Sde Boker is a kibbutz in the central Negev (the south of Israel), most famous for being the past residence of the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who moved there after he left his office in order to live his ideals of settling the Negev. The name Sde Boker also commonly refers to the nearby ecologic settlement and educational complex, the Ben-Gurion College, at the edge of which is the tomb of the late prime minister and his wife, set on the ridge overlooking the mighty Zin Valley.
This page relates to the kibbutz and the college, and to the surrounding area. Under the Do section you'd also find some suggestions for hiking and Jeep trails.
Kibbutz Sde Boker was established in the first years of Israel, the late 1940s. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion passed through there during a tour of the Negev and was very impressed by how the residents actually lived the Zionist ideals of working the land of Israel and settling even the harshest of its regions, the Negev. He announced that upon his retirement, he would move there and live the rest of his life in the kibbutz, which he mostly did until the last of his days. The old wooden house where he lived with his wife, Paula, has become a museum where guided tours are conducted.
The nearby Ben-Gurion College was built while he was still alive (though not yet named after him) mainly as a study center of the Negev. In time, several academic and educational establishments were founded there, the most prominent ones being a campus of the Ben-Gurion University, a "field school" providing guidance and ecologic education for visitors, and a boarding school named the High School for Environmental Education; also the Israeli research institution of solar energy is there. The complex was built with accommodation only for workers and students, but in the 2000s the joint ruling body of these institutions decided to build additional housing units and allow anyone to rent or buy property there. Most buildings were built with an environment-friendly orientation.
The kibbutz and the college were built on the northern ridge of the Zin Basin, an opening in the Zin Stream – a dry stream, one of the largest in Israel. The only other nearby settlements are the very small religious community Merkhav Am, and some agricultural and/or tourist-oriented farms.
Highway 40 passes by the kibbutz, the college, and the sites of Avdat and Ein Avdat. From Beer Sheva, drive south for about 45 minutes, following the signs to Eilat via Mitzpe Ramon. After you pass Halukim junction, you'll see on your left the kibbutz (1 minute away from the junction), the college (4 minutes), Ein Avdat (10 minutes) and Avdat (13 minutes), where you'll also find a large gas station with a cafe. Alternately, coming from the south, the area is 2½ hours drive from Eilat: leave the city by Highway 12 (towards the Eilat Mountains) and follow the signs to Mitzpe Ramon; about 20 minutes after passing through Mitzpe, you'll reach Avdat.
The small settlement Merkhav Am is on route 204 just east of Halukim junction (north of Sde Boker on highway 40, follow signs towards Yerucham).
All following lines drive on Route 40, so they all stop in the Kibbutz and the College, as well as the sites of Avdat and Ein Avdat:
- Operated by Metropoline Transportation (website only in Hebrew):
- The most common way: lines 60, 65 depart from Beer Sheva every 20-40 minutes between 6:30AM-9PM on weekdays, Friday until about 4PM, and Saturday evenings. Line 65 does not enter the kibbutz and the college but stops on their access junctions, leaving you a 5-minute walk.
- Line 55 from Dimona and Yerucham passes through Merkhav Am in addition to the aforementioned stations.
- From Mitzpe Ramon, use any of the above lines going in the opposite direction: 55, 60, 65.
- Operated by Egg'ed (English website):
The Zin Basin just below Sde Boker contains many popular hiking destinations. It can be reached in several fun ways by a hiking trip of several days. In fact, the Israel National Trail goes through it, from where you can take a 3-hour detour through either the Kibbutz itself or the College. Coming from the north, the trail gets to the basin in 1-2 day hike from the Large Makhtesh just south of Yerucham. Coming from the south, it's a 2-3 day hike from Mitzpe Ramon.
Also, some 1-day hikes connect nearby destinations, e.g. between the ancient city of Avdat and the Ben-Gurion College. Consult the Do section below.
Getting around by foot in any one of the settlements and sites really isn't a big deal, as none of them is any larger than 1 km across. Getting between them is fairly easy thanks to the pretty frequent aforementioned buses, though remember that public transport in Israel doesn't operate during Sabbath time (Friday evening to Saturday evening). In a car, one can get between any of Sde Boker, the college, Avdat and Ein Avdat in no more than 15 minutes at worst. Taxis are also available, most easily in the small shopping center in the Ben Gurion College. You'll have to call and order one, as they don't normally just go around driving between these somewhat godforsaken places, and that they cost extra during Sabbath.
Getting around the valley can be done by hiking, cycling or driving, though mostly by 4×4 as most dirt roads are inaccessible for normal cars. Consult the Do section below.
- 1 Ben-Gurion's Desert Home, Sde Boker (Following the signs from the Kibbutz entrance), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Su-Th 8:30AM-4PM, F 8:30AM-2PM, Sa 10AM-4PM. The house where the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, lived with his wife Paula, after leaving his office. It was preserved in almost the same shape as it was when Ben-Gurion lived there. Guided tours are available. Paid entrance.
- 2 Sde Boker Winery, Sde Boker, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The vineyard owned by the kibbutz was started as an agricultural experiment for growing vines using brackish water. This hasn't turned-out well, but the vineyard and winery still operate, now using fresh water. It is operated by Zvi Remak, originally from San Francisco and a B.Sc. of agronomy. He sells the products there and conducts tours of the winery; better to arrange in advance.
- 3 [dead link] Tomb of David and Paula Ben-Gurion, Ben-Gurion College (On Highway 40, 5 minutes south of Sde Boker, turn towards the college. At the traffic circle before the gate, turn right, then left. Park vehicle and follow signs to tomb), ☎ , , fax: . 24 hours. A small, green, beautiful park, at the edge of which are the tombs of the first Israeli prime minister and his wife. The graves are located just near the ridge of the Zin valley, offering a great view, so this can definitely be considered both a place of heritage for the Israelis and a genuine tourist attraction. Various trees and plants are grown in the park, and a large number of ibexes wander at its edges. Do not feed them, as it is unhealthy for this endangered species. Free entrance.
