The unexpected beauty of the Negev offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a two-day getaway. Promising a myriad of biblical archaeological sites, hiking trails, Bedouin hospitality and even some delightful boutique wineries, the Negev desert is the perfect place to get away from it all and enjoy it all!
And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of the well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away (Genesis 21:25) … Wherefore that place was called Beer-sheba; because there they swore both of them (Genesis 21:31).
How did Abraham achieve greatness? As the Bible tells us, he knew where to dig wells. He could access water, even in the desert! Drive just a few minutes east of the modern city of Beersheba, named for the oath sworn by Abraham and Abimelech 3,000 years ago, and you’ll see how the search for fresh water has shaped Negev life for thousands of years. Man could only settle in places where he could find water for himself and his flocks. Tel Beersheba was such a place. With remains dating back to the Chalcolithic era, you can see how successive civilizations settled there, where the Hebron and Beersheba Streams merge. Climb down a 200-foot-deep ancient cistern that dates back to the time of King Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE. It’s the largest one ever found in the Negev! Don’t miss the hewn-stone altar. Its design, in violation of the Lord’s commandment that altars be built of undressed stone, proved that King Hezekiah faced great challenges when he embarked on a course of religious reforms. When you visit the remains of the residential settlement, marvel that some of these homes were built almost a 1,000 years before King Hezekiah ruled! This has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as you survey the remains from the lookout tower, it’s easy to understand why.
Once you’re back in your car, follow the signs to Route 40 south. As you head south, notice the impressive chalk plateaus as well as the tamarisk trees that dot the landscape. These are just like the tamarisk trees that Abraham planted in Beersheba when he made the oath to Abimelech promising that he would deal honestly with him.
In less than an hour, you will find yourself at Kibbutz Sde Boker, home to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Just past the kibbutz is the Ben Gurion Institute. Follow the palm tree-lined access road into the institute where you’ll find a cafeteria that offers a variety of food at moderate prices.
Take a moment and visit Ben Gurion’s grave. As you near the end of the short walk from the parking area to his final resting place, you will be overwhelmed as you look out over the expansive breaks in the rock that form the Zin Valley. The majestic view, striking in its stark beauty, was a constant source of inspiration to the country’s first prime minister who worked the earth with his own hands to make the desert bloom.
Would you believe grapevines grow in the Negev? See for yourself at the Sde Boker Winery located in Kibbutz Sde Boker. Zvi Remak was born in the U.S. and he is delighted to introduce visitors to desert wine. He’ll be thrilled to pour you a glass! Why not buy a bottle so that your designated driver can enjoy a glass at the end of the day! Imagine opening a bottle while you watch the mountains reflect the purple and pink hews of the setting sun!
For nature lovers, a short drive south from Sde Boker is the Ein Avdat National Park, where you’ll have the unique opportunity of walking in a desert canyon. The path winds its way along a spring-fed stream through magnificent chalk cliffs. Look out and see ibex grazing as they gracefully navigate the rocky cliffs. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see eagles nesting on the cliffs. While there is a path that is designed for experienced hikes which involves ascending a large set of stone steps, there is an equally breathtaking circular route for novice hikes that is relatively flat and can be complete in an hour. If ancient culture is what you are after, don’t miss the striking ancient Nabatean fortress of Avdat, a UNESCO world heritage site situated along the ancient Nabatean spice route.
And now for a night like no other! A trip to the Negev would not be complete without unparalleled Bedouin hospitality. A few minutes from Ein Avdat you’ll find Khan Chan Hashayarot offers five Bedouin tents of various sizes to provide you with an idyllic Bedouin experience. Whether you are traveling on your own and looking to meet other lone travelers, or with your family, you’ll find a tent that is perfect for you. The tents, decorated with colorful mats, are made of goat wool and provide warmth during the cool desert nights. Step outside the tent and view a sky blanketed with stars. Far from city lights, you’ll be able to easily spot Orion, Ursa Major, along with a host of other stars and constellations you had only read about. If you want to spend a night in the desert but aren’t ready for the tent experience, Chan Hashayarot has furnished cabins as well.
After a deliciously restful night, wake up to a full Bedouin breakfast including Bedouin coffee served with array of homemade breads, cheese and puddings colorfully displayed on a balcony overlooking the desert.
The Khan will arrange special camel tours and other outdoor adventures for you if you wish.
