The Negev Desert covers over half of Israel’s total land area, much of it uninhabited, but it has so much to offer to its visitors. Are you after some spectacular sites? Or ancient ruins? Maybe you just wish to relax, or you are searching for your next adventure. Look no further than the magnificent Negev that has it all. Here are ten of many reasons to include the Negev Desert in your next tour of Israel.
Facts about the Negev Desert
Before deciding to explore the Negev Desert, you should know a little more about this breathtaking place. Only 10% of the population of Israel lives in the Negev, even though the area covers about 60% of the country.
The Negev is also spelled Negeb, or in Arabic Al-Naqab. The name comes from the Hebrew root n-g-b, “to dry”.
It’s shaped like a triangle with its apex at the south and bordered by the Sinai Peninsula in the West and the Jordan valley in the East.
The Negev is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Negev incense route, a former trade route in the desert that connects Arabia to the Mediterranean in the Hellenistic-Roman period. One of the most unique features of the area is the large makhteshim, or erosion craters surrounded by high cliffs.
The largest is Makhtesh Ramon, close to the town of Mitzpe Ramon. The Negev is also full of history. It’s a great place to find remains of prehistoric and early historic settlements. Items from the Stone, Copper, and Bronze age have all been found in the Negev. It is highly recommended to take a guided tour of the Negev area, this will help you explore and learn much more about this beautiful land. To find the perfect tour guide read this post.
Potash, Bromine, and magnesium are extracted at Sedom, and copper is mined at Timna.
This area of Israel is rich in history, resources, and stories, and is a great place to go if you want to visit the remains of a Negev desert ancient Jewish settlement or participate in any of the other things to do in the Negev desert, from mountain biking to rappelling. Visiting the Negev is part of our Jewish heritage tours, and a great place to explore the adventurous side of Israel.
If you are concerned about whether a senior traveler can enjoy the Negev as well read this post about seniors’ tours to Israel.
Top 10 reasons to visit the Negev
1. You can see the largest makhtesh in the world
The Ramon Crater is an immense erosion crater, known as makhtesh. Often mistaken for meteor craters, these geological phenomena are only found in Israel’s Negev Desert and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The world’s largest makhtesh is also Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve. Visit the Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Centre for interactive exhibits about the crater and the area’s flora and fauna, or go to the lookout point for phenomenal views of the crater.
2. It is home to the biblical town of Beersheba
Beersheba is the largest city in the Negev, nicknamed the ‘Capital of the Negev’. It was first mentioned as the place where Abraham made a covenant with the Philistine king Abimelech of Gerar. There are quite a few tourist attractions here, including the Museum, the old Turkish town and railway station, the Bedouin market, and the amazing archaeological site of the biblical town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. King Herod the Great built Masada there
The isolated rock plateau is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a monumental fortress and various other structures, mostly built by King Herod around 30 BCE. Watch the sunrise or sunset there, or enjoy a light-and-sound show. Ride the Masada cableway or climb up to the fortifications and explore the ruins, such as King Herod’s Palace, a Roman-style bathhouse, and the archaeological exhibitions in the Masada Museum.<!–[if lte IE 8]>
4. Travel along the wine route
Can you imagine a desert covered in vineyards? Well, in the last decade, a number of enthusiastic people utilized the best drip irrigation technology and established a series of vineyards in the desert – the Negev Wine Route – where, besides the unique experience for tourists, they make a highly respectable and delicious wine.
5. You can take a camel ride
One can’t go to the Negev and not take a camel ride. It is a wonderful way to truly enjoy the unique scenery. It is not difficult to find these lovely, gentle creatures. There are many camel ranches and pit-stops throughout the Negev, and you can choose from many options, such as a half-hour ride in the desert, or a full-day tour with a Bedouin lunch.
6. Visit the largest science and technology museum in Israel
Beersheba’s science and technology museum has something for everybody to learn and have fun with at the same time. Open every day, including the holidays, it offers original exhibitions, science demonstrations and fairs, performances, 3D films, creative arts activities, and even an interactive fountain and children’s scientific playground. Explore the structures from the Ottoman period and the British Mandate, and even a modern underground facility.
7. Enjoy the famous Bedouin hospitality
Would you like to have the ultimate desert experience and live like the oldest tribes have lived for centuries? If your answer is yes, you should join a tour and visit a local Bedouin tribe. Enter their tents and learn, first-hand, how these ancient tribes survived in the desert; eat the food and experience the culture and traditions, which remain unchanged for centuries.
8. Endangered animals mentioned in the Bible are saved there
The Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve is located in the Southern Arabah where scientists breed endangered and locally extinct animals mentioned in the Bible, in hope of reintroducing them to the Negev Desert. Remarkably, the Asian wild ass has already been reintroduced to the Makhtesh Ramon. The park is home to rare desert animals, non-native to Israel, like the scimitar Oryx and the Red-necked ostrich, and is saving various other animals, such as different species of fox, wolf, cat, donkey, birds, etc.
If you have ventured that far go on and explore the Arava peace road and see what you can enjoy along the Arava road on this post.
9. You can enjoy the awe-inspiring Avdat
Ein Avdat is a spectacular desert valley, an oasis in the Negev, a site of an ancient Nabataean city, a National Park, and a World Heritage Site. Founded in the 3rd century BCE, it was the most important city on the Incense Route after Petra, inhabited by Nabataeans, Romans, Byzantines, etc. Enjoy a beautiful hiking trail, springs that cascade into deep pools in a series of waterfalls, and an incredible landscape decorated with plants like Poplars and Atriplex. If you’re interested in other valleys in Israel, find out more about Israel’s most beautiful valleys here.
10. And marvel at the beauty of Timna Valley
Half an hour’s drive from Eilat lies one of the Middle East’s most amazing attractions famous for its gorgeous multi-colored sand and awe-inspiring sandstone columns called Solomon’s Pillars, which have eroded, thanks to wind and water, into various interesting shapes, such as ‘The Mushroom’. You can explore the copper mines beneath the surface, which are 6000 years old and probably the first mines ever built. In October, you can enjoy the fantastic Timna Park Balloon Festival.