Adventure travel is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. And as an adventure destination, Israel can't be beat.
Only about the size of New Jersey, Israel is blessed with an amazingly varied terrain. It has four seas — Red, Dead, Mediterranean and Galilee — with miles of marvelous coastline, many mountains (some holy, some just heavenly), waterfalls, deserts, oases and enormous canyons…with diverse climates to match.
Here's a summary of Israel's numerous travel adventures:
Bump. Cover unusual terrain bumpily in non-cushy, all-purpose, 4-wheel drive vehicles. All-terrain vehicles are more macho than their cousin, the Jeep. Israel offers an almost endless choice of itineraries: mountains, deserts, the seashore. When led intelligently by someone who loves the land, these rides can be as beautiful as they are hair-raising.
Dive. After thousands of years the relentless pounding of fierce waves that crash into the limestone cliffs at Rosh Hanikra on Israel's northern Mediterranean shore have created a labyrinth of grottos, caves and covers. The fearless can dive right into their waters, primordial and mysterious even in the bright sun of a summer day. Or visit by cable car.
Rappel. Want to hang by a thread off the face of a mountain? An increasingly popular sport, rappelling demands that you scale down cliffs double-roped around the waist, push off, let out rope, and continue on down. Qumran, which gained fame if not fortune as the 2,000-year hiding place for the Dead Sea Scrolls, is an excellent rappelling site, where four cliffs rise to increasingly higher heights.
Ski. The Israeli Alps are actually the lower slopes of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. Skiing is seasonal, of course — December through March — but a surprise in the Middle East even in winter. There are chalet-type accommodations at Neve Ativ.
Crawl. You're on your belly with barely enough space to breathe crawling through a vast, hollowed-out subterranean complex of caves at Hazan and Amatzia about 10 miles southeast of Kiryat Gat. A crawl through the 30 or so separate rooms will reveal storerooms, olive oil presses and cisterns, all connected by tunnels and secret passageways.
Soak. At the end of the day in the Galilee, plunk yourself into a naturally therapeutic hot tub at Hammat Gader. The Romans loved this place because of its red-hot sulfur springs, and many of their fabulous ruins remain for our enjoyment today. The Israelis added a beautifully cultivated park and a cute crocodile farm. The baths smell like hell and they're great.
Cycle. Israel is a dream for cycling enthusiasts, with an enormously diverse countryside, short distances between towns and impressive historical sites, plus great weather almost all year long. Cycling in either of Israel's dramatic deserts, the Negev or the Judean, is the best.
Try it along the Dead Sea shore, the lowest point on earth. The mineral-rich air and super-salty water will definitely advance your tan and heal your cuts. The exercise will force you to pump your pecs and other muscles you never even knew you had. The Nahal Pratzim river valley trail provides the ultimate ride on a soft surface with very quiet, spectacular mountain scenery, and a possible stop in the Flour Cave, a definite thrill, spookily white inside.
Jump. Although bungee jumping has not yet hit Israel, pure, old-fashioned cliff-jumping has always been popular. Yehudia Forest Reserve, four miles from Qatzrin in southwestern Golan Heights, provides 10-, 20- and 30-foot heights from which to jump into crispy cool pools. Many marvelous hiking and riding trails are found amid ravishingly beautiful landscapes.
Speed Sail. Trek Yam is an experience-oriented tour company whose boat, The Tornado, whips through the water at 45 knot-speeds. (That's fast.) One of the most modern sailing boats in the world, it is equipped with two 70-horsepower engines and a fiberglass floor. This inflated rubber ship makes for seasick-proof swift sailing along Israel's rugged northern coast between Achziv and the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra.
Kayak. Surprise: The River Jordan has some class 3 to 4 rapids, with narrow passages bordered by overhanging trees where the going can get rough. Surf real rapids by kayak or inner tube. Offered by a number of nearby kibbutzim in the Upper Galilee, most notably Kibbutz Kfar Blum and Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi.
