The sudden and startling sight, in this bare landscape, of gleaming, ultramodern hotels surrounded by waving palm trees signals your arrival at the spa-resort area of Ein Bokek, near the southern tip of the Dead Sea. According to the Bible, it was along these shores that the Lord rained fire and brimstone on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24) and turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt (Genesis 26). Here, at the lowest point on Earth, the hot, sulfur-pungent air hangs heavy, and a haze often shimmers over the water. You can float, but you can’t sink, in the warm, salty water.
Once upon a time, Ein Bokek comprised a handful of hotels, each with a small "spa," and a pebbly beach out front. Today, it's a collection of large resorts with curvy pools, rooftop solariums, and landscaped outdoor areas. While the downsides of many hotels are the outdated decor and buffet-style dining options, the pools and state-of-the-art spas are a welcome relief from the often sweltering heat on the rocky Dead Sea beaches. There are no full-service restaurants outside the hotels, although a few casual eating places are along the beach and in two tiny shopping centers. The central cluster of hotels is linked by a promenade to two hotels at the southern end of the area. At this writing, construction of the promenade is slated for completion in spring 2017; until it opens, half of the beach is closed, and all hotels are sharing the public beaches.