To the south of Israel expands the Negev desert, which occupies 62% of the country and is a challenge for residents when it comes to building communities. In recent years, several initiatives have emerged here from the hand of pioneers who have chosen to live in the desert, start new businesses and promote unpopulated areas. Its objective is to offer another alternative to the typical tourism that is done in Jerusalem.
Through a large crater in jeep
They call it the Israeli Grand Canyon. In the heart of the Negev, in Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve is the largest crater in the world resulting from erosion. With 40 kilometers long and 9 wide, and shaped like a heart, it is a window into our geological past. From above, in the visitor center, the spectacular views are overwhelming. A magical place where fantastic shapes are created on its cliffs, even more breathtaking when traveling in an off-road car (negevland.co.il/en). Alen, the driver of the jeep, shows us the different levels of erosion, landscapes of volcanic rock and multicolored sandstone, giant wadi (or dry riverbeds) and areas where you think you are on Mars. Another more adventurous option is the one offered by Desert Ride (arava-atv.co.il): enter the area in tomcar, a car with shock absorbers capable of going up and down all kinds of slopes. Proven: laughter and tension in equal parts. In this enclave it is also worth making a stop at Khan Be’erot, a camping Bedouin among palm trees.
The Government of Israel begins to open its borders on May 23. Tourists who are vaccinated and travel in a group will be able to enter the country. In this first phase, visitors must undergo a PCR before taking the flight and undergo a serological test upon arrival at Tel Aviv airport (gov.il/en/departments/ministry_of_tourism).
A good starting point for the tourist in the Negev is the visitor center of the Arava region (vidor-center.co.il), a window to the agriculture that is most characteristic of the area. After viewing a 3-D movie, Yonatan explains the advanced farming methods and climatic challenges they face in the desert. Born to Argentine parents, he decided to start from scratch in an area where 4,000 people live. Account that they export 60% of those vegetables that grow in the sand to Europe in less than 48 hours. Its objective is to educate the new generations and promote contact with nature. So does Michal, a member of the collective Ben HaShitin Farm from which they are organized tours in which the visitor is an active part of the process. From the field to the table: the tourist collects the vegetables from the garden and cooks them outside. We are guided by Dan, an Israeli soldier who confesses his enthusiasm for learning about renewable energy and helping to conserve the environment. It is comforting to see the desert flourish before our eyes.
A very special viticulture
Lovers of good wines can be in for a surprise in the Negev. Eran, aged 51, decided in 2014 to plant vineyards in the middle of the desert, 800 meters above sea level. Came from Nana Estate Winery it comes solely from grapes grown in this arid environment. It took him three years to get a permit, as these lands belong to the Government. In fact, shots are sometimes heard from a military shooting range. When he arrived, he says, there was nothing and everything seemed to be against him: the strong sun (32 degrees during the day, which drops to 16 at night), the salty groundwater and the wild donkeys devastating the crops. Half of the grapes, which he picks by hand, he keeps and the other half is sold to wineries. Its brand is not distributed in supermarkets and controls the process from collection to bottling. He discovered that the Negev is a unique place to grow grapes, apples, olives … Eran created a new landscape: in summer, the green of the vines breaks the brownish monochrome of the desert.
A farm to stay at
They boast of being pioneers of agrotourism in the area. Gadi and Lea Nahimov, an Argentine couple with six children, always wanted to live on a farm. In 2003 they began to build their dream and eventually raised up to 250 goats to make their own cheese. So a visit to Naot Farm It involves a varied tasting and also staying in one of its little houses, with capacity for up to 15 people and spectacular views of a valley. The homes have all kinds of amenities, as well as an outdoor terrace with hammocks, barbecue and natural pool. Another cheaper option on the same land are circular cabins, made of cement, which are lined up in the middle of the farm and include shared showers made of the same material. Whether in a chalet or in one of these rooms, silence at night is assured.
In addition to riding a dromedary or watching the sunset from Camel Mountain – where the geological form of the rock looks like a camel – several sculptures of these animals greet us at the entrance of Avdat National Park. Perched atop a hill are the remains of a Nabatean city, and the visitor can wander through the ruins of a monastery, a Roman cave, and the fortress. This enclave became popular because Norman Jewison shot here in 1973 part of the film Jesus Christ Superstar. Another walk to let your imagination fly is the one proposed by the artists’ neighborhood in the Zuqim settlement. The jewelry designer Lola Kedem serves as a guide to visit some of the 24 workshops in which different artists create and sell their products. After living seven years in Ibiza, he decided to settle here a decade ago. He bought the land and his studio was built. Others built their homes. Now they form a community of 150 artists in which color and creativity prevail.
Glamping and other nightly luxuries
It overwhelms the absolute silence of the Negev and even more under the starry sky. The twinkling stars are mesmerizing. The Bateva company it places the adventurers in an inhospitable area in the middle of nowhere, sitting on chairs. It’s cold at night, so better bundle up. The guide’s anecdotes and questions about astronomy break the silence, and the calm and comforting encounter ends by taking a look at the sky with a telescope. You can continue the experience in a tent in which to sleep with the celestial vault as a roof, without sacrificing comfort. The call glamping (camping luxury) of Deep Desert Israel it is the most desert-chic that can be found; with open shower to see the sky, hammocks around the fire and jacuzzi. If you prefer a hotel, the best value for money is the ibex, whose owners indulge in hearty home cooking, grilled vegetables, lentil or eggplant cream, rice with chickpeas or vegetable omelette with hummus. And for those who want to pamper themselves, two options: Mashabim, with 78 rustic rooms with lawns, sports facilities and an indoor pool, and Beresheet, on a cliff overlooking Makhtesh Ramon, spa and outdoor pool.