When you think of Israel, the big cities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv may be the first destinations to spring to mind. If you have a religious background, maybe it’s the biblical towns of Bethlehem or Nazareth. If you love all things aquatic, your mind might go right to the Dead Sea. If you’re a diver, perhaps it’s the Red Sea town of Eilat.
But if you pull out a map, you’ll see the tiny country is dominated by the Negev Desert — it comprises 55% of the land of Israel. With its unofficial tourism center Mitze Ramon an up-and-comer for adrenaline addicts, the Negev Desert is slowly earning pages in local guidebooks. Waving goodbye to Jerusalem, my Vibe Israel crew happily headed deep into the dust for two days of adventures.
Having Lunch in a Bedouin Village
After falling in love with the Bedouin culture and hospitality in Egypt, I was very much looking forward to the opportunity to have lunch with a family of Negev Bedouins, a nomadic Arab tribe in Israel. These tribes have roamed this desert for hundreds of years.
After an insanely dusty drive deep into the sand dunes — intercepted, at one point, by a herd of untethered camels — we arrived at a group of modest, semi-permanent structures. We were warmly welcomed by Salman, the patriarch of the large family that was generously hosting us for lunch.
We made ourselves comfortable and passed the next few hours listening to Salman’s fascinating life story, playing with his kids, and feasting on an endless array of delicious tea, fruit, hummus, and traditional dishes like mansaf and matfuneh.
And perhaps it was because we were so hungry but… it was one of the best meals I ever had and we stuffed ourselves silly.
It was a privilege to have the opportunity to learn about another culture so intimately, while supporting such a great local tourism initiative. And you can do it too! Get in touch with Salman via his Facebook page.
Glamping in the Negev Desert
It should come as no surprise to loyal Alex in Wanderland readers that I love to glamp — I mean, sure, camping is cool too. But I’ve glamped in destinations as diverse as the jungles of Thailand to a Belgian festival, from coastal Peru to rural New York. It’s all the fun of camping without any of the frustrated sobs from not knowing where stakes go!
Our night under the stars of the Israeli desert may have been the moment I was most looking forward to on our Vibe Israel tour. Happy Glamper Israel spoiled us by setting up a row of tents, a campfire and a pillow-strewn lounge area, a pop-up bathroom, and a cute-as-a-button bright yellow kitchen trailer where they prepared us beautiful meals.
Oh, and it wouldn’t be glamping without craft cocktails, no? Sadly, I never really got a taste for arak, the local liquor — but sipping a homemade concoction under the stars was the closest I got.
I rarely do group trips (for various reasons, my schedule being the primary one) and this week would remind me why they can be so incredible. I absolutely loved connecting with the other bloggers, photographers, and media professionals on this adventure.
We talked about industry stuff, of course, but we also talked about the kind of things travelers anywhere talk about — our love lives, or families, wild tales from past adventures, where we dreamed of going next, and, needless to say, our party tricks. (I love asking people what their party trick is. Okay fine, fine, I’ll tell you! Mine is showing off my double jointed shoulders.)
Becky and I were deep in our girl-mance by this stage (the female version of a bromance, of course), and even considered going full hair-braiding sleepover and sharing a tent.
Our hosts thought of everything — we even got our very own bedouin headwraps, which did a pretty good job of hiding the fact that I hadn’t washed my hair in days (fact: it’s a pretty safe bet that at any given time, I haven’t washed my hair in a few days.)
I truly only had one piece of feedback for Happy Glamper, which would be to swap out plastic cups for glass versions. More eco-friendly, and less likely to blow over in the desert winds!
After washing up for a simple but delicious evening meal, we settled in for the evening show — tending the fire and watching the sky fill with stars.
In fact, it was here around this campfire that I first had the inkling that I might love to host a Wander Women retreat in Israel someday, with a night with Happy Glampers a must-do. What do you think? If a Wander Women: Hike + Yoga retreat in the Holy Land might be up your alley someday, holler at me in the comments!
