Driving the Negev Desert: Tel Aviv to the Red Sea

I’m just now (over a month later) starting to sift through my 3,000 photos from the week I spent in Israel and Jordan.  It was an absolutely incredible, and I can’t wait to share all my stories and tips!

…starting with the lovely, hot sabbath afternoon we spent driving from Tel Aviv to Eilat (on the Jordan border), and stopping at a few very different and interesting sights along the way.  We had arrived Thursday night, spent all of Friday driving around the north of Israel, then on Saturday morning Dad and I walked around Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa (Yafo).  Then our friends, Danielle and Steven, picked us up and we headed through the Negev Desert.

It’s stark and beautiful and interesting but also very…tan.

Where to stop on the drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat...Tel Be'er Sheva, Sde Boker, and Mitzpe Ramon Crater #israel

So much tan.  All the shades of tan.

Tel Be’er Sheva (or Sheba)

Our first stop was Tel Be’er Sheva, about an hour or hour and a half’s drive south of Tel Aviv.  Be’er Sheva is one of three biblical-era tels (or hills) you can visit in Israel (the others are Megiddo and Hazor), and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We paid our entrance fee and walked into the main area with restrooms, a water fountain, and the horned altar.  The (pagan) altar is a reconstructed replica (the original is at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem).

The name Be’er Sheva comes from the wells on the site.  The oath of Abraham and Abimelech is said to be here (under that awning of sticks), mentioned in Gen. 21:31, the seven wells dug by Isaac, and the oath of Isaac and Abimelech in Gen. 26:33 are all believed to be tied to this site.  Be’er is the Hebrew word for well; sheva could mean “seven” or “oath” (from the Hebrew word shvu’a).  The town/area is also mentioned in Joshua, I Samuel, and Amos.

Danielle and I climbed up the little lookout tower while Dad and Steven read every single placard in detail.  One of the things that’s great about a lot of these sites is that they often will tell you not only about the historical site and what you’re seeing there, but also what you can see on the horizon—other cities, valleys, etc.

And camels grazing.  Just hangin’ there, grazing.

The ruins at Tel Be'er Sheva are one of the cool places to stop on the road from Tel Aviv to Eilat, along with Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon

This guy is not impressed.

Where to stop on the drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat...Tel Be'er Sheva, Sde Boker, and Mitzpe Ramon Crater #israel

Our last stop before leaving Be’er Sheva was climbing down into the old underground water reservoir.  It’s insane how big the chambers were!  It also felt so lovely and cool down there after the intensity of the sun.

Sde Boker

I was obsessed with these camel crossing signs.  They were everywhere (along with a few “soldiers crossing” and “tanks crossing” ones), and I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Tips of driving through southern Israel from Tel Aviv to Eilat, where to stop and what to see

We arrived at Sde Boker (pronounced se-de, or shuh-de boquer) about 45 minutes later, and were immediately struck by how peaceful it was.

The kibbutz at Sde Boker is famous as the home of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.  His tomb is now located here as well, and a museum.  Ben-Gurion was passionate about the need to have people settle in the Negev Desert, and led by example.  After he was no longer the prime minister, he moved here permanently and was a fully-participating member of the kibbutz.

Driving itinerary from Tel Aviv to Eilat, including stops at Tel Be'er Sheva, Sde Boker, & Mitzpe Ramon

Peaceful Sde Boker, where David Ben-Gurion's home and grave are, overlooking Avdat

The site overlooks Ein Avdat, which has some awesome hiking opportunities if you’re spending the whole day there.  Make sure to take plenty of water if you do!

Mitzpe Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon)

Only another 30 minutes down the road we came to our final stop-off of the trip, the visitor’s center overlooking Mitzpe Ramon Crater.

Driving itinerary from Tel Aviv to Eilat, including stops at Tel Be'er Sheva, Sde Boker, & Mitzpe Ramon

Mitzpe Ramon Crater is the world's largest erosion crater, & a must-see on the road from Tel Aviv to Eilat

The Ramon Crater is the world’s largest erosion crater (i.e. not made from impact or a volcano), and it is something straight out of another planet.  It’s 40 km long (about 25 miles), anywhere from 2 to 10 km long, and about 500 meters (~ a third of a mile) deep.  It’s INSANE.

We didn’t even go in the visitor’s center, just walked around outside and took in the view.  There was no entrance fee or anything (though I’ve read on some sites that there is? we didn’t pay).

As Danielle and I were taking pictures of each other, we spotted an ibex who had started climbing up to the top of the overlook.  She followed (trying to be sneaky…she went all “be vewy quiet, we’re chasing wabbits” on me) and tried to get a close-up.  Can you spot him over on the far right, in the middle?

An ibex overlooks the Mitzpe Ramon Crater, a must-see between Tel Aviv and Eilat

Then he went all Lion King on us.

We saw a lot of ibex, there are tons in the area but it’s obviously hit or miss whether you see them.  When we walked back to the car there happened to be a few just loitering at the visitor center munching on plants.  I can confirm that they’ve got crazy yellow eyes.

Driving itinerary from Tel Aviv to Eilat, including stops at Tel Be'er Sheva, Sde Boker, & Mitzpe Ramon

The crater is all kinds of different colors and textures, mostly shades of tan and red, but there’s some black in there from basalt, from a super old volcano (but not, they say, a volcano that caused the crater).

Baby ibex!

From Mitzpe Ramon it really is quite a haul down to Eilat, assuming that’s where you’re headed.  Close to two hours, in fact.  So keep an eye on time, because that last stretch is kind of brutal…particularly if you’re starving.

By the time we got into Eilat, it was pretty late, but we were able to find a place to eat (Eddie’s Hideaway, recommend!).  Then we checked into our B&B (Cactus, she was great but beware that you shouldn’t wait til too late to check in) and went out to the Red Sea boardwalk for some ice cream.

Eilat is one of the places you can cross over into Jordan, which my dad and I did early the next morning.   And that’s a story for another day 🙂

What to see from Tel Aviv to Eilat

  • Tel Be’er Sheva parking is free, and the entrance fee is 14 NIS (new Israeli sheleks), or about $4 USD, unless you have the Israel National Parks pass.  You can find updated hours depending on time of year at the official site.
  • Sde Boker normally has an entrance fee of 10 NIS (or about $2-3 USD), but didn’t have a fee when we went because it was the weekend of the Memorial of Fallen Soldiers and Independence Day.  You can find hours and other info here.
  • Mitzpe Ramon Crater doesn’t have an entrance fee or parking fee that I remember, though I see it listed on websites.  Maybe at the visitor center?  We just walked right up to the crater ourselves.  This site has info on hours and such.  If you’re spending more time here, there’s camping, hiking, jeep tours, all sorts of stuff.

Other roadtrips you might like:  Driving the Sea-to-Sky Highway Between Vancouver & Whistler

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Where to stop on the drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat...Tel Be'er Sheva, Sde Boker, and Mitzpe Ramon Crater #israel

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