We never really were people who would participate on guided tours. We usually prefer to explore destinations on our own, go a little bit off the grid so to speak and go with our own pace. However, when we decided to have our first trip in the Middle East in Israel, (and actually our first trip together outside Europe,) we wanted to play it a bit safer. That’s why we took this tour organized by Tourist Israel to tour the historical site of Masada, the beautiful natural reserve of Ein Gedi and the geographically lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. Here’s what we thought about it!
The tour we took was called Masada sunrise, which meant that we would go to watch the rising sun from the top of the Masada high plain. The bus left at 2.30 am from Tel Aviv and we arrived at the site little bit after 5 am. At that time, the cable car is not operating yet, so that means we had to climb the over 700 steps (349.9 meters in altitude) of the Snake Path. Night time, or early morning is the best hour of the day to do that, as the temperature is not yet too hot and the sun too scorching. (It’s also good to take a flashlight with you, since at that time even with the moonlight it still quite dark.) One should be aware though, that it is quite a hike. If you have poor health, or problems with knees or feet maybe you want to skip it all together or at least not try to make it within the average 40 or so minutes, but take your time. Even if you have a good overall health, remember to drink frequently and have breaks. There have been incidents where people have had to be rescued from the Snake Path because of falling or dehydration. However, we felt that the only way to really experience Masada, is to climb there, if at all possible.
Once we reached the summit, the view was definitely worth the sweat. Pictures don’t do justice to the breathtaking spectacle of the sun rising through the ruins of the once glorious city. From the top you have also a marvelous view to the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan. The audio guides for the historical site are available from 8am onward, so if you do the Masada sunrise tour, you might want to do some research beforehand about the place, like the magnificent architectural building projects of Herod and the tragic fall of the city under the siege of the Roman forces.
Our bus left from Masada again at 7.30 to head for the beautiful Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi is a nature reserve, quite an oasis in the middle of otherwise such a barren desert area. In Ein Gedi you can also hike, but it’s way easier than Masada. You follow a path surrounded by trees that give shade, wild animals such as ibex and rock hyrax and waterfalls and pools where you can dip in to cool down. The Ein Gedi area has a long history of attracting both wild animals and people and you can find some ancient aqueducts & pools from the area as well. For those interested, the Bible tells that here David was hiding from Saul who was after his life. In Ein Gedi one could easily spent a whole day hiking, having a picnic and just relaxing. If you are on a schedule though, you get a good overall picture of the place with this tour that we took.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea. Well, that’s definitely a place that needs no introduction. The lowest point on earth and by far the saltiest water we’ve been to, is definitely on the bucket list of anyone interested in geography and traveling. The place is famous for the water’s high salt density, that makes you float like nothing you’ve ever experienced, and the rich-in-minerals mud that is a treat for the skin. Floating in the water was really an interesting experience. Swimming is practically impossible, you just roll around on the surface of the water if you try to move. It is actually better to avoid even trying to swim all together, in order to protect your eyes from splashes of water. (If you get some of the water in your eyes, wash it away immediately with fresh water.) And the water doesn’t even feel like water, more like olive oil or something. With the Tourist Israel tour you get a free pass on the beach that has life guard, changing rooms and fresh water showers that you’ll certainly appreciate after the mud bath and super salty waters.
All in all, The Masada Sunrise tour with Ein Gedi and The Dead Sea is definitely worth taking, especially if you wont be in Israel very long and are not a fan of stressing about the arrangements. If however you are comfortable finding your own way through high risk areas and have plenty of time, all these places have things to explore even for a way longer time.