A visit to the Dead Sea’s southern half gives way for a relaxing, laid-back vibe full of both local Israeli tourists and sparkling salty shores.
The Dead Sea is actually a salt lake, landlocked between the country of Jordan on the east, and both Palestine and Israel on the west. Its only water sources are a minimal amount of yearly rain and runoff from the Jordan River.
While most day-trippers tend to visit the northern beaches of Israel and Jordan, go off the beaten track and consider a trip to the Israeli side of the southern Dead Sea, where you’ll find a more relaxed atmosphere, fewer tourists, and just as much salt.
Ein Bokek’s collection of beachfront hotels is known as “the hotel zone”. The beach area here is public, though several hotels have private setups on their property. Further south near Neve Zohar, the vibe is even more laid-back, with mostly local tourists frequenting the beaches.
Shower and eyewash stations pepper the salty shoreline. These are key for rinsing off after a float in the saltwater or for anyone that gets an accidental salty splash to the eye. For best practices, resist the urge to dunk your head underwater and keep your noggin above the water at all times.
The Dead Sea’s famously buoyant waters are a result of the abnormally high salinity. This salty water can also be a painful reminder of any tiny cuts or scrapes hiding out on your body. Swimmers should try to avoid shaving for about three days before they get into the water—the sting can be brutal.
The Dead Sea is also chock-full of over 20 different minerals—12 of which aren’t found in other bodies of water. Several of these minerals have health benefits, including magnesium, potassium, calcium, and zinc. This combination of salt and minerals gives the water a surprisingly oily feeling.
Anything that spends too long in the water eventually becomes corroded or covered in a thick crust of salt crystals. Rocks coated in salt and poles fattened by clingy salt crystals are a common sight, as is the occasional salt encrusted personal item abandoned by tourists.
Sections of the southern Dead Sea’s floor are made up of salt spheres ranging from in size from a pea to a golf ball. These balls are surprisingly sharp, so it’s best to slip on some protective footwear. Flip flops may seem like a good call, but, in reality, they are a challenge to walk in if the water is more than ankle deep.
Harvesting salt spheres to take home as a souvenir is a popular pastime on the beach. These make for great gifts and relaxing at-home mineral baths. Some visitors only grab a handful while others can be seen filling entire plastic bags. Be warned, though, when wet, the jagged edges of these salty spheres can actually burn into your skin.
Visitors to the southern Dead Sea will find golden sand beaches and a much more laid-back and local vibe. Covered boardwalks offer respite from the sun’s rays, particularly during summer, and wooden ramps make for easy access into the sea. Some areas may have a no swimming warning, so keep your eyes peeled.
The Dead Sea’s high salinity also means that it cannot sustain life. Still, somehow, off the beach in the southern Dead Sea there lies a floating island made of crystallized salt with the remains of a tree standing tall on one end. This curious little island constantly draws adventurous swimmers out beyond the safety zones, though it’s a lot further out than it looks.