Category Archives: Family

Nahal Peratzim

When touring Israel you can’t but be amazed by the diverse geology in such a small country. When visiting Masada notice the spectacular canyons that have been gouged in the lissan marl by floodwaters rushing to the Dead Sea.

Take some time to explore the area by continuing south on highway <90>. Watch for the cutoff across from the Dead Sea Works and pull off onto a well-packed dirt road that will take you to the canyon at Nahal Peratzim.

Continue driving a couple of kilometers across an enormous flatlands, the Amiaz Plain, until you reach a parking lot. Follow the signs to the Flour Cave (though the cave is closed by order of the Parks Authority for fear of collapse).

It’s a short walk down into the canyon, a wide, sandy stream bed between high walls of lissan marl. It’s amazing to see the patterns of swirling designs and textures in the walls. We think the layers came about from sediment carried here by flowing streams, the darker colors in years of stronger rains but geologists haven’t come up with an accepted theory why the layers have twisted into such interesting patterns.

The hike is suitable for families and is especially dramatic in moonlight – I’d be happy to take you there. A great place for photographing surreal landscapes.

Israel 10 day tour

I guide a lot of 1 day tours but it is a very different experience to create a multi-day tour for a family or group and then be with them guiding for a week or more – it’s an opportunity to go deeper, to get to know each other and this land. For people planning a trip to Israel I would like to share a 10-day tour that I created for a small group. In general, hotel accommodation in Israel includes a buffet breakfast; this tour also included dinner except for Saturday night. The group got to experience a lot and visit some places less travelled.

Some participants’ comments:

Thank you for all your efforts to arrange a trip as diverse as Israel itself. You were always there for us and that allowed us to focus on the subjects at hand. Because of you we learned much more than we could have expected and your personal touch enriched all of our lives. We will think of you and your family every time we recall our experiences in Israel. A.B. Irvine, CA

It was much much more than we ever expected. Thank you for taking the time, preparation and sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm, history, variety of both places and people. Thank you again for a wonderful picture of Israel. Much love. EB and RG. San Rafael, CA

Here is the itinerary I worked out with them. I am happy to do the same for you.

Day 0 airport pickup and transfer to hotel in Tel Aviv

Day 1

  • drive to Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Nature Reserve
  • drive to Tel Aviv-Jaffa and walk along the beach
  • explore Old Jaffa and the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek
  • dinner in Neve Tzedek and dance performance at Susan Delal center
  • overnight in Tel Aviv

Day 2

  • morning walk in Yarkon park
  • visit the Eretz Israel museum in Ramat Aviv
  • Palmach museum
  • Tel Aviv port
  • Holon Design museum
  • overnight Tel Aviv

Day 3

  • travel north along the coastal highway
  • explore Akko: underground Crusader city, multi-media presentation in old Turkish hamam, tour of British prison
  • Lohamei HaGetaot Holocaust museum
  • Bahai gardens and tomb of Bahá’u’lláh outside Akko
  • overnight Kibbutz Ein Gev guest house

Day 4

  • watch video of famous battle of 1973 Yom Kippur War on Golan Heights, Oz 77 and Emeq HaBacha
  • visit the site and monument to the battle
  • Hula Nature reserve for bird watching
  • overnight Kibbutz Ein Gev

Day 5

  • drive to Katzrin and visit Museum of the Golan
  • wine tasting tour at the Golan Heights winery
  • drive the Jordan Rift valley to Jerusalem
  • Mahane Yehuda market before Shabbat
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 6, Shabbat

  • day of rest
  • afternoon visit to the Israel museum
  • Israeli folk dancing
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 7

  • walking tour of the Old City:
    • Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque
    • Davidson Archaeological park
    • synagogues in the Old City: Hurva and Ohel Yitzchak
    • panorama from roof top
    • Church of Holy Sepulcher
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 8

  • Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
  • desert botanical garden at Kibbutz Ein Gedi
  • Masada
  • Dead Sea spa
  • overnight Ein Gedi

