When you stand on the edge of Mitzpe Ramon – a little desert town deep in the Negev desert – it feels you are on the edge of the world. Stretched out in front of you, there is nothing but miles and miles of desert moon landscape. It is so serene, the first time I stood there it took my breath away. This 40km wide and 2km long crater is the world’s biggest erosion crater – unbelievable that this seemingly desolate desert landscape once was an ocean filled with life! If you are visiting Israel and you are planning to spend some time in the desert, make sure Mitzpe Ramon is on your list. Just look at the photo below, isn’t that worth the drive south?
About three hours south of Tel Aviv lies Mitzpe Ramon, from where you can explore the makhtesh (crater in Hebrew). This little desert town was created to build the road to Eilat in the 1950’s, but has become a bohemian hub since then, like many desert towns in Israel. The town itself is not exactly a tourist attraction, but from there are all the activities into the crater. Because the drive to Tel Aviv is quite long, I do not recommend driving here for a day trip. On the way itself you will find many interesting viewpoints and sights you would most likely want to do a stopover, so it is quite impossible to do it all in one day. Mitzpe Ramon is also the astronomical hotspot of Israel with the least air pollution, at night there are stargazing tours available that are well worth staying for. Moreover, the sunset and sunrise over the crater is a once in a lifetime magical experience!
Getting to Mitzpe Ramon
By far the most comfortable way to get there is by car. Not that public transport is uncomfortable, but by bus you do not have the liberty to pull over and enjoy the scenery on the way south. If you are driving, I definitely recommend you to stop for a bite at the Kornmehl farm. This is an organic goat farm with a restaurant where they serve homemade delicious dishes, all made from goat cheese. You will also pass by the famous canyon of Ein Avdat, about which you can also find a blog on this site. I recommend you to visit the Ein Avdat viewpoint (higher entrance) right after Sde Boker – this is a little walk from the car (you have to pay entrance fee though) and you will have a magnificent view on the canyon.
If you cannot get there by car, the bus is a very good alternative. From Beer Sheva, the main hub in the Negev desert, busses to Mitzpe Ramon run regularly and are comfortable. It will drop you off right in the middle of town, from where you can easily walk to where you are staying. From Tel Aviv, the whole journey will take you approximately 3,5 hours.
Where to stay
What I really like about Mitzpe Ramon is that though it is a little town, there is a place to sleep for all kinds of travelers, from high end to eco lodgings underneath the stars. By far the most special place to stay is the famous Beresheet Hotel that lies right on the edge of the crater. It is from the Isrotel exclusive collection and is Israel’s most famous hotel; with its infinity pool overlooking the crater it is now a world-renowned hotel. The desert inspired décor is impeccable, the food is delicious, and your stay will truly be a five-star experience. Prices don’t come cheap though and the hotel is sold out most nights of the week, so in advance booking is a must. There is a cheaper Isrotel in town also, the Ramon Inn, with very reasonable prices and we found this a very comfortable option!
Mitzpe Ramon is also filled with Airbnb apartments, with several of them right on the edge of the crater. From there, you not even have the best views, but you are located right at the start of hiking trails and all the tourist attractions are at your doorstep. We found the prices very reasonable, this definitely is a good option if you prefer not to stay in a hotel.
For the travelers more on a budget, there is an amazing hostel on the edge of the crater called the Green Backpackers Hostel. It is cozy, clean and very comfortable. The atmosphere is great, and the crowd mostly consists of hikers. Another low budget option is the Silent Arrow Lodge. Also located on the edge of the crater, though a bit further out of town. This is an eco-lodge, with lots of character, great prices, clean and comfortable beds and a friendly vibe!
What to do
First of all, if you stay overnight, I highly recommend you to go outside at night and look up to the sky. On a clear night, the milky way and countless stars are more visible than anywhere in Israel. To be honest, more visible than at most places I’ve visited in the world. If you truly want a special experience, do a stargazing tour with Astronomy Israel, an astronomer who organizes an evening in the desert with telescopes, where he explains you all you want to know about our amazing galaxy!
In the town itself there are a few attractions that we’ve tried and recommend. First of all, there is a desert sculpture park on the left of the Beresheet hotel with very beautiful sculptures spread out on a hiking trail at the edge of the crater. It is not only very photogenic, it is usually very quiet and a perfect place to soak up the wide views. You can easily walk there from the roundabout when you pas the gas station on the main street. Another sight you cannot miss is the most obvious one. the visitor’s center with boulevard that walks you along the edge of the crater towards the Camel Hill. This camel shaped viewpoint is the highest point from where you watch the crater and is perfect to watch the sunset. Keep in mind though, that this is a very popular sunset spot, so it can get crowded. For a more local experience, visit the Spice quarter at the entrance of the town. This is the old industrial area of town, but ever since the road to Eilat finished and industry slowly disappeared, it became the bohemian hub of town with little boutiques, cafes and bed and breakfasts. It is a nice little area to walk around and chat with the locals.
Obviously, the biggest attraction is the crater and there are many ways to explore it. From Mitzpe Ramon, the main road leads you inside the crater from where you have viewpoints and many different hiking trails. They are all well marked, though it is important to know that inside the crater there are no gas stations or any facilities. For many kilometers you will not be able to get any food or water, so always bring supplies! In the summer it gets really HOT and there is barely any shade. From the edge of the crater in Mitzpe Ramon, there is a great hiking trail leading you down from the end of the ‘boulevard’, when you walk the boulevard from the visitor’s center you cannot miss it. Another great way to explore the crater is by jeep. Deep Desert tours in Mitzpe Ramon organizes jeep tours and even – for those looking for a bird perspective – helicopter tours.
Overall, I recommend you to spend one or two nights in Mitzpe Ramon, depending on how much sightseeing in the crater you are planning.