Why I hiked the Jesus Trail
I don’t even know why I hiked the Jesus Trail. I am not religious at all. But I still loved every minute of it.
I fell in love with Israel the minute I set foot there. It started with an itch to get to know Jerusalem, get a better understanding of its history, of its many layers, of the people that live there, of the conflict over a city that is holy to the 3 biggest monotheistic religions in the world.
But it was when I finally made it to Tel Aviv that I understood that this country is a second home to me, to the point that it is the only place in the world, other than Cagliari (where I grew up), where I can see myself living long term. I was charmed by this city, learned about the many things to do there, got out of the city to get a bit of a taste of the rest of the country, but my visit was way too short.
To read more about what Tel Aviv has to offer, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”
I was still in Israel when I decided that I’d go back as soon as possible and visit more of it – and I usually keep my word. I started reading about more places to visit and things to do in Israel pretty much right after I came back after my first trip there. I knew that I’d want to explore more of Jerusalem (one is never fully done exploring it!!) and spend more time in Tel Aviv, checking out more things to do there.
I also knew that I’d want to head south and check out the Red Sea and the big hype about Eilat, which I ended up truly enjoying (as reported on my post “Why I love Eilat”). And there was no way I’d leave the Middle East without also visiting the West Bank and trying to learn a bit more about the Palestinian conflict – which is why I visited Ramallah, Jericho, Betlehem and Hebron.
To read about the impact Hebron left on me, read my post “Why I Took A Dual Narrative Tour Of Hebron.”
But there was more. On my second visit to Israel, I would not want to miss the chance to hike. After all, hiking is how I met most of my Israeli friends.
You see, I find hiking to be one of the best ways to explore a country. It gives me the chance of getting closer to nature, of learning more about the culture and the people of a place, of meeting new friends on the road who like sharing the experience, with whom I can complain about the fatigue and I can share a beer at the end of the day.
I enjoy all kinds of hikes – mountain and hill ones; those that offer coastal and lake views; those that go through the desert or through forests; those that allow me to visit villages and archeological sites; short day ones and multi-day hikes. As long as I get to walk, I am happy.
The Jesus Trail
Israel is packed with good hiking trails. The most famous one is the Israel Trail, which cuts through the country, all the way from the border with Lebanon to the south, through the Negev desert and to Eilat. It takes roughly 8 weeks to walk its full length. I would love to do it, eventually, but I didn’t have time for it on my trip.
So I looked for other multi-day hikes, and the Jesus Trail came up. It’s quite ironic that a self professed atheist like myself may consider hiking the Jesus Trail. But this appeared to go through a region of Israel that I was keen to explore, and to combine beautiful views with interesting cultural and historical aspects of the country.
The Jesus Trail is a 62 km long walk that can be covered in the space of 4 days. It starts in Nazareth, known as the city where Jesus grew up, and goes all the way to Capernaum via Zippori, Cana, Kibbutz Lavi, Moshav Arbel and Mount of Beatitudes. It pretty much crosses the entire region of Galilee, thought to be a crossroads of cultures and a gateway for trade since humans have been living there.
Although it remains to be proved whether or not Jesus actually walked this trail, most of the sites the trail goes through have been identified as places visited by Jesus in the New Testament. What is certain is that Jesus walked this region.
Interestingly though, the Jesus Trail actually goes well beyond Christian holy sites, as it goes through Arab towns, Jewish archeological sites, Muslim shrines and even Crusader battlefields. An added bonus is the landscape of olive groves, hills, nature reserves and at the end of it the Sea of Galilee.
The idea of the trail was conceived in 2007 and the first group of hikers ventured on the trail in 2008. In 2009 the trail was officially recognized and fully marked with signs – incidentally, the same year Pope Benedict XVI visited Nazareth.
The idea of walking the Jesus Trail sounded fascinating to me – not to mention, totally doable in terms of time. I was pretty set on it: whether people considered it a religious and spiritual walk or not, I wanted to do it. I walked the Jesus Trail pretty much for the same reasons I walked the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela: for the views, for the culture, for the company, and for the adventure.
