Masada Sunrise Guide: Hiking The Masada Snake Path

Seeing the Masada sunrise and hiking the Masada Snake Path is a must when in Israel.

The Masada is perhaps Israel’s most interesting archeological site. It can be easily visited on a day trip from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and paired with other unmissable attractions such as the Dead Sea (which you can see from the Masada) and Ein Gedi Reserve.

Provided you are up for a bit of a challenge, seeing the sun rising from the Masada is an incredible experience! Are you curious how to do it? Good news! Here I will share everything you need to know for your Masada sunrise visit, and how to hike the Masada Snake Path. Let me start by sharing some background information about the Masada.

Masada snake path
The Masada easily is the most interesting archeological site in Israel

Some Background Information About The Masada

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, the Masada has a truly interesting story. The site became known for one of the most tragic sieges in history – the siege of Masada.

The first historian to write about the Masada is Josephus Flavius, who was the governor of Galilee during the great rebellion of the 1st century AC. He claimed that the first fort of the Masada was built by Jonathan the High Priest. However, no remains dating to those time were ever found.

Thanks to its advantageous position, Herod picked the site as his winter residence to escape the cold weather of Jerusalem, and increased its security by building a fort as well as storage rooms and water cisterns.

Around 100 years after his death, in 66 AC, at the time of the rebellion of the Jews against the Roman oppressors, a group of Jews known as the Zealots sought refuge in the Masada. Once Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 AC, these started turning their attention to the Masada, where a community of around 960 Zealots resided.

Led by Flavius Silva, 8000 Roman soldiers built a series of camps (whose remains are still visible) around the mountain where the Masada is located, and a ramp they could use to attack the fortress. After having attempted to get inside for more than three years, once they finally got in, in April 73 AC, the soldiers found a desolate place: all the inhabitants of the Masada were dead. 

Knowing that there was no way they could still resist the attack of the Roman army, and rather than becoming slaves to the enemy, the Zealots decided to commit suicide – by drawing 10 persons who’d have to kill the others. The story became known as seven persons (two women and five children) managed to escape by hiding in the cisterns, and told it to the Roman army. Interestingly, archeologists suggest that there is no actual proof the Zealots committed mass suicide.

In the 5th century a group of Byzantine Monks established themselves in the Masada, where they lived for about 100 years – their presence can still be noted in various buildings in the site.

To date, the siege of the Masada remains a symbol of how an entire group of people would rather die than be oppressed or compromised – a beloved story for Jewish youth, who to date hike the Masada Snake Path almost as a rite of passage.

Masada tour
The gorgeous view of the Dead Sea from the Masada at sunrise

Masada Sunrise: Hiking The Masada Snake Path

There are three ways to reach the Masada:

  • hiking the Masada Snake Path;
  • walking the Roman Ramp;
  • the cable car.

If you want to visit the Masada at sunrise, your only option is to hike the Masada Snake Path.

The Masada Snake Path

The Masada Snake Path starts at around 300 meters below sea level and takes you to the top of the mountain – at 58 meters above se level – where the Masada is located. The total elevation gain is actually 330 meters! This is the most rewarding way of reaching the Masada, and – as previously said – the only option if you want for a Masada sunrise visit.

The trail is a mostly dry dirt, with some high steps over some rocks. It is about 2.1 km long, and goes along the side of the mountain with lots of switchbacks, that make it look like a snake (hence the name!). Provided you are the kind of person that exercises regularly, this is not a strenuous hike – in fact, many people do it and it certainly isn’s a solitary experience.

It will take you between 45 and 60 minutes to walk the snake path all the way to the top – depending on your pace and on how often you stop to catch your breath and to take photos.

The trail only opens one hour before sunrise, so you literally have 60 minutes to get to the top in time for sunrise. I recommend not lingering too long on the trail!

Once you reach the fortress, the views are incredible.

Head straight to one of the view points so that you can enjoy the views of the Dead Sea, all the way across Jordan in the distance.

After that you can start wandering around. There won’t be that many people at that time of day (most visitors go there by cable car, which starts running at 8:00 am). As you won’t have a guide at that time of day, you need to get hold of a map of the site and take a good guide book with you to get at least some basic facts.

Make sure to look for the cisterns, the old warehouse that was turned into a synagogue by the Zealots, and the Byzantine church. Facing west, you’ll also be able to spot the remains of the camps build by the Roman army at the time of the siege.

Once you are done exploring you can walk the Masada Snake Path back down the visitors center (around 60 minutes), or take the cable car. The overall visit normally lasts about three hours.

Keep in mind that during the summer months Israel can get very hot, and even more so in this part of the country. Expect to take longer to reach the top, and make sure to bring lots of water.

The Roman Ramp

The Roman Ramp is located on the western side of the Masada, and is a much quicker option than the Masada Snake Path. It will take you between 20 and 25 minutes to climb all the way up from this path. The ramp is not directly accessible from the main road getting to the Masada National Park. You can get there if you have your own car, or alternatively you will have to walk there from the main gate. It takes about one hour though – so you may as well walk the snake path!

The cable car

The easiest way to get to the Masada is by riding the cable car. This started operating in 1971 and literally takes minutes to get to the fortress, and the views during the ride are incredible.

The cable car won’t be working before 8:00 am – so you can’t use it to get to the site in time for the sunrise.

Judean desert
Beautiful desert views from the Masada

Practical Information For Visiting The Masada

The cost of visiting the Masada

You need to pay a ticket to get inside Masada National Park. The price varies depending on which ticket you get. This is a breakdown of the costs. All the prices listed are for adults and in Israeli Shekels (NIS).

