Makhtesh Ramon (in Hebrew: Ramon Crater) is a geological feature in the Negev desert. This crater is located next to the town of Mitzpe Ramon (Mitzpe in Hebrew means “Observation Point”). The crater is 40 km long, 6 km wide (on average) and 500 meters deep, and together with the surrounding area it forms Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve. And today we are going to visit it. Let’s begin!
Mitzpe Ramon is located in the Negev desert, around 80 km to the south of Beer Sheva. And Mitzpe Ramon is a good point to start exploring Makhtesh Ramon.
Map of the area:
How To Get There?
The most convenient way of getting around in the Negev is by renting a car (check rentalcars.com to see rates). You can get to Mitzpe Ramon by bus, and here is the link to Moovit with preset origin and destination. But, if you want to hike in the Ramon Crater or get to more distant points, then the busses will not be good enough.
Our city break was a spontaneous decision, and hence we started driving in the direction of Mitzpe Ramon only at noon. The drive from Israel’s center area takes 2-2.5 hours (depending on your original location and traffic), and I would recommend making this route during daylight (since most of this road is not illuminated at night).
Where To Stay
My wife, as a bonus for good performance at work, received a coupon for a one night in one of the hotels in Israel. After checking different options, we decided to stay at the family-oriented Ramon Inn hotel (Pundak Ramon). And if you are looking for a place to stay, then you can book an apartment or a hotel/hostel room. And here is a link to booking.com for the Negev area where you can check the availability and prices for both hotels and flats.
Another option is camping.
There are several camping options inside and near Makhtesh Ramon, and Khan Be’erot is probably the most popular one. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority manage Khan Be’erot, and it is the only campsite in Makhtesh Ramon with running water. You can find further details here. Other options include Gvanim Stream Night Camp (free campsite), Ben Midbar Camel Tours besides camel rides also offer tents, Lotz Cisterns campsite (free campsite), and there are several others.
Be’erot Camping Area – at the center of Makhtesh Ramon. The camping area is accessible to all vehicles, and its location allows visitors a convenient departure point for tours. The services provided are accommodation, water, light snacks (meals with prior coordination), toilet facilities and garbage removal. There are a few other camping areas in Makhtesh Ramon where one can sleep overnight, but no other services are provided there. The camping areas are designated to serve visitors and hikers, and simultaneously to reduce the disturbance of the animals’ nocturnal activities by restricting people to defined areas in the Makhtesh during night hours.
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the Makhtesh Ramon – Nature Reserve and Visitors Center’s official site.
Now when you know where to stay let’s talk a little about Mitzpe Ramon and Makhtesh Ramon.
Mitzpe Ramon (lit. Ramon Lookout) is a town in the Negev desert of southern Israel. The name Ramon comes from the Hebrew “Roma’im” meaning Romans. It is situated on the northern ridge at an elevation of 860 meters (2,800 feet) overlooking a sizable erosion cirque known as the Ramon Crater. In 2017 it had a population of 5,240.
Mitzpe Ramon was founded in 1951 as a camp for the workers building Highway 40.
In Events And Festivals By Season post, I have presented data about the weather in Israel. Here is the data that I collected for that post:
As you can see from the table above, there is a small number of rains in the winter. And the temperatures range from 15 to 30 C most of the year. But keep in mind that during winter it might get much colder during the night. Some years even brought snow. Thus, take warm clothes.
Makhtesh Ramon (lit. Ramon Crater) is a geological feature of Israel’s Negev desert. Located at the peak of Mount Negev, some 85 km south of the city of Beersheba, the landform is not an impact crater from a meteor nor a volcanic crater formed by a volcanic eruption, but rather is the world’s largest “erosion cirque” (steephead valley or box canyons). The formation is 40 km long, 2–10 km wide and 500 meters deep, and is shaped like an elongated heart. The only settlement in the area is the small town of Mitzpe Ramon (“Ramon Lookout”) located on the northern edge of the depression. Today the area forms Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve.