Speaking of company, I was delighted to have the company of my very dear friend Eyal, who’s like a brother to me. We’ve known each other for 7 years now. Apparently walking the Jesus Trail was also his dream, and when he found out I was planning to do it, he decided to join me. Needless to say, we had a blast.
However, we didn’t have much time to research the itinerary or the accommodation options along the trail, so we thought it may be a good idea to take advantage of a Jesus Trail pre-packaged tour. We saw that the Jesus Trail can be walked, either independently or with a guide; and it can even be biked. We opted for a self-guided tour which included all accommodation and meal reservations (breakfast and dinner); a Jesus Trail detailed guide book (which literally became our Bible) and updates on the trail (which we soon learned were very much needed); briefing before we actually started and regular support before and during the trail.
Hiking the Jesus Trail was an incredible experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. Following is a recollection of my experience, with some useful tips for those who wish to embark on it.
Hiking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee
Day 0 – Tel Aviv to Nazareth
Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail. It is fairly easy to reach via bus from Tel Aviv old bus station, where there’s both direct buses and shared mini vans. It takes around 3 and a half hour to get there. Keep in mind that the bus doesn’t go to the Old City, so it is a bit of a walk from the final bus stop to hostels located in the centre.
Nazareth is the main city in the Galilee region. Around 70000 people live there, and pretty much 100% of the population is Israeli Arab (or rather, Palestinian), divided among Christians and Muslims. Due to its connection to Christianity, Nazareth is a major tourist spot for groups of pilgrims.
Nazareth is an interesting city, though a bit more chaotic than I expected. The Old City boasts a beautiful market, though most shops have been closed as a result of the renovation works and owners haven’t moved back. I am hoping that more of them open again in the near future, because it would bring it new life (and more economic turnaround!).
There’s a few historical homes in Nazareth – the most interesting one is the Fauzi Azar, a beautiful traditional Arab home with a gorgeous living room and high ceilings that is currently being used as a guest house. The best part of it is that it also is a hotel!
Other places of interest are the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is the largest church in the Middle East, and Mary’s Well and Ancient Bathhouse. A place I absolutely loved and could have spent hours in is Elbabour: this amazing old mill sells all sorts of spices, teas and coffee, dry fruits and nuts. It’s where I also tried the za’atar, which is a mixture of herbs (mostly oregano and thyme) that is mixed with olive oil and spread on traditional Arab bread. I think I got addicted to it.
Where to sleep and eat in Nazareth
The best place to stay in Nazareth is the Fauzi Azar Inn. There’s a range of private rooms with private bathroom (though they are not cheap) and of dorms with shared bathrooms. The place is incredibly charming, and quiet. The breakfast is good, the kitchen perfectly equipped and they even do occasional traditional cooking classes.
Having a good kitchen is a plus, considering that there aren’t many good options for food in Nazareth that are budget friendly. I tried Rosemary, a restaurant near Mary’s Well and the food was good and not too pricey. Other options are the various kebab places around the square – cheap and filling.
Day 1 – from Nazareth to Cana
The first day of the Jesus Trail is spent walking out of Nazareth and (literally) finding the way to Cana. The trail starts in Nazareth Old City, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, and goes through the Market, where it is well marked: it leads to a flight of over 400 steps that take to a nice viewpoint from where the city can be admired.
Once there, the trail it goes through a suburb of the city to eventually lead to Zippori village and Zippori National Park, Mash’had Village and eventually to Cana. It pretty much feels like an urban hike for almost the entire way.
The views around Nazareth Old City are pretty: narrow alleys with the odd cat walking by, or children playing football; back yards with lemon trees and pouring bouganvillea flowers. From the Promenade of Nazareth the view opens up to the rest of the city below.
