We knew that we’d discovered a gem of a stopover in the middle of the desert when we told our three small kids that we were returning home the next morning; their response, in a rare pact of togetherness, was a loud and resounding “Nooooo! We want to stay!”…
Contrary to our own fantastic experience, Mitzpe Ramon is today still considered by many Israelis as a bit of a ghost town, as something of a pit-stop on the way to Eilat. Time for a toilet break and a quick look out across the majestic Makhtesh Ramon, or the Ramon Crater as it’s more commonly (and incorrectly!) known.
But seriously, those days are over.
Thanks to an influx of inspirational and creative locals from across Israel over the last 2-3 years especially, Mitzpe Ramon is fast on its way to becoming the must-see destination if you’re looking for some desert fun and adventure. The stunning natural attractions in the area, combined with some excellent dining and accommodation options, make Mitzpe Ramon a superb spot to add to your Israel bucket list!
Some Mitzpe Ramon history
The town of Mitzpe Ramon was first built as a camp for the workers who were building the road to Eilat, back in 1951. The town then became one of Israel’s southernmost development towns, where many new immigrants were sent to live.
With the Russian immigration wave of the early 1990s, Mitzpe Ramon started to take a cultural turn for the better, and with many people considering the route to Eilat on Road 40 (the road which passes through Mitzpe Ramon) a more scenic alternative to Road 90, Mitzpe Ramon got its fair share of passing tourist traffic.
But many Israelis still associated the town with those early “development” days, and it was largely considered a backwater town hardly worth exploring beyond the legendary Ramon Crater.
However, with an influx of inspirational people to the town over the last few years, who truly care about nurturing it into the true desert gem it is, combined with a new mayor in 2013 who has banished the alleged corrupt nepotism of the town to the archives, Mitzpe Ramon is set to become a major player in the Israel tourism market.
That is, of course, our own opinion, but from the magical 3 days we spent there, Mitzpe Ramon is already well and truly on the map!
Things to see and do in Mitzpe Ramon
There are some really amazing things to see and do in Mitzpe Ramon and the surrounding area, whether you’re an independent traveler, a family, a couple looking for a romantic getaway, or even a group of extreme sports enthusiasts looking for some desert adventure!
First up, it goes without saying that the Ramon Crater, or Makhtesh Ramon, is a must see. It’s a true, natural wonder, and has always been one of the Top 10 things to see in Israel.
The ultimate way to experience the Ramon Crater is not via the Visitor’s Center at the top of the Crater, perched at the edge of the town. OK, the center is a great place to grab a photo or two of the stunning sci-fi like scenery, but if you really want to have a mind-blowing experience, take a jeep tour of the crater itself with an experienced local guide.
We went with local tour operator Deep Desert Israel, run by Itai, who was an absolute star who won us over with his charm and knowledge.
On day one, Itai picked us up and took us for a drive in his Land Rover to the Zin Valley, which is about 30 minutes from Mitzpe Ramon (the Crater we did the following day, read on below). What can you expect from a jeep tour of the Zin Valley? Well, if we say amazing vistas, wild camels (herded by Bedouin shepherds), secret 10 meter deep springs to jump into and cool down in, and real-life desert oases (yes, plural!), all wrapped up in superb explanations by a super-knowledgeable guide, we’re pretty sure you’ll be heading for one of Itai’s tours too pretty soon!
In the afternoon, Itai also took us to the Spice Route Quarter, the old industrial zone of Mitzpe Ramon which has fast become a hive of cute little boutique stores, guest houses, bakeries, restaurants, and even a jazz club! But be careful not to miss it: as you drive into Mitzpe Ramon watch out for the signposts, it’s the first major turning right. If you’ve got to the big main roundabout in the town, head back as you’ve gone past it.
We were impressed with the mini cosmetics factory at Faran, which creates a range of 100% natural cosmetics inspired by nature and the desert surroundings, as well as a carpentry workshop called Atar Bniya, which had some very tasty furniture in it that the missus wanted to take home with her! There is also a lively bar there, as well as the Mitzpe Ramon Jazz Club, both of which we didn’t get the chance to check out.
One of the best places we discovered in the Spice Route Quarter is HadaSaar, home to some amazing local produce and where we ended up eating breakfast the following morning – read our review of HadaSaar below, it’s very highly recommended!
In the late afternoon we headed to the Alpaca Farm, a great stopover for the kids, where they can get nice and close with the alpacas and lamas. The farm is also a great place to sleep over, with a number of nice-looking apartments for rent. But seriously, it’s the alpacas and their wool which is the main attraction here. Well worth spending an hour or two here, and don’t miss out on feeding the alpacas, that can be quite a hairy experience if there are two or more in your vicinity!
The next morning we decided (or were “encouraged” to by Itai) to try abseiling. And not just any abseiling (rappelling), but abseiling down the cliffs of the Ramon Crater! Of course, yours truly had to go down first, just to show the kids there was nothing to it, and I don’t recall being that scared for quite some time! There’s just something nuts about hanging your body over the edge of a sheer drop, something which your body just won’t let you accept without a bit of a fight, and a shaky leg or two! All in all though, a fantastic experience, and the kids loved it so much they each went down twice!
