Mitzpe Ramon

Mitzpe Ramon (Hebrew מצפה רמון), despite being a small town in the remote Negev of Israel, has managed to become a lodestone for travellers seeking to enjoy the peace of the desert, far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. On the one hand it is distant from any population center and offers magnificent views of the Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon מכתש רמון), while on the other it's got a variety of lodgings ranging from luxury hotels to desert tents, as well as various eco-tourism options, new-age style activities and numerous trails for hikers, bike riders and Jeep drivers. It's about an hour's drive south of Beer Sheva.

Inside the town

Understand

Founded in the 1950s as a military outpost and then as a waypoint station for local miners and road workers, Mitzpe evolved into a small town when newly arrived Moroccan immigrants were unceremoniously placed there and told that they would "be living an hour and half from Tel Aviv." Over time, various other groups, such as strains of the 1990s Russian immigration, have also been placed in Mitzpe Ramon.

The town remains small and somewhat struggling, although in the 2000s a variety of new age hippies and eco entrepreneurs have succeeded in turning the ailing town into something of a hip eco leave-the-city-behind destination. At the same time, there continues to be dissonance between some of the town's original residents and the more recent arrivals.

Today, Mitzpe acts as a stopping point for travellers going from the North of Israel to Eilat as well as catering to soldiers stationed at the nearby military bases. The town has also developed into a unique eco-tourist destination as it boasts the highest air quality in Israel and a series of breathtaking landscapes. Mitzpe also provides a haven for various kinds of performance artists, new-age healers, desert enthusiasts and the like.

The town's name, literally meaning "Ramon Lookout", refers of course to the Ramon crater stretching beneath it. The crater's name, in turn, derives from the Roman caravans passing through it on the Incense Route.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 12.7 13.7 16.9 23.0 26.8 29.3 30.7 30.6 28.6 24.9 19.3 14.8
Nightly lows (°C) 5.9 5.9 7.7 11.8 14.7 16.8 18.4 18.5 17.2 15.2 11.4 7.8
Precipitation (mm) 18.9 14.7 12.0 4.9 1.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 4.6 6.5 13.7

Click here for detailed forecast. In the drop-down list, choose Mitzpe Ramon.

The Israeli Negev is hot and dry, especially in the summer. However, the Negev Highland – whose southern edge is Mitzpe Ramon – has occasional cool breezes that make the weather more bearable, although this is less common inside the crater. Additionally, the low humidity is a big advantage of these areas, making them feel sometimes no hotter than central Israel.

Rains are few in the area and occur only during winter. However, when they do, they can create flash floods in some of the streams, so travellers should be wary of them. The rest of the time, no water flows in the streams, and there aren't any natural sources of water inside the crater. The only exception is the Saharonim spring, and even there, the water doesn't show above the ground, and only feeds a single, large moonseed shrub.

Additionally, almost every year there's a little snow in Mitzpe Ramon, though usually not enough to actually pile up. This is a huge attraction for the locals and sometimes even for visitors from the rest of Israel, a country with only few snows that don't always spread beyond Mount Hermon in the far north, and even that only at the peak of winter. As a rule of thumb, snow usually falls at Mitzpe Ramon only when it also snows in the Galilee mountains, and only if the storm clouds also spread to the central Negev.

Makhtesh Ramon

Inside the Makhtesh Ramon crater

Makhtesh Ramon is one of the only seven Erosion Craters in the world – the others also being in the Israeli Negev as well as Sinai – and the largest of them at that. The formation of such craters begins with layering of rocks, with the bottom layer being soft (sandstone, in this case) and the topmost hard (limestone). Later, tectonic movements create ripples in the landscape, forming mountainous crests separated by valleys. The mountaintops, covered in hard limestone, are eroded away in time, revealing the soft rock beneath. Rainwater gradually washes the sandstone away, creating valleys that break out through the tough perimeter of the crest. In this process, the mountain is gradually emptied from within, leaving only the cliffs on its sides (made of hard limestone) while its entire content has been washed away.

The sandstone inside the crater displays in some regions in beautiful colors. Additionally, the formation of the crater has unearthed some more ancient volcanic rocks in some places, creating dark, sharp hills that stand in beautiful contrast with the surrounding soft, yellowish ground. Also, the Ramon Mountain at the western edge of the crater, being 1033m above sea level, is the highest point in the Negev.

Flora and fauna in the area is of the common species of the Israeli deserts. Animals include many ibexes (who frequent the town edges looking for food) and rock hyraxes, as well as the more rare foxes, jackals, wolves and hyenas. Some larger wildlife include the Asian and African wild asses; a very small number of leopards used to live in the area, but they have not been sighted in years. Several types of ravens are fairly common, as well as Tristram's starling (an invasive species that came from the Judaean Desert). More rare birds include a few types of vultures, found mainly in the northern cliffs.

