Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater)
The Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is an extremely interesting geological site located in Israel's Negev Desert, about 53 miles (85km) south of the city of Be'er Sheva. The crater (or more properly, makhtesh) was not formed from the impact of a meteor, but is rather a geological formation unique to the Negev desert, caused by millions of years of erosion and weathering following the retreat of the ocean. These days, the vast crater is housed within Ramon National Park, one of Israel's most popular ecotourism destinations. The crater, which is shaped like an elongated heart, is a magnificent sight - and a potent reminder of the incredible age of the region. The crater is also home to a variety of indigenous plants and animals, including the Nubian ibex, striped hyena, Arabian leopard and Dorcas gazelle. There are numerous hiking trails leading down to the bottom of the crater, where you can see the ruins of prehistoric Khan Saharonim (a stop used by Nabatean traders travelling the Incense Route more than 2,000 years ago). An ideal destination for those who like their experiences of nature to be silent and expansive, there are also wonderful star-gazing opportunities (and cheap accommodation) available at the nearby town of Mitzpe Ramon.