“You want to watch the sunrise in Masada?” On my Israel trip, I didn’t want to leave out any highlights. “Don’t be surprised, the road there is completely unlit, but that’s okay. Just keep driving, even when it’s dark.” Fortunately the lovely receptionist from my hotel in Arad gave me this hint when I asked her about the way to Masada Fortress in the Judean Desert in Israel. Otherwise I would have turned around immediately after the first signs that warned of “extremely dangerous curves”. So I drove to Masada, all by myself at half past five in the morning, in the pitch-dark, along curvy desert roads and no other human being around. Such an adventure!
Sunrise in Masada, Israel: A special highlight on every trip to Israel!
There are places in the world that are particularly known for their spectacular sunrises or sunsets – and Masada in Israel is one of them, no doubt. After the long drive in the middle of nowhere, I was worried if all the effort of getting up early would really be worth it. Especially, as I was expecting bus loads of tourists who were also on their way to see the sunrise in Masada. But except for a handful of rental cars standing on the parking lot, there were not much tourists to see on the east entrance of the fortress.
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Sunrise over the Dead Sea at Masada Fortress
At the top of the fortress it looked a little different though, most of the visitors had probably taken the other route up on the west side of the fortress, called the snake path. Nevertheless: The area was not very crowded. An impressive silence lay over the area as everyone waited for the one moment when the sun slowly rose behind the mountain peaks and tinted the whole sky in a glowing orange colour.
Suddenly everything was illuminated by the rising sun and the Dead Sea was deep below us: One of the most impressive moments of my trip to Israel!
History of Masada, Israel – Historical significance
The fortress of Masada has a moving history behind it. In 73/74 AD, during the Jewish War, the fortress was besieged by the Romans. As the Roman invasion came closer, more than 900 inhabitants of the fortress killed themselves in order not to fall into Roman captivity. Since then, Masada has been regarded as a symbol of the Jewish aspiration for religious freedom and self-determination. Masada has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
Archaeological finds in Masada
Various parts of the fortress are still preserved and have been made accessible during an archaeological excavation. Today you can see the remains of the huge storerooms or the bathhouses. In addition, replicas show what the residential palace of King Herod must have looked like: Front Row right on the edge of the mountain! Due to the inhospitable surroundings, it is surprising how much effort it must have taken under the conditions of that time to build such a construction here on this mountain plateau.
Masada Sunrise: How do you get to Masada for sunrise?
Basically, there are two access roads to Masada, one from the west and one from the east. The way from the eastt seemed much more popular to me. On this side, there is also a cable car with which takes you up to the fortress. It only starts working later in the morning, so you have to hike up the so-called Snake Path, taking approximately 45 minutes. Furthermore, there is supposed to be a visitor centre with shops and a small museum at the entrance. This access road is closer to the oasis Ein Gedi and to the Dead Sea.
I came from the west entrance. In the dark, the road from Arad can be very adventurous, but it is manageable. The way up to the fortress from the parking lot is much shorter. The Roman siege ramp (yes, that’s how old is this access!) it’s steep, but only within 15 minutes you are up on to the fortress. However, don’t forget to bring water, sun protection and a hat with you! The sun can be unbearable!
On the way back to Arad you have unforgettable views of the Judean Desert. There’s is also a restaurant with a big parking lot and the starting point of the desert tours on a camel.
Sunrise Tours to Masada from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
Masada is one of the most popular day trips from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv! You can book day tours as well as sunset tours. In addition, there are providers who combine a tour to Masada with a visit to the Dead Sea (also highly recommended!):
The best accomodation for the Masada sunrise in Israel
To be honest, I haven’t been particularly fascinated by the archaeological excavations. In addition it became hot quite fast, sun protection and a hat are recommended. After all, it is a mountain plateau in the middle of the desert and the sun is shinig with no mercy. Therefore I would always recommend a visit at sunrise – this is a really unforgettable experience! You can find my tips for a great visit here:
If you are travelling by rental car and don’t like getting up in the middle of the night as much as I do, you can find a place to stay nearby the night before. As usual, I booked my rental car via cardelmar at Sixt in Tel Aviv, they have a branch very centrally in the Hilton in the city as well as one at the airport. So I was able to pick up the car downtown without much effort and after my tour to Masada and the Dead Sea I was able to return it right back at the airport.
I stayed at the Inbar Hotel* in Arad. Not a special highlight, but the room was decent – and contrary to the ratings I found online, the service was awesome. The receptionist was super friendly and provided many tips. I also got a fruit plate delivered to my room without asking as I would be there to have breakfast.
If you prefer to stay on the east side and hike up from there to the fortress, there is the HI Massada Hostel*, where many Masada visitors stay the night before.
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