The Dead Sea – a small lake that’s located at the lowest point on the face of the earth – is a true natural wonder. It offers travelers pure white crystal formations, sulphuric mud, and water so salty you can float on it while reading the paper. You can visit the Dead Sea from Jordan or Israel. We’ve visited it many times on the Israeli side, so today I am sharing a concise guide to visiting the Dead Sea in Israel.
(This post was originally posted in 2016 but I’ve revised it and added a lot of new information, so re-publishing it).
The Dead Sea is an inland body of water that is located between Israel, the West Bank and Jordan along the Jordan River Valley. It is so called because the high mineral content in the water allows almost nothing to live within it.
This place is truly a top league curiosity of nature. Just standing there deep inside the deep Jordan Valley, next to the super salty water, brings up tons of questions about the place. I’m going to try and provide some answers about this natural wonder further down the post, once we get past the practical aspects of visiting the Dead Sea.
I’m going to assume that you’re reading this post because you are in fact planning a trip to the Dead Sea. Maybe you’re already in Israel and need quick tips about getting to the place and how to spend your time there. Or maybe you’re still researching for a future trip to the Holy Land. Either way, I’m going to try and help you out by explaining how to visit the Dead Sea, what to do when there and also – and this one is important! – how to visit it safely.
Once we sort these things out, don’t forget to keep reading so you can get to the little Dead Sea FAQ I prepared with information about how the place was formed (and a few other tidbits). Oh, and photos! Tons of beautiful photos of the Dead Sea – just in case you’re not sure if you should visit or not 😉
How to get to the Dead Sea in Israel
Where is the Dead Sea?
The Dead Sea is not really a sea. Rather, it’s a (very!) salty lake east of Jerusalem. The border between Jordan and Israel goes through the middle of the lake, running from north to south. There’s another border of sorts on the Israeli side: the one between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Without getting into the politics of the matter, it bears keeping in mind that the northern part of the Dead Sea is in fact in Palestinian territory that’s under Israeli military control. I colored the areas in this map to show how the Dead Sea is divided. The Jordanian areas are covered in red, the Palestinian in green and the Israeli in blue –
I know nothing about visiting the Dead Sea from the Jordanian side. I mean, I do know it’s possible but I can’t help you with too much information about that. While there is no state of war between Jordan and Israel, for various reasons people from these two countries seldom visit each other. Sad, but true. A vehicle with Jordanian plates is a rare site in Israel and I’m sure the same is true vice versa.
I’m mentioning this to let you know that if you happen to be visiting both countries during your trip, you’ll be able to visit the Dead Sea from both shores. This guide focuses on visiting the Israel side.
Visiting the Dead Sea from Jerusalem
The Dead Sea is approximately 30 miles or 50 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Driving the distance, you’ll be going from an elevation of approximately 2400 feet (740 meters) to -1,410 (or -400 in meters). Yes, that number is in the negative – you are going to the lowest point in the world! My point is, it’s pretty much a steep descent which means switchbacks and slow driving during parts of the way. Also, a lot of the way goes through the urban suburbs of Jerusalem.
The bottom line is that it’s not as short a drive as you would expect. Assuming you’re not leaving during rush hour, it should be about an hour to reach the northern edge of the Dead Sea.
Taking the bus
Taking the bus from Jerusalem won’t be much slower than driving in this case, so it’s a good option. Bus route 468 will take you from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem to Kalya Beach in the northern tip of the Dead Sea in about an hour and a half.
If you want to get to the beaches in the Ein Bokek area (southern end of the sea), it will take longer. By car, it’s only an extra 20-30 minutes or so. The bus will take about an hour longer to get to that area because it stops along the way. It’s a beautiful drive either way. Just keep in mind that if you want to get the full experience and spend time in the southern end of the sea, staying over for the night may be a good idea. I’ll discuss where to stay further in this post.
Visiting the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv
There are two ways to reach the Dead Sea from the Tel Aviv area. I’m mentioning that city because –
- It’s one of the largest cities in Israel
- That’s the area of the country’s main airport
- It’s where you should spend a day or two for all the awesome things to do in Tel Aviv!
