During our 4-day Israel getaway, our home base was in Tel Aviv. We wanted to make the most of our time in Israel, so we included day trips from Tel Aviv, adding the Dead Sea region to our itinerary. Since Saturday was a day of Shabbat and most businesses were closed, we headed to the Dead Sea to venture out and explore the region. Here’s what we did around the Dead Sea as a day trip from Tel Aviv.
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Explore Ancient Caves in the Judean Lowlands
Just a little over an hour from Tel Aviv, and on the way to the Dead Sea, with a slight detour, are the Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park caves in the Ella Valley Region. An old archaeological site that once was the remains of the ancient city of Maresha. It dates back to Biblical times with evidence of Roman civilizations and signs of Christianity (St. Anne’s Church remains).
There are several sites and caves to explore in Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park. The three we visited, since we were on a time crunch, were the Bell Caves, Saint Anne’s Church, and the Sidonian Burial Caves. Exploring what we could, we felt we were taken back in time. Our favorite was the Bell Caves, and if the sun had been out that morning, we would have loved the ambiance the cave presented with the sun showing its rays off from the hole above the cave. See photos for more.
Sidonian Burial Caves
Saint Ann’s Church Ruins
Beit Guvrin- Maresha National Park
Address: Google Maps address
More information on their website for hours and cost for entry: https://en.parks.org.il/reserve-park/bet-guvrin-national-park/
Admire the Drive Through the Desert
I don’t think I can ever tire of the desert views after living in the California Mojave Desert. On the way to the Dead Sea, you can quickly see the landscapes change from leaving the city scene of Tel Aviv to the green rolling hills of the “Tuscany of Italy” in the Ella Valley to the desert dunes of the Judean Desert, all within less than an hour of each other. The Judean Desert presents its beauty so drastically I was just amazed the entire drive down.
As you descend near the Dead Sea, you start to see these signs of numbers that indicate what sea level you’re currently at. The ruggedness of the land is apparent with the rolling dunes of brown sand all over. My friend spotted a camel pack among the dunes, a neat sight as she showed me her photos. I spotted hikers traveling through the desert and a few metal artworks along the side of the road. The best view was an aerial view of the Dead Sea peaking through the horizon as we drove closer to the Earth’s lowest point. We stopped to take a few photos here.
Additionally, on the way back to Tel Aviv from Ein Gedi, our last stop (you’ll find more information below), we had the wonderful opportunity to see the beautiful country of Jordan from across the Dead Sea. It was a site to see on the way back to Tel Aviv. Moreso, we saw many people admiring the view of Jordan sitting casually on the side of the road with their lawn chairs, and a lucky rainbow in the sky. Thereafter, we also found ourselves driving past Dates Farm and happen upon more camels on the side of the road.
Float in the Dead Sea
Tucked away between the border of Israel and Jordan, hugging the edge of the Judean desert, lies the Dead Sea. The lowest point on Earth and the world’s saltiest body of water at 428m below sea level. The highlight of our day trip was ensuring we had the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea. I mean, if you’re this close, you might as well take a dip, right?
But first, find a designated area to swim into; not all beaches are open to the public for swimming. I looked into three beaches in Israel, Ein Bokek, Neve Midbar, and Kalia. We visited Ein Bokek, which was a free public beach. This beach had a lifeguard on duty and specific areas you could swim into. There were public showers and changing rooms available free of charge. You can find more information about Ein Bokek here.
Before taking a dip into the Dead Sea, there should be a few things to note; it’s not your normal dip into the ocean. This water is very salty, and because of the high salt content, it won’t be easy to swim. It will be, however, super easy to float; believe me, no effort is needed. Also, note there are a few things to be aware of when in the water. I’ve written another blog for how to enjoy floating in the Dead Sea; you can find that blog post here.
