When we had an opportunity for a day off for all the family, we headed south for some desert scenery, flavours and wildlife.
I love the desert. Actually, I should probably refine that. I love the Israeli desert. I haven’t been in enough other deserts to compare.
Growing up in the UK, there were not really any opportunities to get to know desert scenery other than from TV. And because most deserts that I had seen on TV were of the Saharan variety, with huge sand dunes and not much else, I thought that’s what deserts were.
But it turns out that a lot of desert is not like that at all. Israel has two deserts, the Judean Desert in the east, the Negev in the south. And you’ll be hard pressed to find sand dunes in either. They do exist in the Negev, but you have to look pretty hard for them.
So instead, you have a rocky landscape, and a lot of it is spectacular, the results of millions of years of shifts in local tectonic plates and erosion from flash floods and other geological processes. It’s easy to disappear on hikes into this scenery where you won’t see another soul for hours and can enjoy the sound of absolute silence — apart from your own footsteps.
With tourism drying up, I hadn’t been to the desert for over a year, and my daughter had never been at all. I was excited to share this new landscape with her. Hiking with a 3 year old is challenging, so I opted to plan a day that she would love in and around Mitzpe Ramon.
Perched on the edge of the stunning Ramon Crater, Mitzpe Ramon is a small town that was originally founded with the idea that people would stay overnight on a drive to/from the Red Sea resort town of Eilat at Israel’s southernmost tip. That doesn’t happen so much these days (and I’m not sure it ever did), particularly as the most direct and quickest road to Eilat now bypasses the town, but there are a few fun things to do to grab the attention of passing tourists (and also one of Israel’s most luxurious hotels — Beresheet).
First things first though. On arrival, we wanted to get some food, and made a stop at Lasha Bakery. It’s a place with an interesting backstory, founded by someone who left the city to follow their passion in the desert, and everything we tried was absolutely delicious.
Bellies filled, we headed off to the local alpaca farm. Alpacas are native to South America, not the Middle East, but the owners of this farm have been tending them here for years. Our daughter loved feeding the alpacas and also seeing the other animals on the farm.
Next, we headed down into the Ramon Crater itself. This type of crater is technically known as a makhtesh and is only found in Israel, the Sinai and I believe one or two in North Africa. The Ramon Crater is the largest, at 40km (25 miles) in length. These craters weren’t formed by meteor impacts, but by complex geological processes over millions of years. One of the by-products is lots and lots of beautifully coloured sands.
The crater is a nature reserve and you can’t just wander around taking the sand, but there is a specific area where it is allowed. Note: come prepared with your own bottle/jar and spoon/spade. We went around the different colours of sand and added different layers to our bottle. It was a huge hit with our daughter and a lovely souvenir to take home.
It was time to scope out more wildlife. One of the most beautiful animals that can be found in the desert is the nubian ibex. And there’s normally a few of them hanging around Mitzpe Ramon. It’s not a big place, and after driving for a little while, we found some. We passed a good amount of time just observing these graceful, nimble creatures.
For a final stop, we popped over to the Hai Ramon nature reserve. This little park contained a host of small desert creatures and critters and a nice movie about the surprisingly large amount of animals that do live in the desert. It’s not a place that you’d spend a huge amount of time in, but again our daughter loved it, and many of the animals were very cute. Nearby is the Ramon Visitors Centre, which was closed because of the current restrictions, but is well worth a visit when open.
It was time to head home. I was thrilled to have got back into the desert scenery, and a super time was had by all. A fabulous day out all round.