Going South

This section originates from information collected for the guidebook published in 2000.


The Negev is not the most popular tourist area. It has an austere but interesting, wind-eroded and stone-strewn landscape. Simplistically labelled a ‘desert’, the Negev actually has a number of distinct climatic regions. It is generally arid, and can be very hot (up to 45ÂșC) in the summer. In the north is Be’er Sheva, with some nearby sights. In the middle is the Mitzpe Ramon crater, surely one of the wonders of the world, and right in the south is the all-the-year-round resort of Eilat.

Beersheba (its Biblical name) is the capital of the Negev, and is at its northern boundary. The city is fairly flat. It consists of a grid of roads most of which are one way only, and it may take a little while to work out where you are going if you are driving. A good street plan was available from the hostel where we stayed. There are a few interesting sites, and it makes a good starting point for exploring the northern Negev. Note the adapted accommodation in the Hi-Beit Yatsiv Guest House.

A Bedouin Market takes place on Thursday mornings, but it is becoming increasingly organised and formalised, and hence less interesting. The site is at the junction of two main roads (Hebron and Eilat) just out of town, and when we visited was split into two sections. The more conventional market has been developed with proper sites for the stalls, paved surfaces and a nearby CP. It covers an flat area of perhaps 100 by 100m, but because of the ‘modernisation’, seems to have lost some of its flavour and hence some of its attraction. The other half of the market which you can get to along the road, is about 400m away. This part was on rough ground, but if you wanted to buy a sheep, a goat or even a camel, this would be the place to go. It was busier, more interesting, smellier, and we have to say, slightly less accessible because of the roughness of the ground. It felt as though it was rather nearer in atmosphere to Bedouin markets that had been held there, probably for centurie

Mitzpe Ramon is a small desert town in the middle of the Negev some 65km south of Beersheva, and founded in 1956. It is right by the Negev’s greatest natural wonder, the Makhtesh Ramon crater. At the top of Nahal Gerofit Street (by the junction with Nahal Arod Street) is a viewing point. Parking about 100m up a gentle slope. It juts out over the cliffs into the crater itself. The best viewing time is in the early evening.

Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Centre, off Nahal Ela Street, Mitzpe Ramon Tel: 07 658-8620Fax: 07 658-8620. Built on the edge of crater, it provides superb views from the observation platforms. Not to be missed. There is an audio-visual show explaining various aspects of the crater and of the wild-life around.

CP below the centre, and there’s a ramped bypass to +17+6 steps to the entrance. Inside a ramp bypasses +21 to the observatory platform from which the view is fantastic. There’s a further ramp to an outside observation point on the roof. Adapted toilet (D70 ST35) near the ticket desk. Restaurant in a separate building with a ramped approach (bypassing -6-10), step free and with movable chairs and tables).

Bio Ramon is at the bottom of the hill leading up to the Visitors Centre. There are -60 steps, or you can go step free down the road. The displays and environment represent the natural habitat of a range of animals and insects found in the desert. It is quite small, and a complete tour takes you only about 250m. Most of the ground is rough, although it is fairly level.

Eilat

Eilat is a modern seaside resort in the far south with a major port facility about 2km to the south. Because of the port activity, there are commonly large tankers or freighters ‘parked’ a little way offshore. It has a very favourable climate, and consequently a year-long season. It is about a five hour bus journey from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, although you can also fly to one of its two airports. The one which is right in the town centre is for domestic Arkia flights, and aircraft fly down one of the main streets prior to landing. There are plenty of shops and eating places, although (as is common in Israel) few wheelchair toilets. The Youth Hostel is potentially a cheap and accessible place to stay, and the Four Seasons Eilat Hotel has a number of well adapted rooms (see Accommodation chapter). The Underwater Observatory is a sight not to be missed, and there’s a wide variety of things to do including diving and camel treks. There are lots of ordinary things to do involving pubs and restaurants and swimming pools, but there’s also a range of more adventurous activities, some of which are detailed below.

The waterfront has been attractively developed, with generally step free access. There’s still a lot of building and development work going on towards the east. Many of the hotels are grouped around the North Beach with the step free promenade but in the middle over the marina entrance the bridge is fairly steep (on both sides !). The bollards at either end of the bridge have at least one gap of W70+ to allow a chair user to pass through. The most expensive hotels are either on the seafront, or grouped around the marina, which is currently being extended eastwards. A second ‘row’ of hotels is on Kamen Street, and then a third ‘row’ on Kampen Street. In their brochures the hotels all seem to list themselves with the address North Beach which conceals their exact location. There’s a map in the IH (p396) showing hotel locations. A number of the slightly cheaper hotels are grouped in the older part of town, around the Red Canyon Centre and are on or near Hativat Hanegev Street.

Most of the hotels have their own swimming pool. If you do swim in the sea, or go diving, you’ll find it particularly buoyant, as the salt concentration is about 7%. It also means that it is more painful if you get water in your eyes, and an even nastier taste if you swallow it. ‘Normal’ seawater has about 3% salt – while in the Dead Sea it’s 25%.

Most of the boats operating trips to places like Coral Island, and including the glass-bottomed ones, have stepped access, but you can get quite close to the jetties where they depart, so you can assess the practicality of a trip for yourself. With the glass-bottomed boats, even if you can get on board, there are steps down to the bottom.

Underwater Observatory Marine Park, Coral Beach, Eilat 88000 Tel: 07 636-4200Fax: 07 637-3193. On the coast road about 6 km south of Eilat. An amazing site where you can see the widest possible variety of extraordinary fish, turtles and coral. It is compact and flat, with less than 150m between the main attractions. Most of the site has ramps, and only the one to the top of the shark tank is steep. The underwater observatory has a lift.

Parking is just across the road. The step free route involves going to the left from the main entrance, towards the cafeteria. By the gift shop, a ramp bypasses +3 steps, giving step free access to the observatory, straight ahead, or to the various open pools and across to the Oceanarium, to the right. In the following descriptions, the numbers in brackets are those used on the site map.

The Underwater Observatory is some 150m from the entrance. Step free using the lift (D80 W100 L140) to bypass -52 with HR. Restaurant area on the surface, and two chambers under water with big windows about 1m high looking out on an extraordinary variety of sea creatures. The Aquarium has beautifully lit tanks at 110cm height. There’s a low step 30cm deep all the way round for small children to stand on. Step free throughout. A short section to see the luminescent fish is pitch dark and only about 90cm wide. The Yellow Submarine is accessible only to the very fit and agile, and we didn’t fit down the steep steps and the vertical ladder in the conning tower !
The Oceanarium has fixed blocks of seats which are moved around violently during the performance. If you can transfer up +2 and through a 70cm gap, then you can get the full effect. For a chair user to sit in the front, there are -4, or anyone can stay in a step free space at the side. The Cafeteria/restaurant is step free although it’s slightly easier to get in through the exit. There are adapted cubicles (D80 ST110) in the gents. in both toilet blocks, with the better ones by the gift shop.