This is a day tour for you, which is dedicated to Masada. But in Israel everything is different when you get there, I added information about accommodations (guest house and camping sites). Also it’s a great idea to add some information about restaurants and of course how you get there and back to where you came from.
We start with this tour at Masada. After the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE, almost a thousand Jews – men, women and children made a desperate last stand atop Masada, a desert mesa surrounded by sheer cliffs and, from 72 CE, the might of the Roman Empire’s Tenth Legion.
- Telephone: 972-8-658-4208, 972-8-658-4207
- Price: adult NIS 29 and child NIS 15
For an detailed description about the story of Masada, click here.
Over the last century, Masada has become Israeli shorthand for the attitude that ‘they’ll never take us alive’. During WWII, before the British stopped Rommel’s German divisions at El Alamein (Egypt) in 1942, some Palestinian Jews made plans for a last stand atop Mt Carmel, and a number of Israeli army units hold their swearing-in ceremonies here, vowing that ‘Masada shall not fall again’.
(Less apocalyptically, the Israeli air force has been known to send groups of officers up to do yoga at sunrise.)
Masada has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2001. The entire site, except the Northern Palace, is wheelchair accessible.
- Visitors Center; admission including audio guide atop Masada NIS 20
- 8.30am-4pm or 5pm Sat-Thu, 8.30am-3pm or 4pm Fri, last entry 30 minutes before closing
A really excellent introduction to Masada’s archaeology and history, this museum combines 500 evocative artifacts unearthed by archaeologists (and five replicas) with introductions to Masada personalities – e.g. Herod the Great, who built a palace here in the 1st century BCE, and Josephus Flavius – to make the dramatic events of 73 CE seem close enough to touch. Visitors receive an audio headset, available in seven languages.
Objects on display include Roman arrowheads; a leather sandal once worn by a Roman legionnaire; the remains of Roman-era dates, wheat, barley and olives; and 11 pot shards that – as Josephus writes – may have been used to select those who killed everyone else as the Romans breached the ramparts.
The plateau atop Masada, which measures about 550m by 270m, is some 60m above sea level – that is, about 488m above the surface of the Dead Sea. Visitors are given an excellent map-brochure of the ruins; similar information can be had from an audio guide (20NIS, including admission to the Masada Museum). Both are available – in Hebrew, English, French, German, Spanish and Russian – at the ticket windows, atop Masada and at the museum.
On the ruins, black painted lines divide reconstructed parts from original remains.
Drinking water is available so bring a bottle to refill. Eating atop Masada is forbidden.
Look down in any direction and chances are you’ll be able to spot at least one of the Romans’ eight military camps and their siege wall. The effort put into the siege by the Roman Legions is mind boggling – no surprise, then, that they commemorated their victories over the rebels of Judea by erecting a monumental victory arch in the center of imperial Rome, the Arch of Titus, whose design,
many centuries later, inspired Paris’s Arc de Triumph.
Sound and light show
(%08-995 9333; adult/child 45/35NIS; h9pm Tue & Thu Mar-Oct)
This dramatic, open-air recounting of the history of Masada is meant to be watched from the base of the Roman siege ramp on Masada’s western side. The narration is in Hebrew but you can rent earphones (15NIS) for simultaneous translation into five languages. Access is via Arad and then Rte 3199; from the Visitors Center, it’s a 68km drive. Get there by 8.30pm.
Trails Around Masada
- Paths link the remains of the eight Roman military encampments that still encircle Masada, making it possible to circumnavigate the mesa in part or in full. To get a sense of the area’s geography, check out the 3D relief map facing the Visitors Center ticket windows. From the Visitors Center, a trail heads west up Mt Eleazar to Camp H (30 minutes). From here, Roman legionnaires could peer down at Masada, gathering aerial intelligence on the Zealots’ activities. The path continues to the bottom of the siege ramp on Masada’s western side.
- Alternatively, you can walk north from the Visitors Center, following the siege wall on a trail known as Shvil HaRatz (the Runner’s Trail). It, too, eventually goes to the siege ramp on the western side.
- Another trail links Camp D (north of Masada) with the eminently hikeable Wadi Tze’elim, 4km to the north.
This famously serpentine footpath winds its way up Masada’s eastern flank, starting from near the Visitors Center. Walking up takes about 60 minutes; count on spending 30 minutes to come back down. If you’d like to watch sunrise from the summit, get to the base an hour before the sun comes up, sometime between 4.30am (in June) and 5.30am (in December). Before 8am, access is from the
security barrier near the youth hostel.
On particularly hot summer days, park authorities sometimes close the trail at 10am or 11am (9am when conditions are extreme) for the rest of the day.
The Romans wimped out and so can you – the path up the spine of their siege ramp takes only about 15 minutes to climb. The catch is that the ramp (ie western) side of the mountain is accessible only from the town of Arad, a 68km drive from the Visitors Centre via Rte 31 and then Rte 3199. If you’d like to watch sunrise from the summit, get to the base of the ramp half an hour before the sun comes up.
(return/one-way 76/57NIS, child 43/29NIS; hevery 15 min 8am-4pm or 5pm Sat-Thu, 8am-3pm or 4pm Fri, last trip up 45mn before closing)
Whisks you from the Visitors Centre to the top, in Swiss comfort, in just three minutes. Each car holds 65 people. Wheelchair accessible.
