Have you ever stayed in a true “backpacking hostel”? The type of place where you meet travelers from around the world, where fast friendships are born and pseudo-philosophical conversations are had? These hostels are found just about anywhere in the world—from the beaches of India to the islands of Cambodia, from the Sinai peninsula to the Australian outback. If you stumble into one of these hostels unknowingly, you might not at first like it (they often smell of cheap pasta and patchouli), but stick around for a few hours and with an open mind, these are the places that are hard to forget. And for all the good reasons too.
I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels in Israel—from the luxury to the downtrodden—but in Mitzpe Ramon I found one of my favorites to date: Green Backpackers. Mitzpe Ramon is a small town sitting alongside the 40km makhtesh, or crater, in the Negev desert. The town doesn’t have much to offer (except for an amazing hummus restaurant), but there are plenty of hiking paths which start out from Mitzpe Ramon and go through the makhtesh. Green Backpackers is located within walking distance of the crater’s information booth, and just down the street from the starting point of a handful of walking paths.
The hostel, only one year old, is small but the atmosphere on the inside is big. When you first arrive at the hostel, you step right into a living room; it feels immediately like a home. (And you wouldn’t know otherwise except for the logo sprawled across the outside of the building.) A small kitchen off to the side, people lounging on the couches and a patio out back. In the main building are two dorm rooms (beds are about $20 per person) and two private rooms, with additional dorms located in the house down the street. A giant chalkboard sits behind the TV and wood-burning stove with hand-scribbled notes from previous guests & backpackers.
I spent just a single night at the Mitzpe Ramon hostel, but, as it happens among backpackers, I made fast friends and memorable moments. Arriving to the city on a particularly grey afternoon, rather than head to one of the nearby lookouts to see the makhtesh, I went into town…for hummus. With an Australian backpacker I met as soon as I entered the hostel, we walked around for a while before enjoying a massive lunch at Jinjy’s hummus restaurant (10 minute walk from the hostel). A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
Afterwards, we picked up some beers at the supermarket before heading back to the hostel. There we met more travelers who had been out hiking for the day. Soon, there were 4 or 5 of us opening up a poker set, sharing beers and, much later at night, making some homemade sangria. The two hostel owners, Lee & Yoash, showed up in the early evening to give us all some advice on what to do, which trails to take and what would be happening over the next day or two. Seeing as how a thunderstorm was brewing outside and snow was expected (in the desert, no less!), the three of us who’d arrived that day decided we’d take an easy hike in the morning. That didn’t stop us from enjoying the night though.
In a casual, laid-back hostel like this, no one was looking for a rowdy evening. We played poker and talked about life, about politics, about travel. In the Negev desert, where the nights are dark and the town is quiet, we were there for the experience. The hostel experience, the desert experience, the backpacking experience.
Green Backpackers hostel
10/6 Nahal Sirpad
Mitzpe Ramon, Israel