Background on Masada
Masada (pronounced Metzada) is an ancient fortification overlooking the Dead Sea on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert. You many have heard of this fortress as the location of a mass suicide by 900 Sicarii rebels, as recorded by Josephus Flavius. The rebels, who had fled to Masada after the fall of Jerusalem, preferred death rather than surrendering to the Roman forces.
Herod the Great enjoyed a prolific 40 year guiding spree and the remains of many of the Herodian structures still stand today. Here at Masada, he created an architectural feat with elaborate bathhouses and buildings for himself and his family to provide protection in case of a revolt. He designed detailed buildings to store large amounts of supplies and water management systems that rendered a siege virtually ineffective. Among what remains today are signs of an ancient palace as well as bathhouses with raised floors that resemble modern-day saunas. Ancient cisterns can be viewed, as well as the ancient synagogue on the north side of the mountaintop. Remains of the roman siege ramp are also on the site.
While the monuments stand as a testament to ancient ingenuity, now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, your journey to this mountaintop will leave you with an indelible imprint of the beauty found in a Judean desert.
Options to access the summit
There are several options to reach the summit, but the most popular way for those in good physical condition is to hike up the snake path on the east side of the mountain. About a mile long, the path winds along the edifice proving an ever more breathtaking view of the landscape unfolding around you and takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit.
A second, and shorter hike goes up the Roman ramp, located on the west side of Masada and takes about 20 minutes to walk to the summit. To access this path, one must arrive to Masada from the West (via Arad), taking road 31 from Dimona.
Of course, the most common way to access Masada is to take the cable car situated at the main visitor center and museum on the bottom of the eastern side of the mountain. One way and round trip cable car tickets are purchased here and the ride takes a few minutes.
If you are lucky enough to crest the mountain before sunrise, you will be treated to the dawn of a new day as the sun peaks over the opposing hills and emblazons the Dead Sea below with hues of red and orange, highlighting the natural beauty of the surrounding desert from a vantage point that is second to none.
Should you hike this route, I would encourage an early hike so that you can conclude your visit before 10 am and then continue to other sites for the day, or, if you are staying nearby, retreat to a local hotel, or the shade of the Masada guest house, found at the foot of the mountain where you can select from a variety of spa product made from the minerals of the Dead Sea. You can conclude your visit to Masada with a dip in the guest house pool as the sun sets and bathes you in warm shades reflected off the surrounding peaks of a beautiful valley.
Hike in the morning (at sunrise)
Bring lots of water and snacks (there are no kiosks on the summit)
Masada is an easy day trip from Jerusalem and can be easily combined with a stop at the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi and/or Qumran