Into the Negev Part 2: Mitzpe Ramon (Israel’s Best Kept Secret), Masada, And The Dead Sea
So originally Ariel and I were planning a getaway at the Beresheet hotel in the Negev desert of Israel. But then, Jacob got sick on the day of flight and even though he was better, we decided to just take him with us instead of leaving him with his grandparents like we’d planned, or cancelling outright.
The Beresheet hotel is really a very unique place. It was built right into a cliff overlooking the Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater), in the town of Mizpe Ramon (Ramon Overlook). This is a place that is usually overlooked by visitors to Israel, because it is not so convenient to get to. It’s 2+ hours from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and because there are no religious sites nearby, most tours skip it. But this is a mistake, because not only is this one of the most beautiful places in Israel – it’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
The Ramon Crater is not a true crater. It was not formed by an asteroid impact, rather it is just a geologic anomaly most similar to a canyon. In fact, there are four of these “craters” in the general area, which is sometimes referred to as the Israeli Grand Canyon.
Look – I’ve been to several canyons, both grand and not. Each are unique and beautiful in their own ways. There’s something different about this place though. Maybe it’s just because deep down in my ancestral desert people DNA, something inside of me comes alive in southern Israel. But I don’t think it’s just that. There’s something very beautiful and special about this place. It really does kind of feel like the Grand Canyon, but minus the droves of babbling tourists.
In addition, Mitzpe Ramon is on the border between the Negev (which is a high desert) and the Arava (low desert). When you continue south toward Eilat, the road takes you down down down into what feels like the bottom of the Grand Canyon (or maybe more accurately, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, since you can’t drive into the Grand Canyon). The first time I drove down this way, at sunset, it was like a euphoric experience – every switchback turn seemingly exposing even more beautiful landscapes. Until finally you hit the bottom of the road and find yourself surrounded by giant piles of golden (or golden-red at sunset) rocks.
The Ramon Crater is also an excellent place to go stargazing, as there is no pollution, and the desert air means you are getting a clear night at the end of nearly every day.
Also, for Lord of the Rings fans (especially the films), if you’re there at the right time of day, you can find yourself in a place that looks a lot like the outskirts of Mordor, or the Emyn Muil where the hobbits meet Gollum. Not to mention that you’re right near the Dead Sea…Dead Marshes anyone? It’s just a very atmospheric place.
And the Beresheet Hotel is literally on the cliff’s edge, overlooking this incredible place. They have all kinds of amazing things for couples, which we didn’t really get to do – but we DID take advantage of their babysitting service so we could at least have a night dinner to ourselves.
The next day we were back on the road. Jacob actually fell asleep, and we were able to really focus on our incredible surroundings, listening to our adventure playlists on my phone like the old days. Aside from the incredible natural landscapes, we also may have found a real life Barad-Dur (that’s Sauron’s tower for non-Lord of the Rings nerds) or it may have just been a really cool and advanced solar power plant. Either way it was pretty crazy to see a lone tower with a light shining from the top of it, from many miles around.
After a couple of hours of driving, we reached our first stop of the day at the Dead Sea. Neither of us was particularly keen to get into the ultra salty/buoyant soup with a 1 year old so we just had a quick lunch and Ariel stocked up on some Ahava skin products that are made over there.
Everyone should go to the Dead Sea at least once in their life. It’s an amazing experience – most people know that it’s really easy to float there – but it’s even easier than you think. You can literally float on your stomach and pretend you’re flying like Superman. But…..not with Jacob. At least not until he’s old enough that we can explain to him that he absolutely cannot under any circumstances get any water in his eyes.
Another thing about the Dead Sea is that it is the lowest point on Earth. If you’re the kind of person who likes going to unique places, well, it’s wayyyy easier to get to the lowest point on Earth than the highest.
From the Dead Sea, we continued up to Masada. This is the reverse of the route I had to walk when I got stuck there on my first very first solo adventure so for me, every time I take this drive it takes me back to where it all began. But that is definitely a story for another time.
Masada is another one of my favorite places to go. Situated at the top of what seems like a mountain, this 2,000+ year old fortress was the last refuge the Jewish rebels before they were wiped out by the Romans in 73 CE. I say it “seems like” a mountain, because in reality it’s just a little bit above sea level, but since it overlooks the Dead Sea and surrounding area, it appears to be pretty high up.
The site is extremely accessible which makes it a great place to go with a child, even a little toddler. You have a few options to get to the top. You can take the winding “snake path” – the original way to get up there (and primary reason why it survived 3 years after Jerusalem fell) which takes about 45 minutes to an hour or more of strenuous uphill hiking.
According to legend, the Romans, after being unable to capture the fortress due to being forced to march single file up this winding path, used Jewish slaves to build a giant ramp that would allow them to bring their main army up to crush the defenders. The rebels, who were unwilling to fire arrows on their brethren who were building the ramp, recognized their time was up, and rather than allowing themselves to be taken as slaves, committed mass suicide. This ramp, is still around today, and you can take it to the site in around 20-30 minutes.
Or, you can take a cable car to the top if you’re lazy, and hypothetically aren’t interested in dragging a stroller up a mountain…
In the fortress itself you will find an entire city’s worth of ruins, hidden passages, historial markers and just tons of things to do and learn. It’s very easy to get around, even with a stroller, and we even let Jacob do some walking like the little explorer he was turning into.
Just be advised that this is also one of the more popular tourist sites in the country, so you’ll be sharing space with other people – although nothing like Jerusalem or anything like that. You can still find a few secluded spots to lose yourself in the history of the place.
From Masada we continued up along the Dead Sea, ascending back up to sea level around the outskirts of Jerusalem. Jacob was not so compliant on this portion of the trip and Ariel ended up getting into the backseat to keep him entertained. But it was no big deal. The little guy still managed to spend around 7 hours in a car across two days. Classic road trip itinerary for us and we were able to bring our tiniest adventurer with us. This was a huge milestone for our family and we were so happy we did it.
2 thoughts on “Into the Negev Part 2: Mitzpe Ramon (Israel’s Best Kept Secret), Masada, And The Dead Sea”
This is a wonderful trip with your little adventurer! Photos are fascinating! Good luck! I am waiting for the end of quarantine so that I can see this beautiful place!
Thank you John! I would love to hear back from you if you do end up getting to the Negev at some point.