Drive south on Route 40 to Mitzpeh Ramon, home of Israel’s largest crater, or machtesh. This machtesh was not created from a meteor collision but from an unusual geological process where erosion caused the collapse of heavy limestone that covered the softer sandstone underneath. There are only six in the world and three of them are here in Israel. As you stand at the Machtesh Ramon Lookout you’ll have a chance to view the length and breadth of Israel’s largest machtesh! It’s 25 miles long, between 1 and 10 miles wide and over 1,600 feet deep! Situated on the machtesh’s northern edge, it’s the perfect spot for viewing the various geological features. Look out at the nearby Givat Gaash (volcanic hill), a basalt-covered hill resulting from a pre-historic volcanic eruption. Look south to the tabletop mountains of Mount Ardon and Mount Arpek. Don’t be surprised if some ibex wander past you as you explore! The new Ilan Ramon visitor center overlooking the crater is a must-see as well.
Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center
But, for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, either hike down into the machtesh itself or enjoy a jeep ride to the crater’s bottom, or get a local private biking guide, rent bikes and ride inside the crater. The hike is 4-5 hours so this is only appropriate for very experienced hikers. Bring lots of water with you as the trail is not shaded. If you choose the jeep option, you’ll all enjoy all of the natural beauty without breaking a sweat. Drive to the middle and see the “carpentry” shop. These “wooden” planks are actually ancient geological prisms. Or drive along the northern wall and see the ammonite fossils; large snail remains that indicate that this desert was once covered by water. But even if you decide to just enjoy the vast beauty from the observation point, enjoying the yellow and pinks of the surrounding sandstone mountains, you will enjoy an unforgettable morning!
For some manmade fun! Drive five minutes from the Machtesh Ramon Lookout to Desert Archery World and giggle your way through a desert archery course designed for the whole family. The rubber-tipped arrows are safe and the various sizes of bows mean that even children as young as nine can join in the fun! Traveling with younger children? Visit the nearby Alpaca Farm where you and your children can hand-feed the alpacas and 400 llamas. You can even try weaving in the wool house and learn about the process of shearing the animals.
Grab fast food in the town of Mitzpeh Ramon and head back on Route 40, past Sde Boker and turn left a Mashavim Junction onto Route 222. You’ll arrive at Khirbet Halutza a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was part of the ancient Nabatean Spice Route and served as a way station for Nabatean traders traveling between Gaza and Jordan. The Nabateans were a nomadic people who came to Israel almost 400 years before Jesus and existed here until the 7th century. These expert desert farmers ultimately converted to Christianity not long after Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire and, eventually, this became the most important city in the Negev. You can see remains of the Byzantine church basilica as well as remains of the only known Roman-style theater in the Negev.
Continue on route 222 and then turn left onto route 232. If you’re traveling during the winter months, look for the beautiful red anemones and purple irises that can be found along the way. Follow signs to the town of Talmei Yosef for the final stop on your two-day Negev getaway.
Learn how Israel has made the desert bloom and join agronomist Uri Alon at the Salad Farm for a tour where you’ll not only learn about desert agriculture, you also have a chance to eat fruit right off of the vine. From strawberries to peppers to tomatoes, you’ll learn about the latest advances in greenhouse technology, while enjoying some of the most mouthwatering fruits and vegetables imaginable. Savor the taste of pita baked before your eyes and then served with fresh olive oil and hyssop while you watch homing pigeons carry out their jobs. Then see if you can navigate your way through a passion fruit maze. Eating your fruits and vegetables was never this much fun!
After a few hours at the Salad Farm, it will be time to leave your Negev getaway, but don’t despair. As you traverse the Negev landscape, you’ll be able to enjoy the magnificent colors as the setting sun reflects its brilliant color off the Negev’s sandstone mountain.
If you go:
- Ben Gurion’s House – www.bgh.org.il +970-8-659-2120
- Kibbutz Sde Boker Winery – [email protected] +970-50-7579-212
- Ein Avdat – www.teva.org.il 972-8-655-5684
- Avdat National Park – www.parks.org.il +970-8-655-5684
- Khan HaShayarot – www.shayarot.com +970-8-653-5777
- Ilan Ramon Visitor Center – www.parks.org.il +970-8-658-8691
- Mitzpe Ramon Tourism – www.parks.org.il +970-8-658-8691
- Desert Archery World – www.desertarchery.co.il
- Alpaca Farm – www.alpaca.co.il
- Khirbet Halutza – www.parks.org.il +970-8-655-5684
- The Salad Path – www.salat4u.co.il +970-8-998-2225
Onnie Schiffmiller is a licensed tour guide and contributes regularly to Travelujah Holy Land Tours. Travelujah. is the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.