Zippori National Park (for which there is an entrance fee) allows access to Old Zippori Village, with excavations of buildings from different time periods and which include a Roman Villa from around 200 CE and various mosaics. Eyal and I didn’t actually visit the ruins. We got lost on the way out of Nazareth (more on that below) and wanted to get to Cana before dark, so we pushed on.
My recommendation for those who are keen to visit Zippori is to leave Nazareth really early – we felt it was a pity to miss it, but we would have run really late if we visited.
Once past the National Park, the trail goes through a forest until it reaches Mash’had, a small town of around 7000 people, who are mostly Muslim. There, the main point of interest is the Central Mosque.
From Mash’had it is a shorter walk to Cana (known in Israel as Kfar Cana), the traditional site of the wedding party where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. The main attraction in Cana is the Franciscan Wedding Church, where it often happens that already married Christian couples go renew their vows.
Cana, a tranquil village, is also known for its pomegranates, whose seeds are pressed into a delicious juice or used in various recipes.
What to expect
The walk from Nazareth to Cana is by far not the longest of the Jesus Trail – it’s only 13.6 km. It shouldn’t even be the most difficult one, because it mostly goes through small cities and villages. Yet, for some reason, it is.
The main difficulty during the first day of the Jesus Trail is in finding the way out of the city. Once on the promenade, the signs to follow are not easily visible and the constant road works imply regular changes to the actual route.
I admit Eyal and I actually got lost after walking up all the stairs and once we got to the Promenade. After all, I am an unsuccessful backpacker, and I am starting to think Eyal is too! We took a right turn, instead of a left (which was the new route) and eventually went around in a circle and found ourselves back in the Old City, having to walk up the over 400 steps again. We had a good laugh when we realized where we were; but we laughed a little less when we went up the stairs for our second time!
The good thing is that the locals we met on the way were all really friendly – when they saw us walking with our backpacks, they asked us if we were walking the Jesus Trail and were keen to give us directions. Eventually, we bumped into a family that realized we were lost and would not be happy unless they could drive us to at least the junction to Zippori (they were going in that direction) and since we had already been trying to find our way out of Nazareth for a couple of hours, we decided to take advantage of their kind offer.
One thing that we didn’t enjoy so much on the first day of the Jesus Trail is the amount of garbage we saw on the side of the road on the suburb areas of Nazareth and as we left the city, and at times thrown right between the bushes and under the trees near Zippori National Park. I am not talking about a plastic bottle here and there. I am talking about literally heaps of garbage, which at times included forniture and even home appliances.
I don’t know who’s responsible for that – the local authorities, the national authorities, the people? Either way, it was really sad to see that a place that would be otherwise beautiful is ruined by garbage.
Where to sleep and eat in Cana
There aren’t many sleeping options in Cana. Eyal and I stayed at Cana Wedding Guest House, we slept in dorms – they have separate female and male dorms, and also double rooms. It’s a nice, clean place and the hosts are really caring. They have a small communal kitchen for guest use, and they serve an incredible home cooked dinner for the guests for an additional charge. Other than that, there aren’t many options to eat in town other than a small falafel shop.
Day 2 – from Cana to Ilaniya
On the second day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Cana to Ilanya. From the main church in Cana, right by Cana Wedding Guest House, the trail exits the village past a lovely mosque and then goes down on a dirt road with views of the Tur’an Valley and of Tur’an town and through the forest of Beit Keshet.
It then borders an army base pretty much following the road, and takes a small detour to reach the lovely and peaceful Ilanya village.
On the second day of the trail, I fell down. I was happily walking and talking to Eyal while we were bordering Beit Keshet forest, and I didn’t notice a big piece of iron coming out of the dirt road. I tripped on it and fell, badly scratching my elbow. Luckily it was just a scratch and – coming from the Jordan Trail where I had injured myself quite badly – I had all sorts of medication with me.
To find out what happened while I hiked the Jordan Trail, read my post “Why I hiked the Jordan Trail.”
