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- 09 Dec 2019, 3 nights
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At 430 metres below sea level, Israel’s Dead Sea is the lowest land on Earth and one of the Natural Wonders of the World. This flat salt lake, known as Yam ha-Melakh in Hebrew, lures those seeking to experience the rich healing properties of its waters. You can relax on its many shores with the soaring Judaean Mountains in the distance, or head out into the sun-drenched desert for thrills within the rugged wilderness.
You'll find Dead Sea hostels that range from modern dorm buildings with balcony views over the water to backpacker favourites in adventurous desert enclaves. For a memorable stay, seek out a wood cabin with air con in a remote camp lodge or choose to lounge in modish bungalows. Wi-Fi is free in most hostels, but when you want to switch off under a starry night's sky, some have bonfires and barbecue grills, along with moonlight jeep rides. To experience authentic Israeli culture, look out for a Dead Sea hostel that holds Shabbat dinners.
Just 30 minutes from the Dead Sea lies the ancient fortress of Masada. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Israel’s icons and is reached by cable car or a hike up the west side of the mountain, known as the Snake Path. You'll find a desert oasis, the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve north of Masada, with its stunning waterfalls and caves, along with gravity defying goats and rare plants. Ein Bokek is a popular southern strip with a handful of restaurants and shops, and its free public beach allows for a quick dip in mineral-rich waters.
Take a trip out to the archaeological site of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, or trek the 5km Wadi Arugot canyon if you're feeling active. Adventure seekers can explore the deep hidden salt caves of Mount Sodom, or go quad biking in the Judaean desert where you'll ride past roaming camels and off-the-grid Bedouin villages. To relax, floating in the saline Dead Sea and immersing in its cleansing natural mud is a must for its therapeutic benefits.
Many travellers visit from Jerusalem, 45km away, and you can reach the area in under 3 hours by driving on the Highway 1 east and turning off on Route 90 south. The easiest way to travel, though, is on the Egged Bus from Jerusalem's central bus station as routes 486 and 487 go to the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi and Masada. If you're coming from the beach town of Eilat, there’s a shuttle that runs daily.