Updated February 2021
Take a Jeep Tour Through Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater)
The Makhtesh Ramon is a crater not formed by impact but, rather, from erosion. The Crater is 250 million years old and was once filled with ocean waters. There are seven Makhtesh Craters world-wide, five of which are found in Israel. The Makhtesh Ramon, located in Southern part of Israel in the Negev Desert, is enormous and offers plenty to do in see in an around the crater for families.
Schedule a jeep tour for the morning through the crater. The guides will stop along the way to point out various interesting facts about the crater itself. They are knowledgeable and enthusiastic when explaining facts. When we were there, the crater had recently experienced rains and flooding. The crater was in bloom with wonderful desert flowers. We were also told to look out for fossils. I searched like crazy and came up with none. The kids however, found fossils all over and were shocked to learn of their age. As old as two hundred and fifty million years. We didn’t keep them–they are part of the preserve–and left them for the next visitor to stumble upon.
The jeep wound through the desert, up and down hill, over larger rocks and through areas that were once streams of water created by flash floods. Kids enjoyed the bouncy ride. I enjoyed the scenery. They do stock the jeep with plenty of bottles of water as well as other refreshments to cool off with.
Authentic Bedouin Hospitality
In the Bedouin tradition, guests are welcomed with a small cup of coffee and sit on the ground in a tent as hot coals burn away in a fire pit. This is just what we experienced and much more. We were welcomed with tea and black coffee and listened to one of the village elders tell us about life in a Bedouin village. His kids ran in and out in bare feet; Bedouin kids are taught from the beginning to walk around without shoes to get used to the heat and rocks of the desert.
As we sat and listened, our kids took turns grinding coffee by hand in a large mortar and pestle. The village elder went on to make traditional charcoal-bread (libbe), by forming dough in a thick, round circle and burying it under the hot coals, letting it bake in the ash and heat. He served us dates and hot tea as we waited for the bread to cook. Get to know more about traditional Israeli food and the depth of their flavors and history.
The elder also told us about tapping into the national irrigation systems in order to bring water to the village, which they discovered was far quicker and easier than digging a deep well. In the background, we heard chickens, goats, and sheep all vying for a shaded areas in their pens as the desert heat.
Rappelling Down Crater Cliffs
You cannot have a fear of heights for this adventure. You must have a certified guide for the rappelling and it takes place in an authorized spot on the crater wall. Our kids flocked to the site, each wanting to be the first to rappel. No fear, just pure excitement.
After they were outfitted with gear, the guide gave them some instructions and locked them in. As they leaned back off the cliff, with a straight, long drop off; they slowly rappelled down the cliffside. The expression of accomplishment was well worth watching our kids rappel down a rock. I’m not a huge fan of heights and after rock climbing in North Carolina, decided I would live vicariously through them. My husband did it, though, and was proud of his accomplishment.
Visit An Alpaca and Llama Farm
Right in the mist of the dry desert you can find an alpaca and llama farm to visit. Upon entering the farm, a guide gives a brief introduction to their farm’s history and what they do with the animals; using the wool for weaving clothes. The workers also explain the differences between llamas and alpacas. Did you know llamas and alpacas are related to camels? They have even cross-bred the two animals.
After our introduction, we were all given small bags of food to feed the animals. Some of the llamas and alpacas roam free, others are in pens. Be careful, though, as they tend to spit at one another in order to get to the food. The spit can hit you. There are also goats and we spotted a very large, very sedentary pig taking an afternoon nap. The farm is home to some dogs and while we were there, one of the dogs had recently given birth, so the kids were lucky enough to get cute puppy time in as an added bonus.
Throughout the desert are natural springs. Ein Avdat is a park with natural pools of water created by a waterfall located in a deep canyon carved out by water. It is a source of life for many animals of the desert as well as many large poplar trees. Much to the dismay of the kids, swimming is not allowed as the pools of water are reserved for wildlife. We loved the fact that it was right in the middle of the desert, surrounded by hills of rock, sand, and not much more. A true oasis in the Negev Desert.
There are two points of entry, a lower parking lot and upper parking lot. We started at the lower lot and then circled back to the car. It is a fairly easy hike, but bring plenty of water a there is not much shade and it can get hot. The temperature 109 degrees Fahrenheit when we went.
The desert–more specifically the Makhtesh Crater–serves as a perfect spot to star gaze with the right equipment. There is very little light pollution, few cars, no streetlights, and few people. We hired a guide who started out the evening with a campfire and a great explanation of our solar system and beyond. He went on to point out the different astrological symbols in the stars and finished with giving the kids marshmallows to roast before bringing out the telescopes.
There were four very powerful telescopes set up to view different parts of the sky. We witnessed all of the planets and even saw the rings around saturn. We also saw plenty of shooting stars pass through the sky. It is one of the best places to star gaze and the kids enjoyed seeing the planets and the milky way.
Take a Dip in the Dead Sea
A trip to Israel should include a visit to the famous Dead Sea. There are designated areas for visitors to swim, actually float in. Be aware, if you are there in the summer, the area may be closed due to the heat. If you are going to go, make sure you have no open wounds or the pain of the heavily salinated water. Use an old bathing suit, the water will destroy the fabric.
Our visit into the Dead Sea lasted only 15-20 minutes. That’s as much time our bodies could handle the heat and the thick water. The only thing we could see for miles was desert. The dead sea left our bodies feeling soft and yet somewhat dry. Immediately after getting out, we washed off under the outdoor showers located on the beach. One swim is enough, it’s not the most pleasant experience.
Important Tips When Visiting the Negev Desert, Israel
- Make sure you have plenty of water. You will dehydrate quickly and without realizing it. Drink lots.
- Wear a hat. There is very little shade in the desert. The cliff walls of the crater offer some, but not much else.
- Cover your shoulders. You do not want the sun bearing down on them.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. The sun is hot and you will burn if you are not careful.
- Animals like the ibex blend in, so make sure to be aware of your surroundings or you will miss out.
- Temperatures drop in the evening. Even in the summer it can go down to the 60’s.
- Flash flooding. If it rains (yes it rains in the desert), the water does not soak into the ground and the waters move fast and without warning.
- Hire Deep Desert Israel for jeep tours and star gazing. They are knowledgable and make the tours exciting and interactive.