Driving north from Eliat, we made our way to the kibbutz that we would be staying in for the next couple of days – the Khalia Kibbutz. The kibbutz is located a few miles from the Dead Sea and going into it I didn’t know what to expect. I really thought it would be like an amish-type village thing, but quickly realized that I was quite mistaken. As we approached the gate, there were armed guards who had to check us through due to kibbutzes being a frequent target of terrorist attacks. We made our way past security, and we saw that that the kibbutz was a modern, fully-functioning community.
More like a vacation resort complex than a farm, the room we stayed in was modest, clean, and affordable with a little kitchen and back patio. The staff was friendly, but like all Israelis they had a curt, edgy directness. The Khalia Kibbutz is good choice if you’re looking to do something very Israeli and need a place to stay when visiting the following:
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We went to Mineral Beach, which is one of the beaches you do actually have to pay for to enter. They also offer towels and lockers to rent and spa services (which are very overpriced). The beach itself isn’t really a “lay out the towel and lounge” type beach. The ground is extremely rocky, but there are several beach chairs for you to have so that you’re not sitting on the rocks.
Regardless of that, the reason why you’re there isn’t to enjoy the “sand” – its to experience the water. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint. All the stories you hear about being able to literally float with no effort are 100% true. Once you get in, all you need to do is lift up your feet and it’s like you’re on an invisible floating mat. A few things to note though – DO NOT DUNK. I cannot stress this enough. The water tastes absolutely horrible and will cause serious harm to your eyes if it gets in contact with them. Also, DO NOT SHAVE before going in. The water is SO salty that any small cut or scrape will burn like crazy. I didn’t shave, but there were a few small scratches on my legs that I didn’t know about and the water quickly let me know they were there.
When you’re tired of floating in the sea itself, you can try giving yourself a mud treatment. There are barrels of the mineral mud located on the beach and you’ll see everyone covering their skin up in this gunky mess. When you wash it off, your skin feels absolutely smooth and fresh as the mud has sucked up all the oils and dead skin and washed them away. Be warned, the mud also stings so if you’re going to put it on your face, just be prepared.
It’s also worth partaking in the sulfur pool. This giant hot tub has the same water as the dead sea so you can float around in it with all the other people. The water is very hot though and we couldn’t stay in there too long.
Hiking up the Masada
Another famous Israeli landmark is the Masada, a fortress that was built on top of a mountain in 37 B.C. It’s famous for the great siege at Masada, where 960 Jewish settlers committed mass suicide to avoid capture from the Romans. You can read more about the story here. There are two ways up the mountain to see the ruins of the fortress – hike and the cable car. The cable car will get you up to the top in a few minutes. If you’re going to attempt the hike up to the top of the mountain, you’ll take the snake trail and that climb will take you 45 minutes to an hour or two depending on your pace. You should also be in relatively good shape, the hike up is not an easy one if you choose the snake trail. There is a significantly easier trail up as well called the Roman Ramp, but that requires you to drive 40 minutes around the mountain to the other side. There’s a fee to hike and a fee for the cable car. A popular option is to pay for the hike up and a pay for a one-way trip back down on the cable car. Once you get to the top, you can easily spend a couple hours up there. There are several pretty intact ruins left and the views of the Dead Sea are amazing.
Ein Gedi and Qumran
For more hiking, swing by Ein Gedi Nature Park. There you can explore the park’s waterfalls, caves, natural springs and wildlife. It’s pretty incredible seeing the lush flora and water of this oasis in the middle of the desert. Qumran is also located close by. If you have an hour, check out the site where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls and see how the ancient tribes that found them lived. However, keep in mind that the actual scrolls aren’t kept at Qumran. They’re housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem – our next destination.