Israel is not the most popular travel destination these days. Every time I told someone I was going to Israel, 9 times out of 10 their response was, “Isn’t it dangerous? Why would you go there now?” In true “me” fashion, I answered: “Why the f*ck not?” The safety of Israel is a hot topic of discussion, and one I will not comment on here. But I will say that I did my research, weighed all my risks, and made a personal decision to go, and I am so glad I did! If I lived in fear I would never have gotten to visit this outstanding destination and so many other amazing places we are often warned not to go. It was such an eye-opening and emotional experience and one I will forever hold close to my heart.
Israel is culturally and religiously diverse, full of rich Biblical history, and unfortunately highly immersed in political conflict, often deterring visitors due to the latter. Israel is known as the Cradle of Civilization and serves as such a monumental staple in history. Who wouldn’t want to roam the same streets where Jesus walked on? I know I did!
Highlights of the Dead Sea and Masada Tour in Israel
First and foremost, I knew I wanted to visit the Dead Sea, an absolute dream of mine. When researching ways to go about doing this, a full-day tour to the Dead Sea and Masada seemed to fit perfectly with my agenda. The tour kicked off with an 8:45am pickup from the hotel in Jerusalem, where we were greeted by our lovely guide Lea. There were about 10-12 others on the tour, consisting of a few Americans (including myself), Russians, and a Spanish couple. We started with a drive by Jericho, known as the oldest city in history, where we were given a brief history of the city and surrounding area. Next, a quick stop in the Judean dessert for a photo op (and a chance to get on top of camel for a quick ride, if desired).
After a quick stop at the Ahave Dead Sea factory for an opportunity to purchase official Dead Sea products (with a 5% discount for tour members), we were on our way for the 30 minute or so journey through the Judean desert. The drive was more visually pleasing than I would imagine, as we were graced with the presence of a plethora of palm trees! Lea explained that the high tech agriculture in Israel, with underwater fresh water springs flowing from the mountains, allows for life in the desert, including palm trees, pomegranate trees, dates, vegetation, etc. This was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to the desert drive.
Next up on our route was Masada, a UNESCO fortification in the Judean desert built by King Herod in 45 B.C. for protection to escape with his family. When we arrived we watched a 5 minute introductory video on the controversial history of Masada, and then ascended to the top by cable car. The ancient city was situated on top of the mountain with a fantastic view of the Dead Sea. It really was a site to see! We toured the complex for about 1.5 hours by the voice of our knowledgeable guide. The heat was almost unbearable up there, and although I was having a blast learning about the fascinating theories about what happened here (the most fascinating and disturbing theory is that 9000+ men, women, and children committed collective suicide here), I was dying to get back into the air conditioning.
The last and most anticipated stop on our tour was to the Dead Sea. After a few hours in the sweltering sun, nothing sounded more refreshing than diving head first into the salty sea! We were dropped off at Ein Gedi Resort, situated along the Dead Sea. The spa has one outdoor pool and 2 sulphur spas inside, as well as facial and body treatments available upon request. Shower facilities are available, and locker rentals are free with a deposit. Getting to the Dead Sea from the resort requires a 5 minute tractor ride down to the water.
I can’t speak for others, but floating in the Dead Sea has been a dream of mine and holds a spot close to the top of my never-ending buck list! Our guide informed us that the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at 410 meters below sea level and has a salinity of 43.5%, comparable to 2-3% of the Mediterranean Sea! Now that’s salty! This explains why its called the Dead Sea, as no living creature can survive in such high salinity.
I immediately plopped my stuff onto a beach chair and headed for the water, with GoPro in hand. Within the first few steps in, I was surprised at how warm the Sea water was. As I got to about knee high in water, I slowly laid back, my feet automatically bounced to the surface, and I was floating! I know that’s what is supposed to happen there, but what a surreal feeling it was to experience this in reality. The salinity prevents one from swimming or diving, so floating is really all you can do. I floated around just relaxing for about 45 minutes, I didn’t want to move, and I didn’t want it to end! I knew this was a once-in-a- lifetime experience, and I wanted to bask in it. My one big mistake? Dipping my head under to get my hair wet. I was unsuccessful in keeping the water out of my face and the salty water ran down my forehead and into my left eye. It stung so bad and was seriously one of the worst eye pains I have ever felt. For a second, I was hoping it wouldn’t blind me. I quickly made my way over to the shower and flushed it out, where eventually the pain subsided after about 5-7 minutes. It seemed like an eternity!
I couldn’t leave the Dead Sea without covering myself in the infamous Dead Sea mud (unfortunately, I put my camera away for this part). After letting it dry for a good 15 minutes, I rinsed it off and felt my skin. I kid you not, my skin felt like a newborn baby’s bottom, I’m not even exaggerating. I told myself I will never shower again so this feeling would stay. Don’t worry, I eventually caved in. The tour ended with a 6 pm drop off at the hotel.
Highlights of the Dead Sea and Masada Tour in Israel
Small group size (10-12)
Knowledgable bi-lingual tour guide (Spanish/English)
Guided history of Masada
Unique Dead Sea experience
Opportunity to purchase Dead Sea products at Ahave factory
Air conditioned van
Hotel pickup and drop off
Lunch not included and not many options to choose from
Not enough time at Dead Sea (would have liked 3 hours instead of 2)
Extreme heat with minimal shade at Masada
Bring lots of water and sunscreen
Do not shave within 12-24 hours before entering the Dead Sea as this can cause extreme burning
Avoid contact with eyes when entering the Dead Sea (no splashing, diving, jumping into the water)
Bring your own towel (towel rentals are available for rental fee at En Gedi Spa)
Wear an old bathing suit as the Dead Sea water and sulphur spas may damage the material
Disclaimer: A special thanks to Tinggly for hosting my experience. My opinions, however, are completely my own.
If you’re concerned about the safety of this region, I highly recommend a guided tour for specific activities in Israel, Jerusalem, and Palestine, or exploring the entire area as part of an organized tour group.
Have you been to the Dead Sea or Masada? Are you concerned about the safety of Israel, Jerusalem, or Palestine? I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences!