The Golan Heights is a rocky plateau at the southern end of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, and straddles the borders of Syria and Israel. Israel currently holds about two-thirds of the territory, which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed in 1981, while Syria holds the remaining one-third.
- Qatzrin - the largest town
Two-thirds of the Golan Heights has been under Israeli control since 1967, when Israel seized the area during the Six-Day War. The remainder is under Syrian control. Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel returned another 5% of the land to Syria. Israel subsequently began building settlements in the area, and granted the Syrian Druze inhabitants permanent residency status. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights.
Unlike other territories occupied by Israel, the part of the Golan Heights controlled by Israel is considered part of the country by most Israelis and officially by the Israeli government. Security is on par with Israel proper, and you won't find roadblocks.
In Israel, it is generally understood that the Golan Heights will not be returned to Syria. The Israeli viewpoint is that this would not be feasible due to economical and political reasons, and for reasons of security which they believe have only strengthened since the Syrian civil war started. There are no negotiations between Israel and Syria and this not likely to change any time soon.
The de facto Israel-Syria border runs through the Golan Heights along an area known as the Purple Line. This line was until recently patrolled by a United Nations peacekeeping force, but the peacekeepers were attacked by the Syrian opposition and all of them have been withdrawn from Syria, removing a stabilizing element from the border. No one is allowed to cross the border without special permission, and the border crossing is under the control of Israel and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusrat Front.
Hebrew is spoken among the Jewish inhabitants in the towns and kibbutzim. Arabic is also spoken in the region mainly by the Arabs and Druze living there, although many of them can also speak Hebrew or/and English.
Public transport: there are a few daily buses from Tiberias, Hatzor and Kiryat Shmona to the Golan Heights. Services are few and far between due to the low population. Golanbus operates public transport from/to the Golan Heights.
Private transportation: From route 90, there are four road "ascents" to the Golan Heights.
Hitchhiking is accepted here as it is throughout Israel, but you can still wait a long time to get to many destinations.
This area, due to low population, has one of the worst public transport services in the entire country, with some bus stops receiving as few as two or three buses daily.
You might try hitch-hiking, which is used by Israelis of all ages and gender. You can rent a car as well, but only from a few rental services.
- The Golan Heights is the wettest area in the region. There are many waterfalls including the Gamla, Sa`ar and the Banias waterfalls.
- It is especially recommended to visit in spring, when the ground is covered with wildflowers.
- Observation to Quneitra. Quneitra is a ghost town, abandoned by the Syrians, with exception of UN post, abandoned during the 1967 war and left in the no-man's-land ever since. Thoroughly wrecked not only in 1967 but in the subsequent 1973 conflict as well, from the Israeli side the area can only be viewed from designated viewpoints set up along the border road, as it's just across the de facto line of control. However, from Syria, the area can be visited with a permit from the relevant military office in Damascus.
- Nimrod Castle. an ancient fortress in the northern Golan Heights, built in the 13th century by Muslim rulers to defend against a possible Crusader attack. It is located on a steep mountain ridge, with deep forested ravines on either side, and has a stupendous view of its surroundings. A trail leads from the fortress's west edge downhill several kilometers to Banias, another important historical and nature site in the area. around 20 shekel/person.
- Tel Dan National Park. a beautiful nature reserve, which includes the ruins of ancient Dan, famous for the Israelite temple uncovered there.
- Gamla. nature reserve and archaeological site of a Jewish stronghold from 87 BCE until it fell to the Romans in 67 CE
- Majdal Shams. a Druze village. Nearby is the Shouting Hill where villagers communicate with their relatives in Syria.
- Mount Hermon, ☎ +1-599-550-560. 08:00-15:00. Enjoy the view from 2284m in the northernmost point of the Golan Heights, and even ski there in the winter. There is a cable car going up the mountain. Paid shuttle and cable car (ski pass ~ 250 NIS a day, ski equipment ~ 280 NIS a day).
- Banias - This national park follows the Banias stream, and includes some easy and fairly short hiking trails that pass by old water mills, vigorous rapids, and the ruins of a temple to the ancient Greek god Pan.
- Hike the Golan Trail or sections of it for anything between a day and a week.
- Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve, Yehudiya-Hushniya Road (87) (7 km east of the Yehudiya junction, approximately 5.5 km south of Katsrin), ☎ +972 4 6962817. Winter 8AM to 4PM, Summer 7AM to 5PM. Amazing hikes through natural pools. A must do for anyone with a strong sense of adventure and some basic athletic ability. Different hikes with different difficulty levels. NIS21 with deductions for children and senior citizens.
- Find other interesting hiking trails and destinations, such as Brekhat haMeshushum (Hexagon pool) with natural hexagonal volcanic tiling, Yahudia stream and Ein Zivan stream.
- Merom Golan, Kibbutz Merom Golan, ☎ +972-4-6960267. Kibbutz Merom Golan sits in the north of the Golan Heights, at the foothill of the extinct Ben Tal Volcano some 1000 meters above sea level.
- The Golan Brewery. Located in "Kesem Hagolan", the Golan Visitors Center, close to the Golan Heights Winery. Established in 2006, brewing German Style Beer by a German brewmaster. They offer 4 to 5 types of beer, including an genuine Bavarian "Weizen". Open every day.
The Golan is mostly a rural area, and as such it is pretty much crime free. However, the Golan is also one of the world's largest military barriers, and while it offers many hiking options, several basic safety rules should always be followed:
- A large part of the Golan Heights area is either heavily mined, or is suspected as being mined - this is because old mines may drift during heavy rains, which are frequent in winter. You should never walk or drive in open fields, off main roads or dirt roads (unless there are very clear signs which indicate that this area is safe- such as trail signs). While most mine fields are designated by warning signs (as the one shown in the picture), do not go into off-road barb-wired fields, even if they are not marked with signs (in short- you should never cross any fence- unless there are clear signs and/or suitable gateways in the fence). Never touch unidentified metal or plastic debris in the open even if it looks harmless.
- Some areas of the Golan are used by the Israeli military as training grounds. There are usually recognised by the "Firing Zone" signs in the entrance. While marked trails are pretty much safe, when going off-road you should check the local maps to make sure you are not going into a fire ground. If in doubt, check with local police or military authorities. Most training grounds are accessible during weekends (Fridays - Saturdays) and public holidays, and can also be accessed after coordination with military authorities.
- Beware that due to the civil war in Syria, you may hear heavy bombing sounds. Although a few bombs that have been shot by both sides have drifted into the Israeli-administered part of the Golan, they hit open grounds next to the border. So for safety's sake, consider keeping a safe distance of a few miles from the border as a precaution.
The golden rule is: Take as many words of advice as possible regarding safety from any local guidebook or people. If in doubt, keep safe!
- Discover the Sea of Galilee and the holy city of Tiberias.
- The Israeli North Coast with the Mediterranean Sea and beautiful cities are also worth visiting.