Day 9

  • visit the Joe Alon Bedouin Culture museum
  • Bedouin life and hospitality (lunch) at Women’s Center in Lakiya
  • Ben Gurion’s hut at Sde Boker
  • evening walk to edge of makhtesh
  • overnight in Mitzpe Ramon

Day 10

  • jeep tour in Makhtesh Ramon
  • Ayalon Institute
  • tour of Weizmann Institute
  • farewell celebratory dinner in Tel Aviv-Jaffa
  • depart for airport

How much do you estimate a 10 day tour in Israel costs? Of course it depends on the size of the group, hotel accommodations chosen, itinerary and meals; it also depends on the expertise of person doing the arranging. I can organize and guide a tour like this (not including airfare), customized to your interests from $2500. per person.

Hiking Nahal Og

This is a real gem of a hike. Nahal Og is less than a half hour from Jerusalem in the Judean desert. It’s picturesque in a rugged, desert kind of way so it’s a good opportunity for taking photographs of the scenery and of course your family/group.

You might find that parts of the hike are challenging but this is a hike that is doable by parents and kids. There are three places where metal rungs have been hammered into the rock to give you hand and foot holds to help you traverse the steep rock faces. In the winter months there will be parts of the trail that have filled with water that you will have to cross.

The trail is a loop so you end back where you parked your car and in fact, you can do the trail in either direction, depending on whether you want to ascend or descend the rungs. Most people find that climbing up the rungs is easier than going down. The hike itself should take you about two hours.


To fill out your day combine the hike with one of the many other attractions in the area, the mosaics at the Inn of the Good Samaritan, St George’s monastery in Wadi Qelt, the archaeological site at Qumran, a float in the Dead Sea.

“Top Ten” Jerusalem Sites

The first 3 must see sites in Jerusalem are associated with the 3 monotheistic religions that make up Jerusalem’s religious fabric:

1) the Western wall (Judaism) built by Herod 2000 years ago during his renovation of the Second Temple,

2) the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Christianity) built originally by Emperor Constantine and extensively rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1149 and

3) the Haram el Sharif, with the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque (Islam) built originally in the 8th century by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik.

Here is my personal list of 7 other sites not to be missed. Add a comment to suggest sites you think should be in the “Top Ten”.

4) For a unique view of Jerusalem, take the Ramparts Walk starting at Jaffa Gate where you actually walk on the stone walls built in 1540 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent for a birds eye view of the city. Check out the 8 gates in the city walls, including the remains of the Roman gate below today’s Damascus gate.

5) Visit the Church of Santa Anna in the White Father’s compound, the ruins of a Byzantine church and a Crusader chapel resting on a dike between two pools (there’s no water in them today). This is where Jesus performed one of the two miracles he did in Jerusalem, curing the cripple of 38 years (John 5). There is also a complete Crusader church with incredible acoustics (try it out by singing Amazing Grace or other liturgical melody).

6) Visit the archaeological park at the Davidson Center and see the massive stones that were hurled down onto the Herodian street by the Romans and the steps to the Temple Mount where Jesus would have walked, the Umayyad palaces from the Early Arab period and Byzantine and Crusader ruins.

7) Reserve a Western Wall Tunnel tour and see a model of King Herod’s Second Temple (there is also a model up on the roof of the Aish HaTorah building and a model of Jerusalem in 66CE including the Temple on the grounds of the Israel Museum) and walk 488 meters under the city along the Western Wall on the Herodian street to the spot closest to the Holy of Holies, the holiest site to Judaism.

8) Tour the ancient City of David to understand the importance of water in the history of Jerusalem. Bring “water” shoes and a flashlight and walk 45 minutes through Hezekiah’s Tunnel a manmade canyon cut in the limestone with water up to your knees – quite an experience. The tunnel brought the water of the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool, inside the walls of the city. This is where Jesus performed the second miracle in Jerusalem, curing the blind man (John 9).

