The Ramon Crater in Israel’s Negev Desert is the world’s largest erosion crater, or makhtesh. A landform unique to Israel’s Negev and Egypt’s Sinai deserts’, a makhtesh is a large erosion cirque, created 220 million years ago when oceans covered the area (the word crater is therefore a misleading translation of Hebrew to English.) The Ramon Crater measures 40km in length and between 2 and 10km in width, shaped like a long heart, and forms Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve.
Visiting the Ramon Crater can vary from a stop off on a journey through the Negev to witness the crater from above, or a longer visit to take in the history and science of the area, hike, drive or cycle through the makhtesh, and appreciate the unique geology that is on offer.
The visitors center, located on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon in the city of Mitspe Ramon is the gateway to the makhtesh. As visitors ascend the ramp through the building, they view displays that present ‘windows’ on to the geography, geology, flora, fauna and history of the region from prehistoric to modern times. The display leads upward to a breathtaking view of the makhtesh through a floor-to-ceiling window and the rooftop. A film explains how the makhtesh was formed and a three-dimensional interactive model helps bring home an understanding of the topography of this unique region. The visitors center personnel are able to provide information on trails and conditions within the makhtesh.
The Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center by ForestForTrees, on Flickr
As a unique environment, the makthesh is a unique habitat for wildlife. Bio Ramon is run by the parks authority and offers an exciting peek at the rare and shy creatures that inhabit the makhtesh, in surroundings that simulate their natural desert homes. Bio Ramon has some 40 species of small desert creatures, as well as snakes, rodents, porcupines, lizards, scorpions and turtles. Guided tours are offered to all visitors. Its botanical-ecological garden presents six characteristic habitats including typical plants, rock formations and landscapes.
Ibex glance over the edge of Makhtesh Ramon by RonAlmog, on Flickr
If you want to take your visit to the crater even further, located in the heart of some of the makthesh’s most beautiful trails is the Be’erot campground. The only campsite in the crater, visitors can sleep either beneath the stars of in Bedouin hospitality tents. The Bedouin hospitality experience includes coffee, tea and pita bread (for groups, by reservation). As well as overnight stays, the campsite is a great place to stop off if exploring the crater for a meal.