Mitzpe Ramon - A must visit in the Israeli desert
I'll start by saying I don't tend to travel too much in my own country but COVID-19 has changed the circumstances and I'm certainly happy about it. The visit to Ramon crater was really jaw-dropping and due to some similarities between the 2, it reminded me of experiences I had in Yellowstone national park mostly because of its remoteness and uniqueness.
Mitzpe Ramon is a small Israeli town (population: ~5000) located halfway between Tel-Aviv and Eilat, meaning it's a 2-2.5 hour drive from either cities.
The main attraction of the area is the Ramon Crater (or "Makhtesh Ramon") which is a unique geologic phenomenon that can only be found in the Negev Israeli desert and the Sinai peninsula. In the Israeli part there are 2 more such craters but Ramon crater is the largest of them.
?How was the Ramon crater created
Some 70 million years ago the Negev ridges protruded above a shallow sea. The hard limestone ridges were eroded thus exposing the soft sandstone layers underlying them. About 15 million years ago, the Arava valley developed, as part of the Syrian-African rift, east of the Negev ridges, and powerful streams began to erode the soft sandstone, sweeping it toward the deepening Arava.
The erosion left behind deep basins at the mountaintops, surrounded by layers of hard limestone. These are the Negev's craters.
How to get to Mitzpe Ramon?
Getting to Mitzpe Ramon is fairly easy with a car.
From Tel Aviv you drive ~2.5 hours south, while on the way, you pass through Ein Ovdat (another beautiful stop) and the Ben Gurion's Tomb national park (Ben Gurion is Israel's founding father).
From Eilat – you just drive ~2 hours north on road #40 until you get to the town.
If you're planning on spending a few days in Eilat this can be a nice short stop on the way or it can serve as nature break from the beach days spent in Eilat.
The town has an open mall with local and international fast food chains such as McDonalds, Aroma, Pizza Hut and more.
What to do in Mitzpe Ramon?
I would like to divide the things to do in the area to 2: viewing points of the crater and activities inside the crater.
The first time you'll probably see the crater is from the visitor center area. That's indeed a great spot and together with the round shaped building makes a perfect start for the "crater experience".
From there I suggest to start walking along the boardwalk southwest, where you'll see several worthy points to stop at. The first thing you'll see will be the Lookout porch which is an open balcony that's hung above the crater.
Continue walking and you'll come across a half-faced sculpture which is a bit weird but I'm not judging 😉 . All the time the crater is to your left and provides great views. The next site is the Marble plates along the "infinity pool" which provides a clean view of the crater.
Best places to see the sunset & sunrise
But the place to see the sunset would be from Camel mountain which can already be seen from the the marbles but you can also get there by car from within the city. The name derives from tis shape which clearly resemebles a camel.
For sunrise I suggest to visit the Sculpture garden (behind the gas station) which is a collection of stone sculptures made by artists from around the world, lying on the cliffs of the crater.
This is also the place where Dennis Lloyd filmed his clip of "Alien"!
Makhtesh Ramon hiking
Most trails start deep within the crater itself so you'll need to drive in. This is not bad at all, since you get to enjoy this beautiful road which unfortunately has no places to stop at (this picture is from a lookout right before the descent begins), so drive slowly.
Right after the descent you'll see on your right hand side the Carpentry. It's a site where magma rock was heated so much and then a sharp cooldown created these rectangular and hexagons shapes.
Right after that you can stop at "Stone wind water" site where you can see some of the variety of colorful sands the crater has to offer.
The instructions to most hiking trails start from Khan Be'erot which is big campsite in the crater. There are 2 ways to get there: the one which most people will tell you is by driving a 5k dirt road but the alternative is driving on a paved scenic road which is amazing so I don't even know what's there to think about… It's called Ramon Colors National Park.
Along the road there are several places to stop for a rest, a short walk, enjoying the view, see different sand colors etc. I would allow at least 2 hours to enjoy this road.
Wadi Ardon and Harut hill ("Cone" hill)
This is my favorite hike! It has great "value for money" 🙂 . It's an easy one, about 4k, with a short climb to a hill that gives a 360 view of the area! It's also a circular trail meaning you don't have to go back the same way you came (although you can).
Another trail in the same area more or less is the Nekarot horseshoe where you'll walk on the river bed and reach a place where the trail narrows down and passes through a nice canyon where water did its magic and carved some shapes and holes.
These were just 2 examples if you have a short time and want to work too hard 🙂 . There are many more trails in the area and this is a great site for more information.
The desert is a great place to watch the stars since there's very low light-pollution meaning on a clear night you can see thousands of stars!
If you're staying in town, a nice place to watch the stars from will be the Sculpture garden, or actually, the way there! There's a paved walkway that is illuminated with green little dots that's really cool 🙂 .
If you're into camping and staying in the Khan Be'erot campsite, they just some cool "couches" which are meant for stargazing and feel really comfortable.
Speaking of starts, turns out that Makhtesh Ramon is so unique that it was chosen as a test site for landing on Mars! They say "it offers a wide range of sand and rocky surfaces", yeah I certainly echo that!
Besides hiking, there's a plenty of things to do!
You can rent a bike, go on a jeep tour, visit alpaca farm and many more.
If you have the time, I would recommend a stay of 3 days to get the hang of it. However if your schedule is tight, you can enjoy it even on a short visit.