Once leaving Cana, the path at first goes steeply downhill through the countryside. The views of Tur’an and the valley below are very pretty. It is incredibly quiet and peaceful, with nobody in sight. Once at the bottom, it becomes more gentle, with lovely hills and the Beit Keshet forest providing lots of shade.
The ending point of the second day of the Jesus Trail is usually the village of Ilaniya, a tiny community of no more than 500 people founded originally in 1899 with the name of Sejera. It was one of the earliest model farms founded by the Jewish Colonization Association during the First Aliyah – the first wave of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Ilaniya was briefly home to David Ben Gurion, famous Zionist who later became the first prime minister of Israel.
What to expect
The walk from Cana to Ilaniya is around 11 km, and mostly downhill. Getting out of Cana is easy, but once in the countryside it’s not so easy to actually follow the trail as in some parts the signs are missing. Do keep an eye out for them. In any case, Tur’an can always be seen in the distance so it is virtually impossible to get lost.
The good news is that once at the bottom of the hill, the forest offers a lot of shade, hence being a nice break from the strong sun.
Other than in Cana, there are no shops and no water fountains along the trail so buy snacks, lunch and water before you start hiking.
Where to sleep and eat in Ilaniya
Eyal and I spent the night at Yarok Oz Ecolodge and Organic Goat Farm. It’s a family run business where they grow organic fruit and vegetables and they have a few goats and sheep that are used to produce milk and cheese. There’s even a couple of lovely cats and dogs that roam around the farm.
At Yarok Oz there are some very big huts with beds inside, which are also air conditioned, and they also have places to pitch tents. Toilets and showers are shared and there’s a super equipped common kitchen that guests can use. We didn’t bring our own food so we took advantage of the family cooked vegetarian dinner and breakfast – they were both delicious, very healthy and a real feast (so much food we were unable to actually finish hit).
Other sleeping and eating options are further along towards Lavi (which is passed on day 3 of the Jesus Trail), in Lavi Forest where there is a free campground where it is possible to pitch a tent, there are picnic tables, water and bathrooms (sometimes locked, however); and at Kibbutz Lavi Hotel.
Day 3 – from Ilaniya to Arbel
The third day of the Jesus Trail was great, despite being by far the longest. We walked from the village of Ilaniya, walking back to the main trail, all the way to Arbel. We walked on the underpass to Road 66 at the Golani Junction, then Road 77 and following the old Roman Road to pass right behind Kibbutz Lavi.
We then followed the trail to the Nebi Shu’eib and to the Horns of Hattin and eventually crossed some ancient olive groves to reach the lovely village of Moshav Arbel, where we spent the night.
What makes day 3 of the Jesus Trail even better than the rest is the amount of interesting sights that can be seen. Right after the Golani Junction, there’s the ruins of an old Roman Road that used to connect Acre to Tiberias.
Close to Kibbutz Lavi there’s the remains of ancient wine presses and a cemetery and holocaust memorial. Pushing further along, the Horns of Hattin can be seen from a distance. It is a double volcanic formation that resembles the horns of a bull and from where there’s a fantastic view of the entire Jesus Trail. The Battle of Hattin took place right below the Horns in 1187: the forces of the Crusader army faced the Muslim ones under Saladin.
This was one of my favorite places along the trail. Eyal and I had the site to ourselves for most of the time we spent there. We were only interrupted when a small group of teenagers walked by to also enjoy the view. We took the chance to rest under the shade of a tree, boil some coffee (Israelis never go on a hike without carrying a small stove and coffee pot) and just admire the view.
Another place of interest on day 3 of the Jesus Trail is Nebi Shu’eib, a building which houses the tomb of Jethro, father in law of Moses and a prophet in the Druze tradition.
Not far from Nebi Shu’eib, there used to be the Palestinian village of Hittin. This was one of the more than 400 Arab towns and villages that were destroyed and abandoned right after the 1948 war. The remains of these villages are not immediately visible – quite often, the abandoned villages have been buried and forests were planted over the ruins.