Hiking in Mitze Ramon
No lingering in our sleeping bags here! At 4:30am, our alarms went off in the dark and we shuffled into a jeep driven by the surprisingly cheery Yotam.
Yotam, an expert local hiking guide with on point branding at Desert Nomad, was bringing us to catch sunrise from Ramon Crater, also known as Makhtesh Ramon. The drive was an adventurous one, and I found myself grateful that it was a little dark so I couldn’t see exactly what was happening — not that I doubted Yotam for a second!
Once we reached the top of the crater we hiked, listened to stories of the crater’s creation, watched a cloudy sunrise, and of course, went wild with our cameras.
And, as you do when you are punch drunk with sleep deprivation and trying to make your fabulous new photographer bestie giggle, I performed several cheerleading routines to encourage said sunrise.
I’m going to be honest — I’m not one of those travel bloggers who is up before sunset every morning — but kudos to them because they definitely get the dopest shots. I’m more of a sunset kinda girl. That said, I never do regret the mornings I manage to watch the sun emerge.
(Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was a little dazed by our early morning wake up. Ahem, Rob on the right, cough cough.)
Our trip followed a week in which the Middle East experienced unusually aggressive flooding — a friend from my Egypt tour who was in Jordan at the time had sent me videos of flash flooding in Petra — and so, Yotam told us, we had the rare opportunity to see an oasis in the desert. Of course we had to take it.
Jackson, the adrenaline junkie of our trip, couldn’t resist leaping in — and while I was quite tempted to follow in his footsteps, we were on borrowed time. Keep in mind that Jackson is a very experienced jumper-into-things, and you should always ask a local or check depths before leaping off into any unknown bodies of water.
After a quick trip back to camp for breakfast, it was off to our final desert adventure around Mitze Ramon.
Rappelling in The Ramon Crater
They say to do one thing every day that scares you, right? Well, mine was a no brainer on this particular Friday: rappelling down the cliffs of the Ramon Crater with Deep Desert Israel.
I’m not really afraid of heights, per se, (see, all photos of me taking photos over the edge of the cliff…) but the idea of leaning backwards over a cliff with all my trust in a few fibers holding me to the person at the top was, shall we say, a tad overwhelming. Okay, let’s be real. This could not have been more outside my comfort zone.
But I’ve always been a yes girl, and usually that’s because I say yes to things without actually thinking them through until they are about to happen. Yes, I’d like to go skydiving. Wait I have to JUMP OUT OF A PLANE?! Yes duh I’ll be your wing girl! Ummm hold up this means I have to talk to strangers? Sure I’ll get Lasik. You wanna do WHAT to my cornea?
So of course I was like, yes, definitely, I will go rappelling and I love rappelling. Then we got to the edge of the cliff and I was like, what is rappelling again? I kept pausing to ask really essential questions, like were they sure I didn’t need some kind of additional shoulder harness, for safety?
Needless to say, I was not a yes girl when it came to going first. Mel was the badass who took that honor.
I was actually purely, completely petrified to begin. I had a few moments where I just had to switch the brain off and let the feet takeover, but after a few moments, I was so high on adrenaline I think I could have floated down from the top. And that’s when I noticed the view. Damn.
When I got to the bottom I said to Jackson, who was shooting photos from a nearby crevasse, “Oh yeah I wasn’t scared at all.” He was like, “See? Yeah it was no big deal!” Which is when I realized he thought I was serious which is hilarious because I could NOT HAVE BEEN MORE KIDDING.
Even if you don’t rappel — which you should — you just can’t miss that viewpoint.
In conclusion? I felt a sense of wonder in the Negev Desert, and was impressed with how much there was to do in Mitze Ramon. Lucky for me, I’d be returning to this gorgeous landscape about a week later for Midburn, Israel’s regional Burn!
I love wild, wide open spaces. And this is a magical one.
Up next: Tel Aviv! Are you a desert-lover like me? (For the record, I love desserts, too.)
Many thanks to Vibe Israel for hosting me on this trip.