We awoke before dawn, hiked up the western path to the top of the Masada plateau and watched the sun rise over the Jordanian mountains, through the hazy sky and light up the surface of the Dead Sea. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning, somewhat different from its history of the tragic events of the last days of the rebels and the violent destruction of the Kingdom of Judea.

Masada is an ancient fortification ontop of a 400m high plateau which was the last bastion of Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans. The Roman assault ramp is the most complete surviving ancient Roam siege system in the world. The site was added to the UNESCO Wold Heritage List in 2001. The gates open an hour before sunrise where a string of people follow the trail and climb the stairs either from the east or west side to catch the first rays of the day from the top of this Jewish cultural icon. Once up the top you can explore the Northern and Western Palaces, the synagogue, the dovecot (I thought this was the cutest name ever – it was where they kept their doves!), the remains of the Roman siege system and their impressive water system of dams and cisterns. As it turns out, I am fascinated by ancient water systems, I was just as interested in learning about how they collected and distributed water in Petra. The views over the Dead Sea and desert valleys is beautiful and you can see why this position was chosen as a fortress with its remote position and natural defences.

From here we drove around to the Dead Sea. We had camped at the campground at the western entrance to Masada, so the drive to the east side took a little while. I convinced the others to take a short drive towards the southern end of the Dead Sea just to check it out, and turns out it is just a bunch of industrial plants used to extract different types of minerals from the sea. It was really quite ugly. Heading north again the road snakes along the edge of the Dead Sea with a couple of really nice viewpoints. The best access areas to the water have been taken up by a number of resorts that have a similar deal to on the Jordanian side, where you pay a day fee and get access to the beach and their facilities. There were a few other “free” access points that we could see but with huge signs warning of sink holes etc. As we had all previously experienced floating in the insanely saturated salty water before, we pleased ourselves with just enjoying the views (which were better on this side than the Jordanian side) and continuing on our way.

We had organised to drop the car off in Jerusalem, but as it was not due back until the morning, we did a quick drive up to Haifa, located on the Mediterranean north of Tel Aviv. We got there in time to watch the sunset and eat an overpriced meal by the seaside before a hair-raising drive to Jerusalem (I have since decided that I will speak up and tell a travel companion if they are driving dangerously, rather than not saying anything to avoid any awkwardness) and doing a few circles around the old city before finding our accommodation and somewhere to park.

Just after the sun had risen, this huge army plane came flying from the north east at a low level straight towards the Masada plateau. It changed course and flew right over the top of us. Turns out it was a salute to a group of Israeli Army Officers who were having their graduation ceremony at Masada that morning. Phew. Not that I felt unsafe in this country, but with a fair degree of political tension in this and surrounding countries, when it seemed like the plane was heading straight towards us we were giving each other sideways glances and questioning looks.
The sun rising over Jordan and the Dead Sea


The Dead Sea
Sunset in Haifa


The nitty gritty:

  • How to get to Masada and camping facilities:
    • With a couple of travel friends I’d met in Jordan I hired a car in Eilat for a few days to road trip from there to Jerusalem. We hired the car from Sixt Car Rental located right in the middle of Eilat city centre.
      • You can access Masada from both the east and west side. The closest budget accommodation was the Masada campground on the western side, via Arad (54 shekels for one night with own equipment including the entry to Masada in the morning). They also have large communal tents and rent out mattresses too. The camping facilities were great and very similar to those in the Negev Desert.
      • There is no quick road that links the east and west access points to Masada, It is about a 1hr15min drive from one side to the other.
      • The hike up the western side takes about 15 minutes, and from the eastern side (up the Snake Path) takes about 45 minutes.
    • There are several bus tours that run from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Masada for sunrise and then go on to the Dead Sea on the return journey. Abraham hostel in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv organise great tours:
  • Food:
    • There is a small kiosk at the Masada campground but it is best to do a supermarket shop on the way if you are camping the night.
  • Masada info:
    • There are two entrances – east and west (1hr15min drive between them). The western entrance has the campground and is where the sound and light show takes place from March-October (Tuesdays and Thursdays), and the eastern entrance has a visitors centre/museum, guesthouse and cable car.
    • The site opens to ascent by foot one hour before sunrise. Otherwise the cable car times (from the east side) are:
      • April-September – 8am-5pm
      • October-March – 8am-4pm
      • Closing one hour earlier on Fridays


Take a read of my other Israel blog posts here: