Day Tour To The Dead Sea, Masada, And Surrounding Sites
Updated: Jan 29
Most people don’t realize it, but the stark desert surrounding Jericho, the Dead Sea, and the Judean Desert is like a huge treasure box for history, archaeology, anthropology, and geology.
After picking you up in Jerusalem, we’ll start our descent to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, driving down past the beautiful desert oasis called Wadi Kelt (The Valley of Kelt), and the Church of the Good Samaritan. Along the way, we will pass by one of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho, which is around 11,000 years old.
When we finally reach the lowest spot in the world, some 420 meters below sea level, we will pass by the Qumran canyon and caves, where the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. A fierce and tiny Jewish sect called the Essenes lived in this area in the second century BCE, leaving behind one of the most complete sets of ancient texts and holy books. The Dead Sea Scrolls lay hidden in this complex network of caves for more than 2,000 years, until a Bedouin shepherd discovered them by accident. We will learn about the Essenes and their unique role in history and how this desert landscape shaped their society.
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Depending on your schedule, we can visit Ein Gedi, a desert outpost built 6,000 years ago and the second-largest oasis in the Judean Desert. In the middle of the stark, empty desert, an unimaginable amount of water gushes out of limestone rocks and tumbles down cliff faces in a series of waterfalls, creating pools you can swim in on a hot day.
If we’re lucky, we will also see a herd or two of Nubian Ibexes along the road, an endangered species in the Middle East that are now flourishing in the Judean Desert thanks to protection of the National Parks Authority.
Throughout history, many empires wanted to control this region, and they all left their physical marks on the Dead Sea Valley. One of the most prominent examples of this is the fortress of Masada, located high above the main road on a mountaintop, with a 360 degree view to keep an eye on anyone passing by in any direction.
Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage site, comes from the Hebrew word "Metsad," or “stronghold.” The Hasmoneans (also known as Maccabees) built this stone fortress in approximately 100 BCE. King Herod, the “Great Builder” of the ancient world, later captured Masada and rebuilt it, turning it into a glorious Roman-style palace.
But Masada is best known for its last battle, in 74 CE, between the 12,000-strong Roman army and a small group of 900 Jewish zealots known as Sicarii. As we walk through the ruins of this ancient palace, we will hear the dramatic story of the battle of a small group of freedom fighters in the struggle for their lives against a massive army. Archaeological clues will shed light on some of the mysteries of this dramatic battle, though many questions about what really happened persist today.
After walking around the ruins of Masada, we will take some time to relax at one of the Dead Sea resorts. When you enter the warm waters of the Dead Sea, you will become essentially weightless, buoyed by a high salt content and rich minerals in the water. The water and the area are believed to have many healing properties.
There will also be more opportunities to learn about the geology and natural history of the Great African-Syrian Rift and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, located on the opposite shore of the Dead Sea. As we return to Jerusalem or your next destination, driving back through the Judean Desert can feel like traveling through a moonscape with the emptiness stretching as far as your eye can see.