Do you know that moment when you leave the center of the country and begin making your way south to the open desert? When you realize you can lift your foot a little off the gas pedal because you’re on your way to freedom?
That’s exactly how I feel every time I head south to Israel’s desert landscapes, where one can experience infinite tranquility. For me, the desert is where silence takes on a different meaning – one that is more serene and pure.
There are quite a few intriguing places to visit in Israel’s deserts, areas that once were barren but have been revitalized, thanks to the vision and determination of a few original thinkers.
One place is Kfar Hanokdim, in the Kanaim Valley in the Judean Desert, just minutes from Arad. As you descend toward the south on Route 3199, this is an excellent time to take a slow, deep breath and leave all thoughts of the bustling city behind. As you look out your window at the beautiful natural surroundings, it almost feels like you’re being transported back in time to a period when life was simpler and more relaxing.
This valley holds a wealth of history, having witnessed battles and wars, and its name even derives from the Zealots (Kanaim in Hebrew) who fought against the Romans in the famous battle on top of Masada.
While thousands of travelers climb up Masada every year, not many of them linger to contemplate how many artifacts there are to see up there. Fortunately, visits to Masada have become more popular following the creation of Kfar Hanokdim, which feels like an oasis in the middle of the desert and attracts local visitors, as well as tourists from around the world.
Kfar Hanokdim was founded more than 30 years ago by Yoram Roded, who in the past worked as a tour guide in the Sinai Peninsula. Over the years, Roded expanded Kfar Hanokdim from a small site that operated with one water spigot and electricity produced by generators, to an entire village with Bedouin tents, where visitors can enjoy camel rides and expansive and delicious Bedouin hospitality and meals. In theory, Roded has handed the reins over to the next generation, but you can still see his special touch all over the village.
For example, he constructed guest rooms of various sizes, huts with mattresses, a camping ground where guests can pitch their own tents, as well as a bus that has been converted into a cozy living space that can accommodate a couple with two kids.
The main attraction at Kfar Hanokdim is definitively the Bedouin tents where large groups can sleep and feel close to nature. During the summer, this is one of the most popular overnight experiences in the country, with its popularity reaching its peak at the beginning of August, since it’s one of the best places to view the Perseid meteor showers.
ANOTHER ATTRACTION, a short drive from Kfar Hanokdim, is Mitzpor Moav, from which you will have a phenomenal panoramic view of the area. The outlook is a short, easy walk from the parking area, and when you get there, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the landscapes of the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and the Moav mountains.
You will also be able to see the famous airplane sculpture created by artist Yigal Tomarkin. The work of art commemorates Operation Lot, whose objective was to secure access to the Dead Sea region, which was geographically cut off from the rest of Israel.
Cycling enthusiasts can take a ride along the new bike path that was created alongside the Israel National Trail. This 12-km. segment stretches from Mitspeh Moav to the Kanaim Valley, and then finally reaches Kfar Hanokdim. It is the first part of a longer 40-km. route that will eventually connect Arad to Masada. There are several downhill sections on this ride, which makes it easier to enjoy the magnificent desert scenery.
If you’re interesting in hiking, there are 45 different hiking trails. Some lead to pools filled with refreshingly cold water, which is quite welcome on a hot summer day. Tsafira Pool is a great trail that is easily accessible from Kfar Hanokdim, but I wouldn’t recommend walking there during the hottest hours of the day.
If you don’t feel like making such a great effort to reach a water hole, you are welcome to lounge around at Kfar Hanokdim, where you can run through the water shooting out of the sprinklers or splash around in the shallow pools. This will certainly keep your kids entertained for a few hours while you relax on a hammock.
Watching the Perseid meteor shower in the pollution-free desert
A SUMMER highlight is the Perseid meteor showers. Every astronomy enthusiast knows that the meteor shower season peaks in July and August, and that there is no better place to observe this phenomenon than out in the darkness of the pollution-free desert.
This year, like every summer for the past seven years, Kfar Hanokdim will be hosting its annual Stargazing Festival weekend event. The festival brings together families and astronomy enthusiasts and offers immersive activities for the whole family over four weekends, beginning the last weekend of July and continuing for the first three weekends of August.
The festival includes workshops and activities for the entire family, which will begin with musical festivities on Friday afternoon in the village square. Following the opening musical event, the festival will continue with a variety of guided nighttime stargazing tours during which participants will discover nocturnal animals, create arts and crafts projects, make friends in the petting zoo and feed the camels. During the festival, there will also be food stalls, live musical performances and a DJ party.
As darkness falls, the “Journey Among the Stars” tour will set out from the village. This workshop will introduce participants to the night sky, with special explanations tailored for children. During the tour, you will learn about the stars, the moon, the August meteor shower, and other celestial phenomena.
In a second shorter night tour, participants will explore the local nocturnal animals and uncover the hidden secrets of the desert, including scorpions that hide in the desert and can only be seen with ultraviolet flashlights.
Simultaneously, a small telescope area will be set up for observing the special celestial objects discussed in the workshop, and guests are invited to bring their own telescopes. At the peak of the night, in a dark area near the village, visitors can get comfortable while they wait to observe the meteor shower that will light up the desert sky.
Price: For two nights on the first weekend of the festival, July 27-29, prices begin at NIS 417 for a two-person tent; from NIS 2,033 for a double occupancy room; from NIS 2,698 for a stone superior room; and from NIS 1,937 for the transformed bus.
Details: Guests staying at Kfar Hanokdim pay a small fee for participation in the festival’s activities. This amount is automatically included in the rate listed on the website. Guests staying in Arad or the surrounding area can purchase entrance tickets to the meteor activity events for NIS 50.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.