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Think there’s nothing worth seeing in between Tel Aviv and Eilat? You’d be sorely mistaken and miss a whole lot! For starters… only some of the most spectacular and colorful landscapes Israel has to offer! So come with Destination Dan as we head down Route 40 and go exploring the Negev!
Although we were a party of 6 on our recent trip to Israel, my son and I actually flew out on El Al 48 hours ahead of the rest of our family to have a memorable father-son adventure in the desert… and it might just have been the best part of our whole trip!
Upon touch down at Ben Gurion Airport, we went through immigration (surprisingly quickly), grabbed our bags, picked up our rental car and hit the open road out onto Route 1 heading southeast (cue the Steppenwolf, “Get your motor runnin’…”). We continued along Route 1 until the Sheman Interchange where we joined up with Route 6/Yitzhak Rabin Highway going south (Note: this is a toll road). Finally, we joined up with Route 40 and kept on trekkin’ southwards… all the way to the Ramon Crater and the absolute desert jewel that is perched atop it… the Beresheet Hotel – https://www.isrotel.com/beresheet. We’ll have much, much more to say on both the Ramon Crater and the Beresheet Hotel in an upcoming blog post!
If you drove straight from Ben Gurion airport to the Beresheet Hotel/Ramon Crater this would take you somewhere around 2+ hours. But then you’d be missing out on all the incredible things to see!
Soon after merging onto Route 40, the first city you come upon is Be’er Sheva. But despite the increasingly desert landscape out your driver’s side window, this isn’t just some small desert enclave. It’s a growing city (the 6th largest in Israel) of nearly 200,000 people and it is rightfully thought of as the “Capital of the Negev” and a gateway to the rest of the region.
DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: Be’er Sheva is a great place to stop and break up the trip as you journey further into the Negev.
Be’er Sheva is known in part for its biblical significance – in ancient times it marked the southern-most point of the kingdom of Israel. The Old City is also home to Abraham’s well (referenced in the bible) and it is believed that Abraham and Isaac spent time dwelling there. The Bedouin Market is another worthwhile attraction. However, if you have older kids then you can’t miss the Israeli Air Force Museum. Home to over 150 different aircraft that you can get up close and personal with, the museum is located at the Hatzerim Air Force Base and has on display everything from WWII-era Spitfires to planes that are still in modern use such as F-15s. There’s a section of the outdoor lot that exhibits the aircraft that took part in historical operations and missions and another that exhibits captured aircraft from neighboring countries such as Egypt and Syria.
Sde Boker/Midreshet Ben Gurion
The next attraction on our list might sound surprising at first, but it’s an absolutely CAN’T MISS attraction and we’ll explain why. It’s the grave site of David Ben Gurion, a primary founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel.
For those who don’t know, here’s a little history lesson from Destination Dan…
David Ben Gurion – in addition to being a stocky guy with a whacky hairdo and a resemblance to Albert Einstein – was a huge advocate during his lifetime of the Jews in Israel settling outside the most populated coastal areas of Israel near Tel Aviv. In particular, he encouraged Israelis to make the Negev Desert “bloom” and he saw great promise for this region. And so it was in the middle of the Negev Desert, near the kibbutz town of Sde Boker he helped found, that David Ben Gurion was laid to rest alongside of his wife Paula. And, oh my! The beautiful view he chose for himself!
To get there, head east off Route 40 just to the south of Sde Boker. There will be signs on Route 40 and thereafter directing you to “Midreshet Ben Gurion” and a parking area from which there’s a short hike of 5 minutes or less to the grave site. Immediately after you park you’ll be struck by the awe-inspiring beauty of the Nahal Zin valley, which can be seen not only from the grave site but from the parking area itself. Equally charming is the route you walk to the grave site as it is home to many beautiful, prancing ibax, some with large spiral horns.
Upon reaching the grave site, pay your respects to Mr. and Mrs. Ben Gurion, to whom Israelis owe a great debt of gratitude (it is customary to place a rock upon each grave). But also take in and take photos of the completely stunning panoramic views of the adjacent Nahal Zin Valley.
DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: The best time to go is at dusk, when the light and the shadows combine to paint the desert a vivid array of colors!
Ein Avdat National Park And Canyon
Another site not to be missed along Route 40 is Ein Avdat National Park and Canyon.