Chenyon Layla Metzada Ma’arav
(08-628 0404 ext 1; http://www.parks.org.il; western entrance, Masada; camping adult/child 53/42NIS, tent rental incl mattress 75/65NIS, 5-person hut with bathroom 450NIS)
A modern, well-equipped camping area on Masada’s western side, near the base of the Roman ramp. Prices include the use of kitchen facilities and admission to Masada. Mattresses and sleeping bags can be rented for 10NIS. Road access is via Arad.
Camping is permitted in a parking area, signposted ‘Nature’s Cultural Hall’ (because operas are staged here), on Masada’s eastern access road at a point 1km west of the junction with Rte 90 and a bit under 2km east of the Visitors Center. There are no amenities, not even water; bring a flashlight/torch.
Masada Guest House
(%02-594 5623/4; http://www.iyha.org.il; dorm/single/double 145/305/424NIS; reservations 8am-6pm Sun-Fri)
This 350-bed hostel is ideal if you’d like to see sunrise from atop Masada. The six-bed, single-sex dorm rooms border on luxurious. Staff do their best to separate travelers from the packs of noisy schoolkids. The swimming pool is open from Passover to October. Dinner (US$16.80, on Friday US$19.60) is served most nights until 8pm. Frequently booked out, especially on Friday, so reserving is a must. Situated a few hundred meters below the Visitors Center. Wheelchair accessible.
Eating & Drinking
Free drinking water is available atop Masada.
Visitors Centre Food Court
(mains from 24NIS; huntil 4pm or 5pm)
Stalls serve felafel (24NIS), shwarma (35NIS), sandwiches and cold beer (26NIS); also has a cafe, McDonald’s and a cafeteria charging 46NIS to 78NIS for a meal. Situated downstairs from the ticket windows.
Getting There & Away
Masada’s Visitors Center, on the eastern side of the mountain, is 21km south of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve; the access road from Rte 90 is 3km long. All intercity buses serving the Dead Sea stop a few hundred meters from the Visitors Center; bus times are posted at Visitors Center ticket windows.
The Roman siege ramp, on Masada’s western side, is accessible from Arad (via Rte 3199). As the crow flies, the Visitors Center is a bit over 1km from the siege ramp; by car the distance is 68km! To get there from Arad, you can take a taxi (08-997 4444; day/night 120/150NIS).
Egged buses (www.bus.co.il) link sites along Rte 90 (including, from north to south, Qumran, Ein Feshkha, Metzukei Dragot Junction, Mineral Beach, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Ein Gedi Beach, Kibbutz Ein Gedi, Ein Gedi Spa, Masada, Ein Bokek, Neve Zohar, Neot HaKikar Junction and Arava Junction) with the following destinations:
- Jerusalem – buses 421, 444 and 486; 25NIS to 49.50NIS, one to two hours, about hourly 7am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday, hourly until about 2pm Friday, at least one Saturday night.
- Eilat – bus 444; 49.50NIS to 82NIS, 2½ to four hours, four per day Sunday to Thursday, three on Friday, one to three Saturday afternoon and night.
- Tel Aviv – bus 421; 46NIS to 49.50NIS, 1¾ to 3¼ hours, departs Tel Aviv at 8.45am and Neve Zohar at 2pm Sunday to Friday. In Tel Aviv departs from the Central (Arlozoroff/Savidor) train station; goes via Jerusalem.
- Be’er Sheva – buses 384 and 385; 31.50NIS to 44NIS, 1¼ to 2¼ hours, four per day Sunday to Thursday, two on Friday.
All of these lines can be used for travel north and south along the Dead Sea’s Rte 90, which runs along the Dead Sea’s western shore (eg from Masada to Ein Gedi Beach).
If you’re short on time, it’s possible to do a one-day circuit from Jerusalem on weekdays (Sunday to Thursday). Take bus 444 from Jerusalem to Masada (first departure at 7am); after visiting Masada, hop on any northbound bus to Ein Gedi Nature Reserve; walk over to Ein Gedi Beach for a dip; and finally take bus 486 back up to Jerusalem (last bus at about 7.30pm).
The Dead Sea’s western coast is served by Rte 90 – Israel’s longest highway, it continues north to the Lebanese border and south to the Red Sea. There’s an army roadblock about 14km north of Ein Gedi at the junction below Metzukei Dragot.
The Dead Sea is served by three east–west highways:
- Rte 1 – thanks to this modern, divided highway (and a stretch of Rte 90), Ein Gedi is only 75km from Jerusalem. Rte 1 passes through the West Bank but rarely has security issues. For Jerusalem-bound traffic, there’s an army roadblock between the large settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem.
- Rte 31 – connects Arad with Rte 90 at a point a few kilometres south of Ein Bokek. To get to the back (western) side of Masada, take Rte 3199 from Arad.
- Rte 25 – passes through Be’er Sheva and Dimona on its way to the Dead Sea’s southern tip, near Neot HaKikar.
Locals recommend that you arrive in the Dead Sea area with a full tank as the only petrol stations are (from north to south) at Lido junction (40km north of Ein Gedi near Jericho), Ein Gedi Beach, Neve Zohar junction and Arava junction (11km west of Neot HaKikar).
Most hikes are circuits so you end up where you began. For one-way hikes, you can arrange (for a fee) to be dropped off and picked up, eg by the kind folks in Neot HaKikar. Only one car rental company (Hertz) has an office at the Dead Sea (at Ein Bokek).