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Israel has plenty more to offer visitors in addition to its dreamy beaches, lively nightlife and fascinating religious sites. It also has desert, lots of desert, packed with wildlife, craters, natural springs, and remarkable ancient structures, just waiting to be explored.
Desert tourism is booming in Israel. Budget airlines such as Rynair and Wizz Air have started running flights to Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat, in the Negev desert. Demand is so high that a new airport is being built to cope with the traffic. Moreover, plenty of affordable accommodation – something Israel is not great at – is now available in the desert, with kibbutzim, tour operators and local residents recognizing the opportunities presented by the increasing number of visitors.
Adrenaline junkies can get their fix from this classic desert activity in the Negev, thanks to Tourist Israel. They are one of the most reputable Israeli tour companies, featured in publications including The Guardian, New York Times, and Easyjet Magazine. Although mainly a rock desert, there is one area with steep, sweeping sand dunes perfect for gliding down at speed with a sandboard. Ideal for thrill seeking families (even suitable for the little ones), this activity can be included as part of a wider jeep tour of the region. The spot itself lies between Beer Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon, around 30 minutes by car from both.
Starting from the Sde Boker area, 20 minutes north of Mitzpe Ramon, this tour, also with Tourist Israel, is perfect for those who love nature and the outdoors. Led by an animal behaviour expert, you’ll explore the wondrous desert landscape and its abundant wildlife from the safety of a 4×4 vehicle. Animals you may encounter include wolves, hyenas, desert foxes, porcupines, ibexes, bats, owls and, if you’re very lucky, one of the few remaining Arabian leopards.
The Judean Desert lies east of Jerusalem and descends to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. A rock desert characterized by numerous wadis (valleys), ravines, and remarkable historical sites, exploring this area is a must for any trip to the Holy Land. From ancient Christian monasteries built into cliffs such as Mar Saba, (which incredibly has 20 monks living there today, making its one of the world’s oldest monasteries still inhabited), to the stunning Wadi Qelt nature reserve which also contains the world’s oldest synagogue, Abraham Tours has got you covered.
Mitzpe Ramon is a small town that is home to one of Israel’s most remarkable landscapes: the majestic Makhtesh Ramon/Ramon Crater. Often described as Israel’s version of the Grand Canyon, the Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve is the largest protected area in the country, offering visitors activities such as hiking, cycling, horse-riding, and abseiling. A sunrise jeep tour and camping under the stars (this is probably the best stargazing spot in Israel) should be top of your agenda. Deep Desert Israel is a recommended tour company for exploring this spectacular site.
Located 25km from Eilat, Timna Park is one of the main attractions in southern Israel. It is an area of majestic natural beauty, epitomized by Solomon’s Pillars: towering columns of sandstone that have formed spectacular shapes. Here you can also explore the copper mines beneath the park’s surface, which historians believe are the first mines ever built on earth. Activities such as hiking, zip lining, off-road driving and mountain biking are available, as are sunset and night guided tours. There is also a lake and plenty of wildlife, making Timna Park the ideal destination for those seeking adventure and stunning nature in the Israeli desert.
Timna Park is open from 08:00 to 16:00 September to June, and 08:00 to 13:00 in July and August.