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

hours from jerusalem, by car

salt concentration

feet below sea level