There are two things that come to mind when people talk about Hamat Gader: natural thermo-mineral springs and crocodiles.
Of course, there are many more things to do at this 40-acre tropical parkland in the Yarmouk River valley, near the Sea of Galilee, but these two recreation options make Hamat Gader famous.
The natural springs have been a recreation destination since the days of the Roman Empire. With a sulfur concentration of 4.7 percent, these thermal baths have been credited with having a therapeutic effect on the body.
“Athletes, people with joint problems or skin issues… the minerals in the water are good for everyone,” Hamat Gader Resort General Manager Sharon Ninio tells ISRAEL21c.
Other natural hot springs dot the country – including at Ein Gedi, Tiberias, Ga’ash and Ashkelon – but Hamat Gader is the largest and oldest spa complex in Israel.
“Hamat Gader is the only site in Israel with hot-water springs that flow from an estimated depth of 2 kilometers,” says Ninio. “These waters are natural. We don’t add any chemicals to the waters and we don’t heat them.”
The temperature of the springs stays at a constant 42C (about 108F) throughout the year, says Ninio.
While the Romans built bath complexes around the springs as early as the second century, their popularity is said to have taken off during the Byzantine period in the fifth and sixth centuries. Today, these bath complexes are archaeological points of interest open to visitors.
The modern bathing site includes large pools and waterfalls, Jacuzzi chairs and comfort beds.
While hot springs and a crocodile park don’t seem to go together, Hamat Gader proves that if you offer an anomalous assortment of activities set up side-by-side, even the weirdest combinations of activities can work together.
The crocodile farm, considered the largest farm of its kind in the entire Middle East, houses more than 200 crocodiles of various species, including the aggressive five-meter-long African Nile crocodiles.
The site also has a mini safari, a water park for families, fishing ponds and an archaeological site.
“This is really a tourist destination for everyone, whether you’re an older person who just wants to come and relax or part of a family looking for fun activities to do together. There is more than enough to do here for two or three days,” Ninio tells ISRAEL21c.
And if you cater to everyone with a range of activities, there’s a need to cater to a variety of sleeping preferences as well.
Depending on how you like to spend the night, Hamat Gader has caravan rentals, a tent area during Passover and Sukkot – some even replete with air conditioning — and a boutique spa hotel.
Unlike some other Israeli spa hotels that are for adults only, says Ninio, the Hamat Gader Spa Hotel changes its occupancy according to season — adults only in winter; open to families in summer.
And not to be outdone by the attractions, the natural setting of Hamat Gader, just seven kilometers east of the Sea of Galilee, is reason enough to visit.
“The Yarmouk River valley is a beautiful place in itself, with very green and beautiful vegetation,” says Ninio. “People hear ‘Hamat Gader’ and think this resort area is located far north in a hard-to-reach place. We’re less than 10 minutes’ drive from the Sea of Galilee.”
Asked why someone should visit, Ninio didn’t have to think twice.
“In today’s world, everyone needs a relaxing place to help charge them with new energies,” he says. “Hamat Gader is that place for me.”