Following my guide to Mitzpe Ramon, here’s a more focused guide about Makhtesh Ramon, also known as the Ramon Crater. Makhtesh Ramon, a geological feature right next to the little town of Mitzpe Ramon, is the largest erosion cirque in the world, so I thought it deserved its own guide. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Israel and is an excellent place for nature lovers. So… Here’s all you need to know about visiting and exploring Makhtesh Ramon in the Israeli Negev.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, at no extra cost to you. These links help me keep the website alive and not depend on sponsors! Thank you in advance.
What is Makhtesh Ramon and how was it formed?
Makhtesh Ramon is the largest erosion cirque in the world, 40 kilometers long and up to 10 kilometers wide. Many people call it mistakenly “Ramon Crater,” but the truth is that it is not a crater. It was not formed by a meteor that crashed onto Earth and created a huge hole in the ground. Instead, it was formed over millions of years. It’s hard to believe, but millions of years ago, the Negev Desert was all covered with seawater. In this water, a layer of hard chalkstone was formed above a soft sandstone that existed there before. And then, there was tectonic activity that moved everything around and raised the layers upwards, creating a mountain over the course of 50 million years. The mountain’s peak was above the water, and the water and wind started breaking it apart, digging through the hard chalk and reaching the soft sandstone. At some point, the sea withdrew, the layers were raised again, and rivers started flowing through the area. Because the sandstone was exposed, the rivers could carry the sandstone out of the depressed area and empty the makhtesh, leaving only the hard stone around it. That’s more or less how it was formed, in very short.
Apart from Makhtesh Ramon, there are five other makhtesh forms in Israel. There are also makhtesh forms in Sinai and other places around the world. But Makhtesh Ramon is the largest, and when walking inside it, you can see very ancient stones from millions of years ago.
Why is it called “Ramon”?
For many years, the main exhibition in the Ramon Visitor Center was focused on Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut who died on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. That’s why many people thought – and maybe still believe – that Makhtesh Ramon was called after Ilan Ramon. But the truth is that it’s not connected to him. The name “Ramon” comes from local Bedouins who lived here hundreds of years ago. They called the area “Wadi Ramon” because they found a wide path here, part of the ancient Nabatean road, the Incense Trade Route. The Bedouins figured that this route was old, from the time of the Romans. So, it could be that the Bedouins called the place “Wadi Ramon” after the Romans who passed here.
How to get there?
Now, how do you get to Makhtesh Ramon? The easiest way is to get there by car because then you can get around the makhtesh more easily. Makhtesh Ramon is located in the heart of the Negev Desert, about a 3-hour drive from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Many people stop there on the way down or up from Eilat. To find the best route based on your departure point, use Waze or Google Maps.
You can also get to the area by public transportation, but no bus stops inside the makhtesh. The bus only gets to the town of Mitzpe Ramon, and from there, you will need to hike into the makhtesh or take a taxi, which will be pretty expensive. That’s why I recommended getting to Makhtesh Ramon by car unless you’re planning on a hiking trip.
Here’s how you can get to Mitzpe Ramon by public transport:
- From Tel Aviv – You can take a train from any station to the “Be’er Sheba Center” station. From there, walk to the Be’er Sheba Central Station, which is right next to the train station, and get on bus number 64 or 65 to Mitzpe Ramon. The whole ride should take about 3.5 hours and cost 48 ILS.
- From Jerusalem – You can take bus number 470 from the Central Station to the Be’er Sheba Central Station and then change to bus number 64 or 65 to Mitzpe Ramon. The whole ride should take about 3.5 hours and cost 27 ILS.
When to come to Makhtesh Ramon?
Visiting the makhtesh is an outdoor activity, so the best time to come is anytime between October and May, when the temperature is usually mild or cold. If you’re camping outdoors, you might prefer coming in the fall (October-November) or the late spring (March-May) when it isn’t freezing during the night. Summer (June-September) is usually too hot for hiking in the makhtesh, but if you only plan to drive around the different sites, summer could also be an option.
No matter when you come, you need to remember that Makhtesh Ramon is a desert and that the desert gets pretty cold at night. So, come prepared with warm clothes for the evenings!
Also, it’s good to check the weather forecast a few days before you arrive to make sure that it’s not going to rain. If it is going to rain, try to change your itinerary so you’ll be in the makhtesh on a more pleasant day. Hiking during rain is not recommended and could be dangerous. Check out the Israeli Meteorological Service website for the most accurate forecast.
