During only few months I explored almost every part of Israel quite well and fell in love with this country. I adore his mountainous north, coral reefs in the Red Sea, relaxed Tel Aviv, Jerusalem full of history, monuments, food, people. But nothing, NOTHING impressed me as much as the Negev desert. That’s my number one. Read, find inspiration, go. Well worth it!
The Negev Desert covers almost 2/3 of whole Israel, and is not at similar to other deserts, known from pictures in the internet, full of orange sand dunes. This desert is rocky, full of canyons and makhteshim… Of what?!
Read my other posts from Israel:
1. Israel – practical info, prices, accommodation
2. My top places in the Golan Heights and Galilee
3. Acre, Haifa, Ceasarea or the Mediterranean coast of Israel
Makhtesh Ramon, a huge non-crater in the Negev
Well, makhteshim. A makhtesh a very specific geological formation. It looks like a crater, but it is not, because the crater is created by a volcanic eruption or a meteor impact, and therefore has a circular shape. Makteshim were formed in erosion process and are long, not circular, so they could be considered as canyons. But it is also not a good term, because at the bottom of makhtesh there is no river.
That’s the easiest way to explain what a makhtesh is (or is not). In addition, this geological art of Mother Nature is typical only for Israel and the Sinai Peninsula. That’s why scientists from Israel have given it a name makhtesh, which in Hebrew means…. a mortar grinder. 😀
Makhtesh Ramon is the greatest of all (seven, if I remember correctly) makhteshim. And you are sorely mistaken if you think that you can be bored in a makhtesh. I decided once that I will live at high speed and will look for emotions and impressive moments during my travels and I can frankly admit that the Negev and the Makhtesh Ramon well fitted my travelstyle. But before I went there, I did not expect that desert will surprise me so positively!
Mitzpe Ramon: where to sleep in the Negev?
On the edge of Makhtesh Ramon is a small town of Mitzpe Ramon. Founded in the early fifties for the builders of the road from the north of Israel to Eilat, today is a great base for those who want to see the desert.
In Mitzpe Ramon I stayed in the Green Backpackers hostel that I would recommend to anyone! (You can book your stay via their website as they don’t exist on booking or agoda!) I admit that this is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. The hostel is not large (inlcudes two separate buildings), and in our building there was a small transient common room. Perfect place to meet and talk to other travellers! It was so small and cosy that you just couldn’t not to integrate with other people. Amazing place!
The Green Backpackers is located only few meters from the edge of Makhtesh Ramon and it is a great base for hiking and doing other outdoor activities, mentioned below. If necessary, the owners of the hostel will help you to organize it and recommend other places to visit.
And you definitely shouldn’t miss these places and adventures! I am personally very positively surprised that there is so much to do on a big covered-with-nothing area!
Hiking trails in the Negev desert
First of all, you can walk. 🙂 There is a lot of hiking trails across the desert, not to miss in the area of Mitzpe Ramon, too. There are short routes for 2-3 hours, and longer, even up to 4-5 days. In the Green Backpackers hostel you can get a detailed map of the trails. They are marked with different colors, which are for information only; color does not mean degree of difficulty of the trail.
Please note that leaving the trail is forbidden (and dangerous) and threatens punishment of about 700 shekels. If during the march you cannot see another color point in front of you, be sure to go back to the previous one!
In hot period you should remember to have something to protect from the sun and plenty of water (not less than 2 liters per person). Avoid dehydration in the desert I have written about, if you hadn’t read it yet, you can find this text here. It’s about emergency, nerves and saving lives. I do not recommend such experience, but I recommend reading this post and not making the same mistakes.
Other adventures in the Negev
Beside the hiking trails, the Negev desert also offers other activities. It is simply impossible to get bored there. And I spent there very intense three days.
Above all, to better understand the desert I recommend you a jeep tour around Makhtesh Ramon. Yoash, the owner of the Green Backpackers hostel and the outdoor company 4xDesert, arranged for us the tour and explained many interesting facts about the desert, its geology and history, as well as plants and animals living there.
Thanks to that I learned that acacia (yes, those trees grow in the Negev desert), when it is eaten by animals, begins to emit a specific scent received by acacia trees growing nearby. Those trees as a defence let in their leaves branches a bitter substance to discourage animals to eat it.
And acacias here can be gnawn by Nubian ibexes or wild desert horses, or rather wild ass, onagers. The chance to meet onager is very small, as there are only few in the whole desert and they are nocturnal. Therefore onagers usually are called the unicorns of the desert. We were lucky to see a lonely onager that went for a stroll! Believe me, it’s an amazing sight to admire an onager trotting in the desert, when you realize that only a few people can see it.
In addition to the jeep tour Yoash arranged for us as abseiling (rapelling). For the first time in my life I tried something like this, and even though I was really scared (I’m afraid to stand on a kitchen stool, not even mention hanging over the cliff!) this shot of adrenaline is addictive and I tried this sport several times. If you are adrenaline junkie – highly recommended!
