- Be'er Sheva – the Biblical city of Abraham and de facto capital of the Negev
- Arad – modern town on the edge of the Negev and convenient starting point for trips to the Judaean Desert and the Dead Sea
- Dimona – the third largest city in the Negev
- Eilat – the southern-most Israeli city, located on the Red Sea coast, a major centre for domestic and international tourism
- Mitzpe Ramon – a small town overlooking the Makhtesh Ramon, the largest erosional crater on earth, with various hikes around the area
- Netivot – small city, home (and now gravesite) of the Baba Sali, a famous rabbi
- Ofakim – established as a regional center for the rural communities in the area
- Rahat – the largest Bedouin settlement in Israel, and the only one to have the status of city
- Sderot – small city, known for its contribution to the Israeli music scene, and for the rockets that hit it from nearby Gaza
- Avdat – the largest ancient Nabataean city in the Negev, now a National Park
- Ein Avdat – spectacular and beautiful desert oasis in a canyon, accessed by trails, and preserved as a National Park
- Ein Gedi – Oasis in the desert, inside the Negev but more part of the Dead Sea
- Neot Semadar – a Kibbutz in the south, famous for its and winery
- Sde Boker – a large Kibbutz north of Mitzpe Ramon on Route 40, starting point for many surrounding trips to places like Avdat and Ein Avdat, includes the "Field School of the Negev" hostel and a tourist information center, which advises on trails and tours in the area
- Yerucham – small town located near the Large Crater
The least populated area in Israel, the Negev is a home to (among others) the nomadic desert people known as the Bedouin. It offers some truly breathtaking scenery and is home to some fascinating sites and places.
The Negev is the southern region of Israel, covering 55 % of the state's territory and inhabited by some 379,000 Jews and 175,000 Bedouins (nomadic desert Arabs). Contrary to the usual view of a "desert", most of the Negev is not covered with sand. Rather, it is a melange of brown, rocky, dusty mountains interrupted by wadis (dry riverbeds that bloom briefly after rain) and deep craters. The area was once the floor of a primordial sea, and a sprinkling of marine snail shells still can be found here. Aside from the natural wonders, the Negev plays host to a great number of ancient sites, displaying the rich history of this crossroads of trade between Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Be'er Sheva is served by bus from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Buses to Eilat travel from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Towns and villages throughout the Negev are connected by bus to Be'er Sheva, but service could be infrequent.
If you're flying into Ben Gurion Airport and want to head straight to Eilat, you would better get on a short train ride to Tel Aviv Hagana station and board a bus to Eilat from nearby Tel Aviv central bus station. Advance reservation is available on buses to and from Eilat, and there are also night buses.
There are no laws concerning the number of people allowed on buses, so drivers will often pack the bus as full as possible, and you may end up with a young soldier sitting on the floor next to you, with his large semi-automatic poking you in the leg. It is recommended that you call and book your seat in advance in order to avoid standing for your whole ride. Booking on Egged is also available by internet.
You better avoid the busiest travel times, in particular Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons (when soldiers travel to and from weekend vacation).
Three main highways cross the Negev from north to south:
- The eastern Jordan Valley route (Route <90>), from Jerusalem past the Dead Sea to Eilat.
- The central route (Route <40>), through Be'er Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon, merging with the eastern route near Yotvata.
- The western route (Route <10>), running along the Egyptian border from Gaza Strip to Eilat, built primarily for military purposes and not accessible for private vehicles.
Hitchhiking in the Negev is relatively safe. North of Mitzpe Ramon, and particularly around Be'er Sheva, there is a large Bedouin population. Think twice before riding in a Bedouin car, due to their generally extremely unsafe driving culture and possible questions about their car's legal status. It could be a unique experience though.
- From Be'er Sheva – A good spot for hitchhiking in Be'er Sheva would be the junction in the very south end of Derech Eilat (hwy 406).
- From Mitzpe Ramon – Exit of Mitzpe Ramon is a popular and fast spot towards Eilat.
- Highway 90 – If need to hitchhike your way on the fast 90 highway (Arava Highway) it would be smart enter to one of the small villages or Kibbutz and try to hitchhike from the village's gate. Cars usually drive very fast on the 90 highway and don't notice hitchhikers.
