Swim in the Dead Sea in Israel: the complete guide

Are you curious about how to swim in the Dead Sea in Israel? I’m excited to share my experience in this exotic destination, where I had the chance to take a swim (or rather, float on the surface of the water!). This guide offers valuable information and advice to help you enjoy this unique experience.

The Dead Sea is renowned for its high concentration of salt, which enables effortless floating. Accessible from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, this saltwater lake boasts incredible health benefits.

In this article, I provide comprehensive information on why the Dead Sea got its name, how to swim in the Dead Sea safely, and what precautions to take (you’ll sometimes hear that the Dead Sea is dangerous, I’ll explain why). You’ll also discover what to do around the Dead Sea, how to get there, and hotel recommendations. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Why is the Dead Sea called that?

Admittedly, the name does not inspire confidence in swimming! To understand why the Dead Sea is called “dead”, you should know that its salt concentration is remarkably high: ranging from 31% to 34%, nearly ten times that of an ocean.

This high salt concentration prevents the survival of any plant or organism, except for rare bacteria that can withstand the extreme salinity. This explains why the Dead Sea got its name.

So, can you swim in the Dead Sea? Absolutely, as long as you take some precautions, which I’ll discuss in this article. The high salt concentration prevents your body from sinking, allowing you to float on the surface of the water – an extraordinary experience to have during a trip to Israel or Jordan!

It’s important to note that the Dead Sea is located in the Jordan Valley, shared between Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan. Therefore, it can be accessed from different locations, although in this article, I focus on my experience in Israel.

Where to swim in the Dead Sea?

Why the Dead Sea can be dangerous

There are risks associated with swimming in the Dead Sea, but there’s no need to panic. Let me explain.

The Dead Sea is a fragile and vulnerable ecosystem, losing approximately 3 to 5 feet of depth every year, and the rate of drying up has accelerated in recent years. In the past 50 years, the Dead Sea has lost 28% of its depth.

The main cause of this phenomenon is human overexploitation of the Jordan River water, which is the primary water source for the Dead Sea (despite being called a “sea”, it’s actually a lake!). There are ongoing discussions and plans to save the area, such as reducing activities that harm the water supply (e.g., industry, agriculture).

The project of building a 112-mile canal between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea was abandoned in 2021. Another canal between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea is still under discussion, the idea would be to take advantage of the difference in water level between both seas.

Aerial view of Dead Sea sinkholes
Aerial view of Dead Sea sinkholes

I mention this not only to discuss ecological issues surrounding the Dead Sea but also to warn you to choose your swimming area carefully. The progressive drying of the sea causes a dangerous phenomenon called sinkholes.

As the sea retreats due to drying, rainwater can infiltrate the ground, and when it meets the salt in the subsoil, it can cause the ground to erode, creating sinkholes. These sinkholes can collapse the ground without warning. The pictures here are taken from this aerial video.

Aerial view of sinkholes in the Dead Sea, Israel
Aerial view of sinkholes in the Dead Sea, Israel

There are hundreds of sinkholes on the shores of the Dead Sea, and the road is now quite far from the shoreline itself. Signs warn tourists about them so beware if you had planned to look for a place away from tourist areas.

There are other threats, as this sign I photographed on site shows:

Mine area in Israel
Mine area in Israel

Don’t put your life in danger and choose areas equipped for swimming, even if it lacks authenticity. These areas are supervised and controlled for your safety.

