Ein Gedi (also: En Gedi) is Israel’s biggest oasis. Set between the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, it has springs and waterfalls and flowing brooks at the foot of 200m cliffs. It is also home to Nubian ibexes and rock hyraxes. Some even claim there were hyenas, wolves, and leopards here.
The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve stretches between the Wadis (valleys) David and Arugot with their streams.
The water springs from the rock all year long, making this place a welcome escape from the harsh summer conditions in the Judean Desert and along the Dead Sea.
I visited in early January. After spontaneously arriving at the HI Hostel Ein Gedi in the late morning and not being able to check in before the afternoon, I grabbed the reception’s discount coupon for the Nature Reserve and went for a day of hiking. (Click on the photos to see them in larger detail.)
Wadi David, David Waterfall & Dodim Cave
I started my hike in Wadi David (David’s valley) passing the lower falls and ending at David Waterfall, which came gushing from a tunnel carved into the rock and spouting out of lush green ferns. The water here flows throughout the year. Small pools are filled with turquoise water and beg you to cool your feet. Parts of the path are covered with reed tunnels, which just adds to the suspense until you finally see David Waterfall.
This circle takes about 1 hour. Where the water pours out of the rock, the path gets wet and slippery, but otherwise, it is easy to walk.
From David Waterfall, I walked back and climbed the mountain to push a little further into the valley. The path to Dodim Cave is more difficult: parts of it have been hewn into the rock and small metal bars serve as ladders. The benefit of overcoming my fear of climbing these ladders was having the Dodim Cave and its waterfall all to myself.
Ein Gedi Springs
Leaving Wadi David behind, I climbed up to the Chalcolithic Temple for a break and a stunning view of the area, David Valley to my left, the Dead Sea in the distance, Ein Gedi Kibbutz to my right, the mountain rising sharply another 100 m or so behind me to the Desert Plateau. I was hoping to see some Rock Hyrax. But they kept on fleeing before I had time to have a closer look.
Next, it was time for the main attraction: the Ein Gedi Springs. Can you imagine my surprise when I saw not only shrubs and trees but also a vivid golden foliage on these trees. Water was flowing from several spots in the rock, sometimes forming small pools. The trickles combined were once forceful enough to power a flour mill below the oasis.
Wadi Arugot & Hidden Fall
Having about 2.5 hours left before the park shut for the day, I decided to do another hike into Wadi Arugot towards the Hidden Fall. There is a choice of two paths: The red path takes you along a shorter route to the right of Arugot stream. The blue path follows the stream in the valley. On the way in I wasn’t ready to get my feet wet. So I stuck to the red path. I was rewarded with my first ibex sighting: a mother and her younglings carefully approached the water for a drink.
I reached the Hidden Fall in less than an hour.
My heart jumped a little when I saw a Hassidic Jew and a group of Muslims taking photos together, clearly enjoying the unusual encounter.
With more than an hour left, I opted for the blue path in the water on my way back. Walking in the water, it was a completely different experience making it easy to forget that only a few meters from here, the land turned into a hostile desert.
Since I still had some time left, I made one last stop at the Ancient Synagogue where I not only admired beautiful mosaics but also found out about the Sodom Apple, a plant already mentioned in the Talmud and the Bible.
Mountain goats on the run
Back on tarred road, only 500 meters from the exit, I heard a strange pitter-patter behind me: One by one, a big herd of ibex emerged from a peach orchard onto the road, past me to another grove. This sighting was the perfect way to close a day of hiking. I followed their example and quickly went for dinner and my home for the night.
- You find more up-to-date practical info about Ein Gedi, incl. a map of the site, on the Israel National Parks website: parks.org.il/sites/English/parksandreserves/engedi/
- A great budget saver if you are going to visit several reserves and national parks during your stay are the combi-ticket options: parks.org.il/sites/English/Pages/SavingMoneyTickets
- The hikes up to the Judean Desert Plateau are all very demanding. You will be rewarded with wonderful views, possibly even discover semi-wild camels. However, the path is steep, often slippery with gravel and there is barely any shade on the path or once you’re on the plateau.
- Public Transport: Take Egged bus #444 (Jerusalem-Eilat line) or #486 (Jerusalem-Neve Zohar line). With 60 min. from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi, #444 is considerably faster but also runs less often throughout the day. Ticket price is ca. NIS34 one-way (€8). Click here to see schedules and prices on the Egged website (in English).
- Tours from Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv such as this one by Abraham Tours often combine a visit to Ein Gedi with Masada and a bath in the Dead Sea.
- Things to bring when climbing the mountain: hat (against the sun — there is no shade), comfortable walking shoes, walking sticks for steep/graveled inclines, lots of water (can be refilled on the top), snacks (shop on the top sells only souvenirs).
- Accommodation options in Ein Gedi:
- Ein Gedi has an HI Hostel (dorm price around $30/night) and the adjacent Kibbutz an upscale guesthouse. I stayed at the hostel. Loved the small dorms (max. 5 people, gender-separated) and the huge breakfast buffet. Plus, the property is more like a resort with balconies offering Dead Sea views and sports facilities, there is no pool, though.
- There is another HI Hostel in Masada, 15 minutes from Ein Gedi.
- Ein Bokek, about 30 minutes from here, offers big resort hotels and also nearest ATM.
- If you have your own means of transport, look into staying in Jericho, Arad, or even Jerusalem (which is about 45 minutes by car away).
- Feel free to use the search box below the browse more accommodation options.