Besides the sites in and around the above mentioned cities, the following are worth mentioning:
2 Small Crater. Contrary to the Ramon and Large Crater, this one can actually be seen by the bare eye at once and might even fit onto a photo frame. Best to be seen from the 1 Observation Point on the western rim. Noticeable are the upwards bended rims of the crater, due to the push from underneath. At the south eastern side, a great opening is visible which was either created from out-floating lava or during time from the rain washing aside this barrier.
3 Halutza. Another Nabatean city, but in a much worse state of preservation.
4 Midreshet Ben Gurion (Midreshet Sde Boker). A large midrasha (educational center) with Institute for Solar Energy Studies, the Ben Gurion Heritage Institute, the tomb of Ben Gurion, Institute for Desert Research, High School for Environmental Education and a pre military Mechinat Hanegev (preparatory program).
5 Kibbutz Revivim (About 25km south of Be'er Sheva). One of the first kibbutzim in the Negev, founded in 1938. In 1947 an international commission visited, and they were so impressed by what they saw that they decided to grant the Negev to Israel in order to "make the desert bloom". Thus, in the 1947 partition plan, the mostly uninhabited Negev was included in the planned borders of the Jewish state. Mitzpeh Revivim, a lookout point with the original kibbutz building, is now a museum worth visiting.
6 Maon Synagogue. Ruins of a Byzantine-period synagogue with a beautiful mosaic floor.
7 Shivta (National Park) (Sobota) (coming west from Tlalim Junction towards Nitsana (road #211), after 19 km at Shivta Junction, turn south for another 9 km). 8 am–3/4/5 pm Friday/winter/summer. An archaeological site with impressive Byzantine remains of a city in the heart of the desert, where usually there are no natural water sources around – astonishing churches, homes and streets. Many interesting details about the site can be found on the park official website. The location is quite remote – a long drive, and the closest bus stop is 5 km away. no admission.
8 Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve (from hwy 90, about 35 km north of Eilat), ☎ , , fax: . 8 am–3/4/5 pm Friday/winter/summer. A drive through to see Asian wild ass, African wild ass, Arabian oryx, gazelles, addax, ostrich, and raptors in cages. Includes a camp ground. ₪28/24/14 adult/student/child (Camping ₪50/40).
9 Red Canyon (Wadi Shani) (in the south near the Egypt border, 35 km north of Eilat). daytime. A canyon that illuminates colourfully during the day and looks like a smaller version of the entrance Siq to Petra, just without the concreted path. It is particularly popular during sunset. Great for hiking close to Eilat, with close-by Mount Neshef, a camp ground and a car park. no admission.
10 Timna Park (National Park) (20 km north of Eilat. If you are on foot, best to hike in at the southern road towards the copper mine, walk around it north along the national bike trail. From the pond and colored sand filling place, walk to the Egyptian engravings and the Solomon pillars. From there up to Mount Timna and down to the north entrance. This trek is 5-6 h from the highway to the highway and could save you the entrance fee – just in case, walk out south around the entrance, or even 100 m south of the entrance along the hill.), ☎ , fax: . 8 am–3/4/5 pm Friday/winter/summer. An archaeological site with antique cooper mines, bizarre sand stone formations, a rebuilt tabernacle, Egyptian engravings and the Solomon Pillars. Has some great spots, sights and hikes. ₪49.
- Close to Ofakim the ruins of the Byzantine Futis (Φώτις) can be found, the place of the antique city 11 Horvat Patish.
- Camel herds, owned by the local Bedouins, can be spotted along the main road before and after the 2 junction one third of the way between Arad and Ein Bokek.
The Negev is full of hiking trails open for the public. Very good and detailed hiking trails maps (in Hebrew) are available in every hiking store in the big cities and in some gas stations (₪90-110). Some areas are defined as national parks and the there is an entrance fee of ₪20-35, these areas have all the information needed including maps and guides. Going for an independent hike is free, safe, and sometimes the view is more impressive than in the national parks.
