Getting there and getting around the Dead Sea rift

The cliff-top Masada fortress is accessible from the shores of the Dead Sea either by hiking up the steep Snake Trail or via the Masada cable car. Credit: Lon Abbott & Terri Cook. The cliff-top Masada fortress is accessible from the shores of the Dead Sea either by hiking up the steep Snake Trail or via the Masada cable car. Credit: Lon Abbott & Terri Cook.

Most flights into Israel from the U.S. and Europe go through Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV), located 19 kilometers south of Tel Aviv. The most flexible and convenient option for getting to and from the airport and for exploring the region is to rent a vehicle; the airport and downtown Tel Aviv offer many rental options. Cars drive on the right, and road signs are marked in Hebrew and English. From the airport, the Dead Sea is about a three-hour drive (170 kilometers).

The best time to visit the Dead Sea region is from late fall through early spring; in summer, temperatures are extremely hot and soaking in the sea is almost unbearable during the day. Accommodations in Israel are generally of a high standard and run the gamut from hostels to five-star resorts. The main tourist area by the Dead Sea is Ein Bokek.

Although it’s free to soak in the Dead Sea, you usually need to pay for parking and bring your own towel if you’re not a resort guest. It’s a good idea to wear waterproof sandals to protect your feet from rocks and hot sand, and to avoid wearing jewelry, which can be tarnished by the extremely salty water.

When visiting Masada, it’s important to plan in advance which side you’ll approach the ruins from, especially if you want to be on top in time for sunrise. The visitor center on the east side is just a couple of kilometers from the west-side Roman siege ramp as the crow flies, but these points are 70 kilometers apart by car. If you’re planning on climbing the Snake Path before dawn, it’s best to stay overnight at the 280-bed Masada Hostel located a few hundred meters below the visitor center. If you’d rather climb the Roman Ramp, the town of Arad makes a convenient base.

The local currency is the Israeli new shekel (NIS); credit cards are widely accepted. Keep in mind that airport security is very tight, so it’s a good idea to arrive at the airport three hours prior to your scheduled departure for your journey home.

Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Terri Cook ( is a science and travel writer based in Colorado and an EARTH roving correspondent. Lon Abbott is a geology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Thursday, February 9, 2017 - 06:00

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