I’ll admit it. I made the classic traveller’s mistake of not doing enough any research before visiting a new town, in this case, Mitzpe Ramon. Erin already had done her reading and knew exactly what to expect, but I was in the dark. The 2 weeks prior had been especially busy for us. As you can see by the other blog posts, we spent most days out and about. Erin had planned this portion of the trip, so I knew we were in good hands, but uncharacteristically had failed to fill me in on what was going to be the biggest surprise of all.
The drive from Jerusalem to Mitzpe Ramon was fairly smooth and the majority of it was through the hot, barren Negev Desert. With hungry kids we made a short stop at a familiar restaurant, McDonalds. In fact, it had been our first McDonalds visit in a number of months – and our first in Israel on this trip. The quality of food improved since our previous trip in 2007, but the price was a killer. Around $40 for 2 meals plus 10 nuggets. All they needed were masks and guns, and it would be called highway robbery.
After a few impromptu side-of-the-road toilet breaks for the kids, we reached Mitzpe Ramon, and made our way to The Green Backpackers.
This environmentally friendly hostel is owned and operated by a very warm and hospitable couple, Lee and Yoash. They’ve done a fantastic job decorating the place with unique recycled items that give the decor a humorous twist, like beer bottles holding up the coffee table or a toothpaste tube for a door handle. There are two dorm rooms available and 2 private rooms. A communal kitchen and lounge room for meeting and chatting with other guests.
During our stay we happened to be the only guests that night. Nice, because we had the whole house to ourselves, but disappointing because our favourite thing about hostels has been to meet the fellow travellers.
Luckily, once we got settled in we had a friendly chat to the owners and Yoash recommended we take a walk along the Makhtesh, providing us with a handy map of the area. I wasn’t familiar with what a Makhtesh was, but assumed perhaps it may have been a riverbed (there wasn’t much water out in the desert).
We headed out and walked towards the nearby “camel” lookout and I could see a few rolling hills to the east and west along the way. I just figured once we reached the top of the lookout we’d see more of the same kind of hills. It was starting to get a bit breezy and the summer sun was low on the horizon. So as I climbed the stony steps on the lookout I kept my head down to avoid getting dust in my eyes. Once I reached the top, I turned to the east and marvelled at the beautiful desert sunset. Then turning around to the west, I was expecting to see the same rolling hills, but my mouth fell open in awe to see this…
What the!? Why didn’t someone tell me this was here? It was Israel’s version of the Grand Canyon, and it just snuck up on me. The rich, vibrant colours, shapes, layers and textures were beautiful to behold. We looked out over the vast expanse and soaked up the natural splendour of the Makhtesh. This was definitely one of the biggest surprises I’ve received over the last year. Caius was a little more preoccupied with finding rocks on the ground to throw, but Mia wanted to go a bit closer and explore. Erin was impressed, but certainly not surprised.
There are only 7 formations in the world like this, with all of them being located in Israel and Egypt. The Makhtesh Ramon is the largest & best known of all stetching 40km in length, 2 to 10km in width and 500 metres in depth. A makhtesh is a geological landform with steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley which is typically drained by a single wadi (river).
After spending a few moments interrogating Erin about how come she didn’t give me some kind of prior warning, we decided the kids needed some dinner and headed back to the car. We drove around town for a little while to get a better feel for the place. We located a small café which was conveniently situated just a few hundred metres away from the hostel.
After dinner the kids headed to bed without a peep and we stayed up relaxing on the couch, catching up on work and enjoying a nightcap with Yoash. He shared more about the fascinating story behind The Green Backpackers as well as insight into the area. As an expert hiker, he recommended a couple toddler-friendly hikes around the area – walks that were shorter and easier for Miss 4-year-old and Mr 3-year-old.
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hostel and started off early for the next leg of the journey towards Eilat. About 20 minutes out of Mitzpe Ramon, we located the Ammonite Wall (I call it the “snail trail”). It was just a small pull-off from the road, and since it was already starting to get hot, I took a quick walk while Erin, Mia and Caius stayed in the car. It only took less than 9 minutes to reach the fossilised sea creatures which at first looked like curly rocks, but became more obvious the more I looked. After a few photos I headed back to the car, and our journey continued.
Mitzpe Ramon is a beautiful little town and if you enjoy hiking it is the perfect location for you. Or if you prefer something more laid back, perhaps grab a cold drink and pull up a foldout chair at the edge of the precipice and let the incredible, timeless view transport you to another world.