There are plenty of organised day tours to Ein Gedi and Masada from Jerusalem (check out Abraham Tours), but if you want to travel independently, it can be a little harder to find information on this area! Some tours can be quite pricey and won’t include a guide. Sometimes its just better to do it yourself, so read on about how to visit Ein Gedi and Masada.
We hired a car for a portion of our stay in Israel to get from Jerusalem down to Eilat in the south. While it’s tricky to find maps and directions on how to get to Ein Gedi / Masada / Dead Sea from Jerusalem, its actually quite simple: We took the Highway 1 from Jerusalem and then highway 90. The highway will take you east pretty much until you hit the top of the Dead Sea and then you turn right at a T-intersection to go south, following the Dead Sea on your left the whole way. This will take you through the West Bank where there are a couple of checkpoints on the road, however it was quite safe and very uninhabited. There are measurements on the side of the highway as you descend below sea level and the landscape makes it feel like you are on another planet! You can also see where the level of the Dead Sea used to be – it is like you are driving on an ocean floor. There are also buses that take this route from Jerusalem, check out Israel’s bus site and search by destination for more info. Just note if you are traveling on a Friday afternoon or Saturday there will be reduced options.
Our first stop traveling south along the Dead Sea was the Ein Gedi nature reserve, famous as being the place where King David hid from Saul and his army. The actual reserve is quite hidden from view and pulling in to the car park, you would have no idea that such a lush place exists in the middle of what seems like a desert!
At Ein Gedi there are many walking trails ranging from easy to advanced. The most popular is the fairly easy walk to David’s Falls, which takes under an hour round trip. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore any more than this but we did get to see some of the local wildlife, including the cute little conies. If you are a hardcore hiker you could easily spend the day here, just don’t forget to take some water with you. There is an entry fee to Ein Gedi of about 29 Shekels per person as it is a nature reserve. There is also a little refreshment shop and bathrooms at the entrance.
David’s Falls at the top of the hike at Ein Gedi
The view from Ein Gedi down to the Dead Sea
Native wildlife – a Cony at Ein Gedi
Our next stop was the Desert Fortress of Masada. You can see it from the highway, it is pretty un-missable! There are two ways you can reach the top of Masada – the snake path, which curls up the side of the hill, or the cable car. Partly because of time we chose the cable car, which cost 76 shekels each for a return ride. On the way up you get a great view right over the Dead Sea. Once at the top, Masada is quite a large area of ruins and lookouts to wander around.
The history of Masada dates back to the first Century, when Kind Herod built his palace here in such a way that it was invisible from below. You can visit this level and have great views to the north. The whole place is an amazing feat of engineering, including how they brought and stored water at the top. Later in the first century, Masada was the last hideout for the Jewish rebellion against the Romans. It is a sad story where the Romans eventually made it to the top by building a giant ramp up the side of the hill, to find the rebels had killed each other the night before to avoid being captured by the Romans. Masada truly was an incredible fortress with an intriguing history.
Catching the cable car up to the top of Masada
The view from the top of the cable car down to the Dead Sea in the distance
The walkway down to Herod’s Palace on the north side of Masada
The remains of Herod’s palace with original paint on the rocks!
Amazing views from the top of Masada and looking over the desert
Stay tuned for the next post all about visiting the Dead Sea! It was our last stop for the day and one of the highlights of our time in Israel. There’s more to the Dead Sea than there looks, so read our next post for all the tips and info you need on visiting.