Israel’s Negev Desert is like pure magic. Covering over half of Israel’s total land area, it is an area bustling with beauty. The Negev Desert is a fascinating and enchanting place, especially for those not familiar with desert landscapes. Whilst there is a lot you can see yourself, the best way to discover the desert is for a day with a guide. Whilst to the untrained eye, the miles of desert all look the same, look a little deeper and every rock formation, hill or mound of earth has its own unique story.
The Negev Desert
The Negev Desert’s beautiful landscape by josef.stuefer, on Flickr
Whilst largely unpopulated, Israel has a reputation for ‘making the desert green’ and the fertile Israeli Coastal Plain is slowly creeping southwards, and the desert being reclaimed. The Negev Desert is not totally void of life, however. The nomadic Bedouin have lived here for centuries, traditionally living in temporary accommodation and moving seasonally along with their livestock. Today, it is possible to experience the life of the Bedouin with Bedouin Hospitality experiences available to tourists – from a meal to a night sleeping in traditional tent under the stars.
Touring in the Negev Desert is great if you take a guide with a jeep, but even if you stay on the road, there’s loads to see! A jeep tour makes the adventure even more exciting of course, as the challenging terrain is navigated by an experienced driver, and the sheer contrast of modern machinery in the appearingly barren desert is stark. This is an unforgettable experience and with a guide, you can go far beyond what you might otherwise see, into some beautiful places, seeing some incredible things. Jeep Tours in the Negev are incredible, and if you are going to have one tour on your whole trip, it should definitely be here! Meanwhile, if a more traditional mode of transport is more appealing, read about camel rides in Israel.
A Red rock creek in the Negev chany14, on Flickr
As well as the well renowned Dead Sea and ancient fortress of Masada in the east of the Negev, the Negev Desert has another unique geological formation – the makhteshim, unique crater-like landforms which are only found in the Negev and its extension into Egypt’s Sinai. Unlike the lunar craters, these are thought to have formed as a result of extreme water erosion, and whilst a guide can take you down into the makhtesh, at Mitzpe Ramon, the Mitzpe Ramon Observatory on the side of the largest of these craters, the Ramon Crater explains the story and offers a breathtaking view over this unique feature of the Negev Desert.
Another place in the Negev Desert often overlooked by tourists but absolutely beautiful is Ein Avdat, a stream in the Zin Valley which runs south from near Kibbutz Sde Boker towards Eilat. From atop the valley you can get incredible views across the desert landscape, and there are beautiful hiking trails suitable for all abilities, on trails surrounded by springs, groves of trees, wildlife and stunning views.
The Ramon Crater by Nir Nussbaum, on Flickr
The Negev Desert also has some interesting historical sites. Relating to the history of Israel is the house of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister in Kibbutz Sde Boker. Meanwhile, the amazing Timna National Park is where the world’s oldest copper mines can be found along with beautiful works of nature, and a lake amid the desert, can all be found in the far south of the Negev, about 25km north of Eilat.
Surprises in the Negev
The Negev Desert is also full of surprises – from the Negev wine route which encompasses a number of vineyards and wineries which have been set up by pioneering families in the northern Ramat Hanegev region, to stories such as that found at Kibbutz Revivim which tells the story of how the desert has been ‘greened’ and is now used extensively for agricultural purposes. The Negev Desert also has amazing bike trails – biking in the Negev is increasingly popular and a totally unique experience.