After the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE, almost a thousand Jews – men, women and children – made a desperate last stand atop Masada, a desert mesa surrounded by sheer cliffs and, from 72 CE, the might of the Roman Empire’s Tenth Legion. As a Roman battering ram was about to breach their walls, Masada’s defenders chose suicide over enslavement.
North of Ein Gedi
Highlights along the Dead Sea’s northwestern coast include the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and some wild, unspoilt nature sites. Captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967, this almost uninhabited corner of the West Bank is just a short drive from Jericho.
By tradition, this area is the site of Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical cities that were destroyed in a storm of fire and brimstone, punishment from God because of their people’s depravity (Genesis 18–19). These days, Sodom is much better known for its desert hiking and cycling trails than for sodomy.
One of the more difficult hikes in the area, this steep canyon descent (five to six hours not including stops), known in Hebrew as Nahal Darga, requires you to climb down about two dozen waterfalls (30m climbing rope required) and swim across year-round pools up to 4m deep – all your kit will get wet so leave those mobile phones and cameras somewhere safe.
Run by Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, this is one of the nicest of the Dead Sea beaches. After having a float and glopping black mud onto your skin, you can soak in naturally sulphurous spring water (39°C) or indulge in a Tibetan or Swedish massage. Lockers and towels each cost 10NIS (plus a 10NIS deposit). Has a cafeteria and transport down to the receding water line.
Perched on a cliff 600m above the Dead Sea – the views are truly spectacular – this no-frills, hippyish holiday village is like a quick trip back to the 1970s, with bare-bones infrastructure, worn furnishings and very basic bathrooms. There are 50 basic rooms and hundreds of sleeping spots in large tents that can be subdivided to keep members of a family or group together.