  • Masada entry fee without cable car NIS 31 
  • Cable car one way NIS 28
  • Cable car round trip NIS 46

If you plan to reach the site via the Masada snake path, you will have to pay NIS 31 (around $9 USD). If you decide to take the cable car down (this helps you save time if you intend to visit other nearby attractions) you have to add NIS 28 (around $8), so the total price will be NIS 59 (around $17 USD).

Opening times

The Masada is open year round, but the opening time vary between the winter and the summer season. Opening hours are as follows:

SUMMER OPENING HOURS: Saturdays to Thursdays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm; Fridays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

WINTER OPENING HOURS: Saturdays to Thursdays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm; Fridays from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm.

SNAKE PATH: The trail opens one hour before sunrise and closes one hour before closing time.

ROMAN RAMP: The trail opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 15 minutes before closing time.

How to get to the Masada

There are several ways to reach the Masada: you can rent a car, hire a taxi, use public transportation or go on a guided tour that includes transportation.

Check out my post A Guide To Renting A Car In Israel.

From Jerusalem

The Masada is about 100 km from Jerusalem. Public bus 486 connects Jerusalem to the Masada five times per day from Sunday to Thursday.

PLEASE NOTE: There are no public buses from Jerusalem to the Masada on Fridays and Saturdays.

From Tel Aviv

It takes between two and two and a half hours to get from Tel Aviv to the Masada. The best way to get there is by car or on a guided tour. Bus 421 connects Tel Aviv to the Masada, but this is honestly not a good option as it takes too long and you’d end up having too little time at the site.

the Dead Sea
Gorgeous views of the Dead Sea

The best Masada sunrise tours  

If you want to visit the Masada at sunrise, unless you have a car there is no other option than going on a guided tour departing from either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

The best Masada sunrise tours are run by Abraham Tours – you can book them here. The tours depart at around 2:00 or 3:00 am from Tel Aviv and at around 3:00 or 4:00 am from Jerusalem, depending on the season. You will get to the Masada entry point at around 4:45 am (in the winter time) or at 5:45 (in the summer time) in time to start hiking to see the sunrise.

Guided Masada sunrise tours include transportation but don’t cover the entry fee for the Masada.

The tour is not guided – you get a driver that gives you some basic information about the sites you are visiting, and that coordinates the timings. The tour also goes to Ein Gedi Reserve and to the Dead Sea, so you get to see three of the best attractions in Israel in just one day.

This is honestly an excellent tour. I have done other tours of the Masada and the Dead Sea where I was pushed around the site in a terrible rush and ended up spending a whole hour at a Dead Sea cosmetics factory – a waste of time!

TIP: If you do a Masada tour at sunrise, make sure to bring water and food for the day.

If you are not an early riser and are not interested in hiking, you can opt to do a more classic also with Abraham. You can book it here.

What to wear and carry when visiting the Masada 

This part of Israel is significantly warmer than the rest of the country, and gets incredibly hot in the summer months. During the summer months, expect an average temperature of around 20°C / 68°F as you start climbing, which quickly rises all the way to 28°C / 82°F once you are at the top, and even more as you walk back down. Temperatures are more bearable in the winter months – when you will need a light jacket or wind breaker.

Other than that, wearing comfortable clothes and shoes is important when visiting the Masada, especially if you are hiking the Masada snake path. You will need a pair of light hiking shoes and a hat, and you should bring enough water for the hike and the visit. Apply a good dose of sunscreen as soon as the sun is out.

Remember to take a torch or headlight with you as you will start hiking in the dark.

If you are doing a tour that goes to Ein Gedi Reserve and the Dead Sea bring a swimsuit, sandals and a light towel.

Ein Gedi Reserve
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is often visited during Masada sunrise tours

Nearby Attractions

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and the Dead Sea are two places that you can easily reach after your Masada sunrise visit.

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

One of the best places to visit in Israel to admire wildlife, the park is home to several hiking trails that will take you to gorgeous waterfalls and swimming holes where you can find a quiet spot to relax in the shade. You won’t really have time to hike if you are on a tour of the Masada – just follow the main trail to the waterfalls and mark down the place for a future visit.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The entry fee for Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is NIS 28. It is open from Saturday to Thursday and on Saturdays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm from April to September; and from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm from October to March; and on Fridays from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm (winter schedule) or 4:00 pm (summer schedule).

Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is one of the most fun places to visit in Israel

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most fun places to visit in the country. This is the lowest place on earth – more than 400 meters below sea level; and the water is so salty that you can only float on it and not swim.

Scattered along the shores of the Dead Sea you will find several beaches – some private and some public – and resorts where you can relax and spend a few hours enjoying the benefits of the Dead Sea muds and salts. You will have to pay close attention to the guidelines for visiting:

  • Don’t run in or near the water: it can be very slippery and muddy, and the last thing you want is falling in the water. Depending on the area, there is also sharp salt rocks near the water which may cut you!
  • Wear flip flops to get as close as possible to the water.
  • Don’t put your face in the water: you’ll badly burn your eyes and lips!
  • Don’t taste the water.
  • Avoid getting in the water if you have just shaved or if you have a wound: the salt in the water will sting your skin!

Further Readings

Are you planning a trip to Israel? Make sure to read my other posts:

Legal Disclaimer: My Adventures Across The World contributor Elisabetta Tavani was a guest of Abraham Tours during her tour of the Masada and thanks them for the great experience. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post are honest and without any bias.

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