It’s all adventure in the Negev Desert, but leave it to us to find a little bit of luxury even in the most undeveloped area of Israel. From rappelling down 1000 foot cliffs to mountain biking on old camel caravan trails, I knew the Negev was going to push me to my thrill seeker limits. My Puzzle Israel tour promised my aching muscles would be eased by jacuzzis and wine. How could I say no?
Many travelers head to Israel and after taking in The Holy City, head south to the seaside resort town of Eliat at Israel’s southernmost tip. Those travelers are most definitely missing out.
Covering more than half of Israel’s land area, the Negev Desert’s forbidding mountains and canyons and oppressive heat make it sparsely populated. You won’t find the red blowing sand dunes of the Sahara here; the Negev is rock and dirt. Even so, the canyons and craters make for a breathtaking landscape that’s teeming with desert wildlife. And the best way to discover it all is to don your hiking boots.
Rappelling at Mitzpe Ramon
The Negev Desert is vast and divided by regions. The central region is marked by Makhtesh Ramon, often called the Ramon Crater. It’s a misnomer – probably because there’s nothing else comparable on earth. The “crater” wasn’t formed by a meteor impact or a volcano; it was formed from a geological landmass unique only to Israel that Israelis call a makhtesh.
A popular way to get down and dirty with the crater is to rappel down it’s cliff side. Certainly not for the faint of heart, though beginner rappellers like me can take on Makhtesh Ramon with the help of experts guides at Deep Desert Israel.
Rappellers go one-by-one for safety reasons and instruction. I should have went first because the longer I waited for my turn, the more my stomach flipped and flopped. I almost didn’t do it. And I would have regretted it.
Deep Desert Israel is owned by Itai Haray. Not only is he pretty much Bear Grylls’ doppelganger, Itai is a licensed rappelling instructor and a qualified guide by the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel. I was confident I was in good hands as Itai’s soothing words instructed me over the edge.
The whole rappelling experience probably lasted just a few minutes as I walked my feet slowly down the cliff to a ledge below. But as my heart raced, it felt like a lifetime. A totally exhilarating, I-kick-ass lifetime.
4×4 Jeep Tour
The Negev is vast and a 4×4 jeep tour is a great way to see the diversity of the desert. Our jeep tour with Deep Desert Israel took us in to the 250 million year old Ramon Crater and Bear..ier, I mean Itai stopped to explain how this makhtesh was created by water when the Negev was once-upon-a-time covered by an ocean.
As little dirt devils spun their way across the dirt, it’s hard to imagine that this once was an ocean with depths up to 200 meters (656 feet), but the continued discoveries of marine dinosaur fossils proves it. Itai doesn’t have any dinosaur bones on hand, but he’s found his share of fossils exploring this barren land and he shared some small ones with us as we looked out over it all from the top of Mt. Gvanim.
We off-roaded through the crater, ending our jeep tour being dropped off for a sunset cookout. It’s a shame I didn’t have my tripod because as the gold and red turned to blackness, there were a million stars in the sky. We lied back on rugs and lost count of the number of shooting stars. The perfect end to a great day in the desert.
The Negev is pretty sparsely populated, but the Bedouin are some of the people that call the desert home. Bedouin means desert dweller and they’re a semi-nomadic people that have long moved from place to place like the wind blows.
We had our first experience with Bedouin when we camped with them in Wadi Rum, Jordan. The Bedouin are incredibly welcoming and tell fascinating stories of their culture and lifestyle. I was thrilled to have just as welcoming an experience in the Negev Desert.
Though Bedouin live a simple life living off the land and moving with essential resources like water, they’ve also adapted to the modernization of the world around them. I couldn’t help but laugh as the Bedouin told us that there’s a Domino’s Pizza in the nearby village of Sde Boker and while they won’t deliver all the way to their camp, they can ride their camel to the main road to meet the Domino’s delivery guy for pizza when they order it on special occasions. Oh, to be witness to the new delivery driver as he looked for the Bedouin and camel on the side of the road.
We appreciated the laugh-until-you-cry stories, sweet tea and delicious meal of dips and vegetables with rice to eat with a type of sand bread they cooked.
More than 2000 years ago the ancient Nabataeans, yes the very people that built the incredible Red-Rose City of Petra right into the cliffs of Jordan, once grew grapes and made wine in the Negev. In 1998 Hannah and Eyal Izrael came upon a hidden riverbed and discovered parts of the ancient vineyards of the Nabataeans. They decided to revive the wine region and give wine making a go. Their farm, Carmey Avdat, is now just one of nine wineries that make up the Negev Wine Route.
It’s incredible what you can produce in the desert and Eyal told me he grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Petit Bordeaux, Vilana and Barbera grapes to produce 6000 bottles of red and white wines each year. The flash floods in winter are essential for the now almost 20-year old root stock to produce fruit each season.
The wines are definitely interesting and quite different than Italian, French and even Californian wines. If you fancy bringing some home, Eyal and Hannah sell them at their boutique on the farm.
Yoga in the Desert
I’ve never gotten in to yoga, but Israel was definitely a trip all about experiencing new things. So why not? Itai’s wife, Tal, offers yoga workshops with Deep Desert Israel and morning yoga was offered if you felt so inclined on our Puzzle Israel trip.
Getting To the Negev Desert
Mitzpe Ramon, the village at the Ramon Crater, is an easy 2½-hour drive from Tel Aviv or 2-hour drive from Jerusalem. Puzzle Israel arranged all of our travel arrangements as part of our tour.
Where to Stay in the Negev Desert
Carmey Avdat has six cabins nestled among their vineyards in the heart of the Negev Desert. Some of the cabins have small, private plunge pools perfect for cooling off after a day of adventure in the Negev Desert. The cabins have jacuzzi baths you’ll definitely want to take advantage of for soothing aching muscles after rappelling (believe me, parts of your body you never thought possible will ache) or cycling.
My trip was provided by Puzzle Israel in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.