The Negev Desert and the southern coast
The main tourist activities here are hiking and camel and donkey riding. The Gaza Strip is nearby but is dangerous for visitors as it is the site of many violent clashes. March and April are good times to visit as the weather is temperate and the desert is blooming. In summer the Negev becomes unbearably hot and the area around the Dead Sea is humid beyond belief. You cannot be without water and this is not the best time to hike. In winter the temperature is milder than in the north but can be quite harsh and windy in the desolate areas away from the cities. For Europeans who want to get away from the cold, Eilat is a good place to visit in winter.
Beer Sheba (Be'ersheva)
Beer Shaba has seen enormous growth since 1990 and houses people from all over the world: Russia, Central Europe, Albania, Argentina, Morocco, Syria and Ethiopia. Many volunteers work here to help immigrant absorption in various ways. The city's main attraction is the Thursday morning Bedouin market, which is the best place to practise your haggling. Almost anything is sold here, from animals, clothes, jewellery made of Bedouin silver, spices, cassette tapes and watches, to fruit and vegetables, Bedouin robes, rugs, copper and ceramics. Other sights include the Negev Museum, Abraham's Well, the ruins at Tel Be'ersheva and the modern Ben-Gurion University. There is a fair amount of night time activity, with pubs and cinemas providing much of this entertainment. In July the city hosts an international accordion and harmonica festival with soul, jazz, blues, classical and pop performances. Near Be'ersheva is Arad, famous for its annual mid July rock festival attended by thousands of young Israelis and tourists. Concerts are given by most of Israel's rock stars, the place gets packed and there is a lot of street activity during this time. Sdeh Boker is a lush oasis which produces olives, fruit and wheat out of the desert soil. It is here that David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, retired, and his house, tomb and two internationally acclaimed Ben-Gurion research institutes can be seen (for more information see Eilat and The Red Sea ).
Deep in the Negev, a huge crater was discovered in the 1940s, which suggests that an asteroid crashed into the earth here. The Machtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is a massive steep pit drained by one wadi, and is a nature reserve. There is a visitor's centre and many hiking and jeep tours on offer, so you can see the million-year-old rock formations and volcanic debris. Fairly close by is Kibbutz Lahav and the Museum of Bedouin Culture, created to preserve the traditional culture of a changing people.
One of the oldest cities in the world, Ashkelon is an important absorption centre for new immigrants. It has fantastic beaches and a very well known national park with impressive ruins of Philistine, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader and Marmeluke cities. In sections of the park you will find beautiful old statues and sculptures. Migdal is an interesting district with minarets and a Thursday market and the city of Ashkelon has a lively nightlife. Situated nearby, Ashdod is involved in industry but also has its share of ruins, a Wednesday flea market, a park, and hosts the Mediterranean Festival in August.