It is impossible to say that the Corona period is good for Israeli tourism. However, here and there we see buds of blossoming and hope. One of the places that has actually been revived in the last year is the tourist area of the Arava. The prairie, which was once just another road on the way to a destination, has become a thriving tourist space, growing out of the need of many hikers to momentarily disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the cities, downshift and connect to the land.
This week and next week I want to focus on one of my favorite parts of the desert area of our country: the southern prairie in the Eilot Regional Council. The southern Arava is home to about 5,000 residents living in ten kibbutzim, two community settlements and even a small family housing in a fact base. The human mix here is particularly interesting, as it includes quite a few people who left everything behind and moved here to blossom the wilderness, conquered nature and managed to establish a home and family in the desert.
One of the most impressive places in the southern prairie is Timna Park. Timna, who you have probably visited at least once in your life as part of one school trip or another, is a natural gem in the heart of the Red Valley. The park, which is not far from Eilat, covers an area of 70,000 dunams.
Several geologically and archaeologically fascinating discoveries have been found in the park. It can be said that it is an attraction that combines different types of landscapes and animals, archeological finds and remains such as the Pillars of Solomon, the arches, the chariots, the mushroom, the slave hill and the temple to the goddesses. The fascinating finds discovered in Timna offer a rare glimpse into the ancient period, in which copper mines from the antiquities found around the world operated at the site.
Timna has a new visitor center where hikers gather and can get tips and hear explanations from Maran Bernstein, the park ranger, just before they embark on one of the 25 hiking trails around the park. The routes you will find are varied, some are suitable for families, others actually appeal to the well-traveled and of course there are also singles for cyclists.
The winter period is the most comfortable in my eyes to travel in Timna. The comfortable weather makes it easy to walk from attraction to attraction even in the afternoon. Since the park is huge, it is possible to do a three-hour road trip that will include the highlights of the park: the mushroom, the pillars of Solomon, the chariots, the sphinx, the arches and the screw. And since everything here is regulated and controlled, it is definitely possible to stay there even in the evening – so the sites come to life with lighting. After the round you can stop at the artificial lake to refill batteries and colored sand bottles.
If this sounds a bit intimidating to you, there are quite a few guided tours of the park’s visitor center that include explanations of the terrain, the copper mines that operated on the site and the fascinating history of the park. The guided tours go out almost every day of the week, so you can choose between sunset walks, lantern tours and star gazing.
A new tour you should know is the 12 Tribes Tour. The tour begins at the Mushroom Site – where you can learn briefly and see a demonstration of the branching and physical copper extraction process that they worked hard about 6,000 years ago in Timna. Copper is actually the first metal that man used frequently – and in order to extract it one had to look for unique minerals that included copper, cut them and from them extract copper.
You can also hear about a new find found in Timna – a crimson dye that was recently found in Slave Hill. From there, the tour continues to the “Tent of Meeting” – a faithful restoration to the source of the Tent of Tent that was used by the children of Israel in the desert and is written about in the Book of Exodus. Apart from seeing eyes, in the tent you will hear about the story of the tabernacle, the work of the priests and the holy vessels that were in it. From there you move on to the last stop – a visit to the lake, where travelers will be offered hot tea and a small bottle to fill with colored sand. Price of the tour: NIS 49 for a child, NIS 59 for an adult with advance registration.
Since the park is lovely even at night, those who are interested can choose the full experience and sleep in Timna. Around the lake there are guest rooms, cool caravans, air-conditioned tents and a regulated campaign complex.
Also, every Saturday during January there will be “Avoid Chill Out” events. Which means that after you walk in the park you can get to the lake complex and enjoy chill-out music, kids activities, snacks in the park cafe and more.
Opening hours of the park: All days of the week, 8: 00-16: 00. Evening tours.
Admission: NIS 49 for an adult, NIS 39 for a child. The card includes a vial for colored sand and is valid for three consecutive days.
A short drive from Timna is the southernmost kibbutz in the country – Kibbutz Eilot. The kibbutz, which borders the city of Eilat, offers quite a few attractions and accommodation options for traveling families and couples.
In Eilot, there are 41 holiday units in a country style and in different sizes that are suitable for anyone who wants to incorporate a hint of a collective experience in their trip. The units have a charming green space with shaded seating areas, hammocks and barbecue areas. If you stay in units, you can enter the outdoor and indoor pool of the “U SPLASH” hotel, which is also located in the kibbutz. You will get the full kibbutz experience when you arrive to eat in the kibbutz’s dining room, where you can see between the buffet stalls the friends who returned from the fields and the children on the way to school and enjoy the unique experience.
Rural accommodation price per night: NIS 500-900 per couple, including breakfast.
During this period you will pay 600-700 shekels per couple per night on the weekend.
The best way to get to know Eilot today is to look at the not-so-distant past. In June 1955, a small group of 15 young people from the United Kibbutz decided to go down towards Eilat. The pioneer guys called the “grouped company” settled in the area and engaged in agriculture. In 1959, after not easy years, the kibbutz was moved to its current location. You can hear about the strength of the company members, the challenges and the pioneering spirit in the barracks of Genesis.
The huts are a short walk from the dining room. The recently renovated hut was formerly the kibbutz’s first dining room. The old hut underwent many incarnations, and among other things served as a secretarial room and even as a warehouse. Today he stands proudly and pays homage to the old friends who survived the desert and established a thriving kibbutz. The hut includes a cafe that serves as a local parliament for the kibbutz’s veterans, a documentation room and a multi-generational wooden workshop.
In the documentation room you can learn through photos and videos the story of the first settlers. This is a great opportunity to hear from the veterans about life then and today in a cooperative kibbutz and the traditions that have been preserved to this day. The tour also includes a visit to the nearby workshop, where the veterans meet with the youth of Eilot for an intergenerational workshop that deals with recycling.
Price of the tour: NIS 65 per person by prior reservation, including coffee and cake.
If you want to add extra value to a tour of the Genesis huts, you can book an experiential carpentry workshop with Rafi Saar. Rafi, who has already been nicknamed “Grandpa Rafi” by his friends, is a veteran of the kibbutz who has been engaged in agriculture most of his life. After retiring and hugging his first grandson, he decided to dedicate himself to one of his hobbies and started making wooden toys. After specializing and perfecting the toys, he opened a workshop where he offers carpentry workshops to the kibbutz members and visitors. At the beginning of each workshop, which lasts about an hour and a half, Rafi distributes to each participant a creative kit from which he will create a wooden toy under his guidance. During the workshop, the participants polish the wood, glue, assemble and paint – it’s a real experience for all ages.
The cost of the workshop: NIS 250 per participant.
More details: 0522766014.
Another experience not to be missed if you travel in the area on weekends: Every Friday Kibbutz Eilot hosts a farmers market with local produce, vegetables and fruits, food and drink stalls. The market includes the produce of the Arava farmer without intermediation gaps and directly from the farmer, from which you can enjoy your home or have a picnic in the adjacent lawn. Among the stalls you will find hydroponic crops, organic produce, freshly harvested dates and more. There is also a ready-made food fair in the market, where you can buy food by weight that comes from “Kapot Tamarim” (the kibbutz restaurant).
Fridays, 8:00 – 14:00.
Source: Maariv.co.il – תיירות by www.maariv.co.il.
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