The 5 best spots for swimming in the Dead Sea in Israel

From North to South, the most popular places to visit the Dead Sea in Israel are:

  • Kalia Beach – A well-equipped swimming area with changing rooms, showers, a restaurant, bars, stores (especially for buying Dead Sea cosmetics) and treatment areas for massages. It’s a mud beach, so not very photogenic, but nice if you want to try Dead Sea mud. You can check prices and opening hours on the Kalia Beach website.
  • Neve Midbar Beach – This private beach is located right next to Kalia Beach. If you have to choose, go to Kalia Beach because Neve Midbar Beach is not well maintained at the time of writing this article. It’s cheaper but there is a lot of garbage on the spot so I don’t recommend going there.
  • Ein Gedi – An oasis and small national park with the ruins of an ancient city, waterfalls, and beautiful hikes in the area. The old beach of Ein Gedi is closed because it has become dangerous because of the sinkholes, but you can go to the Ein Gedi Spa, a paid area with a swimming pool and access to the Dead Sea via shuttles (the shore is about 1 km from the facilities).
  • Ein Bokek Beach – A free, supervised, landscaped beach with fresh water showers and lockers. No mud in this area, and there is a nearby parking lot for those who come by car.
  • Segregated Beach – A supervised, landscaped beach with fresh water showers and drinking facilities. It is one of the best beaches to visit the Dead Sea in Israel, and it is free, but there is no mud, and there is a separation between men and women.
  • Zohar Hot Springs Beach – A public beach with facilities (fresh water showers, toilets, and lifeguards) located north of Neve Zohar and is one of the southernmost swimming areas in the Dead Sea.

Unfortunately, some places have closed over the years, such as Mineral Beach, which has become dangerous because of sinkholes.

Some hotels also have their own access to the Dead Sea.

The landscaped bar at Kalia Beach
The landscaped bar at Kalia Beach

How to reach the Dead Sea?

Taking the bus to the Dead Sea

It’s quite simple to reach the Dead Sea by bus. You can take the 486 bus operated by Egged company from the Jerusalem bus station, which stops at several places along the Dead Sea such as Kalia Beach, Ein Gedi, Masada, Ein Bokek, and Neve Zohar.

The journey from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi takes about 1.5 hours, while it takes 2 hours to reach Ein Bokek. You can buy your ticket in advance and check the timetable on the Egged website.

An alternative is the 487 bus, but it takes longer.

Sit on the left side of the bus in the direction of travel to enjoy the scenery of the Dead Sea in the direction Jerusalem > Dead Sea.

If you plan to visit the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv by bus, you will need to change buses. You can either take a train to Jerusalem and then catch the bus, or check the routes on Egged which offer different options depending on the schedule. This could be a rather lengthy option if you rely on public transport.

Also, keep in mind that in Israel, buses do not operate on Shabbat (from Friday noon to Saturday evening).

Getting to the Dead Sea by car

For those who want to drive to the Dead Sea, there are several parking lots available, particularly near the hotel area of Ein Bokek. The journey takes about 1.5 hours from Jerusalem using route 1 and then route 90 during off-peak hours, although traffic can be quite busy in built-up areas. From Tel Aviv, the journey takes at least 2 hours using the same routes, and during rush hour, traffic jams can be significant.

On the road between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea
On the road between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

Getting to the Dead Sea with a tour

This is probably the easiest option, and there are different tours available depending on your interests. Some tours combine a visit to the Dead Sea with other places of interest, such as the Masada fortress and the Ein Gedi springs, or Bethlehem in Palestine. There are also tours that focus solely on the Dead Sea.

If you choose a combined tour, you will usually have two hours at the Dead Sea, which is enough time for swimming, but not enough time for a massage or to spend more time in the water.

For a dedicated Dead Sea tour, I recommend:

  • This 4-hour excursion to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem – organized by the reputable Abraham Tours agency, it takes you to the Dead Sea when the crowds are smaller than during the day (departure from Jerusalem at 3:30 pm, for about 2 hours at the water’s edge).
  • This 10-hour Dead Sea tour from Jerusalem – organized by the Bein Harim Agency, this day trip to the Dead Sea picks you up at your hotel and takes you to the water’s edge, where you have the whole day to enjoy the sights before returning.
  • This 10-hour Dead Sea tour from Tel Aviv – organized by Israel Click Tours, you are picked up in the morning near your accommodation in Tel Aviv and driven to the Dead Sea, where you spend the day before being driven back to Tel Aviv.

