Ra’anana to Eilat, Israel: Watch Out for Camels & Tanks

Text: Brian Jablon • Photography: Brian Jablon

I left the house at 8 a.m. and loaded my Honda CBR250R with a tankbag and a small 10-liter Kriega pack that fit nicely on the pillion seat. This was a solo trip. I wanted to escape from the city for a few days, and a ride through the Negev desert to the Red Sea was just what I needed.

I started on Route 6, one of the few toll roads in Israel. Route 6 goes through farmland in the center of the country, and it eventually reaches the suburbs of Beersheva, the major desert city. After taking the exit to Route 40, the directions are easy: Keep going south. Route 40 passes several military bases, lots of industries, and Bedouin villages. Watch for camels!

I continued onward to Mitzpe Ramon for lunch, gas, and a stop at the visitors center. There is an excellent shawarma shop and the vegan cafe Mauna, which has the best coffee in town. I had shawarma, the Middle Eastern sandwich of sliced meat in a pita, while a few elderly French tourists chatted with me about their trip, how much they loved traveling in Israel, and the motorcycles they used to have. There is something about traveling solo by motorcycle that seems to make it easier for others to approach you for conversation.

After lunch, I visited the Mitzpe Ramon visitors center and took a walk along the promenade overlooking Makhtesh Ramon, the largest crater in Israel. The visitors center ties together the story of the first Israeli astronaut—Col. Ilan Ramon, who died in the fatal space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003—and the geological history of the Makhtesh Ramon. I topped off my tank and refilled my water supply. On this route, there are no gas stations until you get to Eilat, a two-hour, 100-mile journey, and help can be a long time coming.

From Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat, the desert scenery is spectacular and constantly changing. I took it easy and made frequent stops to take pictures and soak in the unique landscape. The road from Mitzpe Ramon is one of the classic long, curvy descents in Israel. After the descent, I stopped at Holot Tsivoniyim (colorful sands), an old quarry repurposed as a park, which is well-marked on the right side. Continuing on this road is desert motorcycle riding at its best. I took my trip soon after a number of rainstorms had left water in many locations where it doesn’t usually lie in May. There are many dry riverbeds that become flooded during the infrequent rainstorms, which can submerge the road under several feet of water.

Peaceful, quiet, and colorful, with a constantly changing landscape, the scenery kept improving the farther south I rode, culminating in the Eilat mountains toward the end of Route 12. This route offers plenty of time to think and clear your head. Surprisingly, I passed no other motorcyclists on the entire route from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat.

Military installations abound in these areas, and I spied several training sessions happening along Route 12. Soldiers waved from their trucks or while on their tanks. At the intersection of routes 40 and 12, I stopped at the Kibbutz Neot Semadar restaurant to refuel with coffee. Route 12 abuts the Egyptian border, and the closer you get to Eilat, the closer the road is to the border—along with warning signs not to get too close to the fence. As the sign says, “Trespassing or touching the fence endangers your life.”

As it was getting late, the dry air was cooler, and a pleasant breeze was hitting me while I rode. Finally, at 5:30 p.m. I arrived at my lodgings in the suburbs of Eilat, high in the hills. I took a nice, long shower, changed into more comfortable shorts and sandals, and then walked 30 minutes down the hill to spend the evening in the city of Eilat on the Red Sea and watch the amazing sunset behind the mountains. Perfect!

After riding from Ra’anana to Eilat the previous day, I took a day off to relax. I visited the Dolphin Reef, a unique destination where you can dive or snorkel with dolphins, enjoy “relaxation pools,” and soak up the sun at the beach, one of the best in Eilat. I spent some time in the relaxation pools, a two-hour experience where you float in three pools—saltwater, freshwater, and the “Dead Sea”—with music playing in the water. Due to the high concentration of salt in the water at the “Dead Sea” pool, you float exactly like you’re on the Dead Sea. 

On the return I rode Route 90, which follows the Jordanian border. Along the way there are several agricultural communities, including many that grow and harvest date palms, which grow well in this desert environment. After filling up with breakfast at Yotvata Park, I rejoined Route 90 until it met Route 40, which cuts through the mountains and is an amazing scenic ride. Passing Avdat, ruins of a Nabatean city on the Incense caravan route, my destination was the Ein Avdat National Park. I took the lower entrance to Ein Avdat, and after paying the entrance fee I rode the twisting road with several hairpin turns down to the bottom. I did the scenic hike in the canyon to the waterfall and its pools and then continued up the stairs to the upper section—about 1 to 1.5 hours roundtrip. Unfortunately, no swimming is allowed—a shame since it’s such an inviting spot, especially in the 100-degree heat. After the hike, I returned the way I came and three hours later was back home, tired but home.