Early Friday morning around 3 AM (or late Thursday night depending on how you look at it) I rolled over to turn off that obnoxious alarm of mine. Just as I was settling back into my pillow it hit me, I had to get up for a Masada sunrise tour. I silenced my inner groan, because I mean… “I really regret waking up for this sunrise” – said no one ever… and grabbed my backpack. Luckily I had enough foresight to wear my 3 AM hiking outfit (yoga pants and a sweatshirt) to bed.
Masada is a fortress located in the Judean desert close to the Dead Sea. It has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its history and stunning views. Rumor has it that Jewish patriots inhabited this fortress and when it was finally penetrated by a conquering Roman army, 960 Jews committed mass suicide to elude capture although only 28 bodies have been found.
It is a one hour drive southeast of Jerusalem that takes you along the shore of the Dead Sea. Our tour picked up at my hostel, so all I had to do was roll out of bed and onto the bus. I had every intention of sleeping the whole way, and even brought my fashionable Emirates airline eye mask, but ended up chatting and making new friends instead (which certain people who intended to sleep won’t let me live down).
Since the fortress is atop a mountain you can hike one of the paths or take a cable car to the top. We hiked the Snake Path which is aptly named for its winding route. This hike can be done in an hour unless you stop for smoking breaks, which many tourists did if you’ll believe it.
On a clear day, the Snake Path has stunning views overlooking the Dead Sea, especially if you go early enough to catch the sun rise. I was bundled up due to the cold in Jerusalem, but once we had hiked for about 10 minutes, I was peeling off the layers. If you do the hike during the winter, you will be grateful you have the layers again at the top where the wind blows.
We were joined on our hike by countless Birthright groups and while some people whizzed ahead, many struggled, whined and dragged themselves the whole way up. I hiked up with a Dutch girl I had met the day before on our Holy City tour because Maggie has done this visit a hundred times and decided to sit this one out. We just barely made it to the top to watch the sunrise, which despite the haze made for a pretty spectacular view.
After a good long rest, we decided to wander and see the rest of the place when we ran into my new friends from the bus. Per their advice we found a little corner called Echo Balcony where if you yell into the ravine, your voice will echo back.
By 8 AM it felt like we had a whole day under our belts so we gave the Snake Path a miss and hopped in line for the first cable car down, a steal at 29 NIS after the long hike up.
Next stop on our tour was Ein Gedi, a nature reserve situated next to the Dead Sea. The hike here is fairly easy and offers a few different options for reaching a number of waterfalls. There is also a little shop for food and souvenirs but I headed right in to explore with my new Dutch friend.
The trail is clearly marked but we decided to wander off the beaten path a bit.
We spent about an hour in all exploring the reserve before piling back on the bus to head towards the much anticipated Dead Sea. I’ll leave you here and pick up at the Dead Sea tomorrow!
Putting It Together
- Here’s a guide for getting to Masada
- Save yourself the time and stress and book a tour – it’s not guided but the driver will get you exactly where you need to go and help you along the way
- It is possible to use public transit to get to Masada, though the tourists I met taking this route were unsure how to return
- The drive to Masada is about 1 hour and Ein Gedi is only 20-30 minutes from there
- Pack water and a snack especially if you go to Masada for sunrise since nothing will be open yet
- Wear layers if you go in the winter
- The Snake Path takes about an hour to hike
- The Roman Ramp is an easier, faster hiking option
- Bring shekels for Masada entrance (29 NIS) and Eing Gedi entrance (29 NIS)
- The cable car costs 29 NIS each way
Planning your own trip to Israel and looking for suggestions? Check out my itinerary for one week in Israel plus a second week to visit Jordan and Egypt.
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