Note that tours from Tel Aviv also offer pick-up options from other coastal cities such as Netanya and Herzliya.

On Route 90 along the Dead Sea in Israel
On Route 90 along the Dead Sea in Israel

If you’re interested in combining a trip to the Dead Sea with other attractions, there are several options available.

From Jerusalem, you can choose from the following excursions:

  • A tour that includes a visit to Masada fortress and the Dead Sea (organized by the Bein Harim agency) – Masada is a must-see, a fortress built on a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea. You can reach it by cable car or by hiking if you’re feeling adventurous. The view from the top is breathtaking. On this tour, you will have about two hours to spend at the Dead Sea, and Bein Harim usually takes visitors to a mud beach.
  • An alternative that combines Masada and the Dead Sea (organized by Rent-A-Guide) – This tour has a similar itinerary to the first one, so you may want to compare prices and reviews.
  • A Masada/Dead Sea tour with more freedom (organized by Abraham Tours) – If you don’t have your own transportation but still want to explore on your own, Abraham Tours offers a transportation-only tour. They’ll take you to three different sites (Masada, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and the Dead Sea), but once you arrive, you can wander at your own pace.
  • Masada Sunrise with Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea (also organized by Abraham Tours) – This tour is for more adventurous travelers who want to avoid the crowds. You’ll leave Jerusalem in the middle of the night and hike up to the fortress of Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Then you’ll visit the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve before finishing the tour with a swim in the Dead Sea.
Réserve naturelle d'Ein Gedi
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve | Photo © Robert Bye – Licensed by Unsplash

If you’re staying in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, or Netanya, there are several options available that usually combine a visit to the Masada fortress with the opportunity to swim in the Dead Sea. The two excursions I mention are well-known, so you can compare prices, availability, and reviews to make your choice:

If the Ein Gedi nature reserve appeals to you, you can also visit Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv with these two tours offered by Abraham Tours:

Tips for swimming in the Dead Sea

Wear proper footwear

When choosing a bathing area, you’ll typically have access to changing rooms, freshwater showers (essential for rinsing off!), a restaurant or bar, and sometimes services such as massages and treatments based on salt or mud from the Dead Sea.

You can leave your belongings in closed lockers and walk down to the sea. Due to the drying up of the sea, the shoreline can sometimes be quite far away from the beach. Some spas were built right on the shore of the Dead Sea and are now 0.62 mile away from the water, so the staff is obliged to take people who want to bathe by shuttle.

At Kalia Beach, you can walk down to the beach in a few minutes (and take a lot of stairs!) or take a shuttle bus to get closer to the water more quickly.

When visiting the Dead Sea, it is essential to wear at least flip-flops or preferably sandals, especially if you plan on visiting a mud beach. The edges of the water can be scorching hot because the dark mud absorbs the sun’s rays. They can also be very slippery and even sharp due to the presence of salt (which is also true on other types of developed beaches). If you don’t have proper footwear, you can often purchase it on-site.

There are also towels available for rent or purchase for those who did not bring their own. For myself, I always travel with a fouta, a very absorbent and rather aesthetic fabric that replaces a bath towel and takes up little space in the suitcase.

Feet in the mud of the Dead Sea
Feet in the mud of the Dead Sea

Prepare for taking photos

Swimming in the Dead Sea inevitably means taking some photos! It’s not every day that you get the chance to float in the sea and I must admit that I missed the opportunity to take some nice pictures.

Some bring props (reading a newspaper is probably the most popular activity!), while others opt for more classic poses.

To get the best shots, I recommend organizing yourself well for the photos. Either alternate between bathing and taking photos with your travel buddy, making sure the camera is always under surveillance and never at ground level (the salt can have a catastrophic effect!), or equip yourself with a waterproof case to protect your cell phone and take it in the water with you.

