As one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, located at the lowest point of the earth’s surface, the Dead Sea certainly claims a few superlatives. Measuring 304 metres in depth and 605 square kilometres in surface area, this hypersaline lake is more than nine times saltier than our oceans, which doesn’t provide the most hospitable of environments for animals and plants. In fact, you may be forgiven for thinking you’ve landed on another planet with the largely barren and rugged terrain of the surrounding mountains providing few signs of life. Around the shores, large clusters of salt rocks resemble the froth of waves frozen in motion while the intense blue of the water has a smooth surface that looks like its been lovingly polished with oil.
Bordered by Jordan, Israel and Palestine, there are plenty of opportunities to visit the Dead Sea and it might be wise to do so sooner rather than later with the water shrinking by a metre per year. No trip to the Holy Land would be complete without experiencing the sensation of floating on the water’s surface while covered in mineral-rich mud. To help you do just that, here’s our guide on how to plan your visit in Israel with recommendations on the best beaches, accommodation and local sights.
Visiting the Dead Sea from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv
Israel is nice and compact in size, which means it doesn’t take too long getting from A to B. It’s possible to visit the Dead Sea as a day trip from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The drive time from Jerusalem can take as little as half an hour or up to an hour more depending on traffic and whether you’re aiming for the northern or southern region of the Dead Sea. From Tel Aviv it’s closer to two and a half hours. If you’re joining a coach tour, the pick up of participants adds to the overall time taken getting there while if you’re on a self-drive holiday then this won’t be a concern. Either way, these short transfer times allow plenty of time to be spent at the Dead Sea itself.
Best beaches to visit
Once at the Dead Sea, there’s a number of beaches to choose from. The vast majority of these are privately owned and there are charges for using the beach and the facilities provided. Top choice for day trippers is the northern beach of Neve Midbar where you’ll find plenty of natural black mud to slather yourself in and showers to use when you’re ready to wash off. Other amenities here include changing rooms and lockers as well as an air-conditioned restaurant where you can enjoy a bite to eat with lovely views over the Dead Sea.
Another great option for those visiting from Jerusalem, with a transfer time of just half an hour, is Kalia beach. Also located at the north of the Dead Sea, this beach has a large shore lined with sunbathing loungers and shaded spots. There’s also a snack bar and cafe to satisfy your appetite. Just south of here is Biankini beach where a Moroccan-themed restaurant and lounge area provides a touch of the exotic. The beach itself is rather thin with a wooden deck laid out on top but the shaded areas of grass back from the beach are a delightful spot to relax while enjoying views out across the water.
For those on a budget, the southern beach of Ein Bokek is free of charge with public showers and changing rooms. The broad beach is kept clean with a shaded promenade that provides access to the beach. There are also a number of hotels and resorts close by for those interested in spa treatments.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A number of beaches are currently closed due to sinkholes around the periphery of the Dead Sea. The recommendations listed are open for business at time of writing.
Spending a night at the Dead Sea
If you’re looking to add more relaxation and rest to your Israel trip, consider spending a night at the Dead Sea. This will enable you to soak in the therapeutic waters across two days and will allow plenty of time to indulge in a few spa treatments offered by many of the hotels that line the shores.
The Ein Gedi Hotel is a popular choice thanks to its private beach and oasis-like setting in verdant botanical gardens. The spa is open from 9am to 6pm every day of the week with heated swimming pools, a sauna and Turkish hammam. Non hotel guests can also use the spa facilities at a cost of approximately USD $35 per person so this resort is also a good option for day visitors wanting spa treatments.
Set on the shores of Ein Bokek, the Prima Oasis Dead Sea Hotel borrows design features from Moroccan architecture with a great pool area, free WiFi and smart, contemporary guestrooms. Another reliable choice is the Isrotel Dead Sea where all rooms have outdoor balconies from which to enjoy the views, while spa facilities include a sulphur pool and rooftop solarium. Alternatively, there’s the Herods Dead Sea Hotel with its luxurious spa and private beach.
Excursions around the Dead Sea
If you’re considering spending anything more than a few hours at the Dead Sea, there’s a number of interesting places to visit nearby. These sites can easily be worked into a full day itinerary or spread over two days if you’re willing to spend the night. Top of the list is the archaeological site of Masada where the ruins of a royal citadel proudly stand. Famously known as the location where over a thousand Jews made their last stand against the invading Romans, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a fine example of siege architecture with intact fortifications and camps. Between March and October you can watch the fortress come alive with a Sound and Light Show recounting the dramatic history of the site.
Lovers of the great outdoors should head to Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, which borders the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea coast. Here you can hike along well sign-posted trails and admire the rugged landscape defined by two parallel canyons and two spring-fed streams. Thanks to the year-round water sources, the vegetation is surprisingly lush and home to a number of desert animals including wolf, jackal, ibex and fox.
Anyone interested in Israel’s biblical history might want to visit the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Although the ancient texts are now housed in the country’s flagship Israel Museum in Jerusalem, there’s still plenty of interest at the caves. The visitor’s centre at Qumran provides an audio presentation on the scrolls, and it’s possible to see a few surviving features of the settlement including aqueducts and cisterns.
All three of these sites are located within easy reach of one another so it’s possible to visit all of them in one day from the Dead Sea, perfect if you want to combine a little R&R with further exploration.
If you fancy bobbing like a cork in the Dead Sea, check out our range of tours to Israel.