Tourist Tip # 144 / Raptors and Ruins at Gamla Nature Reserve

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Raptors in the air, ruins at your feet, and dramatic history from every corner? If that's what you're searching for, you'll find it at the Gamla Nature Reserve.
Gamla Nature Reserve used to advertise itself as “the only place in Israel where you can see the vultures from above.” And it’s true – you can indeed look down from the trails or its cliff-edge lookouts of this Golan Heights attraction at these magnificent raptors as they sail on the updrafts to and from their nests in the canyon walls.

Although the numbers of these birds are said to be in worrisome decline, visitors still thrill to see them soaring by, especially with one of the most dramatic historical sites in the country – the ancient city of Gamla – as a backdrop.

A visit to Gamla National Park is modular. You can cram in just an hour, or spend an entire day here. If your time is short, consider just taking in the view of the ruined city (and the aforementioned avians) from an outlook onto Gamla – a walled Jewish center in Second Temple times, situated on a spur rising sharply between two streambeds. As Josephus Flavius, the 1st-century Jewish historian, tells it, in the early days of the Great Revolt, the Romans took the city after a protracted siege, when commando units undermined one of its defense towers (the very one you can see from the outlook) and the legionaries poured in. Furious hand-to-hand combat ensued as the Romans pushed the Jews further and further to the cliff at the western reaches of their city. Rather than be captured, many of the Jews eventually jumped to their death into the ravine. The parks authority has installed plaques at the lookout telling the story in Josephus’ own words.

If you have most of the day, you can take in plenty of evidence of this tale by taking the steep trail right to the ruins. Passing through its ancient gate you’ll see one of the world’s most ancient synagogues, a ritual bath, a large olive-oil press and much more.

Another possibility is the 800-meter Vulture Trail, which is wheelchair accessible and leads to a bird observatory, along a path redolent with the anise-like fragrance of fennel and dotted with wildflowers in the winter and spring. You can also see the Gamla Waterfall from here. Adjacent to the observatory are the fascinating 1,500-old remains of the Christian village of Deir Qeruh.

A walk of about a kilometer from the parking lot will take you to the Gamla Waterfall itself. Details of these and other options are available, together with a map, from the park rangers at the cashier booth.

Hours: 8 A.M.-5 P.M.
October-March: 8 A.M.-4 P.M.
Holiday eves and Fridays, site closes one hour earlier; last entry one hour before above closing hours.
Phone: 04-682-2282/3.

A rare vulture soars over the Gamla Nature Preserve in the Golan Heights.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

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