What to expect
The walk from Ilaniya to Moshav Arbel is around 20 km, making it the longest day on the Jesus Trail. The path is a mixture of smooth uphill and downhill. The main difficulty is the long distance and the fact that for most of the trail there is little shade (there’s some at the Horns of Hattin).
The only place to get food and water is at Golani Junction, where there’s a gas station and a small shop, and at a fountain near the ancient wine presses. Other than that, there’s nothing on the trail and we hardly met a soul. So do make sure to refill water bottles and get food before getting on the actual trail.
Another difficulty is that the trail isn’t clearly marked in some places, and Eyal and I got so concentrated in our conversation that we missed a sign or two and got lost again. The good thing is that Moshav Arbel is actually visible from the hills around the Horns of Hattin, so we eventually cut through the olive groves to reach the village for the night.
Where to sleep and eat in Arbel
There are a few sleeping options in Arbel. Eyal and I stayed at Arbel Holiday Homes (Konowitz Family) and it was the best stay during our Jesus Trail. We had a whole cabin to ourself, with a cozy bedroom, a living room with a huge couch, a well equipped kitchen and a fabulous bathroom with a huge jacuzzi. Once again, however, we took advantage of the home cooking of the owners and had a scrumptious dinner and breakfast the day after.
Day 4 – from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee
On the fourth day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee. The trail actually continues to Capernaum and Mount of Beatitudes, and from it is possible to actually continue to walk around the Sea of Galilee. But by the time we made it there Eyal and I were exhausted with the heat we had accumulated from the previous days of walking, and had to catch a bus back to Tel Aviv: it was the end of Pessach break and Eyal had to go back to work the day after.
The sights and the views on the fourth day of the trail were amazing. We visited an ancient synagogue; we walked up to Mount Arbel and from there could admire the Sea of Galilee, and eventually made it all the way there (and Eyal also had a dip!).
Right outside the village of Moshav Arbel there are the ruins of an ancient synagogue which dates back to the 4th century. It’s a beautiful site, and we were lucky to have it all to ourselves – as pretty much all other sites on the rest of the trail!
From the synagogue, the view of Mount Arbel is simply spectacular. We exited the site from the other side, and from the parking lot the paved road goes steeply uphill until it reaches Arbel National Park (for which there’s a fee to pay).
The view of the Sea of Galilee and of the valley (including of the village of Wadi Hamam) from the top of Mount Arbel is breathtaking.
Walking from Mount Arbel down to Wadi Hamam, we passed several ancient cave fortresses – some where actually being used by cows who were taking advantage of the shade!
Right at the exit of Arbel National Park, a few trees, some bushes and a creek offer a good break from the sun. We rested for a short while and then continued on the trail, crossing several agricultural fields and eventually crossing the road 90 to get to the Sea of Galilee.
Once on the Sea of Galilee, the trail leads to several small beaches where it is possible to relax and swim. I was too tired to even just conceive the thought of swimming, but Eyal sure took advantage of it.
What to expect
On the final day of the Jesus Trail we walked around 13 km. It’s an extra 5 km to get all the way to Mount of Beatitudes. The walk from Moshav Arbel to Arbel National Park is a short but steep uphill, and from there to Wadi Hamam a steep and somewhat difficult downhill.
There are several paths to get down from Mount Arbel to Wadi Hamam. The shortest one is the one that people afraid of heights should not take. It’s also possible to walk back to the main road and follow that to the village.
Eyal and I opted for the third option. We walked down a trail that leads all the way to the village. We had to go down an incredibly steep trail (good thing that there’s some very useful rails to hold on to) until the very narrow path got a bit easier and we could follow it all the way to the bottom where there’s a small creek and from there to the village.
Once down, the path is actually nice and flat until the Sea of Galilee. Please note that from Mount Arbel the Jesus Trail follows the path (and the signs) of the Israeli Trail until the entrance of Nakhal Amud, before Tabgha.