NOTE: Don’t confuse Ein Avdat National Park with simply Avdat National Park. Incidentally, Avdat National Park is also worth a visit. It is located even further south along Route 40, just about 20km north of the Ramon Crater and it is home to some striking Nabatean hill-top ruins. But for now we’ll focus our attention exclusively on Ein Avdat National Park, which is even more amazing.
The Canyon at Ein Avdat National Park has two separate entrances – the Lower Waterfall Entrance and the Upper Entrance – and we at Destination Dan definitely recommend that you go to both!
DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: Combo admission is available for both entrances.
The Lower Waterfall Entrance can be reached from the parking area for Ben Gurion’s grave site. Simply follow the signs and drive past the parking area for the grave site onto a winding access road that leads south downhill to the base of a hiking trail into the canyon. Be alert while driving the access road. Not only is it serpentine but in many spots the road is only wide enough to fit a single car, yet there is traffic in both directions. The short, 5-minute drive is itself extremely scenic and it is worth stopping at the lookout area off the left side of the road on the way down just to take even more pictures of the valley below.
Once you are at the car for the Lower Waterfall Entrance, there is a wonderful scenic hike you can take through the canyon. Just note that even in summer, you cannot begin this hike after 4pm and the park closes at 5pm.
There is an option to hike all the way through the canyon to the waterfall and reach the Upper Entrance via a series of somewhat steep (but doable) metal hand grasps at the end. However, it’s very important to note that if you decide to do the entire hike, you cannot turn around at the end and go back the way you came. You must either have a second car at the Upper Entrance waiting to drive you back. Or, alternatively, you can hike along Route 40 for at least an hour all the way back to the Lower Entrance, getting there the same way you drove there.
Regardless… don’t feel like you have to do the entire hike! There’s another option and it’s no less spectacular. You can simply hike part of the way into the canyon from the Lower Entrance and still turn back shortly after you reach the water, provided you haven’t begun to ascend the cliff walls. As you can see in our photos, you’ll eventually reach a stone path across the water. It’s fun to traverse this path and even take photos of the various members of your group standing on it. But not too far after you reach the other side of it you’ll hit the point of no return.
To do the hike in this manner you’ll need somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 minutes each way, depending on your level of fitness. The hike itself is stunning, as is the canyon with it’s striped walls (somewhat reminiscent of Antelope Canyon in Arizona) revealing a fascinating geological history. Also don’t be surprised if you spot an ibex or two… or several!
DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: If you go to Ein Avdat National Park in summer, it is best to do the hike either early in the morning or much later in the afternoon (remember, you must begin by 4pm) because it gets HOT, HOT, HOT! And don’t forget to bring lots of water!
If you decide not to hike all the way through the canyon to the Upper Entrance, the Upper Entrance is also reachable by car. Once you get back on Route 40 heading south, just go another 2-3 miles. It’s not too far after Sde Boker and about a mile or so before the Nabatean ruins of Avdat National Park. There’ll be a sign and a turn-off to the left (east) from the main road and eventually a car park. A short walk from the car park is a path which leads you to some uneven steps made of stone and these lead down to an observation deck. From there you can see incredible views of the canyon and the water below. It looks a little something like this:
Snap some beauties with your camera (to see all of Destination Dan’s best Israel photos, click: http://www.destinationdan.com/photos/israel-photos/) and then get back in your car for the last 20 minutes of the journey down Route 40 to the Ramon Crater and the Beresheet Hotel.
NOTE: Route 40 actually continues even further south beyond the Ramon Crater (another hour and 45 minutes) all the way down to the resort town of Eilat. Eilat is located on the north shore of the Red Sea, sandwiched in between neighboring Egypt and Jordan and it’s an excellent launching point for some rest and relaxation, many aquatic adventures, or even an excursion to Petra, Jordan. Since I didn’t make it down to Eilat on my most recent trip to Israel, I’ve elected not to discuss it in this particular series of posts. However, Eilat and the surrounding Timna Valley certainly have much to offer and they deserve their own entry, so we’ll be sure to feature Eilat on here in the not-too-distant future.
Well, that’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed and DON’T FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE!
Don’t forget – stay tuned to Destination Dan‘s upcoming posts..