One fascinating thing about Israel is that it hosts about every type of landscape in a country roughly the size of New Jersey. The southern part of Israel is home to a vast desert known as the Negev. Actually, this desert covers more than half of the country (13,000 square km/4,700 square miles), so it wouldn’t be a complete trip to Israel without paying it a visit!
Biking the Desert
We decided the best way to experience the desert was to bike it. We rented bicycles with GeoFun, just a 2 hour drive from Tel Aviv and located right on Zin Valley. There are a bunch of hiking trails in the area that take you in or around the gorge. We spent just a couple hours on an easy path for novice off-road bikers and were treated to spectacular views of the valley! As untrained bikers, we felt it safest to stay out of the valley itself, but for the daredevils out there, there are paths you can take to get a closer look inside! The English-speaking bike pros at Geofun are happy to help you plan your own trail ride tailored to your skills and time-allotment.
Another quintessential activity in the Middle Eastern desert is to go for a camel ride! As we were planning our trip, I was begging Craig like a child to let me go ride a camel. He caved and surprised me by booking a ride with The Negev Camel Ranch. Just a half hour drive from the bike rental place, this ranch is a sanctuary to fat, happy camels.
I was surprised to learn that camels are extremely intelligent animals and can learn hundreds of commands from their trainers. Unlike a horse ride, camel riding requires literally no skill by the rider. The camels are tethered together in a caravan and the leader camel directs the pack under the instruction of the trainer. But with their intelligence comes a bit of stubbornness, as these ladies would often defy orders to grab at another bite of leafy vegetation as we strolled along the fertile winter desert. While the camels were snacking, we took time to enjoy the serenity of our surroundings and snap hundreds of photos of these majestic creatures.
Other Desert Options
Another popular destination to visit in the desert is the Ramon Crater. There are several organized excursions you can take to explore and learn about the crater (even some that include sandboarding on the dunes!), and I hear it is beautiful, but we just couldn’t do everything. For our visit, we stuck to the northern part of the desert so we could easily fit the most into our day trip and not have to hire a pricey Jeep tour for just two people (we would be paying for about 4 empty seats because the companies we researched rent tours by the Jeep and not per person). It was either that or risking getting lost in the crater if we navigated it ourselves. I’m brave, but I don’t have a death wish!
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the desert. There may have been some popped tires along the way, but I was filled with amazement at how life and beauty survive in such harsh places. The Negev Desert is definitely a must-see when you travel to Israel.
Have you ever been to the Negev? What about Ramon Crater? What did I miss??? Was it amazing?!? I’d love to hear from you in the comments 🙂