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 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 or on a tour. 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
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 making the Negev desert the world’s only desert which is reversing the global trend of desertification.
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.
Touring in the Negev Desert is amazing, and there really is a lot to see! There are few tours to the Negev which start in the center of the country, just one Negev tour from Jerusalem. Most people had to the desert themselves, either by car, or using the bus network, and take advantage of the amazing experience that is available once you arrive. 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 apparently 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! 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 – 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 of 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 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, about 25km north of Eilat.
This desert area on the ancient Nabatean Incense Route, and whilst the most famous Nabatean city is Petra, across the border in Jordan, the Negev has its own Nabatean cities which are UNESCO preserved. Arguably the most impressive of these, Shivta, has never been conquered or destroyed.
Surprises in the Negev
The Negev Desert is also full of surprises and activities you might not expect. From sandboarding on the dunes which cover part of the northern Negev, to rappelling down the cliffs of the Ramon Crater. The Negev wine route 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. Meanwhile, the night sky, clear of light pollution, makes the desert an amazing place to learn about the night sky and stars, and of course, the Negev has amazing hiking and bike trails – biking in the Negev is increasingly popular and a totally unique experience.