After retelling the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt the night before, Israelis took to nature on Saturday with an estimated 150,000 visitors arriving at nature reserves, national parks and of course, the Kinneret.
The day started out with light rain in the Zikhron Ya'akov and Kfar Saba area and colder weather, but the sun soon came out and the holiday spirit overcame the lower temperatures.
Among the popular sites were: The Banias Nature Reserve, the Nahal Ayun Nature, the Caesarea National Park, the Yarkon and Tel Afek National Park, Beit Guvrin National Park, Ein Gedi nature reserve and Avshalom Cave (also known as the Soreq Cave or Stalactites Cave).
The Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) beaches saw 30 percent occupancy, where many Jewish families came to celebrate Passover and Christian Arab families came to celebrate Easter.
For the first time this early in the season, lifeguard stations were operating on the Kinneret beaches, even though the official bathing season has not yet begun.
More visitors are expected to arrive in the Kinneret during the day and hundreds of thousands are expected to visit throughout the coming week of Chol HaMoed. Visitors will be able to enjoy free tours on the Kinneret Trail starting Sunday and throughout the week.
A surprising proposal
Some 800 riders arrived at the northern Golan Heights in the very early hours of Saturday morning for the traditional motorcycle ride. As part of tradition, which started several years ago, riders take a motorcycle ride after Seder Night and arrive at Mount Bental to watch the sunrise.
Among the visitors to Mount Bental was Ohad Rosenthal from Jaffa who kneeled down in the foggy dawn to propose to his girlfriend Esther Koby.
In southern Israel, some 40,000 Israelis visited the national parks and nature reserves. Among the more popular sites in the south were the Ashkelon National Park and the Masada National Park.
"There's a very big volume of visitors at the Masada Fort," said Re'aya Shurki from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. "We expect larger volumes of visitors starting tomorrow, especially in the Mamshit area where we have the Natabean Market."
Thousands of visitors also arrived at the Ramat Negev Regional Council. "The Alpaca Farm launches its shearing season, a tradition done every year during Passover," Efi Perry from Har HaNegev Tourism said. "We have all sorts of activities, including camel-riding and star gazing. The desert is blooming in quite an impressive way. All of Israel comes to see it."
"The best recommendation is to arrive at the information desks in Ramat Negev and Mitzpe Ramon, where you'll find certified tour guides. You can take a guided tour for free," Perry said.
"Just like every Passover, there are a lot of visitors in the area of Har Karkom - considered by many as the Biblical Mount Sinai. We've arranged with the army to allow entrance to the area, and it's an especially recommended site," Perry added.
In central Israel, some 7,000-10,000 visitors arrived at the Ramat Gan National Park, with park deputy director-general Shai Hassid saying some 30,000 are expected to visit the park throughout the coming week.
Haim Ronen, the director-general of the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, said a larger volume of visitors is expected during the week, as religious Jews cannot travel on the Shabbat. "We're expecting over 70,000 people every day throughout Chol HaMoed," Ronen said.
"We've seen nice numbers for a Saturday after Seder night," the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said. "We're preparing for many visitors on the first day of Chol HaMoed, especially in Authority sites where special activities for the holiday will be held."
Ahiya Raved, Ilana Curiel, Shahar Hay, Gilad Morag and Omri Friedman contributed to this report.