10 Outdoor Israeli Adventures

With a vast and rich cultural history, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Israel offers travellers one of the most exciting and enriching experiences in the world.

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Many travellers come to Israel as pilgrims, followers of one of the world's three major monotheistic religions-Judaism, Islam and Christianity- to see the sites of the Holy Land. More than just holy, Israel is also beautiful, rugged and surprisingly diverse, packing an amazingly varied landscape (mountains, deserts, canyons, rivers and blooming green fields) plus the coastlines of no less than three seas-Red, Dead and Med-into an area less than half the size of Nova Scotia. Needless to say, it's a great place to get outdoors. Here are the 10 fresh-air adventures in the Holy Land.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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1. Rappel into the Ramon Crater

This, the largest crater in all of Israel-the remains of a giant sandstone mountain that has been worn away by millions of years of natural erosion-is a favourite training ground for Israeli Defense Force fighter jets, which roar along the brown sands faster than the speed of sound, as well as enthusiasts of what locals call "snappling." Snap in and descend to the bottom, taking in the beautiful views along the way.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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2. Save a Horse, Ride a Camel

Roughly half of Israel is covered in arid, rugged, silent desert, and, as they have for hundreds of years, camels-often called the "ships of the desert"-still trod along the ancient roads and paths that crisscross this magnificent and desolate land. While they've mostly lost their primary role as agents of transportation, a number of companies, including the Camel Ranch in Eilat, allow you to saddle up and see the world from the back of one of these beasts.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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3. Swim with Dolphins in the Red Sea

An attraction unique in the region (and perhaps the world), Dolphin Reef in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat provides the opportunity to swim with bottlenose dolphins in the wild. Enclosed not in a tank but a giant, natural area of the sea, these animals hunt, mate and are generally left to their own devices. Although you won't be able to grab on to their dorsal fin and take a ride like at other dolphin swims, the experience of snorkeling inches from playful mammals interacting in their natural environment is an unforgettable one.

(Photo courtesy of Shtut/Flickr Creative Commons)

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4. Bike the Negev Desert

Head to Midreshet Sde Boker, a small community and field school (and the final resting place of David Ben-Gurion, the legendary first prime minister of Israel), rent a bike, and cycle along the rim of the Wadi Zin, the longest valley in all Israel. The views are amazing, and, even better, animals and birds use the valley for migration, so you might just encounter anything from ibex to griffin condors to flamingos and storks.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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5. Jog along the Mediterranean

Stretching several kilometres from the city's marina down to the ancient port of Jaffa, Tel Aviv's boardwalk bustles with activity at all times of day. Here in Israel's version of South Beach, joggers jog, bikers bike, and all sorts of activity takes place alongside on the sands that separate the boardwalk from the sea-beach volleyball courts buzz with competitive energy, swimmers ply the waters of hotel and public pools, and many Frisbees are tossed.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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6. Hike to the top of Masada

This flat-topped mountain, the legendary last redoubt of Jewish rebels besieged by Roman soldiers some 2,000 years ago, is also home to the sprawling ruins of King Herod's elaborate summer palace. There's a cable car that runs every few minutes, but the truest way to feel the history (and the burn) is to pump your legs up the Snake Path that winds up the eastern side of the mountain.

(Photo courtesy of Maedhbh/Flickr Creative Commons)

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7. Spend Some Time along the Zin River

A cold, rushing river that cuts a deep canyon through the dusty brown sands of the Negev, the Zin is as beautiful as it is historic. Walk the trails that pass along its banks, which run on (or near) ancient trading routes traversed by the Nabataens, the people who built Petra, and spot 1600-year-old Byztantine cave dwellings all along the way.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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8. Snorkel or Dive the Coral Reef

While it may not be the Caribbean, Eilat is set on a lovely coral reef that teems with colourful and exotic fish life. Set just a little way out from the beach, the Coral Beach Nature Reserve allows divers and snorkelers to skirt along the edge of the reef with the aid of a line of rope secured to a series buoys, swimming from one long dock to another. And when you surface, you can see across to Jordan, Israel's neighbor, while Saudi Arabia is just beyond to the east and Egypt just to the west in this remarkable nexus of the Middle East.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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9. Scale the Heights of Jerusalem

This ancient city is, famously, a place of peaks-from Mount Scopus to Mount Zion to the Mount of Olives. Although very modest in terms of actual altitude, a walk from the Old City up the front of any of these three eminences will definitely get your heart pumping. And the best part? It's also a hike though history-you'll pass everything from the spot where the Gospels recount Jesus' arrest to the place where they say He ascended into Heaven.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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10. Jeep into Timna National Park

Israel is home to an impressive (and, to outsiders, little-known) series of national parks, places that preserve both stunning beauty and compelling history-and a great example is Timna National Park, a spot known both for its dramatic red sandstone rock formations (the Mushroom, Solomon's Pillars) and as the site of gold mines operated by the Egyptian pharaohs. And the best way to see it all is from the front seat of a Land Rover, roaring through the rocks and sand and stopping along the way for a short hike to ancient depictions of life in these gold mining camps.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)