Most people come to Eilat to enjoy the fantastic sea and the colorful mountains, but there are also some interesting points in the Arava. The Arava is the narrow region that spreads all the way from the south of the Dead Sea to Eilat. It’s the long yellowish plain between the Negev Mountains (on the Israeli side) and the Edom Mountains (on the Jordanian side). Though it seems like there’s nothing to see along it, the truth is that it has some interesting archeological sites, wildlife and agricultural points. The weather was great this Saturday, so I decided to take my friend on a hike from Eilat, my childhood town, to the Sharsheret Wells, which are about 11 km from the city.
This trail isn’t marked, but goes along a semi-paved road, so it’s easy to keep track of it. It’s a nice and easy hike for those of you who have already been to the sea, the mountains and to Timna Park and now want to taste a bit of the Arava. It’s also a fantastic trail for bird-lovers! Be ready for a hike of around 3-4 hours each way with almost no shade along the way.
Before I start telling you about the trail itself, let’s go over safety instructions and general notes:
* The hike is under your own responsibility.
* Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 2 liters of water and wear a hat and sunglasses (the trail is almost entirely exposed to the sun). It is recommended to also pack snacks.
* Pay attention to sunset hours (in Summer around 5-6 PM, in Winter around 4-5 PM) and begin make sure your hike won’t exceed the sunlight hours.
* During the rainy season, check for flood hazards after every rainfall. If there is a flood hazard, do not go on this hike, as the floods almost always end up in the Arava.
* The whole trail is on a flat surface with no climbs along the way.
* All points mentioned in this post can be reached by car if you prefer to drive between them rather than hike.
How to get to the head of the trail?
The beginning of this trail is near the Ice Mall. If you’re staying in a hostel or camping on one of the beaches in Eilat, you can either walk to the Ice Mall (up to 40 minutes’ walk inside the city), take a taxi (around 20-25 ILS) or take a bus (cheaper than a taxi, but takes much longer to get to the starting point). If you want to take a bus, you can use the Moovit app to check out which lines are best for you. Search for “Ice Mall”, put your location and find the best route. When you arrive at the front entrance of the mall, you just need to walk about 750 meters east along the road until you see the trail to your left.
We began our hike from the Ice Mall (1), located at the north-eastern part of Eilat. We took the road leading east towards Jordan, passed by a parking lot with some caravans, passed above a small bridge and then turned left onto the trail (2). This short part of the trail goes along the Kinet Water Channel, which was built as a drainage channel for floods.
After about 400 meters, there’s a split in the path, with a bird pointing right (3). One way continues along the Kinet Channel, while the other, which is “paved”, takes a slight turn right and then continues straight along the palm plantation, that belong to the nearby kibbutz. We took the right turn and continued along the palms.
Palm trees have existed in the Land of Israel during ancient times, in the First and Second Temple periods, but have gone extinct at some point, when there was nobody here who took care of them. The palm trees returned to Israel in the 1950s, when two people, Ben Zion-Israeli and Yani Avidor, were able to get some dates and palm twigs out of Iraq. Today, the most popular dates are those harvested from the Medjool palm tree, but those were brought to Israel from the USA. Palm trees grow mainly in the Southern Arava because it is much saltier here than in the middle and northern part of the Arava.
We continued along the road, which is paved, but badly maintained. After about 2 km we saw the Bird-Watching Park to our left (4). This area was once much more wild. It was part of the Eilat Saltmarsh, full of trees and bushes, a perfect spot for migrating birds on their way to Africa. After the city of Eilat was established in 1951, the marsh began to suffer until it was finally taken over by the hotels, the shopping centers, the airport, the salt production ponds, and the city dump, which was right where the Bird-Watching Park is today. Many studies took place in the area, until finally the Bird-Watching Park was established in 1993. An artificial pond was created and today, millions of migrating birds stop in this park to refuel themselves before continuing towards the Sahara Desert and Africa. The park is free of charge and is open all day long. There’s a circular route inside the park, which takes you around some of the main watching points. The best times to be here are in the Fall or in the Spring, when there’s more chance to see migrating birds on their way to or from Africa. If you would like to donate to the park, it would be nice of you to purchase something from their store. This is also a great stop to refill your water bottles or take a restroom break before continuing on this trail.
After taking a short walk in the park, we continued towards the Arava Border Crossing, also known as the Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing (5). This border crossing takes you into Jordan, and many people choose to cross here in order to get to Petra. Maybe you’ll choose to do that as well. We continued along the road that leaves the border crossing towards the main road, road number 90. But we didn’t go all the way to road number 90. About 750 meters along the road, there’s a narrow-paved road that leads straight ahead, parallel to road number 90. Next to it is a sign that says “מכון טיהור שפכים אילת” (which actually means “Eilat Sewage Treatment Plant”), with an arrow pointing to the left (6).
