Taking kids to Israel - Masada and Dead Sea
Are you planning to take your kids to Israel? Here are the places you can consider visiting with your whole family around Masada and Dead Sea.
Really an iconic place and it would be hard to go on a holiday to Israel and bypass this location. It is about a two drive from Jerusalem descending through the desert the entire way. Along the way children will see the Bedouin with their tents, goats and camels. You can stop at the gas stations where a camel owner will offer exceptionally expensive opportunities for the children to sit on the camel (and maybe extra if you want to take pictures). They never lack for customers! When arriving at Masada, you get entry tickets which includes the way you go up. You can climb up the snake path, not recommended after 10am during the summer (and often closed due to heat in the summer months). You can take the cable car up and down. You can climb up and walk down. You can climb up the Roman Ramp side but you will need to drive through Arad to ascend this way which is quite a bit further. There is a very good museum with the artifacts that were found on top of the mountain on display. It would hold limited appeal to younger children but older children could appreciate the significance. There is an extra charge for this. At the top the must sees include: The Northern Palace- no climbing over railings here!!! A scary but safe descent to the different levels. Very exciting for kids. The synagogue, because we are Jewish and it is Israel after all. The store rooms, officer rooms and bath house (near the Northern Palace), The Western Palace, and near the back of Masada, the water cistern that you can descend into. This is a great place for kids to see with the light shining through the ceiling. I recommend walking along the entire walls. The views of the desert can’t be matched. Kids will see how the Dead Sea is receding. If you find a quiet spot, you may see the gerbils and mice come looking for crumbs that visitors left behind. Bring plenty of water, sun hats and sunscreen here.
This nature reserve (Nahal David) has it all. An oasis in the desert, kids will experience stark, bleak landscapes and steps later be walking through a tunnel of elephant grass. There are numerous ibex which are fairly easy to see. Rock Hyrax, an endangered species, are quite plentiful here. They like to sun themselves on the rocks. Rumour has it that there are still leopards in the area though tourists don’t see them as they are very shy of humans. Wear your bathing suit under your clothes and bring a towel. As you follow the stream through the park, the water collects in pools where people swim (there are no swimming signs everywhere, which everyone, including the army, completely ignore). The walk from the main entrance to the upper waterfall is about half an hour uphill. Spectacular. There are several much longer hikes available in the area. You need to be prepared for them and they should not be done during the heat of the day during July and August.Maps are available at the entrance (which also has a snack bar).
Floating in the Dead Sea
Ein Gedi has a public beach, just across the street and down 300 meters or so from the entrance to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. The water has receded quite far from the original set up and there is a drop of a meter or more to get into the water. The ground here is very rocky. I would not recommend with smaller children. There are change rooms and bathrooms (for a fee) and outdoor showers. There is a very good restaurant on site (bus stop kind of place). Another option is Mineral Beach. Very basic but indoor showers, lockers, towel rental, chairs to use at the waters edge, mud buckets, and a snack bar. Access to the water is fairly easy here. This is a better option than Ein Gedi Beach for families with children. The Dead Sea is not for swimming in. This is sometimes hard for children to understand. They must not get the slightest bit of water in their eyes or mouth as it is really painful. That means no splashing or playing in the water. For kids, a better option is to use a spa facility. Many hotels allow ‘day visitors’ to their spas. This would give you access to a sand beach with guide rails into the water, a freshwater swimming pool for splashing and playing in, sulfur pools, locker and towel rental, showers with soap and shampoo, playground and shaded areas. Well worth it and can make it a real experience. The Ein Gedi Spa is popular but it is not very clean (though I understand it is much improved as it has gone through a renovation in the spring/summer of 2012), you have to take a shuttle to the water’s edge and it is hard to keep a family together here. On the positive side, it is close by Masada and Ein Gedi, not too expensive, has a fresh water pool with shaded area, and mud tubs for doing the slather thing. Good for people with teens! For those with younger children or older travelers, using the services of one of the hotels is better: Lot Hotel (one of my favourites), Crowne Plaza or another hotel that is right on the beach (be careful, some are not on the beach directly), are best bets.
Overnight in a Bedouin Tent in the Negev
A truly wonderful experience for families with older children. The Bedouin run a couple of locations for tourists. They cook wonderful meals, explain their culture and take visitors on camel treks. Evenings are spent around bonfires with only the sounds of the desert as entertainment. These locations are very popular with birthright groups so sometimes are crowded with young people from around the world. Tents are communal sleeping up to 100 people. You sleep on the ground and it is comfortable but definitely a camping experience. There are communal bathrooms with showers which are kept surprisingly clean. One location is Kfar Hanokdim. This location also has cabins with ensuite bathrooms and air-conditioning for rent. A bit remote from the Bedouin experience but great for people with younger children. They also have accommodation called Sukkahs, which are somewhere between a tent and a cabin and have the whole family sleeping together but in a private space. This is particularly good for large families or those that find sleeping in a tent with 100 strangers just a bit too awkward.
This spectacular area in the Negev desert is on the edge of a Machtesh or crater. The crater was caused by erosion after the area was covered with silt from a prehistoric sea. The entry into the makhtesh has steep walls doing down into a canyon like landscape. The opportunities for activities with teens is endless. This is desert country so a guide for activities is recommended. There are 4 and 8 hour jeep tours of the makhtesh, mountain biking, hiking, rappelling, visiting the local Bedouin families, ecotours, star gazing, night barbeques, etc.