What if you were told you had to spend an entire week in a desert? If you’re like a lot of people, your first reaction may be— why? After all, how many rocks and sand dunes can one person see? But those are the thoughts of someone who’s not spent time in a beautiful desert area, filled with unusual natural formations and geological features, nature reserves, bustling cities, historical artifacts, and even theme parks! And you can find all these features in Israel’s Negev desert area.
The Negev Desert
The Bible identifies the Negev desert as being the wilderness in which man first met his Creator–both Abraham and Elijah had monumental encounters here. Many believe this was the region that first gave birth to civilization on the banks of the desert’s surrounding rivers.
In the state of Israel, the Negev covers 55% of its land area and is home to 630,000 people (only a little over 8% of the population). While tourists tend to congregate in the northern portion of Israel, they are missing the opportunity to see over half of what it has to offer! A triangle bordered by the Sinai Peninsula and the Arabah Valley, the Negev is 120 miles long and 70 miles wide. It is divided into five different ecological regions:
- Northern or Mediterranean region
- Western region
- Central region
- High plateau region
- Arabah Valley region
While the Negev is certainly arid country, it also features waterfalls and green oases. In winter, hundreds of species of plants bloom, covering much of the desert floor with color. Tourism is a growing industry here, and you can tour various areas in modes ranging from jeep to camel, as well as biking and hiking.
My Seven Days
While I have visited parts of the Negev on many occasions, this time I made it a point to spend a complete week just knocking around in the desert. I traveled mainly by jeep and all-terrain vehicle, following both old trade routes and new highways. My pace was unhurried, with frequent stops for a little nature photography. In one week, I managed to see numerous historical and cultural landmarks, participate in a variety of recreational activities, and soak up some much-needed quiet and relaxation. I didn’t keep a formal itinerary, but tried to be as spontaneous as possible.
Here are just some highlights of the sights and activities I managed to fit into my one week in the desert:
- A stroll through the Timna Valley Park, home to the world’s oldest copper mines and King Solomon’s Pillars — striking sandstone formations;
- A hot air balloon ride, birdwatching, and a visit to a dolphin reef in Eliat;
- A visit to the Sde Boker kibbutz, just south of Beersheva, former home to David Ben Gurion — his grave site sits in a peaceful courtyard there, overlooking the Zin Valley;
- A stop in Kfar Hanokdim, a shaded oasis, where I sat under authentic Bedouin tents and took an evening camel ride;
- A tour of the Air Force Museum and site of the country’s first Air Force base.
I could easily have spent another week exploring some of the potential side trips I didn’t have time to pursue. I’m thinking about trying the freefall parachuting in Eliat next time — or maybe just some hiking around the deep Ramon Crater.
Whether you want to learn about ancient cultures, enjoy the stark beauty of a desert sunset, or swim in a coral reef, you’ll find much to do in the bountiful Negev Desert.