UNESCO sites in the desert around Arad
Arad’s convenient location between the Judean Desert and the Negev makes it a perfect starting point for many outdoor adventures. Although Arad was mentioned in the Old Testament a few times, the modern town lacks ancient sites. It’s surroundings, on the other hand, offer beautiful experiences.
Masada is a more than 2000 years old ancient fortification on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert. Herod, who ruled the Jewish kingdom in the 1st century BCE, picked Masada as his winter palace. The fortress was the last Jewish stronghold in Judea during the time of Jewish revolts against Romans.
The siege of the town lasted a few months. During that time, Romans built a siege ramp and several camps around. In the end, 960 members of the community took their lives because they didn’t want to live in shame and humiliation in Roman hands.
After the Romans left, Masada remained uninhabited for a few centuries until Byzantine monks rebuilt its walls into a monastery. With the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Masada vanished from maps and was re-discovered in the 19th century. The nearly 1300 years untouched site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.
Today, the preserved remains of the ancient fortress majestically guard the Judean Desert to the north and the Dead Sea to the east. On the plateau, you can admire the remains of palace walls, Byzantine mosaics, watering systems, and religious buildings. And you can still recognise the grounds of Roman camps, and the Roman siege ramp.
The views over the surroundings are spectacular as well.
Experiencing sunrise over the Dead Sea from Masada’s eastern wall is a must-do. Therefore, you should schedule the ascend before the sun comes out. Coming from Arad, use the route 3199, and you’ll reach the entrance to the car park in about 20 minutes.
You can conveniently walk up the Siege Ramp Path, which takes around 30 minutes, and enter through the Western gate. There is an entrance fee (28 NIS per person), which is collected at the gate to the parking area.
Good to know: Count in some time for standing in line before the entrance. Sometimes, there is a bus in front of you, and you have to wait until the guide has bought tickets for the entire group. An extra quarter-hour will save you nerve-wracking moments in the car, thinking about whether you’ll reach the top in time for sunrise.
The hike to Masada from the eastern side on the famous Snake Path takes 60-90 minutes. From Arad, you can reach its starting point using the road along the Dead Sea, which takes twice as long as the quick route 3199. Furthermore, from the east, you can take a cable car to the plateau. However, it runs from 8 am and is therefore too late for sunrise.
Camel riding on the ancient Negev Incense Route
From Arad, it’s only a 35 minutes’ drive to the Negev Camel Ranch.
The lovely property lies in the eastern part of the Negev on the ancient Northern Incense Trade Route. The ranch’s staff cares deeply about their camels. As beginners, we opted for a 60 minutes camel ride. It didn’t make it any less spectacular. For a few minutes, we felt like real nomads.
Booking a ride: Our booking was very spontaneous, only a few hours in advance. We rang the ranch around midday and booked a 5 pm tour. This was perfect because the majority of ranch guests decides to ride in the morning. Thus, we had an unplanned private trip.
The route took us through the desert to a beautiful canyon. We had a perfect view of ancient Mamshit. Incense traders built the town in the 1st century on their route from Petra to Gaza. Together with other Desert Cities in the Negev, Mamshit has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
Good to know: The ranch only accepted cash for the camel rides (75 NIS per person for a one-hour tour). Wear long pants and closed shoes. If you have a big camera, and you’re an inexperienced rider, leave it behind, as it may take some time until you find your balance. A GoPro is entirely OK for many funny pictures.
Tips for a stay in Arad
Although Arad has ancient roots, the town doesn’t offer any sights. Its location makes it a good starting point for desert and Dead Sea trips.
Where to stay
We found a pretty apartment in a homestay Desert View. Our host, Avi, was very welcoming and gave us many tips. We had a front porch and a parking place for our rental car.
Where to eat
For breakfast, try one of the cafés on the main square behind the shopping mall. A shakshuka is always a good choice.
For dinner, head to restaurant Muza. It offers a variety of good plates for every taste.
Our Israeli desert experience turned out to be full of magical moments. The scarce landscape witnessed many turning points in middle-eastern history and took us back in time.