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Dead Sea & Judean Desert travel guide

Dead Sea from above

One of the most popular regions in Israel is the Dead Sea region. It’s a beautiful region, with the white Judean hills, the blueish Dead Sea, and the view of the Jordanian mountains in the background. Most people visit for a day trip from Jerusalem, but there are also some places to stay in the area if you’d like to make the most out of the Dead Sea.

This travel guide to the Dead Sea and Judean Desert includes everything you need for a perfect visit to this magical region. And I’m updating it all the time. So if you plan to visit the Dead Sea region soon, check it out.

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3 top things to see and do in the Dead Sea region

1 – Float in the Dead Sea

Floating in the salty waters of the Dead Sea is a unique and relaxing experience. The water contains healthy minerals and qualities, so it’s also great for your skin. And it’s also great for Instagram.

There are several declared beaches where you can safely float in the Dead Sea. The free beach is at Ein Bokek. Read more about Ein Bokek beach here. Private beaches on the northern side of the Dead Sea – Kalia Beach, Biankini Beach, and Neve Midbar Beach – require an entrance fee.

When floating, keep your face away from the water so salt won’t get into your eyes and you won’t swallow the water. Swallowing the salty water could end in death!

Floating in the Dead Sea

2 – Visit Masada

Masada, the impressive fortress built by King Herod, is one of the most popular sites in Israel, and for a good reason. Masada has it all – beautiful views of the Dead Sea and the surrounding desert, magnificent archeological findings, and a great story. Most of what you’ll see on top of Masada dates back to King Herod – the 1st century BCE – and to the time of the First Jewish-Roman war in the 1st century CE. It was the last stronghold of the Jewish rebels.

On top of Masada, you’ll see King Herod’s impressive Northern Palace, a large bathhouse, beautifully preserved mosaics and frescos, and an ancient Byzantine-era chapel. At the bottom of Masada is an informative museum that takes you through the different periods connected to Masada.  

There are three ways to reach the top of Masada. Most people take the cable car from the western side of the mountain.

The more adventurous people hike up the Snake Trail. Many who hike do it a bit before sunrise, so they can view the sunrise from the top of Masada. The climb takes about one hour and a half.

The third option is to climb up on the ancient Roman ramp from the mountain’s eastern side. This option is less popular because you have to drive around to the eastern side, and it’s less accessible. But it’s also much easier than hiking up the Snake Trail, and you don’t have to pay for the cable car.

3 – Hike in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

One of the most beautiful and popular hiking trails in the Judean Desert is the classic family-friendly trail in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. The trail passes alongside the David Stream, takes you to beautiful natural pools and waterfalls, and includes spectacular views of the Dead Sea. Ein Gedi is the lowest desert oasis in the world and is a fun place to visit if you like wildlife and water. Make sure to come in water-proof shores or sandals, and bring dry clothes to change to if you get REALLY wet.

Read more about the Ein Gedi Reserve.

The David Waterfall in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

More things to do in the Dead Sea region

1 – Hike in the desert

The Judean Desert is full of wonderful hiking trails, all well maintained and marked. Because the Judean Desert is a rocky desert and not a sandy desert, it makes hiking much easier. I recommend the following trails:

2 – Kayak on the Dead Sea

I haven’t done it yet, but it’s definitely on my bucket list. While kayaking on the Dead Sea, you can get up close to some of the beautiful salt formations located far from the touristic locations.

3 – Go on a Jeep tour in the Judean Desert

Another item on my bucket list – I’ve heard that Jeep touring in the Judean Desert is a great experience. The jeep tour takes you to hidden gems and through the beautiful landscape of this unique desert.

4 – Visit the desert monasteries

The Judean Desert has been the home of many hermits throughout the ages. In the Byzantine period, many monasteries were built here. So, if you’re into ancient monasteries – the Judean Desert has many places to visit. Some of the most famous monasteries include St. George Monastery, Mar Saba Monastery, and the Nebi Musa Monastery.  

How many days to visit the Dead Sea region?

Like I’ve already mentioned, most people visit the Dead Sea area on a day trip from Jerusalem. But if you would like to soak in the beauty and the minerals of the Dead Sea, you can spend 2 to 3 days in the region. If you’re coming for medical reasons, there are people who stay at the Dead Sea for even a week or more.