9) After extensive renovations the new Israel Museum has been open a year and one million people have visited – the Archaeology wing has been completely redone, the Ethnography section has been expanded and the Art gallery includes a new section on Israeli art. The museum includes the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts from Qumran are on display. Beside it is the 1:50 model of Jerusalem in 66 CE just before the Jewish Revolt against Rome which led to the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by TItus. Walk around and enjoy the Billy Rose sculpture garden designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

10) Take a guided tour of the Mahane Yehuda market or participate in a scavenger hunt. More than an outdoor vegetable market, it is a great place to walk around to get a feel for the characters and local cuisines of Jerusalem. You can request a detailed map of the market at http://israeltours.wordpress.com/2008/05/31/map-mahane-yehuda-market/

Red Canyon

Rather than driving all the way down to Eilat on highway 90 you might want to consider a detour, taking a right onto highway 13 and then a left onto 40 which follows the Israel Trail. After 38 km you’ll come to Shizaphon Junction where you’ll find an organic, vegetarian restaurant run by the folks of Kibbutz Naot Smadar, a lovely place to take a break.

At the Pundak you can also buy products from the kibbutz, artisan goat cheeses, bread, jams, fruit leather, dates and wine – everything you’d need for a picnic. I highly recommend that you try their goats yoghourt ice cream with the homemade apple cake. Mmmm, delicious.

From the junction if you continue on highway 40 you’ll come to the kibbutz itself, like a magical kingdom appearing out of the desert. Many of the kibbutznikim are artists and they’ve built a studio space and gallery that you can visit.

Afterwards retrace your steps and take highway 12. After about 3 km there will be a dirt road to your left that will take you to Shaharut where you can sleepover and go on camel trips. Afterwards retrace your steps and continue on highway 12 south for about 50 km until you see the cutoff for the Red Canyon – Wadi Shani on your left. Follow the dirt road to the parking area.

From there you follow the green trail markers and descend into the small canyon, no more than 3 meters in width with a height of up to 30 meters, created over years by water erosion of the sandstone.

The dominant color of the rock is red with shades of pink and purple. It reminded me of a smaller version of the canyon at Petra. The hike is suitable for families. To return either retrace your steps through the canyon (if there aren’t a lot of people) or climb up out of the canyon where the streambed widens and take the path with a great view of the canyon below. The Red Canyon is one of the places that I recommend to people who are interested in a tour focussed on photography.

If you are continuing to Eilat there are 2 lookout spots that are worth stopping at: Har Hizqiyahu at 838 meters for a view east to the Edom Mountains in Jordan and west to Moon Valley in Egypt and Mount Yoash at 734 meters from which you can see 4 countries on a clear day: Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Jaffa

If you want to meet up with a friend in Jaffa all you have to say is “Meet you at the clock tower”. The clock tower in Jaffa is one of seven built by the Ottoman Turks in 1908 on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the reign of the Sultan abd al-Hamid II. From there you can explore the Flea market and shops and restaurants. There’s a funky restaurant called Pua on 3 Rabbi Yohanan Street. For what some people swear is the best humus go to Abu Hassan’s. For a truly middle eastern taste try the stuffed breads at Abulafiya’s.

There is something else that Jaffa is known for and that is the shamouti orange which is known throughout the world as the Jaffa orange. The shamouti was a new variety developed by Arab farmers after first emerging in mid-19th century Palestine as a mutation on a tree of the Beladi variety near the city of Jaffa. Orange exports grew from 200,000 oranges in 1845 to 38 million oranges by 1870. Today the orchards described by a European traveller in 1872  “Surrounding Jaffa are the orange gardens for which it is justly extolled…” have disappeared in the face of urban development. But walking through the alleyways of Jaffa you can find an incredible sculpture by the environmental Israeli artist, Ran Morin, called Orange Suspendu that reminds us of the connection between the city of Jaffa, the earth and the orange tree and its fruit. Morin has 2 other tree sculptures that are worth seeing in Jerusalem, one at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and one in the Olive park near Kibbutz Ramat Rahel.