Address: Google Maps location
Free Beach with Public Showers and Changing Rooms; Lifeguard on duty
Open Daily from 0700-5:00 pm; see more information here
Hike to an Oasis in the Desert
Don’t leave the Dead Sea without hiking to a desert oasis. This adventure is one you don’t want to miss. After our quick dip into the Dead Sea, we headed to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve to hike a trail to a desert oasis.
At Ein Gedi, there are two trails you can take, the Wadi David and Wadi Arugot. Since we had our older kids with us and our friend’s pre-school age kiddos, we chose the easy hike recommended, the Wadi David. This hike took a little over an hour from start to finish. It was quite honestly an easy walk/hike with a few areas you had to climb to get to, but nothing strenuous or steep. The hike takes you through the canyon of the Judean desert, where you’ll come upon rivers, lush greeneries, wild animals like the Nubian Ibex, and waterfalls of the Bokek River, which runs through the canyon and into the Dead Sea. There are tons of scenic views of not only the canyon, but the Dead Sea from across the way. The reward was also an amazing hike to a beautiful waterfall (see photo below).
Additionally, I would like to add we visited the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi in mid-January, and the weather was perfect! We were slated to have rain on the forecast but lucked out during our trip. We hiked in the perfect high 60s weather, so not too hot. I imagine it would get extremely hot in the summer. If you plan to visit in warmer weather, bring a bathing suit to enjoy the river and waterfall after a hike through the canyon.
Ein Gedi Natural Reserve
Address: Google Maps address
There is an entry fee for each separate trail
More Information can be found on their website here.
What We Didn’t Get to Visit
Due to lack of time, we missed visiting Masada, a fortress ruin nestled atop a plateau or clifftop in the middle of the Judean desert at 1,500 feet above the Dead Sea level. Masada is the last stand of the Great Jewish Revolt in the year 73 CE/AD, where nearly 1,000 Jewish women, men, and children committed suicide rather than fall into Roman rule. It is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To get to Masada, you can climb/hike up the trail, but do so at sunrise due to the heat. Another alternative route, via a cable car, is also available to get to the top. You can find more information here and here for more information about climbing or getting to the top at Masada. I hear the views are amazing and the Dead Sea can be seen from atop.
As a day trip from Tel Aviv, renting a car is the best way to better see all of these viewpoints we visited. Of course, you could take a tour bus and venture that way, but we wanted the ease and availability of being able to travel on our own time and to different locations without the schedule of a timed tour. Also, it was cheaper for my family to rent a car for the weekend than to pay for a tour bus to take us. I’m sure using public transportation is also an option, but we still opted for the rental car option, which worked out best for my family. Additionally, as American travelers, we took routes recommended for travelers under the State Department’s recommendation.
Additionally, if you are wanting to take a tour from a reputable company, here is a company I highly recommend taking a tour with in Israel that can help you plan a day trip to the Dead Sea. You can find that link, here.
The Route We Took
Here is the route we took:
A.) Tel Aviv
B.) Beit-Guvrin Maresha National Park
C.) Ein Bokek Beach
D.) Ein Gedi Natural Reserve
E.) Back to Tel Aviv
Below, you’ll find the map for the route we took.
As mentioned above, we didn’t get a chance to visit Masada. If you’d like to add Masada to your itinerary, Masada can be done before a visit to Ein Bokek Beach. If you’re strapped for time and want to see a view from atop the Judean desert, I’d skip the Beit-Guvrin Maresha National Park caves and just visit (in order of location) Ein Bokek Beach, Masada, and Ein Gedi.
If you’re visiting Israel and staying in Tel Aviv, I highly recommend a day trip to the Dead Sea; it’s one you shouldn’t miss! Not only does the landscape change within an hour of driving from Tel Aviv, but you’d be amazed by the scenic views of the Judean desert, the Cobalt blue waters of the Dead Sea outlined by snowy white slat deposits, reddish tan cliffs, and finally, the beautiful oasis of the Judean desert. You’ll appreciate the beauty of Israel and find that this country has much to offer! Until next time friends! עד הפעם הבאה חברים (in Hebrew).