This is the choice I made: I bought a waterproof case on Amazon. My only mistake was not testing the waterproofness before going to the Dead Sea, so I wasn’t very confident, although it turned out later that the waterproofness was perfect!

It goes without saying that you should not leave your camera unattended or put it in the checkroom after “showing it off” on the beach. It’s still a tourist place where you’re never 100% safe from theft.

Floating in the Dead Sea
Floating in the Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea

Before my trip to Israel, I had been warned that it was impossible to swim in the Dead Sea. I wondered how the salt prevented swimming. So, to avoid dying foolish, I tried to swim a few strokes in the water. As soon as I got on my stomach, the simple act of raising my head to keep it out of the water caused my body to flip over.

On the other hand, you can move quite easily on your back by doing the frog kick with your legs. Not the most stylish, but it’s the only swimming style that works in the Dead Sea.

And speaking of lack of style, getting into the Dead Sea itself provided us with some laughs. The mud makes the ground very slippery, so you try to keep a semblance of elegance. But in less time than it takes to say it, your leg sinks into the mud, you slip and suddenly find yourself with your buttocks in the water!

To float in the Dead Sea, the best solution is to wade into the water until it’s above your knees, then sit back and let yourself float naturally.

Due to the high salt concentration of the Dead Sea, avoid at all costs drinking the water, splashing, getting water in your eyes, or putting your head underwater.

Enjoying the benefits of the Dead Sea

The salt of the Dead Sea is said to have many benefits, especially in the treatment of certain skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne. The bottom of the sea is covered with sticky mud that can be applied as a mask. There are also many Dead Sea salt cosmetics, including scrubs.

Many people take advantage of their dip in the Dead Sea to coat themselves with mud (hence the importance of bathing in a developed area that offers fresh water showers for rinsing!). Mud is not available everywhere (you can find some at Kalia Beach).

It is recommended to not stay in the water for too long and limit yourself to 20 minutes, even if it means returning a little later. Make sure to thoroughly rinse yourself with fresh water and drink plenty of water between swims in the Dead Sea and after your visit.

Sensitivity to the salt can vary greatly from person to person: some may experience tingling sensations quickly while others may not feel any discomfort. Personally, I did not experience any discomfort at all, and my skin felt incredibly soft after leaving the water.

Hair removal and swimming

If you shave or wax your legs, bikini line, or underarms, it’s best to avoid doing so just before swimming in the Dead Sea. The same applies if you have small wounds or scratches, as salt can be unpleasant on open wounds.

How much time should you allow for a visit to the Dead Sea?

If you’re mainly interested in bathing in the Dead Sea for the unique experience, then a day trip should be sufficient. There are many possible excursions available from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and coastal cities such as Netanya and Herzliya (see all possible excursions here).

However, if you want to explore the region more thoroughly, I recommend booking a night in a hotel by the Dead Sea. This will give you the opportunity to witness the stunning sunrise, explore the muddy beaches, and discover different facets of the area. In addition to the salty beaches, there are also some heavenly landscapes to explore.

The lowest point on earth - Dead Sea, Israel

Hotels at the Dead Sea in Israel

Most of the hotels located at the Dead Sea in Israel are situated as you head south, at Ein Gedi, or even further south, at Ein Bokek.

I might as well say it right away: there is a wide range of accommodation options, and some hotels are particularly poor. There are ugly buildings that are poorly maintained, with low-end catering, and there are hotels that play on their proximity to the Dead Sea without necessarily being really close. So, it’s important to carefully examine the reviews before booking a hotel at the Dead Sea.

One reputable establishment on the Israeli side is the Green Dead Sea Hotel (4 stars). It has a spa with a saltwater pool, a freshwater pool, and direct access to the Dead Sea. It is located in Ein Bokek.

Almost next door is Isrotel’s Noga, a 4-star hotel with a spa and direct access to the Dead Sea in just 2 minutes on foot. It also has a freshwater pool.