Ein Saharonim Double Loop (4-5 h, 14-16 km). Starting on the 3 gravel road (12.3 km south of Mitzpe Ramon along route #40), hike towards the 4 Gevanim Night Camp. From the camp follow the gravel road north for about 100 m until you reach the trail that leads east/right towards the 5 Ein Saharonim oasis. Going south from the oasis, just follow the marked trail left around the horse shoe until you have circled it and are back at the oasis. On the way you will see "cave" right underneath a huge rock half way and the 6 Mezad Saharonim (Khan Srnim) ruins just before the oasis. Afterwards going south again 7 before the end of the short oasis, a marked trail lead right/west up to the ridge of 8 Mt. Saharonim. Down from here you will reach the Gevanim Night Camp again (where you might want to stay) and later, along the same gravel road you came in, the highway #40.
- If you start at around 1 pm, you will finish at the Golden Hour and have a marvellous view from the ridge of Mt. Saharonim into the Ramon Crater.
Small Crater to Highway #90 (4-5 h, 16 km). Starting from the Small Crater Campground (see below), you follow the Israel National Trail east down into the crater. Right before the opening of the crater, where the Israel National Trail leads north up the crater again, you follow the marked trail south-east out of the crater. Afterwards follow the marked trail straight and do not follow the step right turn along the rim of the crater. From now on the marked trail will lead you down towards the long way to the highway, inside/besides the river bed. Once the trail will split to lead cars a different way, due to a steep canyon riff. Otherwise always follow the 4WD track and you will 9 end at highway #90
- The other way around is possible as well, but much more exhausting and you will need more water – 5 l are suggested by the park authorities.
- The hike is good if you are able to get dropped off along the road near the campground (there is a sign indicating the Small Crater), and you are planning to start hiking down the next morning.
- This road that goes by near the campground is a small one and hitch-hiking it can be disappointing. Best to try from highway #90, so if you fail, you are not stuck in the middle of nowhere. Also, the drive up the mountain (namely 10 Scorpions’ Ascent) is very scenic.
- See also: Hiking and backpacking in Israel
- See also: Israel National Trail
- See also: Hiking in the Judaean Desert
The society for the protection of the nature (SPNI) runs cheap hostels, information centers and nature schools around the country and in a few place around the Negev Desert. You can call them during office hours to get information about trails, military areas, weather and recommendation about hiking activities. Usually the staff is nice, patient and helpful.
SPNI Eilat, ☎ , e-mail: Eilat_re@spni.org.il.
Note, being in a nature reserve like the Ramon Crater after dark (except for marked campground) can cost you a fine of ₪700.
[dead link]Geofun mountain biking, Midreshet Ben Gurion (in the main commercial centre of the village, next to the supermarket), ☎ . Desert Cycling Center- Specializing in Negev Bike tours. Guided mountain biking and cross country cycling tours in the Negev region, plus cycle shop, repairs and advice. They arrange tours lasting up to a week which can include all food and accommodation, led by a certified mountain biking guide - Asaf Amichai - who has 10 years of experience.
Bedouin hospitality. The Bedouin are Arab nomads who live in the deserts of Israel (and surrounding countries). Until the last few decades they lived a fully nomadic lifestyle, but recently they have mostly settled into towns in the northern Negev region. Visit them to experience their hospitality, cooking, rug weaving, and other aspects of their traditional lifestyle.
Ride a camel. Foreigners often joke about Israelis riding camels everywhere. In fact, not only is Israel a modern country where people use motor vehicles, but camels are not found in much of Israel! However, in rural parts of the Negev, a camel ride can be a fun diversion. You can find camel riding in Sde Boker [dead link], Arad [dead link], Mamshit (near Dimona), Shaharut, and elsewhere.
Sandboarding. Surf down the edge of a Negev sand dune. Located near Shivta national park.
1 Golda Park (Close to Kibbutz Revivim). A park with a lake in the middle of the desert, good for picnics. Named after Golda Meir.
2 Neve Midbar Baths (southeast of Kibbutz Revivim). A modern desert spa facility. Hanging water pipes dump hot spring water on your back with such intensity, it's like shiatsu without the masseuse! Opens till late. ₪45 entrance.
Eat & Drink
Most of the bigger cities and villages have various drink and eat options.
Yotvetah, Kibbutz Yotvata. Out-of-this-world ice cream.
The Negev features many free camp grounds all over the area, especially along major hiking tracks. Consult an app like OSMand or http://openpoimap.org/ to find them. Many are also listed under Mitzpe Ramon.