Map Of Makhtesh Ramon
On the map, you can see Mitzpe Ramon with road #40, Israeli National trail, viewpoints, and several other attractions. So now is the time to go over the POI in the area.
And here is a more detailed map from the brochure provided at the visitors center.
Things To Do
Let’s start with Mitzpe Ramon and then go to the surrounding area.
Things To Do In Mitzpe Ramon
Here are several ideas of things you can do in Mitzpe Ramon:
Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center
Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center AKA Makhtesh Ramon – Nature Reserve and Visitors Center, is probably one of the most popular attractions of this area. This visitors center tells the story of Makhtesh Ramon and Col. Ilan Ramon. You can find a detailed description below. And at this point, I will only present you with this quote from their site:
Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center – offering an experience that combines the life story of the first Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon with the story of the largest Makhtesh in the world and its unique natural phenomena. The Visitors Center is built on the rim of Makhtesh Ramon, at the edge of Mitspe Ramon, overlooking the Makhtesh scenery and serving as a center for visitors to the Makhtesh.
Bio Ramon / Hay Ramon
Bio Ramon – Living Desert Museum, AKA Hay Ramon is located near the visitors center, and this small wildlife center presents various desert animals. You can find more info here.
Hay Ramon – live desert park. Here is a fascinating encounter with the small animals of the desert, the majority of which hide and are concealed from our eyes. About 40 species are represented on the site, among them: lizards, snakes, turtles, porcupines, hedgehogs, falcons, and sand rats (gerbils) and more. The animals are in enclosures which simulate their natural environment. With the help of the animals, we can learn about their unique habitat and the biological and behavioral adaptations that enable them to live in a desert environment. The purpose of the Hay Ramon is to raise awareness of the preservation of nature. Around the desert park, there is a botanical garden of desert plants, representing six different habitats typical of the Negev with the vegetation characteristic of each one. A shelter for species of endangered plants is presently being established within the park.
- Hiking – there are many hiking options in this area. Mitzpe Ramon is located on the rim of the Makhtesh, and thus allows stunning views of the surrounding area. Moreover, the Israel National trail goes along the border of the Makhtesh. Thus you can hike along the rim. Additionally, there are several nice viewpoints along the route. I will show several photos from there later on in this post.
- Abseiling – near the visitors center, and probably at other points as well, you can experience rappelling.
- A little further from Mitzpe Ramon you can find Alpaca Farm. You can not only see alpacas and lamas but enjoy horseback rides as well.
- Since light pollution is low in this area, many people come here to watch the stars. You can even find Wise Observatory 5 km west of Mitzpe Ramon.
Things To Do In Makhtesh Ramon
So far we looked at Mitzpe Ramon, and not let’s go over things to do in the Makhtesh. So here are several ideas:
Hiking inside Makhtesh Ramon is a common activity. I mentioned above that the Israel National trail goes along the border of the Makhtesh in Mitzpe Ramon area. But it also goes through Makhtesh Ramon. So there are plenty of different routes that either includes a part of the National trail or different POI. Here are the most popular routes:
HaMinsara AKA The Carpentry or The Sawmill allows seeing a unique phenomenon inside Makhtesh Ramon.
HaNagariya (“Carpentry Shop”) – a concentration of prism-shaped stones. The prisms are the result of the “baking” of the sandstone in the high temperatures caused by fiery lava erupting from the depths of the earth. The great heat transformed the rock which, when it cooled, created thousands of polygonal pillars, and these broken pillars form the “Carpentry Shop.”
The Ammonites Wall
Did you know that this whole area used to be underwater? You can take a trail to Ammonite Wall and see the marine mollusks from a close distance.
The Ammonites Wall – at the southern part of the Makhtesh is a rocky wall containing fossils of ammonites – marine creatures which lived millions of years ago in the sea that covered the entire Negev at that time. The Ammonites had eight arms and an exoskeleton. When they died they sank to the sea floor, their exoskeleton filled with sediment which fossilized over time thus preserving the shape of the Ammonites. The fossils are a protected natural phenomenon, and it is forbidden to collect them.
