’t guarantee you won’t be a bit sore after an hour or two, but it’s all part of the fun and experience.
Children under three are free and all children (up to 12 years old) must ride with an adult.
Tel: (08) 655-2829
2. Alpaca Farm – Negev Highlands
While you’re in the Negev, don’t forget to visit the camels’ cousins at the only alpaca farm in Israel, in the Negev Highlands near the Ramon Crater. These alpacas were brought over from 3,650 meters up in the Andes highlands in South America.
This farm claims to be the only place in the world where you can see over 400 llamas and alpacas and view the whole process from their birth to the spinning of their wool. Once the wool is sheared, which you can watch if you are visiting at the right time of year, it is sold in the farm shop in its natural hues of beige, white and various shades of browns and dark red.
Their wool is much finer than sheep’s wool and is supposed to be far warmer.
They are very friendly animals and you’ll be able to feed them, but they do have some unusual personal habits that include spitting at friends – so if they raise their heads and look you in the eye, move away fast.
The farm lies in a valley, hidden from the eye until you get close, near a 2,000 - year - old Nabatean settlement.
If you want to take a short ride on an alpaca you should be able to have one whenever you arrive (only for children weighing less than 25 kilograms), but longer rides on horseback or camels, into the Ramon Crater itself, need advance booking.
Opening hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tel: (08) 658-8047
3. Deer Farm – Gush Etzion
At the Deerland Adventure Park in Gush Etzion, you can get the best of all worlds. Some animals wander around in their natural surroundings while others are enclosed in a minizoo where children can get up close and feed them and have pony rides.
The indigenous deer mingle with sheep, goats, swans, geese, peacocks and an ostrich. For younger children there are arts and crafts activities with clay, painting and mosaics, while older siblings can enjoy more exciting and challenging activities such as wall climbing, arrow shooting and paintball.
Another big attraction is the longest zip line (omega) in Israel – 400 meters long and 120 meters above the ground from hilltop to hilltop – which takes you high above the farm and gives you a stunning view of the whole area and all its animals and activities. You’ll get taken back to the farm by jeep. There is also a shorter, lower zip line for those who aren’t quite ready for the big one yet.
Open from 9 a.m. until two hours before dark. Tel: (02) 570-9768
4. Robotic cowshed – Kfar Yehezkel
If you thought you’d seen all there is to see about modern milking methods, then think again.
Have you ever seen a cow wander over to the milking machine when she feels like being milked, getting milked by a robot and then wandering off again to continue her life – all with no intervention from humans? Oz, who is in charge of the cows at Kfar Yehezkel’s robotic farm, claims that the cow’s independence to decide when to be milked leads to a higher milk yield and better-quality milk. There is no waiting in line at specified times, and experience has proven that the cows each choose their own regular times to be milked.
If they feel like a massage, there is an automatic brush they can position themselves against for a comforting rub-down.
On your visit, you’ll see the cowsheds and watch the milking, see a film about methods of milking over the years, from hand-milking to hitech, and walk around and see and learn about life on the moshav.
Children may also get a chance to bottle-feed the young calves.
The farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a tour lasts around an hour and a half. To book a tour, call (04) 653-1651 or (054) 496-2656
5. Hai Park – Kiryat Motzkin
This expansive 210-hectare park is home to over 1,000 animals from all over the world. The park is the realization of the dream of Mayor Haim Tzuri, who wanted to put the town on the tourist map in a big way – and has succeeded. In addition to the enormous variety of animals there is a beautifully designed lake with fountains and water plants, which is home to a collection of swans and other water birds.
Children will enjoy playing in the adventure areas, the mini amusement park and a whole slew of inflatables for jumping and bouncing on. In the petting zoo they’ll learn the difference between different breeds of sheep and goats and the zoo-keepers will introduce them to a variety of birds that make good pets, such as canaries and parrots. Children can ride ponies and camels or, if these are too unpredictable for them, there are also electronic rides in the amusement park.
The Hai Park is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tel: (04) 874-7445
6. Ma’ayan Zvi Fishing Park – North
Between Caesarea and Haifa, you’ll find Ma’ayan Zvi, a recreation area with a river running through it and a calm lake where fishing enthusiasts go to try and land the proverbial “whopper.”
You can bring your own rods or rent fishing equipment at Ma’ayan Zvi, and there are plenty of fish in the water so your chances of catching something are quite high. The fish you catch can either be weighed and paid for or returned to the water. If your children can’t handle a full-size fishing rod, there are little tanks from which kids can catch fish with a small net. Their success might be the beginnings of future fishing enthusiasts, but the fish they catch in the tanks have to be put back in the water.
There are lawns, seating and shady areas for picnics and barbecues and activities for the rest of the family who may well be bored stiff at the thought of fishing all afternoon.
They’ll enjoy the donkey rides, a mini-zoo for little children, a children’s pool with water slides, adventure playgrounds, bicycle trails, zip lines and other challenging games and activities. Of course, with all that water there are also boats to take out on the river, but keep away from the serious fishermen who might not appreciate getting tangled up with your boat.
There are also facilities for spending the night camping in the park, either in your own tent or under the stars, but this has to be booked in advance.
The park is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tel: 054-444-0379