The Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center (tel. 08/658-8620) at the edge of the crater, housed in a large modern structure designed to resemble the spiral-shaped sea fossils embedded in the local rocks, is staffed by people trained by the Israel Nature Reserves Authority; the bookstore/gift shop is a good place to pick up background and hiking information as well as topographical maps. There are slide and film shows, and a museum exhibit of the area's geology, flora, and fauna, including the Bio Ramon habitat filled with local porcupines, scorpions, and lizards. Admission, including the Bio Ramon habitat, is NIS 45. It is open Saturday through Thursday from 8am to 4pm and Friday 8am to 3pm.
The Ramon Crater is perhaps at its most accessible in the spring or fall, when it's not too hot or too bitterly cold. Whenever you happen to visit, it's worthwhile to invest in a professional tour or guide. There is a range of activities including 2- to 3-hour jeep and dune buggy tours that leave Mitzpe Ramon several times a day and cost NIS 160 per person; full and overnight tours run roughly in the range of NIS 400 to NIS 800. The visitor center and the Ramon Inn will have information on current guides and guiding tour companies; you can also arrange 2- and 3-day desert expeditions, including accommodations in Bedouin-style tents, camel tours, mountain-bike rentals, rappelling, escorted hikes, and Bedouin evenings complete with dinner. For a reputable local company, look into Israel-Negev Desert Tours (www.israel-negev-tours.com). At times, the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) offers excellent Yarok nature hikes that run about NIS 90, as well as other tours, but you must book in advance. Serious hikers should get advice and maps at the Mitzpe Ramon SPNI Field School Information Center, located about a 2km (2/3-mile) walk beyond the southern end of Ben-Gurion St. (tel. 08/658-8615 or 658-8616). For more information and a schedule of Yarok tours, go to www.aspni.org.
For an overview of the Ramon Crater, turn left as you exit the visitor center and follow the 1km (1/2-mile) promenade alongside the crater's rim. Sunset is a good time for walking; with luck, you'll spot an ibex in the distance or an eagle aloft on the evening wind. In the opposite direction, you'll find the wonderful Desert Sculpture Park, with the sky and the crater as backdrop for works by a number of international and Israeli artists. To get there, drive out of the visitor center, make a left onto the main road, go past the gas station on the right, and make a right turn at the sign for Ma'ale Noah.
The Alpaca Farm (tel. 08/658-8047; www.alpaca.co.il) is 3km (1 3/4 miles) outside of town. Founded in 1987, this establishment raises both alpacas and llamas and produces fine alpaca and llama wool. The alpacas have a charm of their own, and after the Ramon Crater, they are the town's most memorable tourist attraction. Adorable, gentle, and fluffy, they quickly bond with anyone carrying a small paper bag of feed sold on the premises for NIS 6. At times, they may spit (they are distantly related to camels), but they mean nothing personal. You can also visit the llama herd, but the llamas are not as whimsical. Kids can ride llamas at the farm for NIS 20 for 15 minutes. Guided llama treks through the Ramon Crater can be arranged through the Alpaca Farm with gentle, intelligent llamas carrying your packs and serving as mounts for small children. The Alpaca Farm has an open-air snack bar serving light meals. Admission is NIS 28. The farm is open daily 8:30am to 6pm and until 4:30pm in winter.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.