Getting There

How a photographer captured this bizarre salt island in the Dead Sea

Getting to this bucket list destination meant a swim in one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water.

This story appears in the July 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

A few years ago Ricardo Braz was scrolling through Instagram when he spotted a picture of a tiny island made of salt in the Dead Sea. He added it to his bucket list. In December the 24-year-old freelance photographer traveled to Israel, borrowed a drone, and set off in search of the island.

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The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the surface of the Earth.

T minus one day

Heading to the sea: Braz spent a week exploring the desert of Jordan, the ruins of Petra, and the Red Sea during a photography workshop. Then he and friends Vilma Öhrman and Guy Davies rented a car and headed to the border with Israel. The three waited hours for a military drill to finish before they could cross. From there, a shuttle dropped them in Jerusalem, and the next morning they headed off in another rental car for the Dead Sea and a small resort area called Ein Bokek.

T minus zero days

Essential packing list: The Dead Sea is nearly 10 times as salty as average ocean water. Swimming in the sea and exploring the other attractions around it require a unique set of supplies—including some that Braz wished he had thought to bring.

  • Swimming goggles
  • Extra wate
  • A towel
  • A drone or contact for drone rental
  • Compact down jacket for cold desert nights
  • A wide-angle lens
  • Hiking boots

T minus zero hours

Ready for launch: “We tried to take pictures of the island from a distance, but it wasn’t even worth it,” says Braz. After a test flight with the drone, the group drew straws to decide who would stay to operate it (Davies) while the others swam to the island. During the 15-minute swim, salt water stung the eyes and dried the mouths of Braz and Öhrman. Neither had brought goggles or a bottle of water. On the island, they basked in the sun while the drone flew overhead, snapping photos.

By the numbers

2
hours from jerusalem, by car

34%
salt concentration

1,424
feet below sea level