The Judean Desert is one of the world’s smallest, yet most unique desert regions.
Throughout history, the Judean Desert has been an important, and well documented place.
For example, it was the main entry route to the Holy City of Jerusalem from the east during ancient times.
Today, the most popular places in the Judaean Desert are Masada and the Dead Sea which are featured on every list of must see in Israel.
However, a lesser known attraction, also worth seeing, is Herodium which like Masada was a fortress-palace built by Herod.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is probably the 3rd most visited site in the desert.
If you like hiking and you come here in winter you should definitely consider a day hike in Ein Gedi.
The desert is sparsely populated and always has been.
Those who lived in it in ancient times did so mostly through a connection to Jerusalem, which in a sense, made it the desert of the Holy City.
King David escaped to Ein Gedi, King Herod build a fortress – Masada – in the desert in case he needed to escape, and the Jewish rebels in the Bar Kokhba revolt used Masada as their strong hold.
Much of the history in the Judaean Desert was connected to the political, religious, and economic situation in Jerusalem.
The unknown people who collected the Dead Sea scrolls had left Jerusalem to live simple religious lives in the Judean Desert.
In 1947 the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered well preserved in the Qumran Caves thanks to the dry desert weather.
One third of the Dead Sea scrolls were parts of the Bible that were 2,000 years old making them one of the most important archeological finds in Israel. Today you can see them on display in the Israel Museum.
Traveling to the Judean Desert
The easiest way to travel too and around the Judean Desert is by car.
All the popular sites are along road 90 and driving yourself means you can run on your own time table.
By bus is another option.
Buses 486 and 487 leave the central bus station in Jerusalem every hour and stop at all the major sites.
Bus 44 goes from Jerusalem to Eilat and also stops at all the sites.
Bus 421 goes all the way from Tel Aviv to Masada and back, but leaves only twice a day.
If you do travel by bus, remember that there are no buses from Friday afternoon until Saturday night and on Jewish holidays.
Bring cash. You’ll be hard pressed to find a bank and while you can find find ATMs some of them don’t accept credit cards.
In fact, as you may have read in my post what to know before visiting Israel, some restaurants and gas stations won’t accept foreign credit cards.
Also, it’s a good idea to bring your own food. There aren’t many restaurants in the area and there are even fewer that are kosher.
However, you can find grocery stores in Kibbutz Ein Gedi and there are places to eat in the hotel strip in the southern part of the Dead Sea.