Masada and the Desert of Judea – Israel
Masada - Israel
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The last Jewish holdout to fall to Rome

On a rather unplanned and unexpected free extra day that happened out of miracle; well, I confess, because of having nothing else to see and do back in Tel Aviv as we saw everything in just one day (and even less!), this was the best that could have happened in the trip. Masada. Although I heard of this place before, I did not even think of it nor remembered when i planned the Israel tour. Too short time and too much already in the agenda. But was thanks to my friend who reminded it to me that If any some spare time, we should not miss the chance of getting here.

Not only this worked great, but also the route we took to get there. We did only know about 3 possible routes. One we discarded immediately merely because it crosses through Palestine in quite a disputed area, but the other 2 we only selected the shortest one. Glad this was the choice! From Arad, were both of the routes lead to Masada, one avoids the Judea Desert and goes towards the Dead Sea where one of the entrances to Masada is. The easiest route and easiest access via the cable car. But the other enters the Judea Desert and crosses incredible beautiful scenery, and offers the best view of the entire Masada and the Dead Sea from far and above. As I will also remind you below under the transportation section, do not hesitate in choosing the route you want to drive. This is for sure your best bet.

Although there are day tours that leave from elsewhere in Israel, most common from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem of Bethlehem, those are of higher cost than if renting a car instead and specially if you are more than one person travelling. Driving in Israel is easy due to the good road network though a bit chaotic in the cities. Masada after all is just that, the ancient fortification, something you can see in 2 hours no more, therefore that making the trip worth it coupled with something else which is even along your way, will give you a wider look to this region.

Good to mention in here is that either entrances are not connected each others. This is, from the Judea Desert side you do not have access to the Dead Sea. This is a dead end road. But you can if you wish, cross towards the Dead Sea through Masada and vice-versa. Just pay attention at the closing times and last cable car ride or you might risk being stranded at the wrong side!

Unfortunately, as most of the sites and museums in Israel, those close at 16.00pm in winter and 17.00 to 18.00pm during summer months. This is way early knowing the day light last much longer and will push you to rush a bit to be within good time to enjoy the place. Here in Masada is OK, but as you will soon realize in other cities as Jerusalem, this can break your full schedule from being able to see everything to have to prioritize what you can and what you cannot see.

For more information about Masada check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Israel’s currency is the Shekel (ILS). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.

What to see and do in and around Masada

  • Masada Fort One of the greatest ancient fortifications in the world, and also one of the largest. At an unique location on top of a mesa-like mountain formation between the Dead Sea and the Judea Desert, from the top, one can overlook 360 degrees of the entire area. It was first fortified in the 1st century BCE by Alexander Jannaeus, then captured by Herod the Great who further enhanced with palaces and stronger fortifications between 37 and 31 BCE. Masada was the last Jewish stronghold before the Romans captured it after a rather long and ingenious siege that might have been in the 73 or 74 AD. They built during months a ramp leading to the walls at the top, from where they sent the troops. What they found was that the 960 people that was living there committed mass suicide rather than facing dead or becoming slaves. Today you can admire the remains of the palaces and houses, but most impressive of all, the astonishing views and landscapes. You can see in full the western edge of Jordan and the Dead Sea, and the Judea Dessert on the other side.
  • Judea Desert If you are planning to access Masada from the road leading from Arad through the desert, then you’ve got the jackpot. You will cross the beautiful scenery and will have vantage viewing points along the way.
  • Dead Sea Right below Masada, and few kilometers farther ahead is the Dead Sea. You can also drive the route through Palestine towards Masada and will cross the entire western shore.

Transports

From Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, reaching Masada is pretty much the same distance at around 150 kilometers to the south east, and the likes that you will be coming here from any of them are highly likely. Other usual option from where people tend to come to Masada is from the southern area of the Dead Sea, and even Jordan which is literally opposite Masada and few kilometers distance.

Since we rented a card, that’s by all means the best and direct way to get here. Not only for reaching Masada itself, but the trip itself is absolutely well worth it every moment. There are 3 different routes you can follow. One enters Palestine and goes all the way along the Dead Sea coast. Personally I would not recommend this one for security reasons. The other two split from Arad, one follows towards the Dead Sea, where the northern entrance and cable car to the top of Masada are, while the other and the most beautiful and incredible way to reach, after leaving Arad enters the Judea Desert where you will get the most amazing views of the many mesa-like mountain formations and the incredible full view of Masada in the distance and the Dead Sea behind. Once you reach Masada from this side, there is no cable car to take you up, instead you will have to walk but on a rather easy and quick way so don’t worry on this. Go by all means this route, you will be surprised.

Accommodation

Well this can be the tricky one. There are no hotels at all in the area, and the nearest ones but small, are either by the Dead Sea area or in the nearest “largest” town of Arad. In any case, we did not stay overnight anywhere in this area as we treated today as a day trip from our base at Tel Aviv. Therefore and repeating myself on what I mentioned on the travel guides for Nazareth and Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, if you are planning in doing a tour across many cities and places as we did, then consider having your base hotel at either Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or both, and commute from there on day trips. This will save you money and hassle in having to change hotel every other day. Distances are quite short in the country, and if either by train or bus, or rental car, you can move easily everywhere.

Should you wish to check the hotels we stayed in both of our bases, check the respective travel guides for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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