Dead sea – where you cannot sink but you can drown

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How it feels floating in the lowest point on Earth – Dead Sea

The views around the highway do not change much but the feeling of curiosity about the unknown grows and grows inside me. Road signs saying 100 m below sea level, 200 m below sea level make me really excited about what is coming in front of us just a few kilometers away. Our descent started from Jerusalem and ended at the Dead sea– the lowest place on Earth. We had an easy journey, traveling by a comfortable car through the Judean desert and feeling absolutely safe despite some fears we might have had before we started our journey. Nice roads, desert around and some Bedouin villages in the mountains is what we were seeing nearing the Dead sea in Israel.

The Northern part of the Dead Sea

The Northern part of the Dead Sea

Millions of years ago Dead sea was connected to the Mediterranean Sea. But the heat and vaporization turned it into a lake that shrinks year after year. Dead sea lies on the border between Israel and Jordan. Nowadays it is about 430 m below sea level. It also changes every year – its level falls by 1 m a year and it shrinks by 5 m a year.

The road

The road along the Dead sea

The Northern part of the Dead Sea

The Northern part of the Dead Sea

The sea on “life support”

Dead sea consists of two water basins – Northern and Southern. Traveling from Jerusalem we first passed by the Northern basin. This is actually the “real” Dead sea, which is still fed by fresh water by Jordan river and some smaller rivers that dry in the summer. It is also the deeper part. Despite fresh water is still flowing into the lake, it becomes saltier every year and today its salinity is around 34 %. This is 10 times more than the World ocean.

The Northern part of the Dead Sea

The Northern part of the Dead Sea

So we were driving by a nice coastal road. For Europeans like me the views are a bit strange – desert on the right, the lower lake on the left and behind it deserts again. And the desert is not what we would imagine, with sands and dunes. It is rather a rocky desert. We quickly passed by a checkpoint just before the resort of Ein Gedi and continued our drive looking for a beach by the southern basin.

The Dead Sea

The Southern part of the Dead Sea

The Southern basin is an artificial lake now, a complex of salt evaporation ponds. It is filled with water pumped from the Northern basin by the Dead Sea Works company. Through the years there have been projects for restoration of the Dead sea by connecting it to the Mediterranean Sea but they failed. The most recent idea is connecting the Dead sea to the Red sea by a 180 km channel but only the future will show whether it will succeed. The level of the Southern basin is being kept stable. This allows the normal operation of the local hotels and resorts which would be put in a hard situation if the sea was moving away each year.

Ein Bokek – the beach and hotels

We stopped at Ein Bokek – one of the biggest resorts, full of 5-star hotels. Local beaches are accessible for other tourists too so we were able to visit one of them without staying in the quite expensive resort.

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Ein Bokek - the beach

Ein Bokek – the beach

The Beach

Ein Bokek – the beach

The Beach

The mud SPA

We put on our bath suits and cautiously made our first steps in the Dead sea. It was a late afternoon in May but it was still quite hot outside – around 40 degrees Celsius. The water was not much cooler. It is a strange experience – the water feels somehow greasy and what we have heard about it – that you cannot sink – appears to be real. We cautiously start floating, enjoying the unusual experience that we have read about thousands of times.

The Dead Sea

You cannot sink

The Dead Sea

And my Brother cannot sink

Ein Bokek

Ein Bokek – the hotels


However not everything turns to be pleasing in the Dead sea. When you try to get up on your feet, you find it almost impossible. The water does not leave your feet to touch the bottom and you are not welcome to make any sharp movements in order to stand up.

The water could be actually very dangerous – it is so salty that if it touches your eyes of mouth you feel real pain. If you inhale it, it could even kill you. So you have to be very, very careful. Another challenge is the stinging. You may think that you have no itches or cuts on your skin but the heavily salty water finds your most sensitive places and stings terribly. If this is your first Dead sea bath, you would probably not be able to stay in the water for more than a few minutes. However, we met a lot of experienced tourists that were floating and enjoying their stay without experiencing our problems.

Neve Zohar

Evening in the town of Arad

We left Ein Bokek a little nostalgic. We could not afford to stay there even for a night – the hotels are terribly expensive for our budget. So we head to the near town of Arad – a 20-minute drive from Dead sea and a popular budget destination for travelers. Arad is also a good starting point for our next trip – the Masada fortress.

Neve Zohar

The Dead Sea

A beautiful view of Dead Sea

We stayed in a wonderful house for a reasonable price for local standards. The town itself is neat and nice with many Russian-speaking residents. There we found the best bar for our dinner – Muza, offering wonderful burgers and beer.

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Get ready for the Dead sea

In tourist magazines Dead sea looks like an exotic paradise with crystal clear waters that do not leave you sink. The truth is however slightly different and you have to be prepared if you don’t want to lose your enthusiasm. Dead sea is nothing like the seas we are used to visit for holiday – for example the Black sea and the Mediterranean Sea, popular among European tourists. So here are some useful details you might need to know before you go there

Important tips:

  • There is nothing like the wide, long, golden sand beach we are used to visit. It is a desert around and the beach does not differ very much. Luckily the official beaches are well-equipped with showers, toilets and dressing rooms
  • If you are looking for a water basin to cool from the heat, this is not your place. Dead sea water is quite warm, similar to the hot air around, and does not offer any cooling. It is also far from the crystal clear vision. It feels greasy and it is not clear at all.
  • You cannot sink but you can definitely drown. If you dreamed of a long and easy swim, forget about it. Swimming is technically possible but practically impossible. As I mentioned above, getting water in your mouth or eyes is something you should always avoid. And a swim without water touching your mouth or eyes would be a challenge. Also you are supposed to avoid sharp movements and try not to splash water on the other visitors around you.
  • Water stings. Everywhere. Even if you think your skin is fine, it will find your most sensitive places and start stinging. When you start feeling it go out and use the showers, this is my best advice.
  • Use flippers of water shoes. The bottom of Dead sea might be covered with salt crystals that may cut your skin.

If you are not visiting Dead sea for health reasons and do not have a serious budget, do not consider Dead sea as an alternative to your yearly beach holiday. First, it is nothing like going to Mediterranean resorts in Greece, Italy or Spain. If you are looking for something similar, try Tel Aviv with its wonderful sandy beaches. And second, you should have a serious budget to afford a full Dead sea holiday. No budget hotels around, not even middle class.

However if you are going to Israel for an excursion and have the opportunity to visit Dead sea for a day or a couple of hours – do not miss is!

A view of Dead Sea from Masada

A stunning view from Massada

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