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Mitzpe Ramon: Hiking in the Heart of the Negev

On January 8, 2014 by Oren and Cassie

Israel will always be known primarily for its religious destinations. Cities like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth play a critical role in the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran. But there is so much more in the Holy Land, including some fantastic backpacking through the Negev desert.

WELCOME TO MITZPE RAMON

Mitzpe Ramon, a small town in the heart of the Negev desert, sits on the edge of the Makhtesh Ramon, the largest crater of its kind in the world. The town itself is tiny – 5,000 people at most – but it is the perfect launching point for some of the most spectacular hikes in Israel. You can find hikes from 2 hours to a few days through the rugged rock formations of the desert and the beautiful Makhtesh.

mitzpe-ramon-makhtesh-road

The road into Makhtesh Ramon.

INTO THE MAKHTESH RAMON

The makhtesth is a massive crater – 25 miles long and 6 miles wide at points – created by the shifting earth of the Arava Rift Valley and the power of erosion. (Sorry, no meteors here.) The makhtesth is nearly 500 meters deep, and its steep walls are impressive from above or below. Some hikes take you to the edge of the walls to look down into the makhtesh. Other hikes bring you down into the makhtesh to look up at the walls. Either way, the landscape is breathtaking.

mitzpe-ramon-makhtesh-wall

The wall of the makhtesh seems to stretch on forever

I know it sounds crazy, but it reminded me of Ireland in a way. In both places, Mother Nature is merciless, and the terrain reflects the extreme weather. In Ireland, it’s rain and wind. Here in the Negev, it’s the relentless sun. Shade is a valuable commodity, yet the land thrives here in its own way.

FINDING THE PERFECT HIKE

We were invited to stay for a night at the Green Backpacker’s Hostel. The couple who own the hostel, Lee and Yoash, were incredibly friendly and very helpful with information about the town and the best local hikes. We chose the Hemet Cistern hike on our first day there. It was about 2 hours round-trip to the edge of the Makhtesh. We brought a late lunch of pita, hummus, and red wine, and we dined on the edge of the crater while we watched the sunset. Head to the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the hikes and find the perfect one for you.

mitzpe-ramon-cassie-lunch-makhtesh-1

Cassie (in the upper left corner) sitting down for lunch with a view of the makhtesh.

When we got back to the hostel, the other 15 or so backpackers were more than happy to share stories, food, and wine. The hostel has a very relaxed atmosphere, and it would be very easy for anyone to stay here for a few nights while discovering new trails in the area. We only wish they had a few more showers, since there’s a long line at night and in the morning. (The good news is they’re hoping to expand in size, so that means I see more showers in their future.)

mitzpe-ramon-makhtesh-ramon-panoramic

A panorama of Makhtesh Ramon.

EXPLORING MITZPE RAMON

All too often, tourists drive right by Mitzpe Ramon or stop only at the visitor’s center on their way to Eilat. To miss this town is to miss one of the gems of Israel. After a long day of hiking, there are a few great places to relax and grab a drink. There’s also Adama, the internationally famous dance theater and school in Mitzpe Ramon.

This area is also one of the best stargazing regions in Israel. The Negev is almost perfectly dark at night, which is great for relaxing and seeing the stars, either with the naked eye or with a telescope. On a clear night, the view of the sky is incredible. It guarantees you will have something to see in Mitzpe Ramon day and night! It’s also a great place to do some light writing at night. Below is “Israel” written in Hebrew with a flashlight.

mitzpe-ramon-israel-lightwriting

My handwriting is better with a flashlight than with a pen.

For more to see in Israel, you can always visit Tourist Israel.

-O.L.

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