Parachute. Up north, Trek Yam will set you up near Achziv to parachute off the great shoreline cliffs. Land smack in the Med, and swim between giant underwater boulders.
Plunge. The oasis of Ein Gedi is a riot of greenery, reeds, flowers and palms, right smack in the Judean Desert, just steps from the barren shore of the Dead Sea.
Climb the wild gorge where David hid from the wrath of Saul, then splash around in the nippy mountain pools beneath soaring waterfalls. Or try plunging into the ice-cold pure and glorious spring waters at Ein Avdat, two miles south of Sde Boker in the Negev.
Hike. Israel's trails are almost infinite. Ideal too because of their variety. Hikes can be easy, over kindly pastoral hillscapes, through carpets of wildflowers, between clumps of palm trees. Or they can be rough and tough, over dramatic rocky terrain and, of course, into the awesome deserts. Wadis, or dry river beds, are magnets for hikers, and canyons can be cool. Keep your camera ready for wild ibex and gazelle sightings.
The Negev's gigantic Makhtesh Ramon crater is Israel's Grand Canyon and was not even on pre-state British maps. It is one of the largest natural craters in the world with stunning, multimillion-year-old rock formations and unique vegetation.
The best basic source for hiking information is the venerable Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which rates their hikes according to difficulty. In the United States, call (800) 323-0035.
Camel Ride. Follow in the adventurous camel steps of Lawrence on an authentic, real live "ship of the desert." Camp out deep in the wilderness. Watch the red sun sink. Sleep in a goat-hair Bedouin tent. Drink killer coffee. And continue your trek bumping along on these trusty, old four-footers.
Cave Walk. There are 800 cool caves at Bet Guvrin National Park, with entrances camouflaged by cacti and fig trees. The soaring caves are wild enough to have attracted rugged adventurists for over 2,000 years. Sylvester Stallone filmed much of "Rambo III" there. Some caves are bell-shaped and pierced by shafts of sunlight. Some have twisted staircases. Inside one is a huge columbarium, or a two-story high dovecote, and many water cisterns. Wear a miner's hat and be prepared for a heavy dusting.
Swoosh. Kef Yam offers really fast boat trips along the Mediterranean shore from Sdot Yam in Caesarea for a thrilling view of Herod's sunken port at Caesarea.
Dive. Down south in Eilat, dive deep into the Red Sea — acclaimed as the best and most accessible diving spot in the world. Home to zillions of schools of fancy fish — each dressed in unimaginably frivolous outfits: whiskers, pajamas, polka dots and wings.
Up north, Trek Yam can assist you into encountering the deep blue sea full force by diving from 6- to 30-foot heights right into the Mediterranean. Then explore the incredibly dramatic and very deep Ahziv Canyon, 80 feet long. The Gal-Mor Diving Center in Caesarea will guide you underwater to visit and photograph Herod's submerged ancient port.
Parasail. The Red Sea Sports Club offers you the opportunity to feel like a bird, like a plane, even like Superman. Fly high over those fat, lazy beach bums in Eilat.
Ride. Horseback ride down to the Sea of Galilee with a trailmaster from Vered Hagalil, Israel's original dude ranch — or through the thickly forested Carmel Mountains from Mechora Stables at Kerem Mahara on the Mediterranean coast. Half- and full-day trail rides cover the plains, garden orchards, nature reserves, fields of mustard flowers and near-prehistoric caves.
Windsurf. Fly along the water with Shehafit Windsurf and Diving Center in Haifa. Professionals are on hand, ready to instruct, and excellent equipment is available to rent or buy. In Tel Aviv, try the Sea Center in the busy Marina. In Eilat, there's the Aqua Sports Red Sea Diving Center.
Snuba. It is fun for families or those too chicken to deal with the deep. This Israeli invention is a cross between snorkeling and deep-sea diving whereby ones breathes through a tube connected to a tank carried on a rubber boat. Find it at Caves Beach in Eilat.