The standard travel route through Israel usually consists of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Masada. If time permits, travellers also add on Eilat and possibly Mitzpe Ramon. However, we all know that some of the best experiences come from the hidden gems that people tend to skip or don’t know about. In fact, Arad is such a ‘nothing’ place that when we told our Israeli friends we were going there, everyone was confused and told us not to go.
“Arad? Are you sure you mean Arad?”
“What are you going to do in Arad?”
“There’s nothing there!”
Well, turns out, there is, and it’s pretty damn great.
- 1. Arad is the perfect spot to explore the desert and the Dead Sea
- 2. Places are actually open on Shabbat
- 3. Epic off the beaten path desert adventures in Israel
- 4. Hiking is free and fabulous around Arad
- 5. Enjoy tranquillity between Jerusalem and Southern Israel
- 6. Get a ride to Masada for FREE!
- 7. It’s beneficial to the locals
- Getting to Arad
A bit about Arad, Israel
Arad is a town in Israel primarily built as a strategic place close to the Jordanian border (for transport). It was also built to offer housing solutions for future mining workers. This meant that the city was carefully thought out and designed for the workers and families to enjoy since they’d be further away from, well, anything and everything else. Being an in-between town though, it gained a reputation for being nothing more than just this.
Our experience of Arad was a little different and here are 7 reasons you can’t miss it on your trip to Israel.
1. Arad is the perfect spot to explore the desert and the Dead Sea
Most people travelling to see the Dead Sea will stay in Ein Bokek – a town with hotels, resorts and plenty of private beaches. The thing is though, you can only spend so much time floating around in the Dead Sea so it does get boring pretty quickly (if I can say so myself). Staying in Arad is the ideal base to explore the surrounding area including Masada and the Dead Sea. Buses run from the main station taking you to these areas and beyond.
2. Places are actually open on Shabbat
A supermarket, a pizza shop and a few other restaurants to be exact. Given that the town is pretty small, it’s actually great that all of these places are open. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest (you might know it as the Sabbath) and starts at 5 pm on Friday and finishes at 5 pm on Saturday.
Israel basically shuts down – there is no public transport (seriously, none), supermarkets are shut and good luck finding a falafel vendor.
For Israelis, it’s great – a designated day of rest where your employer cannot legally make you work. For tourists, it’s a bit of a nightmare and you have to plan accordingly. In Arad, however, although not everything is running as normal, you will find basic supplies and food!
3. Epic off the beaten path desert adventures in Israel
We were so surprised by the many adventures the desert has to offer, ranging from canyoning, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and salt craving. Of these different adventures, the most unique to the area is salt caving.
The salt caves are located 30 km from Arad and are in constant competition with Iran for its place as the largest in the world. After repelling down 80 m down what I can only describe as a salt chimney, we ducked, weaved and crawled our way out of the cave admiring salt stalactites crystallised and formed over hundreds of years.
It’s definitely not something that can be missed if you’re in Israel and with the many other adventures the area has to offer, Arad is the prime spot for epic desert adventures.
4. Hiking is free and fabulous around Arad
What’s there to see in the desert beside sand? Plenty my friend. The hiking around Arad is wonderful and deserted (no pun intended) and hiked for over 10kms before we saw another person. The surrounding area has canyons and freshwater swimming holes which provides great relief from the desert heat.
Hiking trails in Israel are clearly marked and easy to follow. The town map of Israel also marks the many hiking trails in the surrounding area and these vary from an hour to multi-day hikes. Desert hiking is no joke though, make sure you are prepared with plenty of water.
5. Enjoy tranquillity between Jerusalem and Southern Israel
Israel is busy. Jerusalem is bloody bonkers. After spending 2 weeks travelling the top half of the country, I guarantee you’re going to need some peace and quiet away from everything. Spending a few days in the desert out in nature is a surefire way of getting some much-needed tranquillity. People rave about the sunrise at Masada but there are some beautiful spots around Arad where you can also see an epic desert sunrise and best of all, no one else will be there.
6. Get a ride to Masada for FREE!
There is a road from Arad directly to Masada and nowhere else so it’s super easy to hitchhike from this spot and get a ride to Masada for free. Hitch a free ride home on the same road or hike down the Snake Path in Masada and catch a bus back to Arad. Either way, it’s a huge saving compared to the many Masada tours that often go for $100 or so.
If you go on Wednesday or Sunday, Wild Trails offers a free walking tour* of Masada at 10 am which explains the rich history of Masada over 1.5 hours.
*Free walking tour guides earn an income from tips so if you are joining a tour, please come prepared.
7. It’s beneficial to the locals
Here’s a fun fact, travelling doesn’t always have to be just about us. One of the things I love most about travelling is that it can bring a great positive impact on a community. The downside to this, of course, is that there are also negative effects of tourism. For tourism to be sustainable, it should be spread and shared rather than densely focused in one area (Venice and Boracay are prime examples of the negative impacts of tourism on the local community).
Arad isn’t a place that tourists visit so if you as a traveller spend even a few days here, you are investing in the local community and helping to keep it alive. There are various art projects and community projects to get involved with and check out in the area. What a wonderful thing to be able to do as a traveller!
Getting to Arad
We recommend travelling down to Arad on your Israel route from Jerusalem. From there, there’s a public bus that goes directly to Arad or many others that go through Beersheba. The bus to Beersheba is 27 ILS and the bus from Beersheba to Arad is 8.70 ILS.
If you’re coming to Israel from Egypt, make sure you read up on the Taba Eilat border crossing for a full guide.
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Disclosure: We’d like to thank Dead Sea Adventure Hostel for hosting our stay and Wild Trails and Desert Pass for organising and taking us on epic adventures in and around Arad, Israel. Though our stay and adventures were sponsored by these great companies, all opinions are honest and our own.