By Hadassah Levy
- The Ramon Crater in the Negev Desert (Photo by Dafna Tal on goisrael.com)
One of my favorite things about Israel is that in just a few short hours you can traverse totally different landscapes, climates and vibes. You can get from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv to the stark beauty of Mitzpe Ramon, the small town in the Negev desert overlooking the Ramon Crater (the “Machtesh”) in about two hours. And as soon as you arrive you will feel the tranquility and natural magnificence of this huge crater and its expansive desert surroundings.
On my last trip to Mitzpe Ramon, our first stop was the Ilan Ramon Visitors’ Center. Built atop a cliff with a stunning view, the center gives a great overview of the area. The center also has an exhibit about the life and tragic death of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, as well as an interactive show on the formation of the Machtesh, the largest crater in the Middle East. You’ll also learn about the plants and wildlife which make this crater their home. Amusingly, one of the greatest thrills of the visitors’ center is its parking lot, where ibex roam freely and mingle fearlessly with humans.
Exploring the crater
Machtesh Ramon is best explored in the cool morning so it’s recommended to sleep locally and wake up bright and early to hike it.
There are a number of hiking trails, from easy to advanced. On a hot day, it’s recommended to leave the crater by 10 AM, so keep that in mind when you plan your morning. You might notice while making your way through the crater that it’s not too difficult to get lost – you’ll be grateful to your guide by your side. Keep your eyes out for the archaeological remains of a Bronze Age village and various desert plants. There are many animals living in the crater, but as most of them are nocturnal you aren’t likely to spot them. However, the trusty ibex are plentiful and will even pose for pictures!
If you’re adventurous, go rappelling down into the crater or take a bumpy jeep tour (both need to be done with a guide).
- Child rappelling in the Rimon Crater (Photo from goisrael.com)
You might also want to check out the Spice Quarter where local artisans create and sell their wares. Don’t miss the bakery and the organic cosmetics and soaps factory.
The Alpaca Farm
Afterwards, nearby, you can take advantage of the afternoon to visit the Alpaca Farm. The alpacas and llamas who live on the farm were brought to the Negev from the Andes mountain of South America. You can hand-feed them, ride them (if you’re small enough) and observe the process of making wool. Let a llama carry a picnic for you, take a romantic or family horseback ride or learn to weave.
- A llama by Mitzpe Ramon (Photo by chadica, wikicommons)
The hotel-oasis in the desert
The Beresheet Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels in all of Israel. Even if you’re not staying there, I recommend enjoying dinner in the hotel’s lobby restaurant. Eat a delicious dairy meal while looking out over the crater and the winding road which leads to it. If weather permits, sit on the balcony for the full effect. You can’t see the sunset from this direction, but the view is truly spectacular nonetheless.
Take a short nap and you’ll be ready to go out and enjoy the clear night skies of Mitzpe Ramon. Book a star-gazing experience with Astronomy Israel to enjoy a guided tour of the galaxy. It can get really cold at night in the desert, so even if it was hot all day, wear warm clothes and bring a couple of blankets along.
- Stargazing in Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Desert (Photo by Mark Nakasone, Wikicommons)
From Mitzpe Ramon, you can head south for some relaxation and recreation in Eilat, or head back north toward the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. If you’re headed south, consider stopping at the Red Canyon, Timna Park and the Yotvata petting zoo. On your way north, you can visit Avdat National Park, Ben-Gurion’s home (and tomb) in Sde Boker and the city of Sderot.
Since it’s a bit off the beaten path, Mitzpe Ramon is one of Israel’s best-kept secrets. Israelis visit the small city regularly but many tourists miss it altogether. However, the incredible natural beauty, wildlife, archaeology and clear skies make it well worth the detour.
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