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, 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 and the fertile Israeli Coastal Plain is slowly creeping southwards, with the desert being reclaimed for more productive usage and 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, and 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.
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, and 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 as 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 and with a local guide, you can go far beyond what you might otherwise see, diving into stunning landscapes and learning 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 – 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, 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 panoramic view of this unique feature of the Negev Desert, as well as 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, 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. An interesting chapter of Israeli history is unveiled 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 along with beautiful works of nature, and its glittering lake hidden among the shifting desert sands, can all be found in the far south, about 25 km north of Eilat.
Another fascinating site lies on the ancient Nabatean Incense Route, and while the most famous Nabatean cities are thos 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.
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, and of course, the Negev has amazing hiking and bike trails – biking in the Negev is increasingly popular and a totally unique experience.