Providing a first-time experience for nature lovers, the cross-border environmental organization EcoPeace unveiled four guided treks that each traverse Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian territory.
Among the treks are two hiking trails, a bike tour and a walking trip, according to Eco- Peace, which has offices and directors in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Realized through special funding from the United States Agency for Development (USAID), the project has brought together tour guides, tourism experts and trails in all three places, in what EcoPeace describes as “an unprecedented collaboration for the common cause of attracting tourists to our region.”
“We are proud to introduce an initiative that comes from cooperation among Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. We expect that the trips will attract many tourists from around the world,” said Gidon Bromberg, Israel director for EcoPeace.
Representatives of some 25 European tourism agencies gathered for the launch of the cross-border trails on Thursday in Tzur Hadassah, where they were also joined by Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara.
“I believe that tourism is one of the keys to good neighborly relations,” Kara said. “Therefore, the Regional Cooperation Ministry and I have begun to examine the possibility of giving tourists from Arab states the possibility of passing freely to Israel through Jordan, using Jordanian transfer certificates.
If this takes place, it will greatly contribute to strengthening our relations with the Hashemite Kingdom and with other Arab countries.”
The EcoPeace tours come in various shapes and sizes, organized by an assortment of tour companies from the three places and offering different prices per person based on group size.
The two hiking tours each last eight days, enabling travelers to immerse themselves by foot in the region’s natural landscapes, with different stops along the way.
The first tour, run by Jordan’s Stronger Team Extreme Adventures, Dynamix in Jordan, and Tropical Desert agencies, alongside the Palestinian Auja Eco Center and the Israeli Gordon Tours, is offered to groups small and large – ranging from two people at $3,663 per person to 20 people at $1,731 per person.
This tour begins in the Palestinian Authority in the Auja Valley, continuing on to Wadi Kelt, Jericho, the Fasail village and Wadi Al Jaheer. In Israel, the group continues on to Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov, Nahal Tzivon, Nahal Dishon and the Druse village of Peki’in. After crossing the border into Jordan, the hiking tour continues to the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh Ecopark, followed by climbing and rappelling on the Dalieh cliff, hiking to the Ziglab Dam, and trekking in the Khirbet Zilmeh and Tibneh regions.
Operating the second hiking tour is Jordan’s Experience Jordan, in cooperation with the Palestinian Guiding Star company and the Israeli SK Tours.
The prices for this trip range from $1,315 per person for groups of 10 to $1,100 per person for groups of 20 or more.
Although the same length as the first hiking tour, this trip takes a much different route, beginning at Ben-Gurion Airport and then continuing to Neot Hakikar south of the Dead Sea, the Negev’s Hatzera crater and Jerusalem. The hikers then proceed to Wadi Kelt, the Jordan River Valley, the Auja Eco Center and the towns of Sanur and Sebastia. Crossing into Jordan, the trip continues to the Ajloun Castle, Orjan, Petra and Amman.
The trip that EcoPeace representatives said they expect to be most popular is the Pedaling Co-Existence cycling tour, priced at $2,216 per person in groups of 12 and organized by the Jordanian firm Experience Jordan, the Palestinian Auja Eco Center and the Israeli Gordan Active tours.
The cyclists gather in Tel Aviv, continuing to Nazareth, Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), the Jordan River, Beit She’an and Gan Hashlosha (Sakhne). In Jordan, the tour proceeds to the Jordan Rift Valley, the ancient Roman city of Pella, Madaba, the Dead Sea and Petra. Crossing back to the West Bank at the Allenby Bridge, the cyclists roll on to the Auja Eco Center, reenter Israel for an evening in Jerusalem, visit the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and village of Battir, and end their tour in Israel with visits to Beit Guvrin National Park and Jerusalem a second time.
Following Thursday’s launch event, the representatives of the European travel agencies headed out on a tour of their own from Saturday through Thursday, to sample some of the destinations listed on many of these routes.
“We at EcoPeace believe that true peace comes through regional cooperation,” Bromberg said. “With negative reports coming to the world from our region in the background, we are proud to reveal the best sides of the Middle East, the sides of landscapes, travel and friendship.”