One of the must-do experiences in Israel is a bath in the Dead Sea. You can book a tour from Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem. But you can also organize a visit yourself. This guide tells you all you need to know about this big old lake, how to get here, what to bring, and most importantly: How to really bathe in the Dead Sea.
50 km long and at its widest 15 km wide, the lake was formed by the drifting apart of the African and the Arabian tectonic plates. Once it was part of the Mediterranean. But about two million years ago, the land had risen too much for the sea waters to still reach what is now the Jordan Valley.
Today, the Dead Sea is a natural wonder and global record setter:
- With its shores sitting 430.5 m below sea level the Dead Sea is Earth’s lowest land elevation.
- But it is also more than 300 m deep and therefore the deepest hypersaline lake in the World.
- Almost 35% salinity — about 10 times as much as your average ocean — make it one of the saltiest bodies of water in the World. Life cannot flourish under these circumstances. Boats will corrode in no time. Swimming is almost impossible (but floating is awesome). You simply flow back to the surface, if you are silly enough to try and dive in the brine. No wonder that the Hebrew name for the lake (ים המלח) translates to Salt Sea. Not inventive but true.
Most of the water flowing into the Dead Sea comes from the Jordan River. It is, therefore, no big surprise that Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, the three countries sharing both the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, are diverting the fresh water to their fields and cities before it gets lost in the brine. This reduced flow into the lake plus water extraction for salt production and other industries have led to a dramatic decrease in water levels in the past years. As a result, access to the water has become more difficult and dangerous.
How to bathe in the Dead Sea like a local
I was fortunate enough, to spend a morning on Qerim beach with a local. Mohamad, the head chef at the HI Hostel Ein Gedi, took me to his favorite beach and showed how to make the most of the mineral qualities of Dead Sea water and the mud from the Qerim hot springs.
- Start off with a bath in the Dead Sea. Float for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Don’t forget to carefully taste the water to find out that it’s really darn salty (bring water to rinse your mouth after).
- Get out and air-dry for a few minutes. Wearing wet swimwear will make step 6 a little more challenging with water dripping from the fabric. Some people simply go naked (depends on the beach you’re at).
- Gather mud from the springs. The color can range from light gray to tar-colored, depending on the mineral content of the mud. They say the darker the better. Qerim has lighter mud that is coarser. Mohamad found a friend and he gave him almost black stuff from a secret location; it was smooth and almost sticky.
- Apply the mud generously all over your body — from behind your ears all the way down to the soles of your feet.
- Let dry completely. Depending on the temperatures and the wind, this will take about 20 minutes or more. This is where tourists usually go wrong — they just let the mud sit for a few minutes and wash it off before it had ample time to nourish your skin.
- Once it’s completely dry, start to gently rub the mask in circular motions. Take special care with your face, where the skin is more tender. The body scrub will take off dead skin.
- Wash the remaining mud off in the small pools formed by the springs. The hot springs in Qerim are less salty than the Dead Sea but still no freshwater.
- Soak in the pools for a few minutes.
- Shower to wash the salt off your skin. Do not sunbathe with the salt on your skin! You are risking burns.
- Treat yourself to an olive oil massage or apply your favorite body butter.
(scroll down for Dead Sea beaches and practical info)
Dead Sea, Israel
Carola mud packed
Sunrise over the Dead Sea
Carola mud drying
Dead Sea beaches & springs
While Route 90 runs along the length of the Dead Sea, bathing is not possible everywhere. Some spots are blocked because access from the cliff is almost impossible. In recent years, sinkholes caused by draining of the lake for salt productions and other industrial uses have made walking on the shores increasingly dangerous. The number of signs warning you from going any closer is steadily growing. Here is a selection of four beaches I either visited myself or talked to locals about:
Ein Bokek: The resort village has a free beach that can be easily reached by bus from Jerusalem/ Eilat (see below). There are showers and changing cabins available as well as snacks and dining options. However, you will share the beach with elderly people in bathrobes and you won’t find any mud here.
Ein Gedi: Unfortunately, the free beach in Ein Gedi was shut after sink holes opened up and threatened to swallow the bathers and the adjacent campsite. Now, you have to pay about $20 entrance fee for the Ein Gedi Spa. Included in the price are not only facilities to shower and change but also a mini-train that takes you to the water and back. Additional services such as mud packs can be bought at the spa.
Qerim: This beach is a local favorite, about 6 km North of Ein Gedi (look out for the small parking and sign). There are no facilities and access includes climbing down steep graveled hills. Even though the beach is by the main road, the buses do not stop here (closest stop is Ein Gedi). However, this beach has lovely hot springs with pools and water flowing straight into the Dead Sea allowing you to float between cooler lake water and warm spring water.
Metsoke Dragot: This beach with cold springs is a hippie hangout and a favorite escape for young Jerusalemites in the summer. From Jerusalem, the journey takes less than an hour and Egged buses stop nearby. Though there are no facilities here, the spring water is freshwater, allowing you to hang out a little longer.
Dead Sea adventure packing list
This is not just a day at the beach. Therefore, you need to adapt your packing list beyond a good book, sunscreen, and a towel.
- Bring plenty of water — to drink (the salt will drain your body) but also to rinse your eyes should you get Dead Sea water into them. Pro tip: Wash your hands after you’ve been in the water to not avoid salt-on-my-eyes type accident. Super-pro tip: Bring the water bottle with you when you go for a float so that you always have it handy when the accidental splash happens.
- Because you will most likely have to walk along difficult paths to the beach you should have good walking shoes plus flip-flops or other shoes to navigate the gravel getting in/out of the water.
- The water is extremely salty. I cannot stress that too much! Plus, the darker the mud the more likely it will leave lasting stains. So bring swimwear that doesn’t mind the salt water (and the mud). Or skinny-dip.
- Bring two towels so you can keep one clean for your eyes. Don’t bring white (hotel) towels — the mud will stain them irreversibly.
- Don’t forget to bring a hat to protect yourself from the burning sun. Shade is rare along the coast of the Dead Sea.
Transport & Links
- Public Transport: Take Egged bus #444 (Jerusalem-Eilat line) or #486 (Jerusalem-Neve Zohar line). With 60 min. from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi, #444 is considerably faster but also runs less often throughout the day. Ticket price is ca. NIS34 one-way (€8). Click here to see schedules and prices on the Egged website (in English).
- Tours from Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv such as this one by Abraham Tours often combine a visit to the Dead Sea with Masada and Ein Gedi Natural Reserve.
- Accommodation along the Dead Sea:
- Ein Bokek offers big resort hotels
- Ein Gedi has an HI Hostel (dorm price around $30/night) and the adjacent Kibbutz an upscale guesthouse
- There is another HI Hostel in Masada.
- Feel free to use the search box below for more accommodation options.