Wüste – isn’t that this inhospitable place where you want the people you want to be gone forever? Isn’t there a void there that is merely filled with evidence of impermanence? Isn’t the desert a space without a future, a still life, memento mori? Someone who asks like this has never been to the desert.
There are two desert zones on earth. Once in the south at the height of Australia and in the north between the 25th and 35th parallel. Europeans who want to experience the desert will find the closest one in Israel: the Negev.
It covers about 60 percent of the country – too much for the Israelis to simply hide the area. Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, already closely linked the country’s fate with the Negev: If Israel does not learn to use the desert, it will not survive.
Indeed, the Israelis have gone to great lengths to make the area fertile. Israel is now one of the leading nations when it comes to agriculture in the desert. There are around 2000 greenhouses in the Negev.
As a tourist destination, the Negev has only been on the radar of the responsible ministry since the beginning of last year. The Negev has its charms. Even if you can no longer travel there this year due to Corona, the plans for the coming year have to be made after all. Five reasons why the Negev is worth visiting:
Hiking in the spectacular Negev countryside
It’s really not an exaggeration: the Israel National Trail is one of the most beautiful long-distance hiking trails in the world. From the border with Lebanon in the north down to Eilat in the south, it stretches for a good 1000 kilometers and offers a spectacular landscape including top panoramas.
Many sections of the route can be reached by public transport, luggage deliveries from A to B are also possible, so you don’t have to forego all comfort. Cell phone reception is mandatory everywhere in the desert.
If you are lucky, you can observe animals such as eagles, foxes, wolves, hyenas (larger than the African variant), Nubian ibex, porcupines, badgers, jackals or even scorpions, which can be best seen at night using a black light. But be careful, many of them are extremely poisonous! Much more often, however, one meets sheep and camels.
If you come across a flock of sheep on a hike through the desert, you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the herding dogs. Not that these are snappy. But they quickly identify you as part of the herd they must hold together under all circumstances, which is why they find it difficult to accept if you intend to continue on your own path. With loud barking, you are repeatedly asked to line up – and these guys can be pretty persistent.
As for the camels, they are perfectly adapted to the conditions. An animal can carry a load of up to 400 kilos and can do without water for six days. Owning camels is still part of the Bedouin tradition – animals no longer have any real practical use. In the past, they were used as pack animals and to have milk and meat if necessary.
Today they are sent into the desert and collected again after days. This has a decisive advantage for hikers: Camels always look for the most comfortable and safest way over the stony ground, so their paths are safe and easy to hike.
Every hiker should ideally carry five liters a day with them. You can spend the night in desert camps. For a hut with a mattress, a wood stove and a sleeping bag, you pay just under 90 euros a night. Breakfast and a ride on a camel are included. But it remains unforgettable when you go to the washbasin in the bathhouse in the morning to brush your teeth and look not into a bathroom mirror, but through a large round opening in the wall into the never-ending desert.
A tour by jeep in the Maktesh crater
This natural spectacle is only found in the Negev and Sinai. The Maktesh Ramon is the largest crater of its kind, 40 kilometers long and between two and ten kilometers wide. The best way to explore it is on a tour with a jeep, then you can see most of these bizarre rock formations, layers and structures. And the sunsets there are incomparable.
When you get out, you should be aware that you are walking on 200 million year old soil. Why it is like that? The crater was created by the erosion of sedimentary rock. There used to be an ocean there and it washed up a lot of sand.
Over the course of time, a harder layer of limestone has formed over this layer of sand, with the folding of the ground, mountains emerged, the part of which protruding above the water surface was slowly eroded by the ocean. This exposed the sandstone again.
After the ocean disappeared, rains continuously washed away this sandstone until a crater was formed. The important thing is that the water only found one exit to drain; if there were two, you would have been dealing with a canyon. Fun fact: there are even leopards in this area.
Sandboarding on the temptation dunes
About halfway between Beersheba and Mizpeh Ramon are the dunes of temptation. The 43-year-old Dror Bamidbar runs a small sandboarding station here. By the way, snowboarding comes from sandboarding and not the other way around, he says. However, this can hardly be verified.
If you want to zoom down the dunes here on the sandboard, you can choose between three slopes of different difficulty. Regardless of where you ride: The best thing is to stand sideways and with your legs slightly apart on the board, which, unlike a snowboard, has no binding, but only a slightly roughened surface, and then turn your upper body in the direction of travel.
If you are not an experienced snowboarder, you should hold on to the back of the so-called tail with your right hand and stretch your left hand forward into the air to correct your balance, which automatically assumes a lower and safer riding position – and if in doubt, falls softer.
Two hours of sandboarding is an effective workout for the legs, as there is of course no lift here. You have to work independently to have fun every time (drorbamidbar.co.il).
Cycling in the desert is a challenge
You can also cross the country by mountain bike, at least in theory. Of the 1,100 kilometers of the Israel Biking Trail, however, only a few hundred kilometers are passable. 27 stages are planned, often parallel to the National Trail.
You should have a basic athletic constitution, a good physical condition and a certain driving ability if you want to explore the Negev from the saddle. Because the routes are mostly off-road and sometimes quite demanding.
Mountain bikes including helmets can be rented on site. When it rains you should refrain from cycling and hiking: “Flash floods”, lightning-like masses of water, surprise unsuspecting tourists again and again. You have to be especially careful when touring in dry river beds. (Information about the routes: desert-bikeair.co.il, israel-trail.com)
Diving with dolphins in Eilat
Right at the bottom, where the desert borders the Gulf of Aqaba, lies Eilat, a city that has been taken out of a retort: Hotels like Playmobil castles next to fairy-tale castles from the Arabian Nights and sober functional buildings.
Here is the “Dolphin Reef”, an extraordinary resort that attracts people all over the world. Above the water level, a beautiful complex with bars and lounges with a view of the Jordanian coast, where Akaba’s white houses glow in the sun. A wide jetty leads out onto the water.
But the highlight is a different one: Here is one of the few places on earth where you can dive with wild dolphins, touching is prohibited, of course. The animals can swim in the open sea at any time. However, they have got used to the people who have become part of their lives, and if you’re lucky, they grace you with their closeness and curiosity on a dive.
Five times a day you can snorkel in small groups with supervision or go into the water with an oxygen bottle, even without a diving license. There are 20 minutes in another world that you won’t soon forget (more info: new.goisrael.com).
Participation in the trip was supported by the Israel Ministry of Tourism. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.
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