For those planning a Dead Sea holiday, the name of Ein Gedi, Israel will be a familiar one. The site of one of the country’s most popular beaches with hotel and spa facilities, Ein Gedi offers its visitors a truly relaxing experience.
However if you sit on the beach all day you will miss so much more. Less than half a mile from all that Dead Sea mud is Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, part of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The Reserve is a lush oasis in an otherwise bleak landscape situated on the edge of Israel’s Dead Sea shore, close to the caves of Qumran and only ten miles north of Masada’s imposing bulk. While the region is rightly famous for its beaches and natural hot springs the Reserve offers spectacular scenery and superb walking conditions.
Two gorges, through which the Nakhal David and Nakhal Arugot Rivers flow, lie at the heart of Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. A network of paths and hiking trails allow a fascinating exploration of the region. The glorious Shulamit Falls are particularly worthy of mention. For animal lovers Ibex, rock hyraxes, foxes, wolves and if you’re lucky a spotted leopard might be seen.
For me it’s the history that pulls it all together. Archaeologists have found remains from the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE) and from King Josiah of Judah, evidence too from Persian, Helenistic, Hasmonean and Roman periods.
Ein Gedi is mentioned several times in the Bible: 1 Samuel 24:1 tells us that David sought refuge from King Saul at Ein Gedi, “When Saul came back from fighting the Philistines he was told that David was in the wilderness near Ein Gedi. Saul took 3,000 of the best soldiers in Israel and went looking for David…” (Good News Bible).
The Oasis was also mentioned in Bar Kochba letters which told of the Jewish struggle with Rome 132-135 CE and Eusebius a 4th century bishop of Caesarea described it as a , “Very large Jewish village.”
Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg and if you want to know more, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Exploration Society and Israel Antiquities Authority, to name only a few, offer an in-depth analysis of the region’s historical legacy.
Almost as an added bonus for those that prefer to avoid the five star hotel experience, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has a field school at Ein Gedi. Situated on the Dead Sea shores it provides both single and dormitory accommodation, it’s simple, clean and safe, what more could you ask for? With all that said I must mention the view across the Dead Sea to Jordan’s Moab Mountains. Can you imagine waking up to that in the morning?
The field centre can, with the help of their qualified guides, organise hikes and local trips, lasting from a few hours to a few days, to all of the nearby sites and it’s all very reasonably priced.
SPNI operate not just at the Dead Sea but also all over Israel. You can explore the Judean Desert, the Golan Heights, Elait and Jerusalem’s historical Old City to name only a few.