It’s spring, which means there’s no better time than now to head down south and grab some Negev sun before it gets too hot.
And here’s the thing about Israel’s hottest — pun intended — pioneering frontier; there’re plenty of options for both adults and kids, whether you head down for one day or more.
If you’re staying overnight, choose your accommodations from a wide array of options. There is the five-star, luxe surroundings of Mitzpe Ramon’s Beresheet spa, and the comfortable mid-range Pundak (also owned by Isrotel). Then there’s the spotlessly clean, simpler accommodations of the Mitzpe Ramon Field School overlooking the crater (with ibex wandering around in the morning to the delight of all) and a host of individually owned tzimmers and B&Bs — with a special thumbs-up for the family-friendly Mashabei Sade, a kibbutz hotel north of Mitzpe on Route 40.
Once you’ve decided where to lay your head at night, take a look at our list of where to go and what to do. There are those who want to hike the crater all day, but there’s a host of activities, events and side trips that will broaden your view of Israel’s southern region.
1) Make some sand art. Grab a few empty water bottles — empty soda water bottles offer an even more attractive finished product — and some spoons, and head into the crater from the town of Mitzpe Ramon. The first turnoff from Route 225 has a parking lot and a short path that descends to a large area filled with mounds of colored sands — deep reds, golden yellow, salmony peach, cool tans and pearly whites — found in the nearby cliffs and hills of the crater. On cool days, the lot is often filled with families and small children squatting in the sands, carefully filling their bottles or sliding down the nearby hills. Not to worry; there’s room for everyone. HaMakhtesh HaGadol (The Big Crater), at the edge of Route 225 that crosses the crater.
2) Find a winery, and, some hummus. There’s more than a few good choices in this neck of the woods, including the Sde Boker Winery (where you can also visit the Ben-Gurions’ graves, and grab a cup of coffee after too many sips of wine), Carmey Avdat (which includes a mini-museum at the winery), Kadesh Barnea (a family-owned winery right on the border with Egypt, a story in itself) and Rota Farm, which also can offer lunch to visitors, if ordered in advance. For beer and a great plate of hummus, head to 40 Tlalim, a pub, music space and hummusiya at Tlalim, where the hummus is thick, creamy and served with a dollop of fresh, spicy s’hug. 40 Tlalim, Tlalim, Route 40.
3) Slalom down a sand dune. Dror Ben-Or, one of the region’s many residents who relocated from the center, offers sandboarding, snowboard and sled-like rides down a set of 30-meter-high sand dunes off Route 211. The ride is short but glorious, and includes barefoot treks up the hill, feet sinking happily into the cool depths of the soft, burnt umber sands. Ben-Or also offers jeep rides and vegan meals, catered by his wife, and sets up a comfortable tent, replete with Turkish coffee, cake and water for guests. He can accommodate up to 100 people, from ages two and up. Dror BaMidbar, Jeep Tours with a Personal Touch, 057-789-2251.
4) Head out on a night safari. Tour guide and wolf expert Haim Berger loads passengers into one of his Range Rovers, equipped with oversized flashlights and walkie-talkies, and heads out for a nighttime drive around the fields and groves of Sde Boker, looking for local wildlife. In the wintertime, that search yielded a wolf spider, its eyes glinting across 100 meters of an empty field; several wolves and jackals wandering around a vineyard; and a barn owl hooting in the early night air. The kids were fascinated, and, for that matter, so were the adults. Haim Berger, 054-534-3797, Sde Boker.
5) Explore your inner archaeologist and hunt up some ancient etchings of people, animals and crude tools, sketched on the clusters of dark rocks that dot the surrounding hills and fields of the Negev. One good spot is off Route 40, at the left turnoff for the Carmey Avdat Farm. Turn onto the rocky road and take it all the way up the hill, past the farm, until there’s a turnoff on the left toward Mizpor Lipa Gal, a platform with engraved maps of the area and clusters of dark rocks below offering ample ancient etching discoveries.