Take a winter trip to Sde Boker and its surroundings in the Negev

I never stop enjoying the exhilarating feeling that comes over me as I drive south on Route 40, gazing at the sandy hills and gorgeous desert scenery outside my window. 

 Sde Boker and its surroundings. (photo credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger)
Sde Boker and its surroundings.
(photo credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger)

Hiking northern Israel in wintertime can be a daunting experience, what with all the rains making trails muddy and slippery. This not being the safest option, in my opinion, it makes the most sense to head to the Negev during the winter months. I never stop enjoying the exhilarating feeling that comes over me as I drive south on Route 40, gazing at the sandy hills and gorgeous desert scenery outside my window. 

1. Midreshet Sde Boker

Wintertime is, however, the absolute best season to visit southern Israel, since it’s way too hot in the summer to go hiking in the desert during the day. One of the most popular tourist sites in the Negev is Sde Boker, which is located in the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council. This week, I will be focusing on Midreshet Sde Boker (aka Midreshet Ben-Gurion), which is a small community situated a short drive from Kibbutz Sde Boker. The community took on the name of the well-known educational center located in the community. 

When first prime minister David Ben-Gurion toured the Nahal Tzin area in the early 1950s, he voiced the idea of building an educational institution in the region that would be a center for desert research and environmental education. A few years later, while living at Kibbutz Sde Boker, Ben-Gurion began turning this dream into a reality.

In 1962, Midreshet Sde Boker was built overlooking the Nahal Tzin riverbed. At first, the educational center comprised a few small structures, but soon a big school building was constructed, and students learning there brought the educational complex to life. Over the years, the school, which became known as the “Gateway to the Negev,” grew, neighborhoods formed around it, until in the 2000s, the community officially obtained municipal status. 

 Nighttime tours near Sde Boker. (credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger) Nighttime tours near Sde Boker. (credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger)

There are numerous hiking trails in the area, as well as interesting historical sites. And most importantly, the awesome desert landscape you see in every direction makes going on an outing in the Negev highly desirable. And for any animal lovers out there, you never know when you might spot a few ibex that might even let you snap a photo of them. 

And, of course, if you’re already in Sde Boker, then you should definitely visit David Ben-Gurion’s Tomb and the Ben-Gurion House, both of which are near the educational center. This is a wonderful experience and opportunity for children and adults alike to learn more about the country’s first prime minister. 

2. Nighttime tours

If you’ve always thought that there’s not much going on at camping sites after nightfall, then you obviously haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet Dr. Chaim Berger, an animal behavior specialist. Berger leads nighttime tours during which participants will learn about all the animals in the area that only become active when the sun goes down. 

These jeep tours are geared toward families with kids, and the only lights used are your flashlights. Among the animals you might get to see are jackals, porcupines, hyenas, scorpions and even foxes. 

Price: NIS 1,280 per jeep (maximum 8 people).Length: 2 hours. Details: (054) 534-3797.

3. Sherman’s Hotel

There are so many hikes and experiences to be had in the area, and I recommend staying overnight so you can enjoy the region for two full days. I had a great experience staying at Sherman’s Hotel, which just recently opened.

Sherman’s Hotel, which was constructed at the site of the former Sde Boker Field School, features 14 newly refurbished and upgraded rooms that overlook Nahal Tzin. Each room is equipped with a TV and espresso machine. Guests can partake in the bountiful breakfast spreads each morning, as they gaze out over the vast expanse outside the large windows. If you’re lucky, you may even see some ibex prancing around. 

 Sherman's Hotel (credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger) Sherman's Hotel (credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger)

There’s a great walking path that begins at Sherman’s Hotel and leads to a number of lookout stations, from which you will have breathtaking views over the region. 

Price: NIS 800 per night, including breakfast. Details: (09) 653-2016

4. Nahal Karkash

There’s a wide variety of hikes at different levels in the Sde Boker area, so everyone can find something that fits their needs. If you happen to be traveling with children, and you’d like to do a short hike, then I recommend Nahal Karkash. 

The trail begins at Midreshet Sde Boker and ends at the bottom of the serpentine road. If you’re traveling with only one car, and you prefer walking along a circular trail, you can double back on Ma’aleh Hagar Road, which climbs up alongside the serpentine road. 

In both cases, the starting point is at Midreshet Sde Boker. You’ll begin by walking alongside the road that connects to the main road, then turn left when you see the green trail markers and walk toward Nahal Karkash. The descent is a bit steep, so watch your step. Keep walking until you see a small waterfall, at which point the path flattens out. You might see some Karkash Hasneh (Iolana alfierii) butterflies hovering around the yellow Karkash Hasneh flowers that are starting to bloom now. 

 Nahal Karkash (credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger) Nahal Karkash (credit: Meital Sharabi, Chaim Berger)

Continue along the path until you reach a T-junction, where you will turn left and follow the blue trail markers, which will take you up to the road that will take you back to the starting point. 

Length of hike: 1.5 km. 

5. Ronita

There aren’t too many options in the Sde Boker area when it comes to choosing a restaurant. The best idea, in my opinion, is to take advantage of families who offer freshly cooked meals in their homes. Ronit Dahan, who runs a catering business called Ronita, prepares meals in her home in Sde Boker that can be enjoyed on site or as takeaway. I personally loved eating at Ronit’s home. Appropriate for couples, families and groups. 

Price: NIS 125-145 per person. Details: (054) 473-9935. 

6. English tea party

If you have the desire to feel English for an hour, I highly recommend you get to know Marion and John Krivine, who made aliyah and settled in Negev. Together, they opened the Krivine Guesthouse in the Neve Tzin neighborhood of Midreshet Sde Boker overlooking Nahal Tzin. 

The guesthouse comprises four spacious units, each one with its own unique design, which all together can house up to 18 people at once. Over the last two years, as local tourists swarmed outlying getaway locations to escape the crowds, the Krivines implemented the British custom of holding afternoon tea for their guests each day. 

This classic British meal, which they hold in their grand breakfast room, include traditional rectangle and triangle mini-sandwiches, such as cucumber and cream cheese, tuna, egg salad, cheddar cheese and mango chutney. Of course, scones and jam, alongside other dainty cakes, are also served. 

Price: Afternoon tea – NIS 70 per person for groups between 12-30 people.Location: 15 Neve Tzin, Midreshet Sde Boker.Details: (052) 271-2304.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.