Ein Saharonim And Nahal Nekarot Curve
Ein Saharonim and Nahal Nekarot curve is a lovely 5 km round route suitable for the whole family. You can find additional details here (only in Hebrew).
En Saharonim and Khan Saharonim – built on a hill near the En Saharonim camping area (north-east of the Be’erot camping area) is the Khan Saharonim, which served as a way-station on the Nabatean Incense Route in ancient times. From here one can continue walking along a short trail to En Saharonim, a spring which in winter creates a stream hundreds of meters long (it often dries up in summer). The spring is surrounded by rich vegetation, and the tracks of the many animals which come to benefit from its waters can be observed.
- Givat Harut (Har Geves) and Nahal Ardon is a 3.5 km cyclic route in the area of Khan Be’erot. You can find additional details here (only in Hebrew).
- Mount Ardon (Ras Irdeiha) offers not only stunning views but also a challenging 12 km circular hike. You can find additional details here.
- Lotz Cisterns is an archaeological site not far from Makhtesh Ramon. At Lotz Cisterns 17 ancient water cisterns were found. Out of the 17, 8 are still full of water after winter rains. There is a 4 km round hike that takes you past most of the water cisterns in the area. You can find additional info here.
- Those who prefer cycling will be glad to know there are Bike Trails in Makhtesh Ramon. For example, there is a route from Mitzpe Ramon to Be’erot (see details here). You can also cycle On the Crater’s Rim (see details), The Farms Path, Sculpture Garden (see details) and others.
- Taking a Jeep Tour is also a popular option. Several firms offer Jeep tours inside and near Makhtesh Ramon. Usually, these are three hours, half day or full day tours, and the price starts from 800 NIS per vehicle of eight people. You can find the operators online and contact them for additional details.
Hiking Along The Rim Of Ramon Crater
We checked into Ramon Inn hotel and drove back to the visitors center which was already closed, so we opted for a hike along the edge of the Ramon Crater.
Ramon Crater at sunset:
This route is part of Israel National Trail and offers excellent views of the crater. There are also viewpoints along the way, and here you can see the “balcony viewpoint.”
And this is another viewpoint with the “Camel mountain” at the background.
I was planning to shoot star trails, but it was too cold. I did bring hot clothes but didn’t expect near zero temperature (in February) with freezing winds. Thus I had to cancel my plan. So, if you are planning to shoot stars, and Mitzpe Ramon is one of the best places for this in Israel, or you are just going to stay in this area, expect cold temperatures and bring proper clothing. In some winters it is even snowing at Mitzpe Ramon.
Makhtesh Ramon – Nature Reserve and Visitors Center
Next morning we returned to the same place, but this time for the visitors center.
The Makhteshim, looking like enormous basins opened up among the Negev ranges, are a natural phenomenon which is unique in the world. The 40-km long Makhtesh Ramon is the largest and most impressive, and visitors are provided a glimpse of the magic and secrets of the desert.
Since it was quite chilly, a dozen of Nubian Ibexes lied on the ground and warmed up using the sun rays.
I have seen footage of Nubian Ibex coming to Mitzpe Ramon in search of food. They open garbage cans and eat whatever they find. Anyhow, it is not uncommon to see Nubian Ibexes on the streets of Mitzpe Ramon. So, drive slower than usual.
Here is a photo of Nubian Ibexes warming up, and “balcony viewpoint” at the background.
An important tip regarding parking, though my first instinct is to park in shaded areas, do not park near or under trees. Nubian Ibexes tend to climb on top of cars and use them as a step for reaching the tree’s leaves.
Entrance to the visitors center is by reservation only. Museum entrance closes one hour before the time cited below.
Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 08:00 – 17:00
Friday and holiday eves: 08:00 – 16:00
Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 08:00 – 16:00
Friday and holiday eves: 08:00 – 15:00
Holiday eves: 08:00 – 13:00
Yom Kippur eve: 08:00 – 13:00
Though currently, the official site says that you have to make reservations, when we visited, it was opened during the standard opening hours and reservations was not required.
Adults 28 NIS, children 14 NIS, and Students 24 NIS. And free for National Parks annual subscribers.
If you are going to visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves post.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in April 2019. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
Entrance to Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center:
My previous visit to Makhtesh Ramon Visitors Center was about a decade ago, and since then it was expanded significantly.
Col. Ilan Ramon
An entirely new section in memory of Col. Ilan Ramon was constructed.
Col. Ilan Ramon was Israeli Air Force pilot who became the first Israeli astronaut. He joined the NASA Columbia mission (in 2003). Unfortunately, he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident.
Photo of the Columbia crew:
Ramon is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
From the first floor, where we saw the model of the shuttle, we took a lift to the second floor. There we saw a short movie about Ilan Ramon.
This story becomes even sadder when in 2009 when Assaf, Ilan’s eldest son, died during a routine training flight (he also joined IAF (Israeli Air Force) and was an F-16 pilot).
When the movie ended, the shutters opened and you could see the beauty of Makhtesh Ramon:
What’s the connection between Ilan Ramon and Makhtesh Ramon? Ilan’s original family name was Wolferman. But, when he joined IAF (Israeli Air Force), he changed his last name to Ramon. Many people in those years changed their last names to Hebrew names and Ilan loved the Ramon area, thus the selection.
Next, we moved to an area where the geology of Makhtesh Ramon is explained.
They were formed by a long process lasting millions of years, which included rock sedimentation, folding, and weathering. At first soft layers of land rock sediment, such as sandstone, were formed. After the sea flooded the region, harder marine rock sediments were formed above them, such as limestone. An ancient geological fault caused the rock layers to buckle and fold, creating an anticline while the ocean still covered the region.
The rise of the anticline and retreat of the water caused the anticline to be exposed as an “island” in the sea. The hard upper layers of rock began to erode, revealing the soft layers underneath them. Subsequently, a system of large streams flowing westward left alluvium consisting of pebbles and more sandstone, and at a later stage, the anticline rose again, asymmetrically, inclining eastward to the Arava due to the movement of the Great Rift Valley. The river flowing on the ridge eastward eroded the soft layers of sandstone, and the lift and incline enabled the sand layers at the heart of the anticline to empty quickly, thus creating the Makhtesh: a valley surrounded by tall cliffs, usually drained by a single stream.
Then we saw a short movie explaining the geological process. A video was projected on a 3D model that continually changed its form. Here you can see the explanation of how the crater was drained by two rivers (Nahal Ramon and Nahal Ardon).
Some exhibits allow interaction, like finding Ammonite (see: Ammonite Wall in Ramon Crater). Kids can operate the handles and “excavate” the Ammonite.
Last part of our tour presented a short movie about flora and fauna of the Makhtesh.
We already saw Nubian Ibex next to the visitors center, but there are other species as well. For example Dorcas Gazelle, Arabian Leopard, Wild Ass, predators, and reptiles. And here you can see a family of owls.
Makhtesh Ramon has a broad range of rocks, soil, and climate. All these create a wide variety of conditions and plant biomes in a small geographic area, and enable many animals to find the environment that is best for them. The cliffs of the Makhtesh, its mountainous slopes, the beds of the streams, the springs in the oases and the sandy regions are all unique habitats, each one of them containing different species of reptiles, mammals, and birds. The special conditions in the desert, particularly the lack of water and the extreme temperatures, have forced the animals to develop specific traits with the help of which they manage to survive and multiply. Due to the heavy heat prevailing in the desert during the day, we do not usually meet the animals themselves while walking in reserve, but we can find many signs testifying to their existence and activity
What Animals Can Be Found In Makhtesh Ramon?