Where to stay in the makhtesh?
Most people who come to visit Makhtesh Ramon stay in a hotel or hostel in Mitzpe Ramon, the town right next to it. But if you want to stay INSIDE the makhtesh and experience sleeping in the middle of a desert, there are a few options, all based on camping. Here are your options for staying in the makhtesh:
- Selina Ramon – This is the place to go if you want to stay in the makhtesh and enjoy camping in excellent conditions. Selina Ramon offers private glamping tents with air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and a comfortable bed. The showers and restrooms are shared. If you want, there’s also an option to sleep in a Bedouin-styled shared tent. I haven’t stayed here, but I’ve peeked into the property, and it looks good.
- Be’erot Campground (Khan Be’erot) – This is an excellent campground operated by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority all year round. I stayed here with my friends, and we enjoyed a great night with lighting, electricity outlets, drinking water, restrooms, and showers. Most people come with their own tents, but there are also shared tents, which they open if there’s a minimum amount of people. In any case, there’s no air conditioning here. Read my review of Be’erot Campground.
- Free campgrounds with no facilities. There are also several free camping sites in the makhtesh, which do not include any facilities such as lighting, drinking water, restrooms, or showers. In some places, you might be lucky to find a field restroom. Some of the free campgrounds include Nahal Gevanim Campground, Har Ardon Campground, and Geves Pnimi Campground. Please note that some roads in Makhtesh Ramon close after 5 PM to protect the local wildlife, so you will need to get to the campgrounds before that time. Read more about camping in Israel.
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, you can find recommended hotels in Mitzpe Ramon on Booking.com. You can also check out my review about the Spice Quarter Inn.
What to do at Makhtesh Ramon?
Makhtesh Ramon is the place to go if you love nature and want to enjoy the sights of the Israeli desert. It reveals stone layers that are millions of years old and is filled with fabulous colors. You can explore this beautiful natural phenomenon in many different ways – by driving between the main sites of the makhtesh, hiking through it, or taking part in a wide range of activities available in this region of Israel. Here are some of the main things you can do at Makhtesh Ramon:
View the Makhtesh from above
Even if you’re just passing by, you will probably stop to view Makhtesh Ramon from the top of its rim. Many people stop at the Barak and Amichai Lookout, situated on the road going down to the makhtesh. But if you want a broader view, I recommend stopping at the Albert Promenade. One of the best spots on the promenade is the Camel Mount, a small hill from which you can get excellent views of the makhtesh.
It’s nice to view it during the day, but I also recommend viewing it at sunrise or sunset when the colors change a bit. It’s magical!
Visit the Makhtesh Ramon Visitor Center
While it’s not a must, you can stop at the Makhtesh Ramon Visitor Center before exploring the makhtesh. It’s been upgraded recently, and now there are really nice interactive exhibitions there, telling the story of the makhtesh, how it was formed, how it evolved, and about the desert wildlife that lives within it. The visit will most likely take up to 45 minutes unless you’re really interested in every single display.
The visitor center is located on the rim of the makhtesh, not far from the Barak and Amichai Lookout. Here’s the location on Google Maps.
It’s open on Sunday to Thursday and Saturday from 8 AM to 5 PM and on Fridays and holiday eves from 8 AM to 4 PM. In winter, it closes an hour earlier. And, of course, there’s an entrance fee. If you get the Israel Pass, it’s included in the pass.
Go driving in the makhtesh
One of the things that most people do when visiting Makhtesh Ramon is to drive between its main sites. Many sites are accessible by car, so it’s easy to do.
Here is a suggested route you can do by car:
- Drive down to HaMinsara. It’s a small hill covered with quartzite rocks that look like dark bricks or blocks of wood, which is why it is also dubbed “the Carpentry Shop.” You can stop in the parking lot next to HaMinsara and then take a short walk up to the top. If you want to go on a longer hike, you can try the hike from HaMinsara to the Prism Wall.
- Continue to the Colorful Sand Park (the “Stone, Wind, Water site”). If you haven’t eaten yet, this is a nice place to stop for breakfast. This is the only spot in the makhtesh where you are allowed to gather sand from the ground, so some people come here with small bottles and fill them up with colorful sand. The sand is in different colors because the rocks here have different minerals, and each mineral has its own color. This place was a quarry until 2001, and after rain, part of it gets filled with water, forming a beautiful pool. You can also find explanation signs here, telling the story of the makhtesh.