From Jaffa, walk north along the promenade to Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood that was established outside the walls of Jaffa in 1887 and that some 20 years later grew into the new city of Tel Aviv. Along the way drop in to the old Jaffa train station, that is being renovated and developed into a cultural, artistic and commercial area. For a guided tour of Tel Aviv-Jaffa please contact me. It’s possible to incorporate riding a Segway along the whole length of the promenade as part of your tour.

Agamon Hula Lake

I just guided a group in the north of Israel and can report that Agamon Lake received rave reviews. Matt, steering the 7-cycle that we rented, said “This is the greatest day in my life”. Aunt Ruth who had just come from the birding festival in Eilat helped us identify the many birds that we saw. Some of the younger at heart rode bicycles, the older people drove in an electric golf cart (all available for rental at the site).

Matt steering the 7-cycle, photo Steven Browns

Agamon Lake is in the Hula Valley (עמק החולה‎, Emek HaHula) an agricultural area in northern Israel in the Syrian-African Rift Valley with abundant fresh water. The Hula is bordered on the east by the Golan Heights and to the west by the Naftali mountains rising 400 to 900 meters above sea level. Basalt hills about 200 meters above sea level formed during late Pleistocene volcanic activity along the southern side of the valley impede the Jordan River flowing into the Sea of Galilee, referred to as the basalt “plug” formed the historic Hula Lake about 20,000 years ago and the surrounding wetlands. It is an important route for birds migrating between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The Hula Lake existed until the 1950s, a shallow, pear-shaped basin 5.3 kilometers long and 4.4 kilometers wide, extending over 12-14 km². It probably contained the richest diversity of aquatic life in the Middle East (south of Lake Amiq, Turkey which was drained at about the same time as the Hula). Based on research 260 species of insects, 95 crustaceans, 30 snails and clams, 21 fishes, 7 amphibians and reptiles, 131 birds and 3 mammals were noted.

Between 1951 and 1958 draining operations were carried out by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The declared objectives of the Hula draining project were two-fold: the addition of arable land and the eradication of malaria; additional perceived benefits were more water (by reducing evaporation losses) and peat as fertilizer. Hula Lake was drained by deepening and widening of the Jordan River downstream and digging two peripheral canals diverting the Jordan at the north of the valley (to bypass the plug).

In response to environmental concerns a small (3.50 km²) area of recreated papyrus swampland in the southwest of the valley was set aside and in 1963 became Israel’s first nature reserve.

Unfortunately, what originally seemed like a good idea over time created severe agricultural and ecological problems due to peat sediment degradation: uncontrollable underground fires, formation of dangerous caverns within the peat, proliferation of field mice, release of nitrates and sulfates into the Kinneret, 119 animal species were lost to the region, 37 totally lost from Israel, many freshwater plant species became extinct. So from 1980 to 1994 under the auspices of the JNF a program for the Hula’s rehabilitation was inaugurated.

In 1994 a small area in the southern part of the Hula Valley, in the area that once served as the transition between the original Lake Hula and the surrounding swamps was reflooded to create Agamon HaHula (אגמון החולה‎, literally: “Little Hula Lake”).  It has an irregular shape, covering an area of 1 km², several smaller islands were created in the middle of the lake to provide protected nesting sites for birds. At least 120 species of birds have been recorded in or around the lake including large flocks of migratory pelicans, storks, cormorants, cranes, and other birds en route between Europe and Africa that spend days to weeks in the vicinity of Agamon HaHula. Also, new nesting colonies of various species such as herons and plovers have been established. As well water buffalo and donkeys have been introduced and a small furry rodent called a Nutria has made its home here.

You can check out the Agamon website at http://www.agamon-hula.co.il/

7-cycle, photo Steven Browns