Nubian Ibex, Dorcas Gazelle, And Wild Ass
The Nubian Ibex (Capra Nubiana) – a herbivore mammal very well adapted to life on mountains and cliffs. The ibex live in separate male and female herds, and the males have impressive curved horns. When the State of Israel was established, ibex in Israel were a threatened species. However, preservation efforts led to their rehabilitation, and they are presently very common in the Judean and Negev deserts. Due to the success of the efforts to preserve the ibex, Nature and Parks Authority chose that animal as its symbol. Ibex live in the vicinity of human habitation. They are habituated to humans and are not deterred by their proximity. It is important not to feed the ibex, as human food leftovers might be harmful to their health.
The Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella Dorcas) is a herbivore mammal living in herds in desert regions. Due to uncontrolled hunting, the Dorcas gazelle became extinct in the majority of its habitats in the world. In Israel, populations are living in the Arava and the southern Negev.
The Wild Ass – this animal disappeared from Israel at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1982 Asiatic wild asses (Equus hemionus) were released into Makhtesh Ramon, and due to natural increase, and the release of more of these animals, their population has grown, and their numbers are presently estimated at 250-300 individuals living in the Makhtesh Ramon and Borot Lots.
The Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) – a feline predator living a solitary life in a defined territory. In the past, there were leopards in the Negev and the Judean Desert, but in recent decades their numbers have dwindled, mainly because of the reduction and fragmentation of open areas and hostility by humans who felt threatened by them. The leopard population in Israel is presently estimated to consist of a very few individuals who live in the Negev Mountains region.
Predators – some nocturnal canine predators live in the Makhtesh: wolves, foxes, and hyenas. Although there are many differences between them, they are all territorial, living in a clear-cut social structure, dwelling in burrows or dens and preying on other animals. Due to their size, the wolves’ prey animals are larger than those of the foxes. As well as hunting, hyenas also eat carrion, including their bones. They all eat fruit, vegetables and food leftovers from the garbage left by hikers in the wild. The garbage endangers the health of these animals and causes them to get used to unnatural food sources and to the proximity of humans.
Reptiles – a variety of reptilian species live in the Makhtesh: snakes, some of them poisonous, such as Field’s horned viper, the painted carpet viper, and some not, such as the diadem snake and the sand snake. Many lizards, among them Bosc’s fringe-toed lizard, the small-spotted lizard, the striped lizard, and the ocellated skink. Agama lizards living in the Makhtesh include the star lizard, the desert agam, the Sinai agama, famous for changing its color to blue during the breeding season, and the Egyptian mastigure, the largest of Israel’s agama lizards, reaching a length of 75 cm and a weight of 3 kgs. The grey monitor is another interesting reptile living in the Makhtesh. It is the largest of the lizards in Israel, attaining a length of 1-1.5 m. It is diurnal, preys on small animals and hibernates in winter.
The Biblical vulture is one of the largest and most impressive of the raptors in Israel and the whole world. Vultures in Israel, including in the Negev, are almost extinct and even there the population has dwindled, due to various kinds of human activity, including poisoning.
One of the guides showed us a side door. This path leads to the roof. Here is the room where we saw the movie about Ilan Ramon and the crater.
At the top of the roof we found a sundial:
We got off from the roof and decided to make a short stroll next to the Visitors Center. But, this time we went in the other direction, towards the Beresheet Hotel.
Abseiling on the edge of the crater:
You can purchase tickets for abseiling. They were not going down all the way. Instead, they descended only about 20 meters. So this activity is suitable for even younger kids.
The bridge above road #40:
Visitors Center from Beresheet Hotel:
And back to the parking next to the visitors center.
Some call Makhtesh Ramon as the Israeli Grand Canyon. And though this description is not accurate, it sums it up in a concise manner. If you like hiking, cycling in the desert, then I highly recommend visiting this area. Moreover, as you saw in the things to do section, there are many POI, so you can easily spend several days in this area.
Have you ever been to Mitzpe Ramon And Makhtesh Ramon? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!