So, visiting the Dead Sea with a car, from the Tel Aviv area, you can take one of two routes. The first goes through Jerusalem and the Palestinian area. It is safe to drive but you will be going through at least one military checkpoint. The other route goes south of Palestinian territories, bypassing the green areas in the map through the town of Arad.
Both roads are perfectly safe for you to go through if driving a car. If you’re visiting the Dead Sea using public transport, just follow the shortest bus route. Almost always, it will mean getting to Jerusalem and taking a bus from there.
If you’re intent on visiting the Dead Sea as a day trip using public transportation, do that from Jerusalem. From Tel Aviv, the entire trip will take you about two hours if you drive your own car and 3-4 hours if you’re taking a bus. That’s each way. The bus option takes long enough to justify at least one night stayover in the area. Either that, or take your day trip from Jerusalem.
Organized tours to the Dead Sea
These are always an option. If you Google the “Dead Sea tours” you’ll find a multitude of options going out from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. These tours are what they are. They will get you to the place and save you a lot of the hassle. Some may offer a guided tour that will possibly add to the experience.
The cons are those of organized tours everywhere else on the globe. You pay more and you have less flexibility. And there will probably be a tour of at least one gift shop…
How and where can you get to the water?
Bathing in the super salty water is a must-do when visiting the Dead Sea. There are several beaches along the Israeli coastline of the Dead Sea where you can park your car and walk down to the water.
In the northern part of the Dead Sea you’ll find Kalia beach & Biankini beach, right next to each other. Both have swimming pools, showers, bars and restaurants.
In the southern part, you’ll find the Ein Bokek beaches and the recently-renovated promenade which connects them. Most of these are public, so they are free to use. There is a parking fee of 5 shekels per hour (or 25 shekels for the entire day). This area is known by the locals as “the hotels zone”. If you’re looking for a mud spa experience, you can find it in the hotels – most of which run their own small beaches.
The Ein Bokek beaches have everything you need, including lifeguard services, showers, restrooms and a strip of sand with boardwalks going right into the water. There are restaurants nearby including a local McDonalds. I wouldn’t recommend their chain normally but if you want to say you had your Big Mac at the lowest place on earth, there’s your chance 😉
When is the best time for visiting the Dead Sea
The lowest place on earth can get very hot in summer. How hot does it get near the Dead Sea? I looked up the numbers in the official Israeli meteorological service for you. I found a super detailed document they produced with real measured averages in various points in Israel, including the Dead Sea. It’s in Hebrew so let me translate the averages into English in this chart.
|Month||Average High (Celsius/Fahrenheit)||Average Low (Celsius/Fahrenheit)|
|January||21°C / 70°F||13.5°C / 56°F|
|February||22.5°C / 72.5°F||18°C / 64.5°F|
|March||26°C / 79°F||18°C / 64.5°F|
|April||30°C / 86°F||21.5°C / 71°F|
|May||35°C / 95°F||25.5°C / 78°F|
|June||38°C / 100.5°F||28.5°C / 83°F|
|July||41°C / 106°F||30.5°C / 87°F|
|August||40°C / 104°F||31°C / 88°F|
|September||37°C / 99°F||29°C / 84°F|
|October||33°C / 91.5°F||26°C / 79°F|
|November||27°C / 80.5°F||20°C / 68°F|
|December||22°C / 71.5°F||15°C / 59°F|
See what I mean by “very hot”? If you’re visiting the Dead Sea during July, expect it to be extremely hot. Over 105°F hot at noon on some days, and not much cooler on others. For myself I really prefer not to soak in salty water in these temperatures or even cover myself with black mud.
The water is warm enough to swim in throughout the year. In fact in August, the average water temperature in the Dead Sea reaches 33.5°C or 92°F which may feel too warm (especially considering it’s 105 outside!) In the coldest month of the year – February – the water only gets as cold as 20°C / 70°F which most people would consider nice enough to get into the water.
So, what’s the ideal time for visiting the Dead Sea and floating in the salty water?
My votes goes for springtime and late autumn –
The outside temperature is in the nice warm 25-30° celsius or 70’s-80’s if you’re using fahrenheit. If you avoid being in the sun during mid-day you’ll enjoy being outside and exploring the beaches. Water temperature will be in the 70’s (around 23 celsius) so you can always cool off in the sea.
