Things to do in Israel's Negev Desert in the winter

The organizers have spent a lot of time thinking about what is the best way to offer overseas tourists, as well as Israelis who live throughout the country, a glimpse of the beauty of the Negev.

 Tze’ela’s Farm. (photo credit: Meital Straz)
Tze’ela’s Farm.
(photo credit: Meital Straz)

If you’ve been thinking about taking a trip to the Negev but just haven’t gotten around to it, then you’ll be happy to know that the Sounds of Music in the Desert Festival at Kibbutz Sde Boker is currently taking place and will continue until the end of the month. 

The organizers have spent a lot of time thinking about what is the best way to offer overseas tourists, as well as Israelis who live throughout the country, a glimpse of the beauty of the Negev desert. 

This impressive venture, in which NIS 3 million has been invested, includes more than 300 tours, workshops, concerts and activities for the whole family. And believe it or not, the fee to participate is only NIS 20 per person. In order to help you find suitable activities, we’ve organized a number of highlights of the festival into five geographic locations. 

1. Northern Negev 

Some people label the northern Negev as Israel’s vegetable garden, as it is peppered with vegetable fields that display myriad colors. Consequently, many Negev establishments make it a point on their websites to note that the vegetables they use are from the area and that they also offer meals made from the locally grown produce. 

 Street Spot in Beersheba's Old City (credit: Aya Dvorin Media) Street Spot in Beersheba's Old City (credit: Aya Dvorin Media)

One example is Tze’ela’s Farm in Ein Habsor, which produces a high-quality line of sheep’s milk cheese. Join a guided tour of the sheep pen, and then take part in a cheese-making workshop, which concludes with a cheese tasting. On Fridays, enjoy a rich, hearty breakfast at Tze’ela’s Farm. On weekdays, you can order picnic baskets to take along on a hike. 

Another option is Hemdat Sdot Farm, where you can join a tour of their medicinal herb garden. This sustainable agricultural farm celebrates the natural beauty of the land all year round, with herbal tea tastings, as well as an opportunity to interact with the animals in the petting zoo. 

If you’d like to recharge your batteries with positive energy, Hadas Zagron’s studio in Moshav Tekuma is the place to go. Hadas encourages guests to create flower pots made of cement, which can be used to hold cacti, which are distributed at the end of the workshop. This is an excellent place to let your creativity shine. 

If you’re hungry, head to Sderot, where you’ll find a new gem called HaBis HaSderoti. This culinary tour will take you to some of the best restaurants in the city’s old commercial district, which has recently undergone renovation. The stops are located close together, so it’s lots of fun to go from one station to another as you take in the vibe of the local scene while working off a few of the calories from the delicious food. 

2. Arad to Mitzpe Ramon 

The Negev desert’s wild beauty and primordial nature are particularly evident in the drive south from Arad to Dimona, and then on to Yeruham, Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon. Spectacular craters, mountains, wide valleys and gushing streams await you on this route. 

One of the most well-known celebrations of the Negev’s unique ambiance is the Sounds of Music in the Desert Festival at Kibbutz Sde Boker, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Michael Wolpe, artistic director of the festival, calls himself a music archaeologist, as he supports peripheral music activity and goes to great effort to discover talented Israeli artists who live in southern Israel, far from the bustling center. 

At the festival, visitors will hear a wide variety of musical styles, such as ethnic Mizrahi pop, classical and rock. 

Another exciting event will be a celebration of five years since the Ramon Crater was recognized as the first International Dark Sky Park in the Middle East. The designation is in recognition of the fact that the crater, which is devoid of light at night, is an exceptional location to view stars and constellations. 

For the first time, the visitors’ center at the Ramon Crater will be organizing a community celebration with jazz, films, a light show, a discussion with an ecologist, and of course the opportunity to stargaze through the lens of a telescope located on the roof of the visitors’ center. 

Other events will take place in various locations, such as Avdat, Eshkol and the Mamshit National Parks, as well as at Hai-Bar Yotvata. 

3. Street Spot in Beersheba’s Old City

If you haven’t been to Beersheba’s Old City in a while, you’ll surely want to go when the Street Spot events are taking place there. In the past, this area was not a place anyone would want to hang out in at night, but the new vibe felt on the KKL Pedestrian Mall has attracted huge numbers of college students and young adults. Every Thursday and Friday night through the end of December, there are Street Spot workshops, live shows, tours and exciting parties. 

Artists with galleries in Beersheba’s Old City are also opening their doors in the evenings, and cafés will be hosting live performances. For example, Shimon Serusi and other local artists will be displaying their works in Shimon’s gallery, and visitors can join a drawing workshop in the gallery. Bars in the Old City will be open and providing special offers for the festival. 

4. The charm of Rahat

In the city of Rahat, as well as in other Bedouin communities around the Negev, there has been a mushrooming of tourist sites where visitors can enjoy traditional Bedouin hospitality, sumptuous meals, art workshops and other fun activities. For example, there’s Odeh’s Tent in Ramat Tsiporim; Salam Al-Rawaj’s Tent in Kfar Avda; Najah Abu Latayif’s Tamar Vahel Kitchen in Rahat; and a cooking workshop at Ha’ela’s House. The Bedouin open their homes to Israeli and foreign tourists alike, and offer traditional Bedouin meals and hospitality. 

This new business model, which has gained momentum in recent years, has been quite successful. There are also tours of Rahat during the month of Ramadan, which are a good way for people to learn about this important time on the Muslim calendar. During the Ramadan tours, participants will also learn about the status of women in the Bedouin community and can taste a variety of authentic delicacies from the Bedouin cuisine. 

5. The Arava – Open Houses along Highway 90

A number of small moshavim and kibbutzim are located in the central and southern Arava regions, most of which are focused on agricultural endeavors. They are also home to a number of artists who invite the public to visit their eclectic studios. 

For example, Jo Jo (Yosef Ohayon), who creates metal furniture and sculptures with bold colors, works out of his studio in Moshav Ein Tamar and is happy to engage visitors with explanations of his works. 

The Ecological Campus at Kibbutz Lotan, which was founded on environmental values, invites the public to participate in a special cooking workshop in which a variety of ecological ovens are used. One oven creates gas from compost; another operates on solar energy. At the end of the workshop, participants are invited to partake in a vegetarian meal made from local produce cooked in these special ecological ovens. 

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Translated by Hannah Hochner.