I try to avoid tourist traps when I’m traveling, but there is no way that I was skipping an opportunity to float in the Dead Sea, and truth be told, it is an experience for sure. But there are definitely a few things you should know before taking the plunge:
- There is no such thing as swimming in the Dead Sea. When you sit your butt down in the water, it essentially feels as though you’re floating in a pool with a plastic noodle. Only there’s no noodle. Your feet and shoulders rise and bob, and it takes a few seconds of getting used to.
- The salt that lines the sea bottom is rough on your feet, and will cut you up severely if you don’t wear water shoes of some kind. (Naturally, I chose to wear the dorkiest ones I could find, and opted to put a picture of myself wearing them on the Internet). Protect your feet and plan accordingly.
- Fast Facts: The Dead Sea is actually not a sea at all, but a lake that’s made up of about 30 percent salt. It is the lowest place on earth at 417 feet below sea level. Its properties have been known to cure skin conditions and help with respiration, and its mud is used in spa treatments in the many hotels along the shoreline…
- Being wrapped in mud is a very weird sensation. Being wrapped in mud and then wrapped in a blanket and then left in a dark room for 20 minutes feels a bit like being made into a human mud-bun.
- Do not shave at least two days before you plan to take a dunk in the Dead Sea, and be prepared if you have any open cuts or sores while you’re swimming, as you will quickly learn the real meaning of putting salt in one’s wound.
- Plan ahead and bring a prop for the iconic photo op. I brought along my National Geographic yellow rectangle.
- Don’t put your face in the water if you can avoid it. My photo op was marred by the fact that I had just gotten a bit of seawater in my eye. Believe me when I tell you that it burns.
- Wear an old bathing suit, as the water often discolors whatever you’re wearing.
- Rinse what you’re wearing thoroughly after you’ve gotten out of the water. I waited to rinse my ugly water shoes, and there’s now a persistent layer of grime that I believe may need some industrial-strength cleaning. Perhaps I will sacrifice them to the Dead Sea gods.
- Unless you intend to work on a skin condition, I wouldn’t plan on an extended stay in the region. There’s not a lot happening at the Dead Sea itself (this place is kind of dead…) and many of the hotels tend to look a bit on the shabby side, as the harsh conditions there have weathered them. If you do want to stay, be sure to look at all of the options available, from the Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which came highly recommended by my tour guide, Ziv, to camping in the desert, to staying at the youth hostels at nearby Masada and Ein Gedi. The surrounding region is increasingly offering more hiking, bicycling, and other outdoor activities so there’s much more to do than just float (more on those options coming soon).
Read More: King Herod’s spectacular three-level palace-fortress cascading down the north face of Masada was the subject of a recent National Geographic magazine cover story, photo gallery, TV special, and even video game. You can take a 3D tour of it here.