With daytime temperatures in the 70’s you can really enjoy hiking in the Judean desert or exploring the beaches. And the water temperature is a sweet 80°F during November and only gets a few degrees lower in December. Perfection.
They’re not super busy either. We were there a couple of months ago – in February. It was a beautiful warm winter day and people definitely went in the water.
Where to stay while visiting the Dead Sea?
The Dead Sea is only an hour away from Jerusalem by car, making it a great destination for a day trip while staying at the ancient capital of Israel. The sun, sea and mud are known for their medicinal properties, so many people choose to stay closer to the Dead Sea for several days to treat skin problems like psoriasis. Fortunately, there’s a great selection of places you can stay, including campgrounds, B&B’s, hostels and hotels.
The following paragraphs include affiliate links to Booking.com which is where I personally make my hotel reservations. If you book through these links, I get a small commission without it costing you anything extra, so thank you in advance!
Kibbutz Ein Gedi Hotel – This beautiful kibbutz is right by the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. Combine hiking in the gorgeous Wadi David or Wadi Arugot (more on that further down this post) with a visit to the Kibbutz’s private beach on the Dead Sea (entrance fee to the beach is included in the price of your stay).
Ein Gedi Hostel – A great find for those on a budget. Clean, air-conditioned rooms with WiFi near the nature reserve and the beach. Just make sure you book your rooms in advance because they are very popular with locals as well as travelers.
Metsoke Dragot Hostel – Another value option for the budget traveler. Here you can book a single bed/mattress in a large tent and still enjoy the facilities of the compound and the amazing views. The hostel is located a few miles away from the beaches, so if you’re relying on public transportation this may not be a good option for you.
If you want to stay closer to the public beaches of Ein Bokek, you’ll find a great choice of hotels. Isrotel Ganim Hotel Dead Sea offers all the amenities of a big hotel, a pampering spa and a great location that’s only a two-minute walk away from the beach. Another popular choice is Royal Hotel Dead Sea with its indoor pools of Dead Sea water. Click here to see more options by Booking.com in the Ein Bokek area.
Just south of Ein Bokek you will find the lowest settlement in the world: Neve Zohar. There are several accommodation options in Neve Zohar, some of them surprisingly affordable. Check out the Dead Sea Zimmer, a small guesthouse with clean air-conditioned rooms and free WiFi at very affordable rates.
Safety Issues – know before you dive in!
The Dead Sea can look very peaceful and inviting. Everyone knows that you can easily float in the Dead Sea, so surely that means you won’t ever drown in there, right?
Quite the opposite. More people drown at the Dead Sea than in any other body of water in Israel. The Dead Sea can easily become a real death trap. Here’s why:
The water is salty. Extremely salty. Regular seawater contains approximately 3.5% salt. The water of the Dead Sea contain contains 33.7% salt. It’s almost ten times saltier than the ocean. A healthy human skin can deal with this level of salinity but if you swallow only a few spoonfuls of water, or inhale just a few drops, you’re in trouble. This is especially true for older people or those with a heart condition.
According to Magen David Adom – the Israeli medical emergency services – most people who drown in the Dead Sea simply stumble in the water. They fall and get their head underwater for a few seconds, either swallowing or breathing in some of the salty solution. That is enough to require emergency medical care. Technically speaking, they have drowned in the Dead Sea.
Safety guidelines for visiting the Dead Sea –
- Always keep your head out of the water.
- Never go into the water where there is no lifeguard on duty. All of the official beaches have them.
- You may see no waves but the winds can easily carry you away from the beach. Follow the lifeguard’s instructions and stay out of the water if it’s windy.
- Walk slowly and carefully. Don’t run into the water.
- Whatever you do, do not jump into the Dead Sea!
- No splashing around.
- No alcohol before or during your swim. This place is dangerous and you need to keep your senses sharp.
- If you decide to float on your back, be very careful when getting up. Flipping over on your stomach can be risky. If it happens, don’t panic and regain your footing without getting your head under the water.
- If you get any water in your eyes, try not to touch them with your hands. Stay calm and ask for assistance. Have someone lead you out of the water and towards the nearest showers where you can wash your eyes with fresh water.
- Be prepared for some pain. Any scratch will hurt. A lot. That’s not dangerous but can be unpleasant (tip: don’t shave your legs before bathing in the Dead Sea!)
- Thoroughly wash the salt of your body when you get out of the water.
If you’re with kids, make sure they know the rules and can stay calm if water gets into their eyes.
If you need emergency medical help anywhere in Israel, call 101 from any phone.
Other than that, just have fun! Visiting the Dead Sea is a unique experience so make the most of it. The water of the Dead Sea is like nothing you’ll ever experience. It doesn’t even feel like water! For some reason, all of that salt makes the water feel oily.
Bathing in the Dead Sea certainly a Bucket List experience, so make sure someone takes your photo as you’re floating –
What else is there to see around the Dead Sea?
The most important places to visit around the Dead Sea are
- Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
- Qumran National Park
Each of these places deserves a post in its own right. And they’re not the only things to see round the Dead Sea either. This is where the mountains of the Judean desert slope down dramatically into the rift of the Jordan River. It’s the biblical home of Sodom and Gomorrah. The place is rich in beauty and history and you could easily spend 2-3 days and even more exploring everything.
Just to make sure you won’t miss out on the important stuff, here are descriptions of the three places I just mentioned. If you can spend a couple of days visiting the Dead Sea area and get to all three, you won’t regret it.
I bet you’ve heard of this one already. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Israel that tourists – especially Jewish tourists – flock to. This is the ancient fortress where the people of Judea fought against the Romans in the first century. Well “fought against” is probably not the right term. Basically, a local extremist group rebelled against the Roman occupation. The Roman Empire didn’t like rebellions and tended to squash them quite methodically, as they did here as well.
When the rebels realized they had no way of winning or even holding off the Romans forever, they decided to kill themselves rather than be enslaved. A thousands people – men, women and children – drew lots to be killed by one another with the last one committing suicide. Two women and five children managed to hide and survived this self-inflicted massacre.
Crazy story, really. And very well documented in writings from that period which made it a very special place for archaeologists and historians to discover and excavate. As a visitor, you can ride up to the fortress in a cable car, or hike up or down to the fortress. Going up to Masada to view the sun rise over the Dead Sea is a classic hike.
How to see Masada when visiting the Dead Sea
There are two ways to get to Madasa as there’s an eastern and a western access. The eastern gate is connected by road to the Dead Sea. It’s a very short drive from the beaches to Masada from that direction.
Here’s a link to the official site of the Masada National Park (in English). Check it out for all the practical details of visiting this very special place.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
A beautiful oasis in the Judean desert, this place is worth at least half a day to visit properly. First, the nature reserve itself. Imagine streams of clear water, flowing through the desert mountains with lovely trees and greenery along your hike. You’re likely to see ibexes along the way too.
There are two great hikes in the reserve. They’re not very long and will take you 1-2 hours each, depending on how fit you are.
While in the area, you may want to visit the Ein Gedi kibbutz. They have a lovely botanical garden that’s worth seeing.
Find out more about the Ein Gedi reserve here. I can’t find an official website for the botanical garden there but I wrote to them to ask if they have one. Either way, it’s open daily and is located in the kibbutz. And don’t forget you can stay in the kibbutz too. A great experience and it’s good to be right next to where you’re hiking and spending time.
Qumran National Park
Another archeological gem – no shortage of those in Israel – this place is where they found the famous Dead Sea scrolls. You can visit the archeological site that dates back to the 2nd century BC and see the display of artifacts excavated on the site. Of course, the scrolls themselves are on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Located at the northern tip of the Dead Sea, this is a very interesting place to visit if you have a couple of days in the area. Check out the official park site for more information.
The Dead Sea FAQ
As promised, a few trivia tidbits about the Dead Sea.
Does anything live in the Dead Sea?
For most of human history, people assumed that no life, either plant or animal, could survive in the Dead Sea because of its high mineral content. Bacteria have been known to exist in the sea’s waters since the 1930s, however. In 2011, according to Scientific American, a team of divers found a number of hot springs 100 feet below the surface of the Dead Sea. They found biofilms, slimy layers of bacteria, adhering to the springs’ rocks, green biofilms on top that feed on sunlight and sulfide, and white biofilms that feed just on sulfide. The interesting part is that the bacteria that make up the biofilms have adapted to cope with the sudden shifts in the water’s salinity as the currents shift.
