Tour Israel: Fun activities in the Arava

There are a number of interesting attractions along Highway 90 in the Arava to dispel the boredom and keep you focused on your driving as you cross the desert.

THE ANTELOPE Ranch at Moshav Tzofar. (photo credit: RAN ZISOWITZ)
THE ANTELOPE Ranch at Moshav Tzofar.
(photo credit: RAN ZISOWITZ)
Many Israelis take advantage of the month of Tishrei, which is chock full of holidays, to take family vacations in locations all over the country, especially in Eilat and the Sinai Peninsula. But instead of offering you suggestions for what to do once you arrive down South, this time I’m going to give you some ideas on how to make the most of your long drive on your way there.
Highway 90 in the Arava is one of the most (in)famous roads in Israel, since many serious traffic accidents unfortunately take place on this highway. Luckily, there are a number of interesting attractions along the way to dispel the boredom and keep you focused on your driving as you cross the desert.
Ein Yorkeam
The long, hot drive south can be much more enjoyable if you plan a water-filled adventure smack in the middle of it. Throughout the Arava, you can find a number of enjoyable springs, such as Ein Yahav, Gabi Yamin and Ein Yorkeam. All three of these springs have their own charm, and below I’m going to describe a visit to the third one, Ein Yorkeam, which fills every year from flood water. After winters with lots of rain, the pools at Ein Yorkeam fill to bursting, (although by late summer the water level has begun to plunge) and provide a welcome respite on hot days. But even if jumping in natural springs is not your thing, you can still enjoy this spot for a nice picnic or a quick coffee out in nature.
Directions: Drive south on Road 90 until you reach the Arava intersection. Turn west onto Road 25 toward Dimona. Turn left at Rotem intersection onto Road 206. Take another left at the sign that reads Ein Yorkeam and Ma’aleh Palmah. Park your car and take the trail with the green trail markers until you reach a fork in the road. Take the left path and follow the clear trail markers, which will take you down stone stairs to the pool.
Vidor Visitor Center
If you ask people to think of one word that describes the desert, many people might say “arid.” But as we all know, Israelis are extremely creative people, and so it’s not surprising that we’ve come up with some pretty incredible desert farming innovations. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend stopping at the Vidor Visitor Center at the Yair Farm Agricultural Station in Hatzeva, where you’ll be offered a glimpse of state-of-the-art technological farming developments, which enable farmers in the Arava to grow some of the juiciest fruits and vegetables in all of Israel.
During the tour, you will be exposed to new strains of fruits and vegetables and find out what desert agriculture is all about (hint: it utilizes brackish water extracted from the soil). You can watch a 3D video that tells about life in the Arava, walk around inside one of the greenhouses, spend time inside an interactive space station, and build your ideal topographic map out of sand.
Directions: Drive south on Highway 90. Immediately after you pass Ein Hatzeva, turn left onto the road that leads to the Vidor Visitor Center.
The Vidor Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: NIS 29 adults, NIS 23 children.
To book a tour: 052-866-6114.
Antelope Ranch
If you’re in the mood for a unique and authentic African safari experience, I recommend stopping off at the Antelope Ranch in Moshav Tzofar. On the safari you can get close up to the animals that are roaming freely around the farm, including a few types of antelopes. There are also deer, ibex, sheep, wild African donkeys and zebras. Tours take place from inside your own car. Visitors are provided with informational sheets that list all the identifying details about each type of animal.
The ranch was built by Yossi and Shlomit Ben, who decided to remake their lives in the Arava in the 1980s. The two were intent on becoming farmers, and following a trip to Africa, came up with the idea of starting an antelope ranch. After five years of planning and preparation, they had 140 antelope brought over from Africa.
There’s also a Noah’s Ark on the ranch that’s full of exotic birds, as well as a petting zoo with rabbits and guinea pigs. And one of the best things on the ranch is that you can stay overnight in their African-style camping site or rent a zimmer.
Cost: NIS 30. Free for children under 3.
Location: Moshav Tzofar, kilometer 133 on the Arava Highway.
Details: 052-366-6041.
Gamaliya Restaurant
On the Arava Highway, just across from Sapir Park and two minutes from Moshav Ein Yahav, you’ll find Gamaliya, which is located inside a desert ranch, with a wide-open view of the gorgeous desert. Gamaliya offers bountiful breakfast, lunch and dinner at extremely reasonable prices.
Location: Highway 90, near Ein Yahav gas station.
Details: (08) 997-9632.
Arava Brewery
If you have the ability to pick a designated driver, I highly recommend making a stop at the boutique Arava Brewery in Kibbutz Tzukim, a magical corner of the desert where you can enjoy a truly unique craft beer. Their flagship product, Katra Beer (named after a local stream) has a rich fruity flavor, with just a hint of bitterness. The owners also offer guided tours of the brewery, during which visitors can learn about all the steps involved in brewing beer, starting with the grinding of the malt and ending with the bottling stage.
Location: Entrance of Kibbutz Tzukim.
To book a tour: 052-720-2301.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.