But if so thrilling activities are too much for you, I suggest a completely different entertainment. Alpaca Farm organizes backhorse riding in the desert at sunset. You don’t ride? Don’t worry at all! Me neither and I did it really well, because the horses undergo many months of training to carry tourists slowly, safely and on the particular route. You do not have to know how to control the horse, he will go home on his own. 🙂
I have to tell you that during our ride I saw one of the best views in my life. The sun was already low above the horizon, colouring the whole sky in oranges. And on such a fiery background in front of us on the edge of the hills I saw a line of riders on horseback painted in black. A view like in the movie.
Excuse me, I have no pictures of that amazing view. I’m learing how to keep some moments to myself. 😉
And after sunset, I enjoyed star-gazing. Ira the Starman organizes the “classes” of looking at the night sky through a telescope. For some it may sounds like a boredom, but I have always been attracted to the immensity of the universe, it’s size and the feeling of freedom! During classes with Ira you can learn to find constellations, for example Scorpio next to Ursa Maior. It is amazing to look at the Milky Way by astronomy binoculars. What for the naked eye looks like a lighter belt crossing the black sky, in close-up it recalls a green Christmas tree with billions of twinkling points – white, yellow, pale blue, green…
With a big wow I watched Saturn’s rings through a telescope. No, it does not look like the pictures of NASA that depict every color of the planet and every pebble in the rings. Saturn through a telescope looks like a tiny golden ball surrounded by a wedding rings. And I saw those rings clearly!
But I died with delight when Ira assistant gave me the astronomy binoculars, pointed at the sky and said “Look between those two stars.” Despite the fact that between them there was nothing but black patches of the sky, I did as he told me and… I saw a spiral of golden powder. Huge, it filled the whole picture. It was the Andromeda Galaxy. I read so much about it as a teenager; it fueled my imagination. I looked and I could not say a word. The Andromeda Galaxy…
At the end of my stay in Mitzpe Ramon I visited the Hadasaar Natural Living restaurant, which is one of the three 100% organic restaurants in whole Israel. This means that everything, not just food, but even the design of the interior (including a stove and tiles on the floor) were made by local craftsmen. I’m not a food critic, but I can appreciate good food, and the food in this restaurant… I enjoyed more than a lot! 🙂 I highly recommend a visit here! It’s not the cheapest but rock out, you are on vacation! 😉
Ein Avdat National Park
North from Mitzpe Ramon is another national park of Israel – Ein Avdat. It is small, still one of my favourites.
Ein Avdat is a canyon that crosses the desert. In one part of the canyon there are many springs that create waterfalls and cascades, although not all are available for tourists. (You can expect water in every park with Ein in its name – in Hebrew it means a source of water.)
The water makes the bottom of the canyon green and fresh even though it is surrounded by the desert. If you decide to go through the whole canyon, you’ll see it the best just by the exit.
There are generally two options of crossing the canyon. The first one is a return way. In the middle you can stop and go back to the parking by the entrance (a good option if you have a car). The second option is to go through the canyon, but pay attention that you can not withdraw from this option, especially if the canyon is more crowded with tourists. Just another part of the trail is so narrow that there is one-way traffic 😉
If you decide to do the entire route, after leaving the canyon you can turn left and continue hiking the trail that will lead you to the ruins of Avdat, the Nabateans city located on the Incense Route. In the past the route was used by caravans of merchants travelling between the Arabian Peninsula, Petra and the Mediterranean Sea (today the Gaza Strip).
Crossing the canyon and further exploring the ruins of the city (ok, I admit that I stopped for 30 minutes for a Coke in McDonald’s, because my tired body needed sugar :D) took me about 5 hours. I didn’t rush.
Long-distance trekking in the Negev desert
If you decide on a long, several days trekking through the Negev desert, it is necessary to prepare both physically and technically – you can report your trekking on waterdrp.com and they provide for you supplies of water and food along the way.
I know that the prices scare for this option, but with waterdrp solution it is much better than what was provided before – for replenishment at one point one had to pay around 600-800 shekels. Currently waterdrp collects information about all the trekkers who roam the desert at this time, allowing you to spread the costs of water supply to a few people and as a result reduce it.
Besides, I think if you are preparing for something as serious as a long trek through the desert, you are aware of how to take care of your own safety and preparing for such costs. I believe in you! 🙂
The Negev Desert has a very high position on the list of my favorite places in Israel. In addition, I found out that although the desert is – as the name suggests – deserted and empty, it does not mean that you have to be bored there. During my trips I bet on experiences, both cultural and natural, and if we add adrenaline into this, I’m in heaven. The Negev desert became my heaven, my paradise on earth and I highly recommend you this place. Worth it!!!
Have you ever been to the desert? How dis you like it? Or would you like to visit Negev? Or maybe you’ve been there already? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!
I was able to visit the Negev desert and other places in Israel thanks to the Tourist Israel. I’d like also to thank the owners of the Green Backpackers and all the persons and companies mentioned in the post for the opportunity to take advantage of their services.