Ever since I visited Wadi Rum in Jordan, I’ve had a slight fascination with the desert. Maybe it’s something to do with the incredible darkness as Giulia points out in her post about stargazing in the Middle East. Or maybe it’s the extreme quiet, the vast emptiness and loneliness that comes with being in a wide open space. I don’t know. But I do know I love the sensation.

My one-night stay in Israel’s southern desert, the Negev, was short but sweet. Staying at the backpacker-friendly Green Backpackers Hostel, I only had time for a single hike in the desert. The weather in Mitzpe Ramon was piss poor (wet and grey, there was even hail and snow!) so I wasn’t able to take a few of the easier hikes to some of the lookouts. Instead, I chilled out in the quiet desert town my first afternoon and evening, and then left for a hike through the Negev the next morning.

Mitzpe Ramon is a unique town. It sits on the edge of a 40km crater, or makhtesh. The crater is an abnormal geological formation—unique to this part of the world, and even more specifically, this part of Israel. There are only a handful of makhteshim. A makhtesh is a crater formed by steep walls surrounding a deep valley. I found Makhtesh Ramon to be surprisingly colorful on the inside, but I’m not sure if they’re all like that.

Leaving from my hostel around 9am, the two other backpackers and I opted for a medium difficulty hike, a one-way trail to the bottom of the Makhtesh. Following the trail markers, we walked down the limestone cliffs, which at the bottom, turned to sandstone hills and colorful rock formations. Geothermal activity left remnants of rock shards and what looked like volcanic rocks near the end of the trail. We even stumbled on some green plants and shrubs along the 3-hour hike. In the end, we ended up standing along a highway, hitchhiking our way back to town—picked up by a pepper farmer.

Makhtesh Ramon Makhtesh Ramon observatory Makhtesh Ramon nature reserve Makhtesh Ramon Makhtesh Ramon Makhtesh Ramon inside Hiking - Makhtesh Ramon Makhtesh Ramon trail Makhtesh Ramon path Makhtesh Ramon

What you need for the hike:

This Israel hiking path wasn’t so difficult. I went in my Converse sneakers and no one else had much serious walking gear. I brought some water and that was about it. The hike was only 3-hours and the only map/guide we brought, was a photo of the path’s information sheet from the hostel. At the Green Backpackers, they also sold guides and hiking trail maps across Israel, but seeing as how we were doing a simple hike, we felt comfortable going it alone. There’s also an information tourist center in Mitzpe Ramon with even more suggested hikes and trails across the Negev Desert.

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18 comments

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  1. Alastair McKenzie

    Like Marysia, I’ve done Oman, Jordan and Morocco… and Tunisia, right down into the Sahara for Douz (the camel market) and Tozeur, but I think the Negev is special. I did a long 4-wheel drive into the desert from Mitzpe and saw some spectacular desert landscapes like no other. One valley I remember had, seemingly, giant red rusticles, just like the Titanic wreck, hanging down the cliffs. It’s like being on another planet.

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  4. I lived in Israel for 9 months in ’11 and 12, have visited a few times before and am here again for a couple of months. Yet the extent of my time in the Negev has been passing through on the way to and from Egypt. Shameful? I’m not a desert person, so I just can’t get interested in it. It’s good that you spent some time there, even though it was short. Someday, I will too. Probably.

    • Ahha, just saw your comment Sabina.

      I’m a big fan of the desert—in small doses :) I still much prefer the nightlife and energy in places like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

      Even though I lived in Israel for 5 months, I never made it to the Negev before my most recent return trip. Once you do make it, I’m sure you’ll find it interesting!

  5. There’s just something about the desert, isn’t there? I love the defening silence and the peacefulness of it. We also loved the deserts in Jordan and Egypt and one day we’ll get to Israel.

    Cheers for the post!

    • Actually the desert in Jordan was one of the most incredible places I’ve ever visited – Wadi Rum. The Negev is a great outdoors destination in Israel, though, so I definitely recommend visiting it!

  6. I never thought there were some nice trekking spots in Israel, this place seems to be barren, typical of desert, yet gorgeous and beautiful. Snow in desert? heard for the first time.

    • I know! It’s very unusual for it snow in the desert, but it can still happen. I think desert climate/weather is generally pretty extreme. So when it’s warm, the desert is swelteringly hot. If it’s cold, it can snow or flood…

  7. awesome post! i would have loved to be able to do some hikes in israel, but i was on an organized tour (birthright), so unfortunately was unable to decide upon, well, anything, haha.

    not extending my ticket in israel is actually one of the top travel regrets this far, i included the link below for you to check out.

    after my short time in the negev, i fell in love with deserts too. i don’t know what it is about it, i still can’t quite pinpoint it! havent been back to one since though :(

    • I never did Birthright but I do believe one of the best features of the program is that they allow you to extend your trip. Hope you get to visit again and explore more on your own. I’m certain that you’d find it to be a completely different place on a different trip!

  8. One of my most favorite places in Israel!

  9. Hey thanks for the mention!
    When I was in Mizpe Ramon it was sooo hot and I gave up on the hike… but the view itself was worth the visit! Very nice, cozy hostel that I would recommend to anyone :)

  10. Beautiful. Would love to do this.

  11. I love desert hiking. Except for that one time where I forgot to bring enough water. This desert looks much more vast than anyplace I’ve ever walked. Nice pics.

  12. Patrick Smith

    Thanks for this entry Adam! I have only been to Israel once, but honestly, it never occurred to me to hike the desert- you have totally expanded my horizon on this. When I think of Israel, i think of historic cities, museums, etc. And now hiking the desert. Again, thanks so much!

  13. I personally think there is no place in Israel where I haven’t been ha ha ha
    And I think Negev Desert is really great, but let’s be honest Adam, Wadi Rum so much better, the colours ad the jebels! I love desert, Oman, Jordan, Israel, Morocco…but I have heard Namibia is a holy grail for desert lovers!

    • Seems like you’ve been to more deserts than me Marysia! Wadi Rum is probably the favorite of the ones I’ve visited, but the Negev holds up—especially with the raves and desert parties that often happen there ;)

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