When I was planning my dad’s and my trip to Israel and Jordan last year, I put together an absolutely action-packed itinerary, seeing as much as possible but still taking time to chill and enjoy. It was a thing of beauty. But of all the things I’d researched, the one thing I hadn’t managed to fit in was a sunrise hike up Masada. Enter, Abraham Tours’ sunrise Masada, Ein Gedi, & Dead Sea tour.
I’m on the record as not being a huge “tour” person. (Except small-group food tours, which are the absolute best). But I think there are times when it makes sense to suck it up and hop on a more mass tour option for sheer convenience’s sake. This tour isn’t perfect, and it’s not for everyone, but for my dad and I, this was our best option and it accomplished what we needed it to. Which was get my tired butt up Masada before dawn.
Here are a few topline thoughts on pros and cons of this particular tour’s approach, which may help you decide if it’s the kind of thing you’re looking for. I’ve also provided a lot of tips at the bottom of this post on what you’ll need to bring for the tour, costs, etc.
- You get to do the Masada sunrise hike, which was my main goal
- Great way to fit in a few major sights with limited time, and the transportation covered
- Affordable, just $69 plus entrance fees for these three different stops
- The Dead Sea portion is really disappointing, IMO
- If you’re wanting a tour guide to really bring the history to life, this isn’t for you. This is literally a small tour bus or two full of people stopping at a few different places
But that may not be enough info, so let me show you a few pics and break each stop down to help you make the decision for yourself…
If you missed it, here are the other adventures from our week in Israel & Jordan:
I’ve already written rhapsodies about this experience, a true bucket list item. So I won’t go into massive detail here, you can read the other post. Climbing up this huge hill with millennia of history, in the pre-dawn quiet with the night sky beginning to lighten around me and the Dead Sea spread out below, was BREATHTAKING.
In more ways than one, because man—I booked it up that hill!
I rolled out of bed when my alarm went off at 2:45am after a solid two and a half hours of sleep, waited 15 minutes for the water heater to kick in, and took a quick rinse off to wake up. Then we boarded the bus with the tour group and began the drive to Masada. The beginning parts of the hike were in near-darkness, but the sky lightened up quickly—hence me dragging my butt up the mountain as fast as possible!
As I said above, this was the main reason that I booked this tour, and so for me, the awesomeness of this part made the entire tour worth it. This was one of those mornings that you remember for the rest of your life.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
Literally “spring of the goat-kid”, Ein Gedi (or En Gedi) is an oasis and a nature reserve near Masada, the Dead Sea, and Qumrum Caves. It’s been on the historical record since basically…well, forever. Which makes sense, given that it’s an oasis in the desert, so people were kind of obsessed. But this is a mere shadow of what it was like a few millennia ago (like much of the Middle East), and the Hebrew bible even has passages that talk about “the vineyards of En Gedi”.
Ain’t no vineyards here today…
Am I the only one who sees giant toes here…?
My dad wasn’t up for the walk so I headed in alone, winding through the park in the HOTTTTT SUN. I was glowing red from heat at this point, and dipped my feet in the cool pool of water as soon as I had the chance.
En Gedi is also a nature reserve, with lots of plants and quite a bit of wildlife. I saw a ton of ibex in other places, and there were these cute little fuzzy rock hyrax (hyraxes? hyraxi?) that were scrambling across the path.
The swiss cheese quality of the rocks was fascinating to me. This same quality is what makes all of the caves that have been homes and hiding places through the centuries (the future King David actually hid in these caves from King Saul back in olde-timey ancient Israel).
The Dead Sea
Ah, the famous Dead Sea. Which is actually a big lake. Bordered by the countries of Jordan on the east and Israel on the west, the Dead Sea sits at 400 meters (1,412 feet) below sea level—the lowest point on earth. As we were on our way to the shore, our driver stopped at an overlook so we could get a really great view from above. What I love is that you can see how the salt and minerals kind of crust along the shoreline as the water evaporates. People pay good money for that mineral salt.
The Dead Sea is also the deepest hypersaline lake in the world, a whopping 9.6x saltier than the ocean! Because of this, the water has an insane density, which is why you float instead of sink. People come from all over the world to bob around like corks in the water, reading a newspaper or doing the “look, Ma, no hands!” for the cameras.
So let’s real-talk what the actual tour was like, though. This was definitely the worst part for me. First of all, the public beach where they take us (and pay the small entry fee) was just kind of…gross mud. It was crowded and looked icky and didn’t appeal to me at all. And because of all the mud in the water, the pictures were blah.
Also (just between us), even though I didn’t shave ahead of time and didn’t have any cuts, that salt water BURNS in other places too. All the places. Just saying. No one prepared me for that. And I feel it’s my duty to you…
I pretty much just rinsed off, changed, and went and had a drink at the bar after this…
Tips for visiting the Dead Sea (like, any part of it):
- Wear a swimsuit that you don’t really care about…the minerals and salt are harsh on it, and the mud might ruin it. Even better, bring a swimsuit you hate, and just throw it away when you’re done (what I did…I’ve had that swimsuit since I was 12).
- Same goes for a towel…the mud may ruin it.
- Make sure you bring a plastic bag for your wet things, for when you have to put them back in your bag.
- Don’t shave ANYTHING the day before, and pray you don’t have cuts or anything.
- Bring some water shoes or sandals with you, though you may not end up needing them.
- Don’t let the water get anywhere near your face!
- Try to keep it away from your hair, it’s really rough on hair.
So hopefully this helps give you some context for whether this type of tour fits with what you’re looking for. I’m happy to answer any questions about our experience, just hit me up in the comments!
Tips for the Masada, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea Tour
- We went with Abraham Tours, part of Abraham Hostel (where we stayed in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv)
- The tour cost about $69 USD per person, and covered transportation and entrance to the Dead Sea beach. It did not cover entrance into Masada or Ein Gedi (each is $9-10 USD, or 28 NIS).
- This is a self-guided tour, meaning it gets you there but you don’t have a tour guide. It’s up to you to do research ahead of time, read the placards or a guidebook, etc.
- Make sure you bring comfy walking/hiking shoes, your bathing suit and towel (you can change at the Dead Sea), a backpack, a hat and sunglasses, sunscreen, plenty of water, and some food. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want breakfast at the top of Masada after that climb. Plus, the food options at Ein Gedi are limited as well. And your passport and a bit of cash (plus enough cash for the entry fees).
- Times vary depending on the time of year, but we left around 3:30am and got back to Jerusalem around 1:00pm. This timing was important to us since we needed to head to the airport late afternoon.
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