There are plenty of tours from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea, including the popular Abraham Tours. While these are a good option, a trek to the Dead Sea is typically coupled with other stops in the area like Masada National Park and Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. Not only does this not leave you much time to actually enjoy the Dead Sea, by the time you arrive after an excessively long day, you’ll be deader than the sea. A better option is to rent a car and drive to Dead Sea yourself, which allows you to stop wherever you like and stay as long as you like.
Why driving is a better idea
The most obvious advantage of driving is that it’ll be much cheaper, particularly if you’re splitting the cost of the rental with 3 or 4 people. Though you might be apprehensive about getting lost or being in less than optimal driving conditions, the two main routes to the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv are on well-marked and well-maintained highways that include English translations and can be easily navigated using Google Maps.
Unlike tours where you’re forced to enjoy everything with random strangers, immediately crowding all the spots you arrive at, you can take your time and stop wherever you like to enjoy the scenery, to eat or use the bathroom, and to stop at any beach you like – as many as you like. You’re not restricted to the spot where the tour takes you. And the Dead Sea has a lot of beach. You can take a drive to the resort beaches of Ein Bokek or drive along the coast to the parts of it where salt deposits are so heavy that you can pick up rocks of crystallized salt.
As the place with the lowest surface elevation on the planet (1,388 feet below sea level), the drive down to it among the sandy mountains also provides you with ample opportunities to stop and snap pictures from above.
Renting a car in Tel Aviv
There are plenty of car rental companies, most of them with shit reviews. If you’re afraid of city driving or you might want to go straight from your flight to the Dead Sea, a simple thing to do is rent a car from the airport where there are several companies stationed. This also frees you up in terms of timing because many of the airport offices are open 24 hours a day so you can return any time without worrying about finding overnight parking in Tel Aviv.
While this would have been our favored option, car rentals at the airport are more expensive. One of the companies we found that came well recommended by the internet was SunCar, with two convenient locations in Tel Aviv. They had a 150 km limit on their website but we messaged them on WhatsApp and they quoted us a new price for the rental which included 400 km. The rental for a day with insurance was just $55.
It’s important to note that car rental insurance is mandatory in Israel. Sometimes booking on third-party websites ends up screwing you because the cost quoted doesn’t include the insurance, and you might get an unpleasant surprise when you arrive to pick up the car. Your best bet is to compare prices including insurance directly from different company websites.
Driving to the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv
There are two main routes that take you to the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv. One passes through Jerusalem and then heads south along the coast. This might be a good option if you want to stop in Jerusalem, Masada, or Ein Gedi, which are all in that direction. However, this drive is typically longer because you get most of the tourism traffic going to these places as well as day-to-day traffic going in and out of Jerusalem. You can expect this drive to take between 2 and 3 hours.
The other route takes you south near Be’er Sheva and to cities like Neve Zohar and Ein Bokek, where you can find a lot of public beaches at the Dead Sea as well as plenty of infrastructure including shops where you can buy Dead Sea mud or have lunch. I was concerned about this route being a little closer to the Gaza Strip than I wanted to be on this vacation. However, for the sake of time, we decided to go south and the road was completely safe and mostly empty. It took about 2 hours each way.
You should ask to double check what kind of gas your rental takes, but generally there are only two types of gas in Israel: diesel and what they call 95. When you are filling up gas, you might find that some gas stations don’t have an inside cashier where you can pay. The card machines at the pump will not be in English, so you may have to ask a random person for help. Don’t worry though. People in Israel are exceedingly helpful and kind.
If you do have to pay inside, you can either ask them to open the pump and then return to pay at the end or pay a set amount in advance on your card or in cash, like the gas stations you’re probably used to. If you pay with your card at the pump, you may be horrified to look up your statement and find that you were charged an amount 3-4 times what you actually pumped. Many gas stations in Israel put a hold for the cost of filling an entire tank. This should be temporary and adjusts to the correct amount when the charge posts. But keep your receipt just in case.
Choosing a beach at the Dead Sea and parking
Parking at the beaches is metered and is not too expensive, 6 shekels an hour, but you have to pay with coins. So make sure you bring change. You can also hop around, paying for just an hour or two at each beach.
We stayed at the Ein Bokek beach, also known as Dead Sea Beach, which had pretty much everything we needed to enjoy our day. There are outdoor showers, changing rooms, bathrooms, bars, restaurants, and even an outdoor lounge where you can listen to music and have a drink. Nearby at the Dead Sea Mall, you can find a lot of Dead Sea products including the mud you’ll probably want to rub all over yourself before jumping into the water to get it all off.
Unless you happen to be staying overnight, I suggest driving back to Tel Aviv before sundown. The road that snakes up and down the mountains has no street lights.
Want more tips on visiting the Dead Sea? Find out how you should prepare for an enjoyable time at the Dead Sea here.