- 1 [dead link] Avdat (pronounced Ovdat עֹבדת) (Highway 40, 15 minutes south of Sde Boker; not the same as Ein Avdat), ☎ , fax: . Su-Th Sa 8AM-4PM, F 8AM-5PM; during DST open for 1 additional hour. Avdat was a Nabataean city and central trade post in the first centuries CE and BCE. Today it's an Israeli national park and one of the four locations included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Incense Route in the Negev. The excavations and restoration work reveal a beautiful city of stone walls, columns, arches and decorations. Adult ₪29, student ₪23, child/senior ₪15; combined tickets with Ein Avdat are available.
- 2 [dead link] Ein Avdat (Either reach the bottom entrance of the creek following the signs from the Ben Gurion College; or drive 15 minutes south of there on Highway 40 to reach the top. At least during busy days, the south entrance is closed for entrance and access/walk is only possible in north to south direction.), ☎ , , fax: . Su-Th Sa 8AM-4PM, F 8AM-5PM; during DST open for 1 additional hour. A creek in the cliff side where the mighty Zin stream, going west to east, descends from the highland and starts forming the deep Zin basin. This is the only section of the stream which flows all year long, thanks to the Avdat spring at its top. The water are brackish (that is, midway between salt and sweet water) and it is forbidden to enter the ponds (a regulation constantly enforced by the local rangers), but they do create a beautiful sight and attract a lot of animals, mainly ibexes, hyraxes and several bird species. Coming from the top entrance, you'll only be allowed to reach the viewpoint on the ridge, offering a great view of the creek and the basin, then you'll have to turn and go back. However, coming from the bottom, you can walk inside the creek itself, along the water, then either turn back or ascend the Via Ferrata steps out of the creek, to reach the top entrance. The walk is fit for children and should take a family around 30 minutes. However, in high season (mainly the Passover holiday in April) the place could be packed, and hiker "traffic jams" of are likely to occur. Adult ₪28, student ₪23, child/senior ₪14; combined tickets with Avdat are available.
- 3 Ein Akev. A spring forming a small pool and a nice oasis in the Zin basin. The pool is about 4 meters in diameter and very deep even in summertime. To reach it by Jeep, drive on Highway 40 between Sde Boker and the College, then turn south to a black-marked dirt road with a sign towards Ein Akev. After about 6 km, turn right to a blue road ; this one will end within 4 km, then walk the remaining 1 km of the blue trail by foot. If you don't have a 4×4 vehicle, the place can be reached in a 2-hour hike each way from the Ben-Gurion College. From near the tomb, go down to the basin following the signs towards Ein Avdat, then when you reach the bottom, turn left on a red dirt road . After about an hour you'll encounter the aforementioned blue road , where you have to turn right and walk for another 45 minutes or so, until you reach the oasis. The hike is fairly easy, only that on your way back you'll have to make the steep climb back up to the College. Please review the guidelines for hiking in Israel, and keep in mind that this is a nature reserve and access is only allowed during daytime.
Eat and drinkEdit
- 1 The small shopping center at the Ben-Gurion College. Su-Th during daytime, F until noon. Has some small cafés, pizzerias and the like, as well as the only bar in the area.
- Iso-Pub (at the shopping center), ☎ . Th 7PM-midnight, F 10PM to last customer, Sa 7PM-midnight; closed Su-W.
- 2 The Avdat gas station (Highway 40, 15 minutes south of Sde Boker; large gas station on your left). 24 hours. A convenience store and the café Aroma, offering hot drinks, sandwiches, salads and breakfasts.
- Camping is prohibited inside nature reserves, which do constitute most of the Zin basin and some of the surrounding area. Consult a hiking map to find out their boundaries. Inside the basin there are a few permitted campsites, though they don't have any facilities such as running water, toilets and the like.
- 1 Ben-Gurion College (By the sign from Highway 40, 2 minutes south of Sde Boker), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Various guesthouses and inns offered by the college.
- 2 Caravanserai (Khan HaShayarot) (10 minutes past Sde Boker you'll see the sign to the left), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Touristic farm with several rooms for families and small groups, and some large tents for large groups. Tents (excluding breakfast): child ₪60, adult ₪85; room B&B: single ₪370, double ₪475, triple ₪640; for additional child ₪130, adult ₪160.
- 3 Karmei Avdat Farm (Ovdat Vineyards) (10 minutes south of Sde Boker, following a sign to a dirt road), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. An agricultural and touristic farm with three double rooms and three family huts. Tours in the farm and lectures about wines and agriculture in the Negev can be arranged. B&B for couple: ₪560 one night weekdays, ₪1780 two nights weekend/holiday; ₪120-170 additional person.
- 4 HaRo'ah Park (free campground) (Road sign on Highway 40 just south of Sde Boker). A small grove of planted trees with some picnic tables and water taps. The name HaRo'ah, meaning "The Shepherd Woman", commemorates a shepherd from the Kibbutz who was murdered nearby in the 50s by Bedouins who thought she stole some of their flock.
- 5 Nahal Havarim Farm, ☎ , , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. An agricultural and touristic farms with three rooms for couples and families. Olives for oil are grown in the farm. Night for couple without breakfast: ₪450 weekdays, ₪700 weekend/holiday; extra ₪60-80 for additional person.
- 6 Orlyya Farm (South of Sde Boker, turn right at Tziporim junction (sign to Desert Shanty) and look for a sign left to the farm), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A desert farm with rooms for singles and couples. For couple: ₪600 one night weekdays, ₪1500 two nights weekend.