The finale for our time in Mitzpe Ramon was a jeep tour of Makhtesh Ramon itself, led by Itai of Deep Desert Israel once again. Itai took us down into the crater, going off-road to show us some spectacular scenery. And his explanations of how the crater was formed (the crater is actually an erosion crater some 40 km long, 2–10 km wide and 500 meters deep) won the kids over completely, especially when they got to rebuild their own version of it with plenty of sand and a bottle of water…
We squeezed in a lot of things over our three days, but there are plenty more things to see in Mitzpe Ramon.
Of course, there’s the impressive lookouts over the crater, which can be seen from the Visitor’s Center. Personally, I’d check out the Camel Lookout, a much quieter (less tourists) viewpoint just a few minutes walk (two minutes drive) from the Visitor’s Center. There’s also the Albert Promenade that kind of links the two points.
For those of you who love hiking, there are some great routes available, including the impressive Har Ardon trail, which takes you through some mightily impressive rock formations over 11 long kilometers, and the more recently established Negev Highlands Trail. Check with your guide or accommodation for more details and guidance.
Where to eat out in Mitzpe Ramon
To our surprise, there are quite a number of decent eateries in Mitzpe Ramon. And to help you out we have TWO excellent options for you to enjoy!
First up, we stopped by at HadaSaar in the Spice Route Quarter for some breakfast. This magical little vegetarian spot was a hit, thanks to some yummy food (don’t miss the awesome pizza with pesto and fried eggs – it was so new a concept it hadn’t even made it to the menu!), some great, freshly made shakes that the kids enjoyed a lot, and a great, laid-back vibe. This is one spot you really should try and check out in Mitzpe Ramon, even if you’ve only got time for a quick stopover.
Meital the manageress did a great job explaining the idea behind HadaSaar, which has fast evolved into the must-see hub for local produce. From beers to wines, from jewelry to local vegetables, HadaSaar is a great place for a taste of the local goods available. And don’t be surprised to see something new when you make it to Mitzpe Ramon, as HadaSaar promises to continually expand and develop.
Our second option for you is Hummus Gingee, a great little spot for some very fresh, and very tasty, hummus and falafel. We love our falafel, especially when it’s hot and delicious, and Gingee (run by Dor, Gingee’s son) didn’t disappoint. The hummus was also very tasty, and as Dor makes a fresh batch every couple of hours, you can be assured that you’re getting some mightily fresh hummus. Not fine dining by any means, but after a long and hot jeep tour, it hit the spot perfectly. When your kids are also mopping up the hummus with their pita bread (stuffed with chips in legendary English chip butty style – I blame their mother), you know the place is a winner. You can find Hummus Gingee just off the main roundabout in town (take a right at the roundabout (if coming from the north) and then take the first car park on your right – you’ll see Hummus Gingee alongside a few other shops and kiosks).
If you really have to look at other options, you could always go with Pizza Selfie (oh yeah, get in on a fad while you can!), the very safe Cafe Neto, part of a well-known chain of coffee shops in Israel and a safe bet if you’re struggling to get any inspiration to haul you out of your monotony box, or HaHavit, a decent looking option for beers and burgers. And these three options are all right next door to each other (take a right at the main roundabout in town, then take a left at the next small roundabout), so don’t say we aren’t looking out for ya!
Where to stay in Mitzpe Ramon
There are an ever-growing number of accommodation options in Mitzpe Ramon, which has undoubtedly been boosted by the luxury Beresheet Hotel, which opened in 2011.
We weren’t looking for luxury ourselves, so went for the off-the-beaten-track Silent Arrow (Hetz BeSheket in Hebrew, a clever play on words, if you know your Hebrew). I’ll be honest, I had reservations about staying there, largely because of the lack of electricity (meaning no AC), not ideal during a hot Israeli summer.
But after convincing ourselves that we’d be out and about during the day and only returning ‘home’ in the evening, we were soon won over by the charm and pace of Silent Arrow, and by the cool breeze that swept through after 5 pm. Cool enough to warrant a sweatshirt or two, which surprised us all! If you’re looking for something a little bit special and unique, you won’t go far wrong with Silent Arrow. It’s not luxury, and there is no breakfast, but there’s a certain charm that just conquers your heart…
Some other accommodation options include the ever-expanding Desert Shade Eco Lodge, the more secluded (and romantic) Succah in the Desert, and the cute B&Bs at the Alpaca Farm. If you’re after decent hostel digs, head to the Green Backpackers.
How to get to Mitzpe Ramon
Mitzpe Ramon is pretty easy to get to, as it’s on the main route to Eilat (Road 40). It’s some 185 km from Tel Aviv, and 161 km from Jerusalem, with plenty of buses stopping in Mitzpe on their way to Eilat (buses typically leave BeerSheva every 20-40 minutes; note that express buses from Tel Aviv probably won’t stop in Mitzpe Ramon so make sure you verify upon boarding).