Most people visiting Israel mainly focus on exploring the many biblical, historical and cultural sites. And rightfully so!
Israel comprises a major part of the Holy Land where it has been the hub for Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history for centuries. There are also substantial populations of other religions (such as Baha’i and Druze) in the country. Thus, the most important religious, historical and cultural sites from different faiths are mainly concentrated in Israel. These sites are significant and important as they inspire a connection to one’s faith and help gain a better historical and cultural understanding.
But given Israel’s diverse topography and flora and fauna, it would be a shame not to recognize the country’s natural beauty. This is one aspect that visitors often tend to overlook, but Israel’s wealth of natural wonders also deserves exploration and appreciation.
In an effort to conserve Israel’s nature sites while allowing tourists to enjoy them, ecotourism has been developed throughout the country. In recent years, the government and non-governmental groups have been encouraging eco-friendly and sustainable tourism by sponsoring projects that protect the environment and promote ecological awareness.
Despite its small size, Israel will stun you with its diverse geological features. Its topography encompasses almost everything, from beaches and fertile lands to vast mountain ranges and deserts, making Israel the perfect place to experience ecotourism.
Ecotourism is available throughout the country, from north to south – and you can experience it best through hiking. The Israel National Trail is Israel’s longest hiking trail (look at the trail route below).
At 636.9 miles (1,025 kilometers), the Israel National Trail crosses the length of the entire country! The hike starts at the kibbutz Dan (just near the Lebanese border), then makes its way to Kinneret in eastern Galilee, winds down towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and ends in Eilat to the southernmost tip on the Red Sea. Covering the entirety of the Israel National Trail takes 30 to 60 days if hiked continuously, so it is definitely not for the amateur hiker. There are camping grounds that dot the area so that hikers can rest along the way.
The Galilee and Golan Heights in the northern region are homes to some of Israel’s most spectacular landscapes, a wealth of natural wonders, and the most enjoyable outdoor adventures. For one, the area offers unparalleled bird-watching opportunities during the migratory season. The Hula Valley, located between the Golan Heights and Naftali Ridge, is one of the most favorite bird watching spots. Bird watchers and nature lovers flock to these spots to witness the 500 million birds that fly to Israel during the winter season.
While the Galilee is forever entwined with the life story of Jesus Christ, visitors should not overlook some of its breathtaking natural sites. Arbel National Park, the location of the Battle of Hattin where Saladin dealt an annihilating defeat to the Crusaders, is a beautiful place to get your hike shoes on. The Gan HaShlosha Natural Park has naturally warm spring waters surrounded by beautiful gardens. Visitors can swim in these waters and enjoy the gorgeous backdrop of trees and mountains.
If you think Israel is all dry and arid plains and hot, hot weather, wait until you go up at Mount Hermon. It is a cluster of mountains located on the Lebanese-Syrian border, but the southern slopes have been under Israel’s control since after the Golan Heights Law was passed in 1981. During the summer, Mount Hermon is popular among hikers and bikers. In the winter, it is covered in deep snow. Mount Hermon is mainly known for hosting the only ski resort in Israel. It is open to skiers of all skill levels. Other fun alpine activities include sledding and riding on chairlifts and cable cars.
Going further south, the Negev and Judean deserts offer endless miles of most uninhabited land that boasts breathtaking desert scenery and unique wildlife. Sites such as the Masada, the Dead Sea, and the Ramon Crater are every hiker’s paradise. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture these stunning desert surroundings. However, it is best to avoid these areas during the oppressive summer season where heat and dehydration are some of the main concerns among travelers.
Even in urban areas like Jerusalem, some spaces are dedicated to preserving the remaining nature and wildlife. The Gazelle Valley, Israel’s first-ever urban nature reserve, is an open space of 260 dunams in the heart of Jerusalem. It was an object of contention between real estate developers and environmental activists. After protracted court battles, city officials finally decided to turn the open space into a nature reserve and public park. Now, the Gazelle Valley is one of Jerusalem’s urban oases, providing city dwellers some much-needed breathing space and a glimpse of the wildlife. About 55 or so gazelles live and run free around the park.
Every region in Israel has national parks and nature reserves that serve as excellent sites for ecotourism. Go to parks.org.il for the complete list of national parks and nature reserves in Israel.