What created the Dead Sea?
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Dead Sea was formed millions of years ago when the Arabian Tectonic Plate collided with the Eurasia Tectonic Plate which created the landmass that comprises modern Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. The sea was created in the fracture between the two plates. At one time, the Dead Sea was a vast inland body of water that ran 200 miles in length from the Hula Valley in the north to 40 miles south of its present southern limits. The Dead Sea is isolated from the Gulf of Aqaba by a 100 foot-long ridge of the Wadi Al Arabah.
Why is the Dead Sea so salty?
Starting 2.5 million years ago, the streamflow into the Dead Sea deposited rock salt, gypsum, clay, shale, and other minerals into the Dead Sea. Later, another stratum that included minerals such as soft chalk and marl was deposited into the sea. Over the past 10,000 years, because the lake evaporated faster than rain could replenish it, the Dead Sea shrank to its current dimensions. Even though the Jordan River feeds the Dead Sea, both Israel and Jordan are diverting some of the river waters dividing the two countries. The sea has begun to recede three feet every year, rendering it even more salty, according to Live Science. While the ocean contains typically 3.5 percent salt, the Dead Sea has ten times as much dissolved salt. Locals extract some of the minerals from the sea, especially Potash, used to create fertilizer.
What are the sinkholes in the Dead Sea, and are they dangerous?
Live Science also notes that sinkholes exist in the Dead Sea because of the diversion of Jordan River water that feeds the sea. As the salty water recedes, fresh water from underground sources arises from the hot springs, dissolving the layers of salt left behind, creating large cavities underground. Sinkholes can open at any time above these cavities, creating a danger for visitors and locals alike. The sinkholes can be as much as 80 feet deep and 130 feet in diameter. No one has been killed yet, but the sudden appearance of these sink holes has proven to be a major problem.
One solution that has been discussed is the building of a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Such a canal would replenish the Dead Sea, keeping it from disappearing altogether. The canal would also provide a new source of water to the surrounding area and, with the addition of a hydroelectric dam, electricity, as well. Financing problems and geopolitical tensions have thus far stymied the project, but both countries involved have recently expressed good hopes that the project will soon go forward.
How deep is the Dead Sea?
The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water below sea level on the planet, about 1,412 feet. Until the mid-20th century, the depth of the sea was measured at about 1,300 feet. However, because of the diversion of Jordan River water and the extraction of Dead Sea water for its minerals, the level had dropped about 100 feet by the mid-2010s.
Can you swim in the Dead Sea?
USA Today notes that it is virtually impossible to swim in the Dead Sea because of the high salt content. A human being floats in the sea without any support. The water is so dense that swimming can be something of a chore and too tiring for very long. Visitors often relax in the Dead Sea as if lying on dry land, reading and sun bathing. Because the water is so dense, it is virtually impossible to sink in the Dead Sea without special diving equipment. A rock or something else that is denser than the water would sink easily.
Can you drown in the Dead Sea?
Since one cannot sink in the Dead Sea the conventional wisdom is that one cannot drown in it. To be sure, one cannot drown in the sea in the conventional sense, by slipping below the surface. However, as mentioned in the safety section, people can and do drown in the Dead Sea all the time.
Since this is a safety issue, it bears explaining once again. The reason one can drown in the Dead Sea has to do with its density due to the high salt content. People who bathe in the sea usually do so on their backs. However, if one finds oneself lying face down in the Dead Sea, one can get into serious trouble. In ordinary fresh or ocean water, swimmers use their arms to get face-up again. However, because the Dead Sea is so dense, this maneuver is far more difficult. To top that off, the sea water is so salty that swallowing just a little bit can poison one’s internal organs and destroy the body’s electrolyte balance.
Fortunately, lifeguards are available to pull bathers out who get into trouble as long as you go to one of the official beaches mentioned in this post, during their hours of operation.
Photos of the Dead Sea
Finally, some eye candy for the pinners in the crowd! I’m one too, so please follow me on Pinterest!
How about you? Have you ever visited the Dead Sea? Would you consider adding this experience to your Bucket List? Let me know in a comment!
Looking for more unique adventures in the Holy Land? Check out my other posts about traveling in Israel!