While Israel’s southern half is highly arid, it contains beautiful nature reserves and offers memorable hiking and nature tours. This least inhabited part of the country is also an especially mysterious and spiritual part of Israel. Easy to visit while based in Jerusalem or the Biblical town of Be’er Sheva, the Dead Sea is also a good entryway into the Negev Desert.
The Herodian fortress of Masada is the most stunning ancient site in Israel, perched on a plateau above the Dead Sea. Jewish resisters against ancient Rome ultimately committed suicide here rather than submit to conquest and servitude and, fittingly, this is where young Israelis today are sworn in for military service. The canyon oasis of Ein Gedi is another attraction here, as is the unique experience of floating effortlessly on the mineral-heavy Dead Sea, Earth’s lowest point. The Dead Sea is a tourist haven, lined with world-famous spa hotels offering therapeutic and beauty packages. Eilat, at the southern tip of the Negev Desert, is a mirage rising out of the sand with dozens of new mega-hotels and stylish restaurants grouped on stunning shore of the Red Sea. This tropical paradise offers diving with dolphins and spectacular snorkeling amid coral reefs.
Be’er Sheva, in the northern Negev, is located at the intersection of routes leading to the Dead Sea and Eilat. It is a new city built on an ancient site, dating back to the age of the Patriarchs some 3,500 years ago. Called the ‘Capital of the Negev,’ Be’er Sheva is an administrative and economic center, with regional government offices and institutions of health, education and culture which serve all of southern Israel.
Eilat, the country’s southernmost city, is Israel’s outlet to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Its modern port, believed to be located on the site of a harbor used in the time of King Solomon, handles Israel’s trade with Africa and the Far East. Warm winters, spectacular underwater scenery, well-appointed beaches, water sports, luxury hotels and accessibility from Europe via direct character flights have made Eilat a thriving, year-round tourist resort. Since the establishment of peace between Israel and Jordan (1994), joint development projects with the neighboring city of Akaba have been initiated, mainly to boost tourism in the area.
The Dead Sea
Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at about 1,300 feet below sea level, lies at the southern end of the Jordan Valley. Its waters, with the highest level of salinity and density in the world, are rich in potash, magnesium and bromine, as well as in table and industrial salts. The Dead Sea’s natural pace of recession has been accelerated in recent years due to a very high rate of evaporation (5 feet annually) and large-scale diversion projects undertaken by israel and Jordan for their water needs, causing a 75 percent reduction in the incoming flow of water. As a result, the surface level of Dead Sea has dropped some 35 feet since 1960. A project to link the Dead Sea with the Mediterranean Sea by means of a canal and pipe system, which may help restore the Dead Sea to its natural dimensions and level, is under consideration.
Jewish & Christian religious and historic sites in the South of Israel
- patriarchal town (Abraham’s well) and later Old Testament city
- the lowest spot on Earth
- site where Lot’s wife turned to salt
- ancient Jewish town of both Old Testament and Second Temple periods
- originally an Herodian palace overlooking the Dead Sea
- last stronghold of Jewish resistance to Rome
- the Dead Sea Scrolls were written and found
- the Franciscan and Greek churches