A Night in the Desert

by Brian on October 28, 2009

in Only in Israel

Feeling stressed out? Need to get away from it all? Here’s a travel tip that will take you so far off the beaten track, there’s barely a road to get there.

Succa Bamidbar (Succa in the Desert) is about as distant from civilization as you can get in Israel. Located 5 km from the already remote Mitzpe Ramon (a three and a half hour drive from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv) Succa Bamidbar is an ecological experiment in living among the sagebrush.

The establishment, founded in 1990 and run by the amiable Avi Dror and Chen Hadar, consists of 8 small cabins scattered across a barren rocky hillside. The cabins are not exactly like the succot mentioned in the Bible, the temporary dwellings used during the Feast of Tabernacles, with their breezy open walls and palm fronds for a roof. The rooms at Succa Bamidbar are made of wood and fabric, have doors with handles and are enclosed on all sides to keep the cold out in winter and the heat in during the summer.

The expansive rolling campsite is spacious to say the least. Each succa is set no less than 150 meters from the next; if it’s privacy you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. Some of the succot have electricity (run by solar batteries of course), others are lit just by kerosene lamps. There is no running water; the succot come equipped with a clay jug of fresh water. Sheets and blankets (though not towels or toiletries) are provided; you sleep on mattresses or low beds, but I wouldn’t complain, for the mattresses were surprisingly comfy; something you’d find on unclutterer. The succot are attractively decorated, though there is no floor: a variety of colorful throw rugs cover up the rocky surface below.

The 8 succot range from two person teepee-like pup tents to a mid-sized building which fit our family of five. The largest succa is shaped like a Star of David and has exotic Indian-tinged wall hangings throughout its rustic interior. The entire community uses two environment friendly outhouses that are remarkably odorless: after every use, guests toss sawdust into the hole to keep it as fresh smelling as such things can be.

The most striking element of Succa Bamidbar is the solitude. With no lights at night, you walk the narrow paths between the guest succot and the central “Succa of Abraham,” where two sumptuous meals a day are served, with just a lantern which the proprietors provide. Located in a valley surrounded by craggy peaks, there is no “light pollution” from the nearby town of Mitzpe Ramon. The stars in the sky were more plentiful than any I’ve ever seen and the effect was that of an enormous eye-popping planetarium. On our first night, we sat under the canopy of stars gazing up, transfixed. It might seem trite to write, but it really was quite awe-inspiring.

Silence is also a major player in the uniqueness of the place. At night, you see nothing and you hear nothing. That is until 6:30 PM, when Avi and Chen ring an enormous gong which sounds over the entire valley – the call for dinner. On our first night there we had a delicious lentil soup with home-made croutons, macaroni and assorted vegetables. Our second night included freshly baked bread and home made sweet wine with a ginger cinnamon kick. The sweet potato soup and zucchini goat cheese casserole were both to die for.

The family-style dining room encourages interaction between the guests, and our dinner companions were an eclectic bunch, including a hip dentist from Seattle; a voice over actor and professional story teller from Tel Aviv; a teacher at a religious seminary for pre-army students from Kfar Adumim, an Israeli settlement near Jericho; and various yuppie-looking couples looking to get away from the rat race for a weekend of unadulterated isolation.

Breakfast is also served: a panoply of home made jams, yogurts and cheeses, hard boiled eggs, a fabulous chunky humus (with an accompanying schug – hot sauce – to warm up even the toughest desert denizen), and of course the various vegetables that constitute the ubiquitous Israeli salad that’s a staple of hotel breakfasts across the Holy Land. Lunch is not served.

Succa Bamidbar is a 45-minute drive from the center of the Grand Canyon-lite Ramon Crater where you can go on some fabulous day hikes. There is also a pleasant 25-minute hike from the Succa Bamidbar campsite to the edge of the crater with its breathtaking view.

A word about the road: Getting to Succa Bamidbar requires a treacherous trek down an unpaved path of which it would be disingenuous to call merely “bumpy.” There are potholes the size of mini versions of the Ramon Crater, ditches, gullies, and enormous rocks strewn across the path. The Succa Bamidbar website says that “any car can go there but please drive carefully.” We did it in a Toyota Corolla sedan; it took us 25 minutes. A 4X4 would have made a big difference.

Taking our leave of this magical place was tough. Upon returning to the big city, we got caught in a nasty traffic jam. Cars were jockeying aggressively for a better spot, honking, flashing their lights and in general acting in every way possible the antithesis of our desert experience. It made the return to civilization all that more palpable and our next trip to that barren hill in the middle of nowhere all the more anticipated.

Succa Bamidbar has a website in Hebrew and English: http://www.succah.co.il/en/. Call them +972-8-658-6280 (they don’t have email or cell phone).

Reservations are required. Here are the costs:

Couple NIS 450
Single NIS 250
Child 3-16 NIS 120
Additional adult NIS 200

Couple NIS 600
Single NIS 600
Child 3-16 NIS 140
Additional adult NIS 250


A shorter version of this article was originally posted on the Israelity blog.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jo May 2, 2010 at 2:30 am

Great review – we can’t wait to go – just for one night. Hope the scorpions don’t bite!

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