We went after the arrow and continued on that straight road, that is accompanied by a pipeline to its right. The pipeline has a purple stripe on it, which indicates that the pipeline is leading recycled water. Instead of wasting the water, the farmers of the Southern Arava use recycled water to water their fields of palm trees. Vegetables are not watered by recycled water.
This long and narrow road is the part that links between one interesting point to another. It’s about 5.5 km long, so get ready for about one hour of hiking along agricultural fields and dead yellowish cactuses. Vehicles passed by us every now. One time a lady with a jeep stopped by us and asked if we would like a lift. “No, thanks,” we smiled at her. She looked at us, shocked: “You’re going to the Flamingo Ponds?” “Yes,” we nodded. “You’re going to walk all the way THERE?” she asked, astonished. “Yes, we like to walk,” we replied. She was still quite speechless, took hold of her steering wheel and continued up the road. Yeah, not a lot of people walk along this road. Actually, there was NOBODY walking along this road when we did it. But, if you like walking, it’s a nice workout.
After about one hour, we finally got to a junction in the road. The bike trail, signaled by a camel on two wheels, continued straight, but we took the right turn onto an agricultural road between two plantations (7).
This part is a little bit shady. Near the end of the road, we started hearing the cry of the flamingoes and after passing a small mound of dirt, the huge Flamingo Ponds were laid before us. We continued north along the ponds until we saw a small white lookout point up on a small mound of dirt. We climbed to the building and took a rest on the benches before reading a bit of the informative signs (8).
The Flamingo Ponds (or the Avrona Ponds) are artificial and were made by Salt of The Earth Ltd. in order to function as salt production ponds. The ponds here are the most northern of three ponds in the Southern Arava. When the migrating birds made their way to Africa, some of them found those ponds and decided to make their stop here. Amongst those were the flamingoes. Pink brine shrimps, that grow in the ponds, are great snacks for the flamingoes. If they eat enough of them, the flamingoes turn from their white color to their more famous pinkish color.
After eating an orange, we continued a bit farther to the Sharsheret Wells, which are just about 800 meters north-west to the Flamingo Ponds. We got to the brownish shade shed (9) and then followed the black arrows, that are stuck in the ground, until we got to the two wells. It seems like you’re walking in a complete wasteland, which is somewhat true. There’s barely anything around you, but if you keep on following the arrows you’ll get there. “Sharsheret” in Hebrew means “Chain”. The two wells are part of a chain of wells, which are part of an ancient watering system from the time of the Muslim era, called a qanat. In the past, floods would flow into this depressed area and with no drainage, stayed here and formed a huge dry lake, known as Avrona Dry Lake. Ancient farmers wanted to grow their crops here, but couldn’t use water that was in contact with the salty water of the dry lake, so they built the qanat as a solution. They captured the floods at a higher point, underground, using the wells and the tunnels between them, before the water got to the salty areas. Then, they led the water in channels to their agricultural fields.
We climbed inside one of the wells and made our way in the dark tunnel to the second well, climbing out of it. There are bars leading down and up, so you can do this as well. Just pay attention that one of the bars has fallen in one of the wells, so mind your step. And don’t forget to take a flashlight with you, because it’s dead dark inside! It takes just a few minutes, but is really exciting.
After climbing out of the well, we met my Dad, who gave us a lift back home. If you don’t have anyone who can give you a lift, you can make the same way back to Eilat (maybe someone will give you a lift on the way back). Another option is to go camp near Shchoret Canyon. To get there, you’ll need to walk to road number 90, which is about one km from the Sharsheret Wells, and then cross it. Recently, a road separation fence was built in the middle of the road, so please be careful when crossing and make sure there are no vehicles coming your way. After crossing, you can hike along the road that leads towards Amram Pillars (עמודי עמרם) and Shchoret Canyon (קניון שחורת). When you get to a split in the road, take the green-marked trail that goes left towards Shchoret Canyon. From the split in the road, it is about 3 km until you reach the Shchoret Camping Site. Overall, it should take you around one hour and 15 minutes to reach the camping site from our ending point at Sharsheret Wells.
How much time does the trail take? About 3-4 hours one way, depending on your fitness and how long you stay at each point along the way.
Difficulty: It’s a flat trail, which means there’s no difficult climbs, but because of its length with no shade along the way, I’d say it’s a moderate-level trail.
It is about 11-kilometers long.
When is the best time to hike? During the Winter and Spring (December-May), when the temperature drops in the Arava.
Other trails in Israel:
Wishing you a great hike along the Southern Arava!
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