The Ramon Crater or Makhtesh Ramon is one of five craters in the Negev Desert, and the largest erosion crater in the world. Its dramatic rim overlooking the vast depression is one of the most spectacular sights in Israel and a popular stop for travellers heading south towards the Dead Sea. Makhtesh Ramon is located near the sleepy town of Mitzpe Ramon just 2.5 hours south of Tel Aviv.
The crater measures about 14km wide by 40km long and is 500m deep at its deepest point. Often described as Israel’s Grand Canyon, the Ramon Crater resembles a Martian landscape. But you can do a lot more than simply look out over the crater. There are a variety of tours, activities and extreme sports to be had.
Where Did the Ramon Crater Come from?
The Ramon Crater looks like a giant meteor made a dent in the desert, or like the mouth of an extinct volcano, but it is an erosion crater (box canyon or steephead valley). About 90-100 million years ago the sea flooded the Negev depositing layers of limestone rock and trapping soft sand beneath it. Then c.80 million years ago the African and Eurasian continents collided resulting in a geological “fold” and forming the Syrian Arc of mountain ranges from Egypt to Syria, including the Negev range.
Gradually the water receded and Mt. Negev’s exposed peak was eroded by climatic forces. The area was flooded again c.40-50 million years ago. As the soft sandstone was eroded layers of ancient rock were exposed. The crater floor deepened at a faster rate than the surrounding walls as more layers of rock were exposed.
Geology of the Ramon Crater
Today the crater is known for its diverse geological phenomenon. The ancient mountains of Ramon, Ardon, Marpek and Katum border the crater. Geological phenomenon in the crater includes the magma rock Shen Ramon (Ramon’s Tooth); HaMinsara (Carpentry Shop), a group of prism-shaped quartzite stones and the Ammonites Wall, a rocky cliff embedded with fossils and ammonites that lived millions of years ago in the ocean that one covered the Negev. The dry landscape of the crater has one natural water source, the Saharonim Spring at the crater’s deepest point. Thanks to the natural spring the crater is home to abundant wildlife.
Modern History of the Ramon Crater
Several prehistoric sites have been uncovered in the crater including stone walls and mounds. About 2,000 years ago merchants would follow the Incense Route from the Arabian Peninsula, through the Ramon Crater to the north. There are remains of Nabataean trade posts such as Khan Saharonim used by merchants and their caravans as rest stops along the route.
Local Bedouin desert dwellers have known about the crater for centuries. Explorers first came across the crater in the 1940s. In the 1950s the crater became the site of several quarries and by 1970 the need to preserve the crater was recognized and the Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve was established.
Things to Do at the Ramon Crater
Start exploring Makhtesh Ramon from the Ramon Crater Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center where you can learn about the geological formation of the crater and the life of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. The Albert Promenade takes you from the visitors center along a trail on the edge of the crater rim to the Har Gamal observation deck.
Star-gazing is a popular activity at the crater, whether you stick to the observation point, go camping overnight or take a star-gazing tour. In the crater, there are opportunities for cycling, off-road jeep safaris, rappelling, mountain biking and hiking. There is a network of hike trails through the crater ranging from short loop trails to challenging treks.
One of the popular hike routes is the Ramon Colors Route where you can see exposed colored rocks and sand along the way. There are places in the Ramon Crater area like Me’ever where you can enjoy yoga workshops, meditation and festivals. Sde Boker, Khan Hashayarot offers a Bedouin experience in the desert.