- Drive on the Ramon Colors Route. This 7-km road is accessible for any car and passes by some old quarries that existed in the makhtesh. One of the interesting things you can see along this road is a huge pipe, which was the oven of a clay factory that closed down in the 1990s.
- Continue to Khan Saharonim. It’s an ancient Nabatean fortress from the 2nd or 3rd century, next to a spring in the heart of the desert. There’s a gravel road that leads to the spot.
- Check out the “Ammonite Wall.” To get there, you will need to continue on road number 40 until you see a sign toward the Ammonite Wall, pointing to the right. Park your car and walk about 700 meters on the red-marked trail to the Ammonite Wall. Many people like to visit this wall, where you can see very ancient fossils of ammonites, underwater creatures that went extinct about 66 million years ago. These ammonites are proof that this area was once covered with seawater.
Here’s a map that shows the main points of interest in Makhtesh Ramon:
Hike in Makhtesh Ramon
Many sites are accessible by car, but not everything can be seen from the road. If you want to see the colors and shapes of Makhtesh Ramon up close, the best way to do it is by hiking on its trails. There are many hiking trails throughout the makhtesh. You can do day hikes or combine several trails and go on a longer hike while sleeping at campgrounds along the way.
Here are some of the popular day hikes in the makhtesh:
- The Nekarot Horseshoe Trail – This 13-km trail is a circular trail that takes you to Khan Saharonim, up Mount Saharonim, through a dry natural horseshoe, and to beautiful dikes in the wall of the makhtesh.
- The Shen Ramon Trail – This 13-km circular trail partially overlaps the Israel National Trail. It takes you to the top of the Shen Ramon, one of the highest points in Makhtesh Ramon.
- Har Ardon Trail – I haven’t done this trail yet, but one of my friends did, and she said it’s one of the most beautiful trails she’d ever done. She says the view from the top of Har Ardon (Mount Ardon) is stunning. The short circular trail is about 7.5 kilometers long, and from what I understood, it’s difficult. You can find a description of the trail on Israel by Foot’s website.
It’s important to hike with enough drinking water – at least 3 liters of water per person, a hat if there’s sun, and good walking shoes to support your feet and overcome the rocky terrain. Recommended read >> What to pack for a hiking trip in Israel?
Special activities in Makhtesh Ramon
And lastly, I want to talk about some special activities in the makhtesh, which I personally have not done, but my family members and some of my friends have done and recommended doing. They are pricier than exploring the makhtesh on your own but can really upgrade your experience:
- Go stargazing – My parents and my brother, who have went stargazing in the makhtesh, described it as the highlight of their trip there. Makhtesh Ramon is the first International Dark Sky Park in the Middle East, so it’s one of the best places to stargaze in the Middle East. I’ve done stargazing in the desert before, and it’s magical! You can see all the stars above you. Here’s a recommended company that does stargazing.
- Take a Jeep tour through the makhtesh – If you want to see the lesser-known places in Makhtesh Ramon but don’t want to go hiking, you can take a Jeep tour! There are many operators. One of the most recommended ones is Adam Sela. You can book his private Jeep tour on Viator.
- Go rappelling – Another popular activity in the makhtesh is wall rappelling or abseiling. It’s a thrilling experience that also provides fantastic views of Makhtesh Ramon. I know that families with teenagers love it.
No matter where you travel, it’s always a good idea to consider travel insurance.
As I’ve already mentioned, Makhtesh Ramon offers a variety of adventurous activities, including rappelling, Jeep tours, and plenty of hiking trails. If you plan to take part in an adventurous activity, you might want to consider travel insurance, just to be on the safe side. World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and more.
Makhtesh Ramon is one of Israel’s most beautiful natural landscapes and one of my favorite places to go hiking. You can drive between the main sites in the makhtesh, hike through it, or do a variety of special activities, such as stargazing and rappelling down its walls. No matter what you choose to do there, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!
Save this pin for later!
If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:
If you’re searching for a tour guide in Israel, I also offer private tours in Israel.
You can also support my work by buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Your support helps me maintain the site and keep creating content about Israel. It’s greatly appreciated!