While Jerusalem beckons with its holy and historic sites, there is much to discover in the surrounding regions of Israel. South of the city, we are drawn to Ein Gedi, a verdant oasis nestled in two canyons that dive to the shores of the Dead Sea from the otherworldly Judean Desert. Calling to mind the Garden of Eden, it’s a refuge of freshwater pools, waterfalls, springs and local wildlife, including the elusive Nubian ibex.
Venture to the plateau atop the fortress of Masada – by cable car or on foot – by way of the Roman siege ramp on the western side or the Snake Path on the eastern side. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an ancient fortification where the Zealots contested themight of the Roman Empire. It offers views of eight Roman military camps and their siege wall in both reconstructed sections and original remains.
Always a draw for its natural spa-like qualities, the cobalt-blue Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth at 431 meters below sea level and here, one can paddle through water that is heavy and salty and unlike any water you have floated in before. Look for salt crystals and discover the myriad shapes and sizes of the salt formations. Bathe yourself in mud and salty water in the hidden spots of the lake. Visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and said to be the spot where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
In Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden away for almost 2,000 years, one can view the aqueduct, channels and cisterns of the ancient Essene settlement that made its home here until AD 68. Ritual baths, a refectory where communal meals were taken and the scriptorium – most likely where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written – provide insight into the traditions, cultures and beliefs of the ancient Qumran.