Israel’s Negev Desert is pure, ethereal magic set in a starkly beautiful setting. Covering over half of Israel’s total land area, it is an area bristling with beauty. The desert is a fascinating and enchanting place, especially for those not familiar with desert landscapes. While there is a lot you can see yourself, the best way to discover the desert is for a day with a guide or on a tour. To the untrained eye the miles of desert may look the same. But if you dig a little deeper every rock formation, jagged hill, and mound of earth has its own unique story.
The Negev Desert
Although largely unpopulated, Israel has been working hard to green this region. The fertile Israeli Coastal Plain is slowly creeping southwards, with the desert being reclaimed for more productive usage. This makes the Negev desert the world’s only desert which is reversing the global trend of desertification.
History and Background
The desert is not at all devoid of life, however. As well as the nomadic Bedouins who have lived here for centuries, traditionally living in temporary accommodation and moving seasonally along with their livestock (which can be experienced with Bedouin Hospitality experiences), there are flourishing modern Israeli communities which have found harmony with their desert surroundings. It’s also home to a diverse array of wildlife including the desert Hyrax and the Nubian Ibex. It’s also covered in fascinating archaeological sites, historical ruins, and rich cultural treasures.
Tours in the Negev Desert
Touring in the Negev Desert is an amazing experience, and there really is a lot to see! There are a few tours to the Negev which start in the center of the country. One of our favorites is this Negev tour from Jerusalem. Many people head out to the desert themselves, either by car or using the bus network, and take advantage of the amazing adventures available once they arrive.
A jeep tour makes it even more exciting. The challenging terrain is navigated by an experienced driver, and the contrast of modern machinery with the timeless beauty of the desert is breathtaking. This is an unforgettable experience. With a local guide, you can go far beyond what you might otherwise see. You’ll dive into stunning landscapes and learn the region’s hidden secrets. 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! Check our more activities in the Negev and you’ll start to understand the amazing diversity the region has to offer.
As well as the well renowned Dead Sea and ancient fortress of Masada in the east of the Negev, the desert has another unique geological formation. These are the makhteshim, unique crater-like land-forms which are only found in the Negev and its extension into Egypt’s Sinai. Unlike lunar craters, these are thought to have formed as a result of extreme water erosion. A guide can take you down into the makhtesh, at Mitzpe Ramon. You can visit the Mitzpe Ramon Observatory on the side of the largest of these craters. That is the Ramon Crater, where the museum explains the story and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of this unique feature of the Negev Desert. It’s also filled with information about the astronaut Ilan Ramon and his legacy.
Another place in the Negev Desert often overlooked by tourists but absolutely beautiful is Ein Avdat. It’s 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. There are beautiful hiking trails suitable for all abilities. The trails are surrounded by springs, groves of trees, wildlife, and stunning views.
The Negev Desert also has some interesting historical sites. An interesting chapter of Israeli history sits at at 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. They sit next to beautiful works of nature. There’s a glittering lake hidden among the shifting desert sands. They are all in the far south, about 25 km north of Eilat.
Another fascinating site lies on the ancient Nabatean Incense Route. While the most famous Nabatean cities are those of Petra, across the border in Jordan, and Madain Saleh in Saudi Arabia, the Negev has its own Nabatean cities which are UNESCO preserved. Arguably the most impressive of these is Shivta, a sprawling site that has never been conquered or destroyed.
Surprises in the Negev
The Negev Desert is also full of singular surprises and unique activities you might not expect. Try sandboarding on the dunes that cover part of the northern Negev. Or rappelling down the cliffs of the Ramon Crater. The Negev wine route encompasses a number of vineyards and wineries from pioneering families in the northern Ramat Hanegev region, to stories like the one at Kibbutz Revivim which tells the story of how the desert has been ‘greened’ and is now used extensively for agricultural purposes.
Meanwhile, the vast expense of the desert sky that’s clear of light pollution makes the desert an amazing place to learn about the night sky and stars. Of course, the Negev has amazing hiking and bike trails. Biking in the Negev is increasingly popular and a totally unique experience.