The Arava: Not just desert

The Arava is hot, dry and inhospitable, one of the most forbidding areas on the planet.

Bike riding in the Arava region. (photo credit: ALON RON/WWW.GOISRAEL.COM)
Bike riding in the Arava region.
The Arava and the Negev Plateau are among the most fascinating areas of Israel. And the relatively short and temperate winter months are the best times to visit.
The Arava is the long valley that stretches from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Eilat and between the Negev Plateau highlands and the border with Jordan. The Negev Highlands are the stretch of mountainous desert country in the South.
Although the area is mostly desert, it is far from being empty and desolate. The Arava offers visitors a wealth of sporting activities such as hiking and mountain biking.
There is also much to see. Nature in this area is at its best. In addition, it is an area of great historical importance: the center of the kingdom of Nabatea. The Nabateans lived at the western edge of the commercial routes from the Far East, China and central Asia, the famous Spice Route. The city of Petra in Jordan and the city of Avdat in the Negev highlands were the main depots of the goods and spices coming from the East. From there, they were transported to the eastern Mediterranean ports of Gaza, Ashdod and Ashkelon to the markets of the Roman Empire. Besides being astute merchants, the Nabateans were very technologically advanced for those times. The marvels of the Petra are a testament to their engineering skills.
The Nabateans pioneered desert agriculture, growing food in the desert. Despite their great wealth, they made it a point to be self-sufficient in foodstuffs, no mean feat in the arid lands they occupied.
No one visiting the region should miss seeing the remains of the Nabatean cities, the most important of which is Avdat, the largest Nabatean city in Israel. Such an important rich commercial city had to be well defended, and its acropolis in the hills above the city is vivid proof of its strategic importance and its attraction to the mainly Beduin predators in the area.
The city had many ups and downs, which is reflected by its architecture. The city itself survived the fall of the Nabatean kingdom when it was captured by the Romans, and remained a major desert urban center until it was captured and destroyed by the Arabs. Not much remains of the town itself, although the ruins of the Nabatean temple and houses and public buildings are proof of its past power and prosperity.
The best-preserved part of Avdat is the acropolis, 650 meters above sea level with spectacular views all around. Adjacent to the site is a large farm, which uses Nabatean agricultural techniques of irrigation sowing and reaping. At the modern visitors’ center, the city and the Spice Route are brought to life. There is also a souvenir shop and snack bar.
For further information please call 08-6551511 Memphis: The birthplace of the Arab horse The Nabatean city of Memphis (Mamshit in Hebrew) is the smallest but bestpreserved Nabatean city in the Negev. An important trading center, it sat on the trade route from Arabia and the Idumean Mountains to Hebron and onwards to Jerusalem, Samaria and Damascus.
It survived the Roman conquest of Nabatea by breeding horses. The worldfamous Arabian strain were first raised in Mamshit. Later, its prosperity was based on its location as a frontier town of the Byzantine Empire. But when the influence and power of Byzantium declined and funding ran out, the city slowly declined and was finally abandoned.
Shivta: Growing food in the desert The Nabatean city of Shivta was not a commercial center and did not lie astride a trade route. It was not fortified, and archaeologists believe it was agricultural in nature with fields all around it. This is surprising, since it is located in one of the driest areas of the Negev.
But the Nabateans were experts in desert agriculture, and the town is a model of careful town planning with well-laid-out streets and water recovery systems.
Mitzpe Ramon Avdat is very near Mitzpe Ramon, a small town located on the edge of the Ramon Crater, 300 meters above the crater floor.
This is a small and charming town which in the last decade has become an important tourist center. It is the center of ecotourism and desert tourism in Israel. It has a large number of B&B establishments and six hotels.
The Bereshit is one of the leading and most luxurious hotels in the country.
From Mitzpe Ramon one can enjoy the tourist attractions of the surrounding country. For the adventurous, there are desert jeep outings, as well as bicycle tours and hikes. Many of the hotels rent or lend bicycles to guests.
The Alpaca Farm, a few kilometers north of the town, is the only farm in the world where more than 400 alpacas and llamas are raised. The farm’s location is unique, combining the old and the new in a sheltered valley nestled in ancient Nabatean agricultural terraces. Visitors can roam the farm, cuddle the friendly animals and observe the process of making cloth from the wool of the animals. The farm also provides B&B facilities.
The Ramon Crater visitors’ center is located at the edge of the crater. It offers a spectacular view of the crater, as well as active exhibits that explain the natural processes that led to the creation of the crater, which is more than 40 km. long at its widest point. It also offers interesting information about the rich flora and fauna of the region.
For information on events and available accommodation in the Arava see: This article was made possible with the help of the Israel Ministry of Tourism ( and www.goisrael.