Israel is one of the coolest countries I’ve ever traveled to in part because of the Dead Sea. It’s the only place of its kind that sits 1,400 feet below sea level, where the air is rich in oxygen and the water is chock full of minerals that are not only beautifying but also healing.
Dead Sea water is viscous and almost oily so that when you get out of the water, it beads the way oil would on your skin. Due it’s high salinity, the water allows you to float effortlessly – an especially exciting experience for people who don’t otherwise swim. The water is calm and warm, so it feels more like being in a pool than a sea on an invisible floatie.
But the unique characteristics of the Dead Sea water mean that you should come prepared to make your experience as enjoyable as possible. These are a few important tips to keep in mind when visiting the Dead Sea.
1. Plan ahead to minimize the potential for pain.
The Dead Sea is extremely abrasive. The phrase “rub salt in your wound” applies here. If you recently shaved, you’ll feel every little nick of the razor on your legs. So you should shave two days before going, not one. I would also suggest avoiding sex the day before. If you’re even a little irritated, you might inadvertently learn what gonorrhea feels like. Another quick way to set your crotch on fire is to pee in the water. The salinity of the Dead Sea doesn’t mix well with urine.
2. Don’t stay in the water too long.
Even if you don’t have any nicks and cuts, your skin will start to hurt if you swim for a long time. You should rinse off with fresh water immediately after you get out because whatever stinging you started feeling in the water will continue until you get the Dead Sea residue off your body. Don’t worry. Beaches where you’re allowed to swim will have plenty of places to rinse off. This is a good argument against jumping into the first secluded Dead Sea coast you see. For the sake of your skin and your clothes, you want to get the water off you as soon as possible.
3. Bring water shoes.
Though the shores in beaches such as Ein Bokek are sandy, the salt forms crystallized rocks on much of the Dead Sea floor, making it difficult to walk on if you’re barefoot. Sometimes this salt accumulates on the edge of the water. You definitely don’t want to cut yourself on one of those rocks. The pain would be unimaginable. Some of the beaches have ramps that allow you to walk down to the deeper part of the water without having to step on the rocky floor, but if you want to explore any part of the sea, you’ll want to be able to walk around other places, so you’ll need protection for your feet.
4. Yes, you need to use sunscreen.
A lot of foolish advice suggests that because it’s so far below sea level, the sun’s UVB rays aren’t as strong here and sunscreen isn’t necessary. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that white salt and sand sends the brightness of the sun reflecting everywhere. Even with sunblock, I got a little burned just from walking along the shore even though we were laying out under the shadow of one of the canopies at the Dead Sea Beach of Ein Bokek.
5. Even better, use mud.
The minerals of the Dead Sea are fantastic for your skin and one of the most rejuvenating things you can do on your visit is cover yourself in Dead Sea mud and wash it off in the water. It’s like nature’s greatest spa treatment – a face mask for your whole body.
I had read that people walk around selling containers of Dead Sea mud all over the beaches. This wasn’t our experience but we were close enough to the Dead Sea Mall to be able to pick up a packet of mud (and a few smaller ones to take home). You can apply the mud all over your body and let it harden. It will feel like a scaly armor and when it’s hard enough; moving your joints will cause some of it to flake off.
Unlike a mud mask you might do at home, it’s outrageously easy to get it off in the Dead Sea, where the water is thick and oily. When you emerge, you’ll be all clean and have the softest skin ever.
6. Be careful with your belongings.
Over time, the Dead Sea can turn a towel into a solid brittle sheet. So you might want to avoid touching things that could get corroded by the highly salinated water, like your phone, your camera, your favorite shoes. Rinse the water off whatever you’re wearing to avoid damaging it. And try to avoid touching electronics until you’ve rinsed off in fresh water and dried your hands.
7. Avoid getting the water in your mouth or eyes.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t submerge your head in the Dead Sea. The pain of getting that water in your eyes is unbearable. It’s basically blinding and requires you to immediately rinse them off. The water also tastes like absolute hell. Obviously drinking it would be stupid, but even getting a drop of it on the corner of your mouth is disgusting. Don’t swim face down. And if you put mud on your face, be extremely careful when removing it.
8. Standing once you’re floating might be difficult.
Visiting the Dead Sea is personally one of the greatest experiences of my life because I can’t swim or float. In the Dead Sea, you can’t not float. Once you’re laying on your back, it’s actually really difficult for you to bring your legs down to stand again. If you’re having trouble, you can just swim on your back to the shore. Your butt might touch the sand before your feet do, but you’ll be back on solid ground.
9. Stay the night at the Dead Sea!
In my perpetual state of cluelessness about the places I visit, I thought the Dead Sea was just a place to see on a day trip in the middle of nowhere. But nice hotels, resorts, and spas are all over the Israeli coast of the Dead Sea. The downside to visiting in one day is that you’ll be there primarily during the hottest hours of the day. But if you stay overnight, you can wake up to take a dip in the serene shores before gets too hot, see the sun set at one of the beach-side lounges, and spend the hottest part of the day indoors getting spa treatments.