With its stark mountains, dramatic wadis, archaeological treasures, colorful Bedouin encampments, and the spectacular Ramon Crater, the Negev—a word meaning "dry" in Hebrew—is much more than simply "a desert." The Negev contains Israel's most dramatic natural scenery, with its rugged highlands, as well as Eilat, a resort town set on the Red Sea, with luxury hotels, good restaurants and bars, and duty-free shopping. There's even a growing winery scene here that will intrigue oenophiles.
The region can satisfy both history buffs and adventure lovers. You can visit the kibbutz home and grave of Israel's founding father and first prime minister—David Ben-Gurion, the man who first dreamed of settling the desert—and on the same day, you can tour the millennia-old ruins at Tel Beersheva, visited by the biblical patriarch Abraham. For those seeking adventure, the Negev is the place to take camel treks and Jeep tours, spend the afternoon hiking, or scuba dive in the Red Sea.
The Negev makes up about half the country's land area, yet is home to only about 8% of its population. The ancient Israelites had fortifications here, as did the merchant Nabateans and the Romans after them. The region's first kibbutzim were established in the early 1940s, with new immigrants sent south after the War of Independence, in 1948. Two years later, people started trickling into Eilat, which was nothing but a few rickety huts. The desert itself was made to bloom, and the semiarid areas between Tel Aviv and Beersheva became fertile farmland. Today, agricultural settlements throughout the Negev make use of advanced irrigation to raise tomatoes, melons, olives, and dates that are exported to winter markets in Europe.