Plants in the area are mostly limited to small shrubs such as saltbush and capparis. Thorn trees (acacia) can be found in the main streams, where water flows during rains. In the small ravines where garbage drains from the town and quarries, invasive species such as the tree tobacco have taken root.

The visitor center has exhibitions with detailed explanations of the geology and flora of the area, while the nearby Bio Ramon holds some individuals of the local wildlife species.

Get in

Descent into the crater by car

By car

Highway 40 passes through Mitzpe Ramon on its way from Beer Sheva (about 1.5 hours away) to Eilat (2 hr). The road goes down from the southern edge of town into the crater itself.

The western part of the crater, including Mount Ramon and the Lotz cisterns, can be reached by route 171 that splits off west from highway 40 on HaRukhot junction, about 5 km north of Mitzpe Ramon.

By bus

By foot, bicycle or Jeep

See map below.

All the following trails go through army firing zones. Entry is allowed only on Saturdays or when coordinated in advance except for all parts of the Israel National Trail (INT), which is accessible at all times.

Get around

The town is best covered by foot, car or bike. The long distance buses that come through make a small circuit round the town, so it's also possible to use them. Taxis are virtually non existent. However, crossing the entire town by foot takes no more than 30 minutes.

Within the crater, your choices are: slowly and painstakingly on foot, bone-jarringly by 4×4, or, oddly enough, by llama hired out from the Alpaca Farm. Consult the Do section below and the Guided Tours subsection.

See

Do

Crater view from Shen Ramon

In the town

Iron-age house, excavated near the visitor center

Special events

In the wild

Map of popular hiking destinations in the crater. The road to (5) The Observatory also leads to the Field School, Alpaca farm and Silent Arrow desert lodging.

The Ramon Crater is an amazing place to go hiking. It offers many one-day hikes and some multiple-day hikes. Other forms of wilderness travelling are also common, such as Jeep rides and bicycle trips.

Before starting a hike, you should go to the visitor center in Mitzpe Ramon and inform a ranger about your hike and route. Do review the regulations and recommendations regarding hiking and backpacking in Israel, and keep in mind the crater and most surrounding area are a nature reserve, and therefore you must use only marked trails and permitted campgrounds (most of which are free-of-charge). Consult the nearby Field School for travel information.

Lookout points

Lookout points at the town itself and the nearby Mount Gamal were mentioned above. Other recommended viewpoints on the surrounding cliffs are:

Additional points of interest

Basalt slabs at The Carpentry

Trails

On the Nekarot Stream hiking trail

Also see above – Get In by foot, bicycle or Jeep.

Guided tours

In the ammonite wall

Buy

Eat and Drink

Sleep

Inns

Crater landscape

Hotels

Camping sites

Guesthouses, tents, farms and B&B

Tent in one of the farms

Connect

The phone area code for Mitzpe Ramon (and the entire Negev) is 08. This means that, when dialing from a local phone to any number starting with +972 8, it's enough to dial the following 7 digits, omitting the country code 972 and area code 8. When dialing from elsewhere in Israel to Mitzpe Ramon, omit the country code 972 and dial 08 instead of just the last 7 digits. When dialing to numbers in any other area code, just replace the "+972" with "0"; for example, to call +972 50 1234567 (a cell phone number) from inside Israel, call 050 1234567. Of course, if you're using a mobile phone you can just dial the number exactly as it appears within our guides and complete with the "+972".

Connecting in Mitzpe Ramon shouldn't be much of a problem as it is a modern town with all the necessary communications infrastructure. There's cellular reception everywhere, and phone lines and internet connection are available. In some restaurants and hotels there'll be free or paid Wi-Fi or computers for surfing.

In surrounding farms which offer accommodation, there may not be telephone lines but only cellular reception.

Inside the crater and surrounding wilderness area, reception could be hard to come by. As a rule of thumb, most places which are in sight range of Mitzpe Ramon will have reception (though this is not always the case), and those there aren't – won't. Naturally, there won't be any internet access points in these areas, besides cellular data connection (which may be unstable).

Stay safe

Although the Israeli wilderness isn't particularly out to kill you, there are several safety guidelines which should be adhered to inside the crater:

Temple at Avdat

Go next

Some destinations midway between Mitzpe Ramon and Beer Sheva include:

Routes through Mitzpe Ramon

Beer Sheva Sde Boker  N  S  Eilat


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 20, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.