Ein-Gedi is a mythological name. It’s a name that, when hearing it, memories immediately come to mind of the annual fifth-grade school trip (for Israelis), fragments of information about the ancient village that was here two thousand years ago, stories of David hiding here from King Saul, Ein Gedi’s vineyards mentioned in the Song of Solomon. It evokes images of Ibex and rock-rabbits (Hyrax), of high waterfalls and an unimaginable abundance of water in the heart of the desert.
Indeed, the Ein-Gedi Nature Reserve is all of these – and more. It contains some of the most beautiful places in the country, exciting archaeological remains, unique vegetation, a variety of animals and fascinating stories. It’s no surprise that this is one of the most beloved places to travel, for Israelis and foreign tourists alike.
What the Ein-Gedi Nature Reserve Includes
The Nature Reserve has several areas: Nahal David and Nahal Arugot, the Ancient Synagogue, Tel Goren and 5 mountain ascents climbing up to desert level.
Nahal David – We will start with the most popular area – the stream that received its name from King David. Incidentally, the royal family can be seen all around – on one side Mount Yishai, named after the father of David, and on the other side, Mount Tzruya, named after his sister. The stream gained its popularity thanks to a combination of spectacular beauty and an accessible and enjoyable walk. Few desert areas offer such a short, easy walk to reach the heart of wild nature. Nahal David is endowed with an abundance of water – high waterfalls cascading straight from the heart of the earth, gushing cool water. Water which has spent centuries among the desert stones and now flows out to meet the hikers who need cooling down. The trip to Nahal David ranges from majestic desert landscapes to cool corners where stone walls are hugged by green vegetation known as Shulamit’s Hair (named after “Shulamit” – the female character mentioned in the Song of Solomon).
Important to know! Hiking is possible along the lower part of the stream, or you can climb up to the higher part, in accordance with your personal preference of trail duration and level of difficulty. The lower part of the stream is accessible and can be easily explored with a wheelchair or baby carriage. The higher part is for fit hikers and includes considerable walking, part of which is in the sun.
Nahal David has some special natural gems worth becoming acquainted with on your next visit to the area: the Ein-Gedi Spring, next to which is an ancient flour mill. The beautiful Dodim Cave – after you descend to the cave you will reach a magical, isolated spot. The Chalcolithic Temple – the remains of a temple some 5,000 years old. Gev Halon – a natural rain-water cistern with an ‘open-window’ view straight out to the dazzling blue of the Dead Sea. Please note that the pool is seasonal – it fills up after the first flood and dries out during summer.
Nahal Arugot – this is one of the largest streams in the Judean Desert, which flows all year round, crossing the desert and Matzok Haetakim, creating waterfalls and springs of spectacular beauty. The walk in the stream combines dry sections and refreshing stretches of enjoyable ambling in cool water. The stream has many small pools, enabling relaxation and bathing. If you make it all the way to the section called the “upper pools”, you’ll see one of the most beautiful parts of the stream – large, quiet pools, reclining between huge white rocks. Along the way you’re likely to meet rock-rabbits (Hyrax) and Ibex. If you raise your eyes, you’ll notice birds-of-prey and other varieties of birds, and a close look into the water will reveal crabs and various species of tiny water creatures.
The Ancient Synagogue – there was once a large oasis settlement in Ein-Gedi, whose residents made a living mainly from farming and growing the mysterious Persimmon plant. The remains of this settlement, with the synagogue at its center, are halfway between Nahal David and Nahal Arugot. The most important and exciting find in the synagogue is its mosaic floor which has some interesting inscriptions. One is a curse that will be imposed on those who discover the “secret of the village” – probably the secret of growing Persimmons. The second is the list of generations from Adam to Japheth, and the Zodiac list.
Tel Goren – The mound is next to the ancient synagogue from which you can climb up to Ein-Gedi Spring but, before you start climbing, stop by its memorial, dedicated to the young people killed here in one of the most tragic disasters. In 1942, Hashomer Hatzair (World Movement for Zionist Youth) trainees went for a walk in the Dead Sea region. One night they fell asleep at Tel Goren around the campfire until, towards dawn, the flames ignited one of the mattresses and burned hand grenades that had been placed inside it. The explosion killed 7 trainees and a guide, and 14 trainees were injured. About a year later, a rock was placed there inscribed with the words of Nathan Jonathan: “He who passes – Silence! This is where Hashomer Hatzair fell on their way up to Masada, Passover (1942). They paved paths… the journey continues…” In 1972, another monument was erected in the spot, in the shape of a circular bench – a symbol of sitting around a campfire.
Ma’alot Ein-Gedi – 5 trails lead from the streams up to the mountain level: Ma’ale Yishai, Ma’ale Ein-Gedi, Ma’ale Bnei HaMoshavim, Ma’ale Essenes and Ma’ale Tzruya. These are steep, difficult paths intended for strong walkers and walking is forbidden on extremely hot days.
Flora and Fauna in Ein-Gedi
Much of Ein-Gedi’s charm stems from the special plants and animals that have made the place their home. Visitors to the reserve will easily meet the Nubian Ibex. In the past, the Ibex was endangered, but after dedicated conservation efforts, Ein Gedi now has the largest Ibex herd in the country, and they walk around the Reserve trails without fear of humans. Important – it is forbidden to approach the Ibex and they certainly must not be fed! The proximity of wildlife to humans creates dependency in them, which ultimately impairs their natural behavior and can even cause them injuries. Another amiable animal that is easy to see on the Reserve is the Hyrax (often referred to as the rock-rabbit), which skips between the rocks. Among the mammals in the reserve are wolves, jackals, foxes and, in the past, leopards. In the reptile department, various species of scorpions and snakes can be found and, in the water, you’ll discover crabs, frogs, stream-snails and more. Some of these animals are endemic, meaning that they can be found only in the Ein-Gedi area. The most famous of these is a bird: Tristram’s Starling – named after the explorer Henry Baker Tristram, who discovered it in the 19th century.
One insect you’ll surely meet during the trip is the dragonfly – seemingly, a simple flying creature, but an in-depth examination will reveal a delicate and fragile beauty. One of the Reserve’s employees recently conducted a study of dragonflies in Israel, and following his research, academia received 65 new names of various dragonflies (surprisingly, until now, their names have been simply: “Red Dragonfly”, “Blue Dragonfly”, etc.). In the Ein-Gedi Reserve, over 30 different species of dragonflies can be found. You are welcome to try and discover them!
The flora in the reserve is also unique. On one side is typical desert vegetation, such as the Moringa and Acacia trees and, on the other side, vegetation that needs lots of water, such as Shulamit’s Hair, a variety of ferns and more.