Visit Negev Desert, Israel
A large semi-desert region stretching across southern Israel, the Negev feels remote and untouched. It reaches north from the Red Sea in a series of arid, rocky mountains, wadis (dry riverbeds) and sand dunes. Hiking and 4x4 trips reveal a wilder side of Israel, while a visit some of the Nabataean sites that survive here offers a glimpse into life in times past. The Negev was also the home of Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, and you can visit his home, now a museum and grave, on the Sde Boker kibbutz.
Most visitors to the Negev come here to experience its raw wilderness: a vast expanse of golden-brown hills and mountains with little vegetation or wildlife. A highlight of many trips is Makhtesh Ramon, a geological erosion depression of which there are only a handful of known examples in the world. Measuring almost 40 km (25 miles) long, 6 km (3.7 miles) wide and 450 m (1,476 ft) deep, the ‘crater’, or makhtesh as, per the technical term, is by far the largest of its kind and has been nicknamed the ‘Grand Canyon of Israel’.
The makhtesh is part of Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve, and the area offers hiking trails of varying difficulties, wonderful star gazing and 4x4 tours. You can even try your hand at rappelling down the side of the crater. The layers of multihued sandstone, volcanic rocks and obvious fossils make it an engaging destination, and you can find out more about its formation on a specialist led tour of the region.
To the north is the Sde Boker kibbutz, the retirement home of Israeli politician David Ben-Gurion. His story is an important part of the State of Israel narrative, and his modest desert home now serves as a museum, telling his life story and with it, the story of the foundation of Israel.
The surrounding desert was once a rich Nabatean state with cities here serving as stops on the route from Petra to the Mediterranean and along the Incense Trade Route, a network of trading roads linking the Mediterranean to Arabia, India and beyond. The well-preserved city of Avdat has a Roman bathhouse, 4th-century churches, a Byzantine wine press and a series of catacombs to explore.
Further north, Shivta is one of the most scenic Nabataean remains in the Negev. Founded during the early Roman period, its remains include Byzantine churches, houses and an irrigation system.
Best time to visit Negev Desert
With little rainfall and pleasant temperatures for most of the year, the Negev makes a good year-round destination. February to May and October to December are the best times to visit for outdoor activities. By July and August, highs average a sweltering 36C (97F) and make the early morning and late evening the only comfortable times to explore.