Adventure can mean different things to each of us. For some, adventure implies thrill-seeking and for others, an adventure moves your heart and soul. When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you are experiencing adventure.

My gap year in Israel was an opportunity to explore life in a new way that not only provided different kinds of adventures but also served as a springboard to personal growth.

1. Rappelling

Aardvark Israel participants rappelling in Nahal Jilabun. Photo courtesy of Danya Belkin

For the authentic adventure seeker, rappelling checks all the boxes. During Passover break, I was in charge of planning the activities for my group of friends. After conducting some research, rappelling in waterfalls in northern Israel at Nahal Jilabun sounded like the perfect activity for me and my thrill-seeking peers.

We spent seven hours hiking to the waterfalls in wetsuits, helmets and harnesses. We felt like celebrities as Israeli passersby were shocked and amazed to hear about how we would be rappelling down enormous waterfalls and were even photographing us.

As a first timer, I will admit that I did feel tremendous fear when first descending the waterfalls. After quickly acclimating to the necessary rappelling skill, appreciating the view and once in a lifetime opportunity, the experience was remarkable.

When I reached the bottom, I looked up at the waterfall and momentarily stood in shock as I processed what I had just accomplished.

2. Parasailing

Parasailing over Eilat. Photo courtesy of Danya Belkin

A perfect activity to enjoy the views of Eilat, parasailing was a breathtaking experience that fulfilled my adventurous spirit.

The adventure began when I boarded a parasailing boat with nine friends. After cruising into the Gulf of Eilat at the northern tip of the Red Sea, we paired up, strapped ourselves into harnesses and connected to a parachute.

Soon I found myself soaring above the ocean with an incredible view of both Israel and Jordan and the vast desert in the distance. I held onto my friend’s hand as we enjoyed this moment high above the water.

The only pictures we were able to take were those with our eyes, which will always be stored in my memory. It was during this time that I appreciated the smallness of Israel in comparison to its neighboring countries.

3. Tubing

Pancake tubing in Eilat. Photo courtesy of Danya Belkin

During a weekend in Eilat, my friends and I tried pancake tubing as it appeared to provide more excitement than its counterpart, couch tubing. Pancake tubing involves lying on your stomach and holding on to two straps above your head as the boat pulls the tube through the water. Sea water gushes into your eyes and if you let go, you fall off the tube and wait in the water to be picked up again by the boat.

Falling off the tube became all too familiar for me and unfortunately resulted in losing one of my rings (pro tip: take off ALL your jewelry if you ever plan to go tubing). Tubing is a wonderful activity to share with family and friends who enjoy the water, fresh air and a good laugh.

4. Hiking

Danya Belkin, left, and Ava Rosen hiking in Israel. Photo courtesy of Danya Belkin

Hiking allows the adventure seeker to explore Israel in a cost-effective manner in the company of friends and family. I was fortunate that the Aardvark Israel gap-year program staff organized numerous hikes for participants. I also sought out self-guided hiking trips with my peers throughout the year.

Some of my favorite hikes in Israel include Ein Gedi, Nahal Og (Og Stream) and Ein Prat. Several of the most beautiful sites I have seen around Israel were discovered on these hikes.

There is truly something magical about the Negev Desert, where I often feel like I’m in a scene out of a movie as I look out at the vast sands and the majestic mountains. The hikes provide an adventure for my soul and body. I always feel a sense of renewal when I return from hiking.

5. Wakeboarding

Danya Belkin wakeboarding in the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ava Rosen

Even if you’re a skilled surfer or snowboarder, wakeboarding is in a league of its own. My wakeboarding experience took place in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and started off with a short boat ride.

After putting on a life jacket, I strapped my feet into what looked like a snowboard and was attached by a harness and long rope to the boat. I jumped into the water, was given a brief lesson and awaited as the boat gained momentum so that I could pull myself up and ride on the water’s surface.

It was exhilarating. The following week I was reminded about the wonderful experience as my arms were very sore.

6. All-terrain vehicle

Aardvark Israel participants ATVing in Mitzpeh Ramon. Photo courtesy of Danya Belkin

Small things throughout my gap year reminded me of what I missed from home. For me, that was driving. I had gone six months without driving until I found myself in Mitzpeh Ramon’s Nature Reserve with a group of friends as we all set out to try ATVing. The ATVs accommodate up to four people, and the driver needs a valid driver’s license. That was me!

Mitzpeh Ramon is the largest of Israel’s five natural craters, out of seven such craters in the world. We were geared up with goggles and scarves that covered our noses and mouths to avoid the dust. It felt thrilling to have the wind in my face as I held onto the steering wheel. The two-hour escapade is surely one for the books with incredible views of the crater and desert along the way.

7. Hot springs

My friends and I set out to enjoy the Tiberias hot springs on a rainy day, which turned out to be ideal because the name “hot springs” doesn’t lie. In fact, there was everything from warm baths to scorching hot baths. I was determined to try all of them.

Many people believe the hot springs have healing powers. Since biblical times, natural springs have cured people of various ailments including possession by demons, skin disorders and much more. The smell of sulfur wasn’t as strong as I imagined it to be and the experience overall was very relaxing.

8. Snorkeling

A snorkeling selfie from Eilat. Photo by Danya Belkin

I wasn’t a first timer but definitely not an expert when it came to snorkeling in Eilat. Snorkeling requires the ability to swim, but no other significant instruction is necessary.

After cruising on a boat a short distance from the shore, we arrived at our destination. I jumped into the Red Sea, feeling a cold rush of water, and immediately started to identify coral reefs, fish and any other interesting sights beneath me. I was even able to take underwater photos with my friend’s Go-Pro.

To be able to see the beauty of sea life firsthand is invigorating. I understand why our environment is precious and I only hope others can experience the ocean’s beauty in a similar manner.

9. Jeep tour

Danya Belkin and friends jeeping in the Eilat Mountains. Photo courtesy of Danya Belkin

After recovering from Covid, my quarantine roommates and I decided to treat ourselves to an exciting weekend which involved a Jeep tour in the Eilat Mountains. This four-hour affair was an unforgettable experience.

Our guide was informative as he showed us around the beautiful mountain formations and described the history and science in our surroundings. As we sat in the jeep, the off-roading terrain threw us from side to side as the car climbed the rocks and many uneven surfaces. Whether we sat or stood with our heads popping through the sunroof of the jeep, the fresh air seeped through our skin as the experience sunk into our souls.

10. Camel riding and Bedouin village

Danya Belkin and friends riding camels. Photo courtesy of Danya Belkin

The experience of spending a night in a Bedouin community is beautiful and exciting on many levels. Bedouin hospitality is unrivaled and included delectable food and coffee. I learned firsthand about Bedouin culture, history and nomadic lifestyle.

I especially enjoyed camel-riding in the Negev Desert. This ride was hair-raising as I held on tightly to the camel, making sure not to fall off! Sleeping in a Bedouin tent under the stars as I dozed off to beautiful memories of the day was magnificent.

11. Sunrise, sunset

Sunrise in the Negev Desert in unmatched. Photo by Ava Rosen

Watching the sun rise and set in Israel is a spiritual adventure. From waking up as early as 3am to see the sunrise from Masada, to sitting on the beach of Tel Aviv to watch the sunset, I have seen some incredible sunrises and sunsets my time in Israel.

As I gazed in the distance I would often think about my past, present and future and how living in Israel for a year has changed my life forever.

These adventures throughout Israel have not only been enjoyable but have served as a vehicle for tremendous personal growth. I am incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to take part in these adventures and I encourage people from all over the world to come and seek for yourself, your own adventure in this beautiful country that I have had the good fortune to call my home this year.