On the final day of the trail, we actually met more people – either tourists on Mount Arbel, or other people hiking bits of the trail, and even a family enjoying a day out at the Sea of Galilee. By this, I don’t mean that it was crowded at all. It was simply pleasant to cross path with others and exchange tips and experiences. Eyal and I walked part of the way with Tal, a truly nice guy we met coming down from Mouth Arbel.
Where to sleep and eat around Tiberias
Once down from Mount Arbel and past Wadi Hamam, the trail goes right by a village called Migdal. Right on the main trail there is a convenience store that sells snacks, drinks and meals such as schnitzel or falafel sandwiches and fries and salads.
Eyal and I didn’t spend the night in Galilee but there are plenty of accommodation options in Ginosar Village, Tabgha, Capernaum and Tiberias.
General tips for hiking the Jesus Trail
When to hike the Jesus Trail
Eyal and I hiked the Jesus Trail in mid April, right after Pessach (Passover). We had perfect, dry and sunny weather throughout. I would not recommend starting it any later than that, as it does get really hot. The temperature was around 24 degrees during the day, and we sure sweated a lot between walking and carrying a backpack.
What to pack and what to wear for the Jesus Trail
My packing and clothing tips for the Jesus Trail are meant to be applicable to any multi-day hike.
My first recommendation for those who intend to walk the Jesus is to pack as light as possible. Anything over 30 liters and more than 5 kg is going to be heavy to carry around, bound to cause back and leg pain in the long run. It is also important to make sure that the backpack fits nicely to the body, properly sitting on the hips.
My backpack was nice and small. Eyal had a bigger one as he also carried a sleeping bag and a tent (he intended to camp but ended up taking advantage of the accommodation available throughout the trail). He also carried a small camping stove, coffee and coffee cups, for which I made fun of him – except that I ended up drinking the coffee and truly enjoying it.
Essential items for the Jesus Trail are: good hiking boots with proper ankle support; a pair of hiking pants (or anyways, comfortable pants), and a pair of shorts (because the weather does get really hot). Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are very comfortable and lightweight – the top choice is the ones that have the zipper so that they can turn into shorts.
T-shirts and tank tops are a must. Kuhl has some light, colorful and comfortable ones. Summer hiking socks keep the feet comfortable and give extra padding which is a good way to obviate the pain that walking for a long time causes. I had a rain proof jacket and a light sweater too, which I only used at night. I also recommend wearing a hat to protect the head and face from the sun and heat.
As for the beauty items, I carried the basics: and toothpaste, soap and shampoo, deodorant and quite importantly so a good sunblock. I realized on the second day of the hike that my arms – to which I had forgotten to apply sunblock – were completely sunburnt!
Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antisepctic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.
To find out more about what’s in my backpack, read my post “My Ultimate Packing List.”
Budgeting for the Jesus Trail and other general tips
Walking the trail together with Eyal, we understood that it is completely doable without a guide – though we’d need to read maps, use a GPS, and rely on the very few locals we’d encounter for directions. It is possible to sleep in local guest houses or camping grounds and eat at local eateries or take advantage of the food cooked by the hosts of the guest houses for a small fee.
Water is free in all of Israel. Whenever there is a tap, the water is drinkable. Personally, I found the taste of it quite strong so whenever I had a chance I preferred buying bottled water.
The Jesus Trail isn’t a strenuous hike. Provided that one pays attention at the sign and properly reads the map (which Eyal and I didn’t, but that is a different story!), it’s easy to follow and can even be done alone. There aren’t many people on the trail – in fact, we didn’t meet a soul on certain days. So this certainly isn’t the kind of thing that someone who’s keen on meeting other people should do.
More information on the Jesus Trail is available on the Jesus Trail official website.
Have you hiked the Jesus Trail? What was your experience?
Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours throughout my Jesus Trail. They kindly provided accommodation and meals during the 4 days hike, and offered the incredibly useful Hiking The Jesus Trail book. Eyal and I hiked completely alone and all the views expressed are my own.