With a few days to spare at the end of our house sit in East Jerusalem, we decided to venture further afield. We had heard a lot about Masada, the ancient fortress on top of a high plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and we couldn’t wait to visit.
Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 90 minutes from Jerusalem. It makes for a great day trip or with time to spare (alas, we didn’t) consider overnighting at one of the Dead Sea resorts.
A Brief History of Masada
For a better understanding of the history of Masada, be sure to visit the cinema in the visitor centre, located near the ticket desks. Here you will be shown a short movie about the story of Masada, a model of the site, and an exhibit of the archaeological site.
The fortress was built by King Herod in the year 30 BCE. At the start of the great revolt against Rome in 68CE, the site of Masada was conquered by a group of Jewish zealots, who made Masada their base.
By building a large earthen ramp on the western side of Masada in 72CE, the Romans succeeded in reaching the steep fortress. In 73CE, rather than being enslaved by the Romans, the 960 Jewish zealots that lived at Masada chose to commit suicide.
The Romans stayed at Masada throughout much of the second century. Later during the fifth century, a Byzantine monastery was founded but, with the rise of Islam, was abandoned during the seventh century.
Pretty much after that, Masada was completely forgotten about until the 19th century. After many excavations and historical discoveries, Masada was opened to the public in 1966.
What To See At The Masada
The remains of the fortress at Masada are well-preserved. When you reach the summit, most visitors turn right and visit the impressive Northern Palace that is built on three rock terraces and overlooks the gorge below.
Instead, we turned left, heading away from the crowds and taking our time to explore the stone ruins. We headed passed the living quarters from the Great Revolt to the Eastern observation point.
We continued to the southern water cistern and Herod’s swimming pool, before meandering back to the Western Palace. The Western Palace is the largest building on Masada and consists of living quarters, reception rooms, bathing quarters and an open courtyard.
Near the Western Palace, is the breaching point where the Romans destroyed the perimeter wall in the spring of 73CE.
Close by are the remains of the Byzantine churches. As you head towards the Northern Palace, you’ll pass a synagogue that was most likely a stable during the time of King Herod.
Near the Northern Palace is a sizeable Roman-style bathhouse with colourful mosaic floors and walls decorated with murals.
By the time we finally reached the Northern Palace, many of the large tour groups had left, and we could enjoy the views from the rocky terraces.
All in all, we spent around four hours exploring the high plateau of Masada and could easily have spent longer. Many of the tour groups only spent about two hours before being rushed off to other destinations. For us, that would have been too short.
Taking The Cable Car Up To Masada
Despite being November, it was quite warm when we reached Masada. Well, it was almost midday by the time we got there. So, we decided to take the cable car up and walk back down.
The cable car ride only takes three minutes and covers a distance of 900 metres. The cable car journey starts at 257 metres below sea level rising to 33 metres above sea level.
Walking The Masada Snake Path
The Masada Snake Path is one of Israel’s most iconic hikes. The snake path starts from the base of Masada and winds its way up approximately 400 metres from the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.
It takes approximately an hour to ninety minutes to climb up the Masada Snake Path, and around thirty to forty minutes to descend, depending on your level of fitness. As the heat during the summer is quite intense, it is recommended to climb before sunrise.
Where To Eat At Masada National Park
There’s a restaurant near the entrance to the park, but it has really dreadful reviews. So we brought a small picnic along with us and ate under some shade found near the top of the eastern observation point. Later we read that food shouldn’t be brought up, but we were very discreet and of course, left no rubbish behind.
There are designated picnic areas, however, near the park entrance.
As there’s very little shade up on the plateau, we recommend at the very minimum taking plenty of water with you.
Opening Hours For Masada National Park
During the summer, Masada is open Sunday–Thursday and Saturday from 08:00 – 17:00
On Fridays and holidays from 08:00 – 16:00
During the winter, open Sunday–Thursday and Saturday from 08:00 – 16:00
On Fridays and holidays: 08:00 – 15:00
Yom Kippur eve: 08:00 – 12:00
The Snake Path opens daily for ascent an hour before Sunrise and closes for descent an hour before closing time. We didn’t know this and were wondering why people were shouting at us when we started the descent. Ah well, meant we ended up with a free cable car ride back down 🙂
The Roman Ramp Path opens daily for ascent 30 minutes before Sunrise and closes for descent 15 minutes before closing time.
Last admission to the Masada National Park is one hour before closing.
On extremely hot days the Snake Path ascent closes at 08:00, and the descent closes at 09:00.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Masada?
Entrance only – walk up and down NIS 31
Entrance plus one-way cable car NIS 59
Entrance plus round trip cable car NIS 77
Entrance only – walk up and down NIS 14
Entrance plus one-way cable car NIS 28
Entrance plus round trip cable car NIS 42
Top Tips For Visiting Masada National Park
Even though we didn’t do it, get there early and walk up the Snake Path and admire the sunrise.
Wear comfy shoes, the terrain at Masada is very rocky and uneven.
Wear a hat; there’s very little shade.
Wear sunscreen; there’s very little shade.
Drink plenty of water.
Travelling there independently will allow you to explore Masada at leisure.
Travel there with a tour, and you’ll have a far better understanding of what you’re seeing.
How To Get To Masada from Jerusalem
Bus 486 or 444 departs from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. As we were staying in the Mount of Olives, we picked up the bus nearer to our home, but it was very full. Mainly with other backpackers who felt that spare seats should be for their backpacks and not for other travellers. So we would recommend starting from the Central Bus Station to ensure a seat.
The bus journey runs alongside the Dead Sea. The journey time from Jerusalem to Masada is around 90 minutes.
Fare is for the bus from Jerusalem to The Masada National Park is NIS 40.
Private taxi from Masada to Jerusalem is around NIS 350
By rental car
Many of the major car rental companies are available in Jerusalem, so it’s possible to self-drive. Parking was available at Masada.
Loads of tours on offer from travel agents in Jerusalem. We were quoted $100 each.
Have you been to Masada? What did you think? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.