3 Best Sights in Mitzpe Ramon and Makhtesh Ramon, Eilat and the Negev

Makhtesh Ramon

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Words simply cannot do this natural wonder justice. This immense depression is 40 km (25 miles) long, 10 km (6 miles) wide, and, at its deepest, measures 2,400 feet. Because it's a phenomenon known only in this country (there are two others in the Negev), the Hebrew term makhtesh is now accepted usage. By definition, a makhtesh is an erosion valley walled with steep cliffs on all sides and drained by a single watercourse.

You can take a 1-km (½-mile) walk along the Albert Promenade, which winds westward along the edge of the crater from the Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center to a cantilevered observation platform hanging over the rim. This is not the time to forget the camera—the view is overwhelming. The promenade is fashioned from local stone, as is the huge sculpture by Israel Hadani, the back of which faces the town and represents the crater's geological layers.

With the crater as a magnificent backdrop, the Desert Sculpture Park exhibits a collection of 19 huge contemporary pieces. The park took shape in 1962 with the work of a group of prominent national and international sculptors under the direction of Negev artist Ezra Orion. Their idea was to add to the natural stone formations with geometric sculptures of similar design. Ibex often wander through the area. To reach the sculpture park, turn off the main road (Route 40) near the gas station at the sign marked "Ma'ale Noah."

For a look at one of Makhtesh Ramon's geological wonders, drive down into it to see the Carpentry Shop, a hill of black rocks that appears to have neatly sawed edges. Long ago, the sandstone was warmed by volcanic steam and split into the shapes seen today. A wooden walkway protects this fascinating area from travelers' feet.

Another of nature's works is the Ammonite Wall, on the right as you finish the descent into the makhtesh. The rock face contains hundreds of ammonite fossils, which look like spiraled rams' horns. From here there's a 5-km (3-mile) hiking trail, suitable for more experienced hikers.

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Alpaca Farm

Just west of Mitzpe Ramon you'll find this farm and its herd of 200 sweet-faced alpacas and llamas. Young and old get a kick out of feeding the animals, even if they receive the occasional spit in the face from these long-lashed creatures. Children weighing less than about 55 pounds can take a llama ride, and grown-ups can enjoy horseback rides. You can also weave wool on a loom, purchase items at the local factory, and enjoy a picnic on the grounds. The shearing festival, which takes place around Passover, is worth catching if you're here.

Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center

This visitor center—named for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster—is at the very edge of the crater. Interesting 3D models and other information about the history and formation of the crater makes it a good place to start your journey. The museum's panoramic view of the crater is breathtaking. There is also a restaurant and a branch of the popular Faran beauty products store.

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