Whilst many people visit Israel for religious, or even political, reasons for those seeking adventure or interesting landscapes, the Negev Desert, which covers about 50 percent of Israel, offers plenty to see and experience for those who like to visit some of the world’s wildest places.
To get to the heart of the Negev requires about a 90 minute drive from either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to the town of Beer Sheva. Now here’s where names can get confusing, as the Negev is also known as the Negeb or al-Naqab, depending on which map you use. Use an Israeli map and you get Negev.
The most impressive part of the Negev can be seen between Beer Sheva and the resort city of Eilat, which is on the Red Sea.
The desert is ever changing, at times it is very rocky and seemingly desolate, in other places, normally where there are communities and agriculture, the desert is interrupted with splotches of abundant crops. It is Israel’s advances in dry earth cropping that has led the country to have less desert know than before the country was formed.
Mostly, though, the Negev is a true desert that is seemingly devoid of life and in parts it is difficult to believe that you are actually very close to civilisation.
One place that is certainly worth stopping at is the Ramon Crater. This is the world’s largest erosion crater, which is estimated to have been created about 220 million years ago when the area was covered by water. 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 which is called the Ramon Nature Reserve.
There is an excellent visitor centre near the town of Mitspe Ramon which explains the geography, geology, flora, fauna and history of the region from prehistoric to modern times, before leading the visitor to panoramic windows which reveal breathtaking views of the crater.
The Negev has some great walking trails, but it is more renowned for its more than 300 kilometres of bike trails. These trails are rated from easy to difficult, and range in distance from an easy 4km ride at Yeruham Lake to the more difficult and longer rides around the Ramon Crater Rim.
The Shivta historical site offers visitors an insight into what life was like about two thousand years ago. Two magnificent churches from the Byzantine era can be seen in the village as well as meticulous architecture belonging to buildings and the impressive water collection and storage system. Shivta was abandoned but not destroyed so remains, despite natural erosion of the buildings, pretty much like it was when the residents left.