A few minutes’ walk away, Isrotel has another hotel, the Nevo, which is a 5-star hotel with a beautiful spa equipped with a pool of sulfur-rich water. The shores of the Dead Sea are a few minutes’ walk away, and there is a shuttle bus available for those who prefer not to walk.

Visiting the Dead Sea in Israel
Visiting the Dead Sea in Israel | Photo © Tristan Mimet – Under Unsplash license

What to do at the Dead Sea in Israel?

In addition to swimming in the Dead Sea in Israel, there are many other things to do in the area and you can easily spend a few days there or visit multiple times to fully enjoy it.

The Good Samaritan Museum

Located on the road 1 between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, this archaeology museum is dedicated to mosaics from various periods and regions, including the Gaza Strip.

You can find the rates and opening hours of the museum here.

The Qumran archaeological site

This vast park in the West Bank is home to the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The scrolls and papyrus were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and were found in the caves in the mid-20th century. There are nearly 1,000 of them, dating back to several centuries before Christ. Among them is the Great Isaiah Scroll, which is in exceptional condition and contains an entire biblical book in Hebrew.

It’s a fascinating archaeological site that you can visit, and you can find the schedules and prices here.

The Fortress of Masada

An incredible place not to be missed when visiting the Dead Sea in Israel! The fortress is built 1,476 feet above the level of the Dead Sea and offers a splendid view of the surroundings. You can reach it by cable car or on foot.

The fortress has a tragic but fascinating history, having ended up under siege by the Romans, with the collective suicide of its inhabitants. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can read more about it in my article on Masada.

Schedules and prices are available here.

You can go to Masada with a local agency and a guide (check out possible excursions) from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Majestic scenery at the foot of the Masada site
Majestic scenery at the foot of the Masada site

The Ahava Center

This time, we move away from history and culture and focus on shopping! The Ahava brand, known for its Dead Sea cosmetics, has built a large center to welcome visitors and sell its range of products. If you have some shopping to do and happen to be passing by, this could be your chance, but it’s not worth going out of your way.

You can find Ahava products literally everywhere in Israel, and the prices are not necessarily lower at this store.

Ein Gedi and Its Nature Reserve

Featuring caves, waterfalls, and archaeological remains, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve offers beautiful walks and allows you to take a dip while following one of the many hiking trails available, ranging from a 1.5-hour to 5-hour walk depending on your endurance.

Check schedules and prices here. Please note that access to some of the trails must be pre-booked online, unless you are going with a travel agency.

Several travel agencies offer tours to Ein Gedi; you can look at the reviews to choose. I especially recommend Abraham Tours, a very reputable local agency, including this day trip or this sunrise tour from Tel Aviv or from Jerusalem for the brave!

The baptismal site of Qasr Al Yahud

This baptism site is located on the banks of the Jordan River, with Israel on one bank and Jordan on the other. If you wish to be baptized, it is possible (ceremonies are held in the water of the Jordan).

There is some debate about where Jesus would have been baptized, and there is another baptismal site in northern Israel, Yardenit. I personally preferred the atmosphere of Yardenit, but Qasr Al Yahud remains a very popular place near the Dead Sea.

Check out Qasr Al Yahud’s opening hours here.

Passing through Qasr Al Yahud is possible as part of a West Bank tour that also stops in Bethlehem and Jericho.

The baptismal site of Qasr Al Yahud
The baptismal site of Qasr Al Yahud

Enot Tsukim Nature Reserve

Located near the archaeological site of Qumran, this reserve has pools fed by freshwater springs, trails, and small streams.

Note that a significant portion of the reserve is accessible only to groups accompanied by a guide.

Hours and entrance fees are available here.

And that’s the end of this (very) extensive guide to visiting the Dead Sea in Israel, a truly remarkable experience and one of the highlights of my stay there. I hope this information will help you plan your own trip!

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or share your own experiences!

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