Guide for Makhtesh Ramon:
Makhtesh Ramon is a large crater 40 km in diameter in the Negev Desert, in the southern part of Israel. So, what is the difference between a "crater" and a "Makhtesh"?
- Crater – An approximately circular depression in the ground usually caused by volcanic activity, impact or explosion.
- Makhtesh – A geological formation similar to a crater created by erosion.
The word "Makhtesh" is the Hebrew word for a Mortar and pestle. The geological relief received its name due to its resemblance to a grinding bowl.
There are only seven of these craters in the world, five of them located in the Land of Israel and two in the Sinai Desert, near the Egypt-Israel border. Of the five located in Israel, two are small near the summit of Mount Arif. Those in the Sinia desert are also small.
This leaves us with the three main Makhteshim (craters) in Israel:
- Makhtesh Hazera (also called "small" Makhtesh) is 7 km long, 5 km wide and more than 500 m deep.
- Makhtesh Hatira (also called "Great" Makhtesh) is 14 km long, 6 km wide and about 400 m deep.
- Makhtesh Ramon: The biggest makhtesh in the world. More than 40 km long, 10 km wide and about 400 m deep.
The term "Makhtesh" has been adopted internationally, and geological dictionaries use it when referring to phenomena.
How was "Maktesh" created?
The area was made up of a harder top layer of rocks that covered softer rocks beneath them. Over millions of years, erosion removed the softest layer under the hardest rock, until it finally collapsed under its own weight, creating the sump-like valley we see today. This radical collapse of the land created a unique "Geological Museum".
Arriving at Makhtesh Ramon
The crater is located near the small desert town of Mitspe Ramon (population 5,000), about 2.5 hours' drive from Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem. It is also served very well with public transport. However, exploring the crater without a car is limited, so a rental car is highly recommended.
Lodging in and around Makhtesh Ramon
There is a wide variety of accommodation options in the city (Mitspe Ramon). You can pamper yourself in one of the most luxurious hotels in the country, the Bereshit Hotel. In addition to luxury, you will have a fantastic view of Makhtesh directly from your private balcony. Across the spectrum, several hostels offer modest private rooms and dorms. In addition, you can find many options in between. If you want to be closer to nature, you can sleep in Camp Beerot located in the heart of the crater (the only accommodation option inside the crater). You can sleep there in your own tent, but also in modest huts and cabins.
Food and Gastronomy
Mitspe Ramon is a small, sleepy town. But it does offer a decent selection of restaurants ranging from street food to a higher level. There are also a few bars and a supermarket.
Tip – Treat yourself to an authentic Bedouin dinner in the nearby village of Arica. (Watch video)
What to see and do?
Ramon Visitors Center
Go here first, as it will give you a good introduction and understanding of what you are going to explore!
At the edge of the crater cliff is the visitor center, a must-see station before visiting the area. The center includes observation of a panoramic window, dynamic interactive display and a 3D model of Makhtesh. The second half of the center is dedicated to the history of Ilan Ramon (The first Israeli astronaut). Ilan was one of seven crew members of the Columbia space shuttle that disintegrated upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. On February 1, 2003. The fact that Ilan's surname was Ramon led to the idea of putting this little museum here. It is recommended to book in advance. Phone: + 972-8-6216859
Makhtesh Ramon is a walker's paradise, with a wide variety of hiking trails at all levels. If you are looking for shorter hikes, there is a good selection in this Makhtesh Ramon's Guidebook. If you want a more difficult walk, the classic is climb to the summit of Mount Ardon. Alternatively, you can pick up a hiking map from the visitor center and plan your own hike. Free consultation on hiking trails is available at Field School and Beerot Campground.
If you don't like to walk or don't have a lot of time, a jeep tour in Maktesh is highly recommended. Several excellent local guides are offering this service. Tours are usually offered for a full day or half a day.
- Makhtesh is large, and the jeep tour will allow you to visit many other places in a short time (compared to hiking).
- Many sites cannot be reached by a passenger car, but you can visit them with the jeep.
- You can combine the tour with one or two short walks.
The nights in the Negev desert are dark and light, with minimal light pollution. This makes them an excellent location for Star Gazing. Several local guides offer this activity. They will take you to a dark area with a good telescope and lots of knowledge and stories.
If you like one of these, Makhtesh Ramon is a perfect arena for doing so. The natural setting is like a large LunaPark, and there are many professional local suppliers offering activities:
- ATV tours.
- Mountain bike.
- Camel rides.
Main attractions to visit with a passenger car:
Avdat is the site of a ruined Nabataean city in the Negev desert, about 20 kilometers north of Mitspe Ramon. It was the most important city along the ancient Incense Route, after Petra. It was founded in the 3rd century BC and inhabited by Nabataeans, Romans and Byzantines. Avdat was a seasonal camp site for Nabataean caravans traveling along the ancient Gaza-Petra road during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. Avdat was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.
The impressive ruins are spread out on the flat summit of a steep hill and include discoveries from three different eras:
- Nabataean: warehouse, temple, a military camp.
- Roman: caves, altar, watchtower.
- Byzantine: Citadel, main street, houses, water supply systems, changing room.
Further reading: Wikipedia
Ramon Colors Road
In the past, nature conservation was not common in Israel. A large quarry was operating within the Makhtesh. A few years ago, the Nature and Parks Authority rehabilitated the abandoned mining area and turned it into an open geological museum, displaying a variety of colorful rocks and fascinating geological phenomena.
- Colorful sands and rocks from the Jurassic era
- Old mining equipment.
- Small winter lake at the open mine site.
The "Minsara" (Carpentry), is a small hill in the Ramon Crater, 5 minutes by car from Mitspe Ramon. The hill is covered by sandstone columns with flat surfaces that look like wooden boards cut in a carpentry shop. Most of them have 4-6 faces, some leaving the ground at a right angle, while others spread out over the slope.
How was "Carpentry" formed?
The hot magma that penetrated from the depths of the earth melted the sandstone. The rock expanded and, after cooling, shrunk and cracked, creating the rock prisms scattered here.
A group of 17 man-made water wells, dug during King Solomon's period (10th century BC). Today, 3000 years later, they are still filled with water each winter. The view of the water in the desert is always pleasant, and there is an easy circular trail of 4 km that passes through the cisterns.
Sculpture Park is located on the edge of Crater Ramon, near the entrance to Mitzpe Ramon. Spread over a large area, sculptures are built with huge rocks. Some are musical sculptures, including metal swings filled with gravel, which make noise when swinging, a "Gong" complex with large bells and a wind chime device. The park merges beautifully with the desert landscape, on the edge of the crater cliff.
The Spice Quarter
In recent years, the sleepy desert city Mitspe Ramon has started to attract artists and other spiritual characters from the bustling cities of central Israel. The small industrial area in the north of the city has become what is now called the "Bairro das Especerias". The area has become a place for artists, creators, artisans and dreamers. It is a nice place to stroll and have a drink or something.
Sunset and sunrise
The sunrise or sunset over Makhtesh Ramon is breathtaking. The sky and the earth are painted in magical red tones. The recommended points are the observation balcony near the visitor center or the Parque das Esculturas. If you feel more energetic, take a hike on the scenic trail that starts at the visitor's center and heads west following the rim of the crater. The path is about 3 kilometers long, flat and easy to follow. It ends at the Camel Mountain lookout, on the outskirts of Mitzpe Ramon.