Guide to Mitzpe Ramon and the Surrounding Negev Desert
The small community of Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel sits on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater); a 38 km wide crater formed thousands of years ago. Perched on the northern ridge of the crater, overlooking the Negev Desert, Mitzpe Ramon has breathtaking views across the desert and plenty to see and do.
The community was founded in 1951 to accommodate workers constructing the road to Eilat. Immigrants from Romania and North Africa settled here and the town grew to be a thriving community and the gateway to the Negev. Although Mitzpe Ramon is in the desert it enjoys relatively cool weather thanks to the winds which blow in across the crater to the elevated town. Mitzpe Ramon even experiences snow several times a year. In recent years the area has become a center for organic farming, homemade food products, spiritual retreats and natural living. A visit to Mitzpe Ramon offers a completely fresh and unique experience unlike anything you could experience in any other part of Israel.
Getting to Mitzpe Ramon
If arriving from Tel Aviv take the #40 highway south to Mitzpe Ramon; the town is about 85 km south of Be’er Sheva. If setting out in Tel Aviv you can take #660 and from Jerusalem bus #470. Trains travel from Tel Aviv arriving in Be’er Sheva and from there you can continue on to Mitzpe Ramon by bus #65 or #64. Driving from Tel Aviv to Mitzpe Ramon will take you about 1.15 hours and the bus or train and bus combo will take you 1.15-3 hours. Once in Mitzpe Ramon you can explore the town on foot or by car and take organized excursions into the desert.
Mitzpe Ramon Accommodation
There are about six hotels in Mitzpe Ramon including the famous Beresheet Hotel, a luxury hotel of the Isrotel chain which overlooks the crater. Each room has views of the crater and there are spa treatments on offer as well as gourmet food. Chez Eugene is a recommended chic boutique hotel and there is also the Ramon Suites Hotel and Ramon Inn. In the surrounding areas there are many B&Bs and small inns as well as camp grounds. Try the ibex Unique Desert Inn or Khan Be’erotayim for a desert experience. Budget accommodation can be found at the Green Backpackers Hostel, Mitzpe Ramon Hostel or the basic Succah in the Desert.
Mitzpe Ramon Eateries
The region is known for its organic farms and traditionally edible products like honey, wine, cheese, yogurt and olive oil. Among the top rated restaurants in Mitzpe Ramon there is Hahavit (the Barrel) a bar/restaurant with standard pub food; Beresheet Dairy Restaurant in the Beresheet Hotel has stunning views and Hakatze serves hearty Israeli food in simple surroundings. At Hadassar Natural Living Restaurant you can enjoy locally sourced, organic, vegetarian fare in bohemian-style surroundings. Other dining options are the generic Café Neto, an Israeli coffee house chain and fine dining at Chez Eugene.
Attractions in Mitzpe Ramon & the Negev
1. Ramon Crater and Makhtesh Ramon Visitor Center
The crater (makhtesh) is 38 km long, 6 km wide and 450 meters deep; this natural wonder looks like something out of a space odyssey. At the Makhtesh Visitor Center you can get a bird’s eye view across the crater and learn about the history, facts and figures of the site. To really experience the crater take one of the themed excursions by jeep or on foot into the heart of the makhtesh.
2. Ein Avdat National Park
Nestled in the Zin Valley this national park centers on the Ein Avdat Spring which flows to a beautiful 8 meter high waterfall and pours into a pool below. The water attracts local wildlife and allows vegetation and trees to grow around the oasis. There are several streams in the park and hike trails through the canyon and along the water’s edge. If you like this attraction you should also visit Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea.
3. Alpaca Farm
This fun attraction is home to a herd of alpacas and lamas; the farm also offers accommodation and light meals. A visit includes feeding the alpacas and getting an informative talk from one of the guides.
4. Nabatean Avdat Acropolis
The ancient Nabatean civilization set up rest points along the spice route which ran from the Arabian peninsula north to Syria and the Mediterranean. The remains of some of these Nabatean cities include the khan or roadside motel where they had a wine cellar and mud brick structures. Another Nabatean site in the area is the Ramalia Cisterns, huge wells which were dug out by the ancient civilization to preserve water.
5. Desert Jeep Tour
A desert jeep excursion is the perfect way to discover the crater and the surrounding desert. The thrill of bumping and jumping over rough terrain in unforgettable. Jeep tours can take you to nearby Zin Valley or into the crater and you can see stunning scenery, camels grazing, local Bedouin and shepherds herding their goats. Many of the tours combine the jeep trip with a stop for coffee in the desert, a dip in a desert spring or to show you geological wonders.
6. Mitzpe Ramon “north”
The old industrial zone of Mitzpe Ramon has been gentrified and turned into a hub of boutique specialty stores and places of entertainment. Check out the bakeries, restaurants, craft workshops, Mitzpe Ramon Jazz Club and Faran cosmetics factory where the products are inspired by the natural surroundings.
Rappelling or abseiling down the cliffs of the Ramon Crater is a once in a lifetime experience – not just because of the actual activity but also because of the unique location and views as you descend. Several companies in Mitzpe Ramon lead visitors to the edge of the cliff (literally). You don’t need any prior experience, just the guts to hang yourself over the side of a cliff on a rope!
From Mitzpe Ramon you can take a stargazing excursion into the desert where there is very little artificial light from cities and the wide open sky can be seen unhindered by skyscrapers or city pollution. Ira and Pam Machefsky run Astronomy Israel; they take visitors to the rim of the crater and set up telescopes, provide a warm blanket and explain the night sky with enthusiasm and humor.
9. Rota Winery
North of Kibbutz Revivim on route #222 is this organic winery where there are wine and cheese tasting as well as tours of the farm. Erez Rota is an artist who used to live in Tel Aviv before moving south and establishing his farm. His metal sculptured art installations can be seen scattered across the farm.
10. Neve Midbar
This mineral water health spa features natural thermal bath waters. It is located off route #222 and offers use of the pools plus the option for spa treatments at an additional fee. Visitors can enjoy the coffee bar and cafe.
11. Neot Smadar Goat Farm
Here you can get a picnic basket filled with the delicious locally produced cheeses and yogurts made using milk from the 150 strong herd of goats. At the farm there is a café and store where you can by the goat milk products. The store also sells organic products produced on the kibbutz.
12. Bedouin Tent Experience
Visit a real Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert. Visitors can join the Bedouins of the Negev for some dates and black coffee and have the opportunity to see how Bedouin live. Some of the Bedouin offer tours into the desert where they explain about the foraging of food in the harsh surroundings and about the plants they use for traditional medicine. There are Bedouin tent experiences which include a meal, entertainment and even an overnight stay in the tent.