The expansive landscapes of the Negev Desert in Southern Israel feature breathtaking scenery and diverse terrain, although the handful of main roads through the region only enable you to visit a small portion of what is on offer, with some of the most impressive sites far from the highways. 4×4 trails criss-cross the Negev, and are suitable for hikers, bikers, and four wheel drive vehicles, which are the ultimate vehicle for traveling deeper into the desert, further from civilization, and closer to the beautiful secret spots which even locals might not know.
Finding the 4×4 trails
The jeep trails in the Negev are often shared with hiking trails, with colored markers on stones directing you along the trail, and signs from the main road with the 4×4 sign marking the start of many of the most popular off-road routes such as Ein Akeb (south of Sde Boker), the trails within the Ramon Crater, or even the rough roads leading to some of the Negev’s most impressive viewpoints such as Mount Ramon. Most trails are not signed from the road, and regardless of whether a trail is marked clearly from the road or not, having a map, or ideally GPS is very important and can also enhance the trip by identifying points of interest such as springs or ruins.
The unique off-road experience
Whilst researching this article, we drove in a Mitsubishi Pajero in the varied desert landscape near Shivta. This is a vehicle which is ideal for tackling the terrain of the Negev. Providing a fun and exhilarating ride, whilst at the same time crossing even the most challenging terrain with relative ease, the vehicle is designed for this very landscape, and will ride nicely and comfortably across sand dunes, gravel tracks, rocky desert landforms, and even cross streams and more challenging climbs in its stride. The diversity of the Negev’s landscapes, from sandy dunes to rocky plains, canyons and springs, and dirt roads, makes it a consistently interesting place for driving.
Even with the best map and GPS, one thing is missing – local knowledge! Many 4×4 drivers like to head into the desert with an experienced local guide who would be an expert in the local landscape, and be able to guide you towards the unique points of interest which even the map won’t show. An experienced driver can also assist in getting the most out of your vehicle. On our drive, we found cherry tomatoes growing wild in the dunes, the animal graveyard of a local Bedouin tribe, and were able to enjoy local desert food such as pita cooked on stones and sandboarding in the dunes. More information about guided jeep tours can be found here.
Regardless of how you decide to travel off-road in the desert, being prepared for the remoteness is crucial. Whilst Israel isn’t a big country and even in the Negev you are always within 15 minutes of human settlement, the desert is an extreme landscape, and it is important to travel with water and food, maps and phones, and to be aware of the weather conditions and other local factors such as closed areas of the desert. Plan well and off-road driving in the desert is a very safe and incredibly fun way to not only enjoy a unique and fun experience, but also to discover secret places.