1 Red Canyon Campground.
2 Borot Lots Campground (near Mount Ramon, north of the main road). Great and quiet place for free camping. Includes a BBQ, star gazing during the night. It even features places with roof, even though not many, so arrive early if you prefer them.
3 Small Crater Campground (on the western crater rim). Great location for a start next day down the crater or for finishing the hike up from the highway/along the Israel National Trail and through the crater. There is an army camp nearby (400 m), where you can get water in urgent cases.
4 Chan HaShayarot (Caravan Inn), Rte. 40, between Sde Boker and Mitspe Ramon, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: Shayarot@netvision.net.il. This traveler's khan (a traditional Middle Eastern inn) consists of a glorious, gigantic and very authentic Bedouin community tent for dinner parties and communal sleeping, plus a group of modern, very simple but bright and clean motel-like private units, for those who may not want to sleep in the tent. The Bedouin tent is an ecological wonder-warm in winter; cool, and catching every possible desert night's breeze in summer. The inn can be a quiet experience of semicamping in the desert, with a simple Bedouin breakfast, lunch, and dinner available; or it might consist of party groups and a Bedouin feast that you can join up with-barbecue, tons of Arabic specialities, plus music and dance. There are central restroom and shower facilities for those who overnight in sleeping bags provided by the Chan in the tent. The Chan also offers a range of activities, including tours with camels and off-road vehicles, mountain biking, and Bedouin entertainment and hospitality day or night. A possible favorite for kids who may be dazzled by the view of the galaxies and falling stars; and a favorite for everyone who will be charmed by the hospitable Bedouin. Call to see what booking conditions will be before making a reservation. ₪450/80/60 double/camping/Bedouin tent + ₪30 for sleeping bag & towel.
Most of the kibbutzim on Highway 90 have guest houses and offer charming rooms, and meals in their common dining rooms.
Nearly all of the Negev is an extremely arid desert that sees rainfall at most a few times a year. While winters can be pleasant, with temperatures hovering around 20°C, summers can be fierce with temperatures commonly over 40°C, but in the afternoon and at night there is a comfortable temperature drop. The climate in the Negev is dry without hardly any humidity. Bring a large amount of water and register your plans at the nearest police station before going offroad for your own safety, as flash floods are likely to happen if rain does fall, and some parts of the Negev serve as the IDF's main training area.
In northern parts of the Negev, car theft is a major problem.
When hiking in the Negev, dehydration can be a major concern, even in winter. Bring at least 1L of water per person per hour of hiking, and drink even if you don't feel thirsty. Wear sunscreen - the sun is very bright, and even if you wear a hat it may reflect off the light-colored rocks and onto your face. Furthermore, the following rules should be followed:
- Military zones Some areas (marked in red on the map) are used as military areas and closed to the public most of the time. However, these areas are sometimes open for hikers during Saturdays and national holidays.
- Winter floods When hiking during the winter (October–April), it is mandatory to check the weather before going on a trail. The winter floods phenomenon during the winter in the Negev and Juda Desert is extremely beautiful but deadly at the same time. It is recommended to call every day to the closet SPNI office and ask for the current floods chances.
- Water and Sun - The most common death reason among hikers in the desert is dehydration. Make sure you have at least 3-4.5 liters of water per person per day. It is not likely to find drinkable water during the trail. If travelling in the summer, try to avoid walking too much in the sun without a rest in the shade (and shade is rare in the desert). It is recommended to have at least 10 minutes shadow-rest every one hour. During the winter, the sun is not that dangerous and the temperatures are more comfortable.
- Camping and sleeping Generally it is allowed to camp anywhere in Israel. If you are hiking in a nature reserve (marked in green in the map) it is allowed to light fire and camp only in certain campsites. Lighting a fire or camping in a restricted area could lead to an expensive fine.
- Dead Sea – the highly saline lake and immediate surroundings forming the lowest point on Earth, and it is very famous with tourists coming to Israel or Jordan
- Judaean Desert – great for hiking, for a small part in Israel and most of it being a part of the West Bank, somewhat overlapping the Dead Sea region
- West Bank – most parts of the Judaean Desert lie within the West Bank, most of which, in turn, is part of the Palestinian territories including destinations like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho and Nablus