Land before time in Hevel Yatir

"I recently drove just 90 minutes from central Israel and encountered inspirational cultures and untamed landscapes."

Hevel Yatir (photo credit: OSNAT LEDERER)
Hevel Yatir
(photo credit: OSNAT LEDERER)
Everyone knows the type of Israeli who is willing to travel to the ends of the Earth and cross wide deserts or primeval jungles in search of ancient peoples who live apart from the modern world. Well, I recently drove just 90 minutes from central Israel and encountered inspirational cultures, untamed landscapes and people who live as if time had stopped.
Danny Shukrun of Danny Jeeps met us at Moshav Carmel, located in the Yatir Region. He took us on an incredible jeep tour deep into the Judean Desert where we discovered the world of the Bedouin and fields of barley, which were being harvested by women yielding sharp sickles. There was a herd of camels casually making its way across the desert under the guise of its seasoned shepherd, who was more than happy to share pearls of wisdom from Bedouin culture. For example, he told us that camel ownership is an extremely significant part of Bedouin life, since it attests to the status of the herd owner, as well as being an important source of meat and milk in their diet. As we passed by the village of Um Daraj, we encountered flocks of sheep accompanied by shepherds, who were soon followed by children waving excitedly to us. In the background we glimpsed a huddle of makeshift houses that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in the middle of the desert.
Danny Jeeps offers two-hour jeep tours, during which participants get to see incredible desert landscapes from out-of-the-way viewpoints, and to take a dip in refreshing natural pools of water. Alternatively, there are longer, four-hour jeep tours that will take you to Ha’atakim Cliff, which overlooks Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea, and then on to the Nahal Hever Waterfall and the Bar-Kochba Caves that were used as a hideout during the rebellion against the Roman Empire in 132 CE.
Danny Jeeps: 052-890-3842.
Price for six-person jeep ride: NIS 800 for two-hour trip; NIS 1,150 for four-hour trip.
Hevel Yatir (Credit: PR)Hevel Yatir (Credit: PR)
Our next stop was Bir A-Sharki, an ancient two-meter deep natural swimming hole not far from the village, located on the way to Nahal Hever. The pool, which has recently been fixed and cleaned up, collects rain water from all over the area that is used as a watering hole for local flocks. Of course, it is also a refreshing rest stop for hikers who want to take a cool dip on hot days, as well as a popular magnet for people who gather on the site following heavy rains to watch seasonal flash floods.


Another great tourist attraction is the huge Bedouin tent belonging to the Jahlin Tribe. We were met at the tent by Adnan, who welcomed us with freshly prepared Bedouin coffee, prepared with herbs which grow in the area that were ground with a mortar and pestle right in front of our eyes. Adnan also prepares Matfuna banquets for groups (meals that are cooked inside the ground) and tells captivating anecdotes about the Bedouin way of life.
Adnan, Jahlin Bedouin Tent: 052-549-3956


Next, our tour guide, Nahshon Afik, took out his recorder, made himself comfortable on the cushions inside the tent, and began playing soulful desert tunes. We soon learned that Afik is famous not only for his extensive repertoire of beautiful desert music, but also for his knowledge about every corner of the expansive desert covering southern Israel.
Tour guide Nahshon Afik: 052-823-9646
Another attraction that’s best accessed while on a jeep tour is the Yatir Forest, which is the largest planted forest in Israel and is a rare green oasis in the heart of the desert. Yatir is home to over four million different plants that paint the landscape in a variety of shades. Visitors will encounter ancient historical sites, breathtaking views of endless desert landscapes and enjoy hiking along hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty that are spotted with shady picnic areas.
Hevel Yatir( Credit:PR)Hevel Yatir( Credit:PR)
In the heart of the desert, just next to the water reservoir, we encountered Gal from the Midbar-E bike rental company, who led us on an electric mountain bike tour of the area. We rode around the water reservoir, gazed at rare seasonal flowers that grow inside water holes, and visited historical and archaeological sites.
Midbar-E electric mountain bikes: 050-355-0507.
Price: NIS 120 for 90-minute guided tour. NIS 70 for 3-hour self-guided ride using an app.


After spending the day hiking, bike riding and sightseeing, it’s time to sit down, relax and enjoy a lavish picnic basket prepared by Vanilla and Cinnamon Catering that includes fresh whole-grain bread, salads, spreads, quiche and gourmet cookies.
Vanilla and Cinnamon Catering: 050-506-4907.
Price: NIS 35.
Baskets can be picked up at the Hevel Yatir municipality building. Directions at
If you prefer eating at a restaurant, I recommend enjoying a meal at Café Ronal, a boutique dairy café run by Ronal Barak, a very special woman with a fascinating life story that includes conversion to Judaism, aliyah, raising a family in the Land of Israel and many other miracles she experienced along the way. Barak draws from all of these experiences that have enriched her life as she prepares delicacies in her café, from which there is a breathtaking view of the Judean Desert and the faraway Moab Mountains. Barak offers freshly prepared salads, tasty fish and distinctive rice dishes.
Café Ronal, Mitzpe Yair: 050-790-6608.
Open Thursday evenings and Friday mornings to the public. The rest of the week for groups only.
Hevel Yatir (Credit: PR)Hevel Yatir (Credit: PR)
This is the fifth year in a row for the Hevel Yatir Cherry Festival. The public is invited to enjoy cherry-picking with all-you-can-eat munching as you pick, and to take home baskets of the plump fruits. There will be fun-filled activities for the whole family, including preparing ceramic cherry necklaces, dipping cherries in warm melted chocolate, arts and craft workshops, transferring photos to magnets, moon bounces and a bountiful farmers’ market.
The Cherry Festival takes place on May 31 and June 7, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Price: NIS 35 (free for children under three years).
Details: 1-599-575-758,
Translated by Hannah Hochner.