When to come to the Dead Sea area?

The ideal time to visit the Dead Sea is in late spring or early fall when it’s not too cold or hot. Of course, it’s best to check the weather forecast in advance because the weather has been quite crazy lately. But usually, April-May or October-November are excellent times to visit the Dead Sea. These months are also perfect for hiking in the region.

If you come in summer, it might be too hot. And unlike the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, the water isn’t cool. It’s hot. So, you might feel like you’re swimming in an enormous open-air sauna. It could work for you if you like saunas, but if you hate heat as I do, try to avoid visiting the Dead Sea in summer.

In winter, it might be too cold in the water, and that could ruin the experience.

Where to stay in the Dead Sea area?

The most popular area in the Dead Sea region is Ein Bokek, but most of the stay options there are luxury hotels. There is a small space near the entrance to Ein Bokek where you can put up your own tent and camp free of charge. Check out the map below for the location:

Another option is to stay in Ein Gedi, which is about 30 minutes by car from Ein Bokek. There are a few stay options in the kibbutz – such as Ein Gedi Camp Lodge. There’s also the HI Ein Gedi Hostel right next to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. I have stayed in the past in HI Ein Gedi Hostel and it was a nice place. I can’t say anything about Ein Gedi Camp Lodge from personal experience because I haven’t stayed there.

Where to eat in the Dead Sea area?

Eating options are very limited. Most restaurants are in Ein Bokek, where all the hotels are located. There’s also a restaurant-cafeteria in Masada National Park, but it’s very pricey. And lastly, there’s a small restaurant at the Lido Junction, inside the gift shop, on the northern side of the Dead Sea.

None of the restaurants are exciting, so it doesn’t really matter where you’ll choose to eat.

Money-saving tips for the Dead Sea area

  • Get the Israel Pass – If you’re planning to visit three of the national parks in the Dead Sea area – Masada, Ein Gedi, and Qumran, it’s recommended to get the Israel Pass. The classic pass offers entry to 3, 6 or unlimited number of parks. If you choose the 3-site pass, it will cost you 78 ILS per person. Without the pass, you will pay 88 ILS per adult to enter all three parks. So, you’ll be saving 10 ILS per person. Learn more about the Israel Pass.
  • Take the bus and use a daily pass – If you’re coming from Jerusalem, the main sites in the Dead Sea area – Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea – are pretty accessible by bus. Line 486 leaves Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station every hour starting at 8 AM and stops at the main sites along the way. You most likely won’t be able to see all the places in one day with a bus, but you can visit at least two sites. And if you load a daily pass to your Rav Kav, it should cost you 32 ILS. That’s much less than renting a car. Read more about public transportation in Israel.
  • Go to the Ein Bokek beach – Instead of going to the private beaches, go to the Ein Bokek beach. It’s free of charge and has all the facilities you need! Read more about Ein Bokek.

How to get around

The easiest way to get around the Dead Sea area is by car. You can rent a car in Jerusalem and travel around the sites you want to visit. Most sites are within a 2-hour drive from Jerusalem. Just keep in mind that the parking at the Dead Sea is at a fee. And the age limit for driving in Israel is 16 years and 9 months.

If you prefer the bus or are below the driving age, you can catch bus number 486 from Jerusalem. It travels on Road 90 and stops at the main sites along the way – Qumran, Ein Gedi, Masada, and Ein Bokek. It arrives every 30-60 minutes, so you may have to wait for it when moving from one site to another. With the bus, you can easily visit Ein Gedi and Masada or Masada and Ein Bokek beach in one day. In two days, you can see all the sites. Read more about using public transportation in Israel.

Annual events and festivals in the Dead Sea area

  • The Tamar Festival – This is one of the largest music events in Israel. Israeli musicians and singers come to perform at the famous Masada. And there are also music performances at sunrise. Tickets are required. Usually happens in October. For more info – check out the Tamar Festival website (in Hebrew).
  • Dead Sea Marathon – If you like to run, the Dead Sea could be a perfect setting. Usually happens in February. For more info – check out the Dead Sea Marathon website. 

Videos to watch about the Dead Sea area

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