Considered to be the gateway to the desert, the Negev Region comprises more than 60% of Israel’s landmass. Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Sinai Desert, the Moab Mountains, and the Judean Desert, the Negev possesses a wealth of natural facets and resources, including stark mountains, cratered canyons, hidden wadis, and sand dunes. While it seems an unlikely holiday destination, it remains incredibly popular among tourists as well as natives.
The home of Israel’s first prime minister
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, made his home in the Negev, promoting the settlement of this region, which is defined by the small quantities of rain that fall here. His vision was underscored by prophecy:
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
Isaiah 35:1-2 (NIV)
Fast forward to present day, the Negev now blossoms with the renowned Ben Gurion University, agricultural advancements, vibrantly colored flowers and red anemones, and a developing tourism industry, making it possible and popular to explore by Jeep, ATVs, bicycles, camel, horseback, motorcycles, or on foot.
What to see in the Negev
The Negev offers a captivating range of ancient highways, excavated fortresses, springs, and the ruins of agricultural compounds. Shivta, an ancient city in the Negev along the famous Nabatean Spice Route, is considered to be a Byzantine agricultural colony and way station for pilgrims journeying to Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
The majestic and imposing table-like fortress of Masada is one of the Negev’s most notable and frequently visited destinations. Emblematic of the heroism of the Jewish people, it is a can’t-miss site. Masada became the last stronghold of Jewish zealots who were besieged by Romans during the Great Revolt in 73 BC. Today, visitors can hike the imposing “Snake Path” to the top or take a cable car and take in the magnificent sunrise which reflects off the serene Dead Sea below.
The Bedouin Experience
Visitors can get a taste of what biblical desert living was like when they encounter the Bedouin, the traditionally nomadic Arab tribes living in the Negev region. Existing similarly to Abraham’s lifestyle 4,000 years ago, the Bedouin engage in herding, farming, and sometimes fishing. They also earn their income by transporting goods and people across the desert. The Bedouin are also renowned for their hospitality, offering curious tourists an unforgettable experience sleeping under the stars, enjoying their cuisine, and riding camels! Encampments have not changed much since Abraham dwelled in the desert and welcomed his three honored guests to his tent.
Starting at the impressive visitors’ center overlook, tourists can learn about the crater’s beginnings and take in the staggering view of one of these unique formations, found only in the Negev and Sinai deserts. The more adventurous can explore the crater with a certified tour guide.
The Negev Region is also home to Timna National Park, a horseshoe-shaped valley just north of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. Renowned for Solomon’s Pillars, its unusual sandstone formations which resemble sculptures, the park is also home to the world’s oldest copper mine at Mount Timna. There is also an expansive lake as well as a bounty of hiking trails.
Considered by many to be one of the most significant biblical landmarks, the beautiful Mount Karkom is believed by some scholars to be the site of Mount Sinai, the hallowed place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Located in the western part of the Negev, Mount Karkom stands nearly 3,000 feet high at its plateau and is surrounded by deep ravines and a five-mile-long trail.
Wherever you go in the Negev, rest assured you are in complete safety. In the event of an emergency, there are rescue units always close by to offer medical assistance.
Whether you are hiking Masada or lying under a desert sky, the Negev has plenty to offer to anyone looking to explore a different side of Israel!
Find out what it is like to have an unforgettable Negev experience on your next trip to Israel!
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