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Isrotel Magazine

What to do in the desert?

  • About half a million people visit Ramat Hanegev area each year. The spectacular views of the region make it one of the most popular attractions in Israel. The Negev has so much to offer whether you are on a family holiday, a romantic getaway, traveling with a group of friends or by yourself you can find many activities from extreme sports to quiet spas, from long trails in primary scenery to music festivals "in the middle of nowhere".

    So, what is that Negev Exactly?
    The Negev is the largest region in Israel and covers an area of approx. 60% of the entire land area of the State of Israel. Its name derives from the biblical word for south – Negev or Negba. The Northern border of the Negev is a line that goes between Ashkelon and the southern part of the Dead Sea with the Egyptian border on the west and the Jordanian border to the east. The southern part of the Negev reaches the Arava, a region close to the city of Eilat. The Negev is a dry area and big parts of it are covered by deserts. Although it is dry, it has floods flowing through its lower valleys almost every year, so when traveling in winter please make sure the roads you are about to drive through are open. One last thing before you hit the road, there are several army bases and training grounds in the Negev, they are clearly marked so please do not enter any military zones.
    The area is a perfect opportunity to experience the desert, you can see in some parts camels and Nubian ibexes on the side of the road. However, it is not all deserts and in the north-western parts of the Negev you can find some groves. Many of the main attractions of the region are located next to Mitzpe Ramon, Revivim and Sde Boker. Mitzpe Ramon is situated right next to the Ramon Crater, a must see when visiting Israel. The massive crater is the largest in the world (well, actually it is not a crater since it wasn't created by a meteor or a volcanic eruption but a Makhtesh). You can find the two other Makhteshim in less than an hour's drive, near the town of Yerukham, both are known for their colorful sands.
    The area surrounding Mitzpe Ramon includes many attractions, most of them naturally involve the Makhtesh: hiking and biking trails, hot air balloon and off-the road vehicles tours. However, there are more things to do, visit the Alpacas Farm or the Lone Farms, take a drive to the ancient city of Ovdat or go star gazing. Star gazing is something that is taken seriously at Mitzpe Ramon and once a year the small town shuts down all its lights and enable everyone to enjoy the night sky clearly, the main gathering point of that night is the stadium, there you can watch the sky through one of the many telescopes that are offered to the public for just that night or a cold beer… Star gazing nights are held when meteorite showers are expected.
    If you wish to cool down from the desert you may go to the spa at one of the local hotels or try out Revivim's Neve Midbar (Oasis). You can relax in the thermo-mineral baths or have a swim in the establishment's pool. Saunas, hot tubs and other facilities are also available on site. Sde Boker is another main attraction of the area, the kibbutz was home to Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion and today, many Israelis and tourists visit the late PM's grave and the small museum that exists in his old home.
    The Negev is also a good place for relaxation, it is less inhabited in comparison with other parts of Israel and you can find Yoga and meditation retreats as well as other spiritual events throughout the year.

    Many festivals and special events are held in the Negev. InDnegev (Indi Negev) is one of the best known and most fun music festivals in Israel. It takes place around Sukkoth and held in Mitzpe Gvulot in the western Negev. The area hosts well-known and upcoming Israeli artists for three days of almost non-stop music. In order to maintain its special atmosphere, the organizers choose not to sell more than a few thousand tickets, which means that they usually sell out pretty fast. You can find out more on their official site (in Hebrew). Darom Adom is another well-known festival. During four weeks in the winter just when the Calanit (Anemone Coronaria) is in bloom visitors enjoy special activities and competitions for the whole family at Habsor area. While there are shows for teenagers/adults, the festival is very family orientated with many activities for the younger ones. Hot Air Balloons Festival is held in Eshkol Park, it usually takes place during Sukkoth.
    In Mitzpe Ramon area there are other festivals and events. Tzlilim Bamidbar (Sounds in the Desert) is a unique event that includes performances of classical and world music ensembles as well as pop artists that go on stage for a singular show with an orchestra. The festival is held in Sde Boker during Hanukkah (December). Sun Beat Desert Edition - Sun Beat is a great festival that intertwines acoustic drums and percussion performances of Israeli and international artists with electronic sessions of great DJs. The festival is held every year in The Galilee (northern Israel) and in 2014 the organizers held a desert edition in Golda Park (during the fall) in Ramat Hanegev. We hope it won’t be the last time the festival visits us in the Negev.
    Reggae in the Desert is held at Khan Hashayarot (on the road between Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon, near Midreshet Sde Boker) every year since 2008. During one weekend either in September or October visitors can enjoy an ongoing reggae party with well-known acts as well as upcoming artists. Khan Hashayarot also hosts Groovestock during the month of June; an Israeli music festival that hosts rock, blues and world music acts. You can also enjoy other festivals held in Judea Desert and the Dead Sea area as they are relatively close to the Negev such as the Masada Opera Festival.

    Where to Stay: A Lone Farm, Tent Encampment or a Hotel?
    As stated, the Negev is a vast area and as such it offers many accommodation types for visitors. In the Ramon Crater/ Sde Boker you can find many camping sites. If you wish to spend the night outdoors but do not have sleeping bags, tents or other items you can sleep in one of the khans. Tent encampments usually have massive tents that can house up to one hundred people; in most of them you can also rent a private/family tent and mattresses or sleeping bags.
    If you like a ceiling above your head there are many options. Cabins are among the most popular options for people who would like utter peace and quiet. You can find cabins at the Lone Farms or some of the more remote Negev villages such as Ezuz or Ein Yahav. If you wish to be close to Mitzpe Ramon and Ramon Crater (or Makhtesh) there are at least two great options in Mitzpe Ramon itself. The first is Isrotel Ramon Inn, the three star hotel offers basic accommodation as well as a great restaurant and an indoor pool. This is a good option for people who wish to spend their day outdoors and come back to a cozy place. It is very popular with bicycle riders and has a bike maintenance shop. The second is very different; we are referring to Beresheet of course. As for today, it is the only 5 star hotel in the area and provides guests with fantastic service on top of the beautiful rooms and villas. Don't miss out on the outdoor pool with the crater view or the amazing spa. If you wish to stay in a cabin in Mitzpe Ramon area, The Alpacas Farm is a good option, however, keep in mind it is a bit far from the town center of Mitzpe Ramon.

    The Negev is one of the most beautiful regions in Israel, and some would say it is the most unique due to the amazing desert views and attractions. Hope to see you soon!