Judean Desert Jeep Tour – A Day Trip to the Israeli Desert
I already traveled to Israel three times to explore these extraordinary lands. On my last visit, I was traveling with Abraham Hostel to write a City Guide about Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Since I also write about tourist destinations, I knew I had to explore Israel a little more. A day trip to the Israeli Desert was on the top of my bucket list, since I did not manage to do it on my previous travels.
The Israeli Judean Desert
Between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea lies the Judean Desert. Theoretically, it is just a semidesert, since it has greater precipitation than a desert. Terraces and steep cliffs lead up to the Jordan Valley and 600 meter deep Wadis (dry river beds) make their way from west to east through this fascinating landscape.
The Judean Desert lies in the rain shadow of Jerusalem’s mountains. That means that clouds, coming from the Mediterranean Sea going east, rain on the windward slope of the mountain – and, therefore, the desert only receives little rainfall. This geological constellation benefits the creation of a desert. However, according to the University of Jerusalem, there is a huge reservoir of water below the Judean Desert, creating oases such as Ein Gedi.
Bedouin tribes live here with camels, kids and everything else. They do not live in tents, however, as you might imagine at the moment. Since they are not nomadic anymore, there is no need to be able to pack up your belongings in order to move on. They currently live in accommodations that I would describe as barracks. Walls and roofs are mostly of metal sheets or other light materials. Sometimes even blankets are used.
Mount Asasel and the Scapegoat
Did you ever wonder why someone is called a scapegoat when he gets blamed for the misdeeds of others? It is because once upon a time people symbolically transferred the entirety of their sins to a goat and then threw it down a mountain as sacrifice. This mountain is called Asasel and lies in the Judean Desert. It is also the name of the demon that the goat was sacrificed to. Asasel is mentioned in the Bible and is known as a demon or even the devil.
We stand on Mount Asasel and listen to the wind. Nothing else disturbs us. The Bedouins living in the surroundings are invisible from up here. An old well, however, that is still in use, gives away their presence.
We use this stop for a hot tea. With herbs and a lot of sugar. As is the custom of the Bedouins.
Mar Saba – One of the Oldest Continiously Inhabited Monasteries in the World
We go on. Up and down through the Wadis. I see nothing but barren desert landscape. It is beautiful, but at the same time gloomy. I cannot help but think what would happen if we had our car breaking down here and I’m glad our guide is driving a brand new Jeep.
And then, it appears between the rocks – the monastery Mar Saba. It was founded over 1500 years ago and has been inhabited ever since. This is remarkable and only very few other monasteries can claim the same.
Only men are allowed to enter the Mar Saba, so I make a joke about our tour guide distracting the monks while us women explore the monastery. We laugh as we return to the car and go for our lunch break.
Feeling good after our lunch we move on to the last stop – the oasis Ein Prat at the Wadi Qelt. I already knew this kind of oasis from my trip to Masada, where we explored Ein Gedi. Simply amazing, how a little stream of water turns the otherwise barren desert into a small paradise. Parents sit on rocks in the shadows and watch their children playing happily in the waters.
Also the girls of our group are happy for the refreshment. I normally avoid cold waters and after checking the temperature with my pinky toe I decide to not make an exception this time. Instead, I take my camera, leave my backpack with the group and go exploring. A small trail leads me to old ruins.
Remains of settlements, monasteries and palaces await the daring explorer, that battles the heat and traverses the trail. The ascend to the Faran monastery, originally founded by Haritoun monks in the 3rd century, takes 10 to 15 minutes. It is said to be the first monastery in the Judean Desert. Close to Jerusalem, monks had been looking for a remote and quiet location. The oasis with its natural caves, springs and abandoned strongholds was perfect.
Nowadays, the area is a popular recreational area, ideal for hiking, picnics and swimming in the natural pools.
Accommodation in Jerusalem
Point of departure for the Jeep tour to the Judaean desert is normally Jerusalem. Here you can find numerous accommodations for every budget.
I was in Israel because I followed the invitation of Abraham Hostels. I stayed at Abraham Hostels in Jerusalem first and then moved to Tel Aviv and Nazareth. I lived in private rooms. For my vacation and for exploring Jerusalem and the surroundings, the hostel was perfect.
For digital nomads who plan to stay longer I recommend the Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv, as the facilities and the whole modern interior and exterior is simply better suited. In Jerusalem for example, I did not have a wardrobe or had to set a timer for the water heater in the shower and then wait before actually showering. For me personally, this is not a viable solution if a digital nomad wants to stay in a place for longer.
The Jeep tour in the Judean Desert was one of my highlights of the Israel trip in 2018. On top of that our tour guide was very knowledgeable and even combined rather boring facts with a few jokes and made everybody laugh. I would love to take the tour again, as I almost can’t remember all the interesting details.
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