Floating in the Dead Sea was always one of my bucketlist items, so of course I had to check it off the list while I was in Israel. Even though I only stayed for a few days, I made time for this trip and it was totally worth it – that feeling is surely one of a kind!
I initially tried to see whether I could go by public transportation, but it seemed all too complicated so I went ahead and booked a tour with Abraham Tours. Because the actual stop at the Dead Sea isn’t very long, as you can’t really stay in the water for more than 15-20 minutes, other stops are also included in these tours. I chose the one that included a visit to Masada and Ein Gedi as well.
The ruins of Masada
We left Tel Aviv bright and early, around 6:30 am and headed for Jerusalem to pick up more people from there. I got to see a bit of Jerusalem from the bus and it indeed seemed very beautiful, I wish I would’ve had time to visit it as well.
On the way to our first stop, Masada Fortress, we passed through the Judean Desert and saw the Bedouins’ settlements – a bit of an eyesore to be honest. Our driver explained that these settlements are quite problematic as they’re not recognised therefore creating land ownership disputes, as well as facing issues such as high unemployment rates, poverty and crime. Most of them are also not connected to water or electricity, so living conditions are pretty rough.
On to more positive things, we arrived to Masada around 9 am and we were given about an hour and a half to visit the site. The entrance was 74 NIS and it included the cable car ride. There is also the option to hike up, but it takes about 45 minutes one way, so there was no time for that.
Masada is one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel, situated on top of an isolated rock, offering stunning views over the surrounding desert and the Dead Sea, all the way to the Moabite mountains in Jordan.
Initially built by King Herod himself between 37 and 31 BC, the fortress has a long history, but it’s mostly known as being the site of on of the greatest tales of Jewish heroism. It is said that during the First Roman-Jewish War, while under siege by the Roman army, the group of Jewish rebels occupying the fortress at that time preferred to kill themselves rather than surrender to the Romans. However, it seems that those very same rebels had previously raided nearby Jewish villages, killing around 700 women and children. So where they really the heroes they’re now portrayed as? Debatable, to say the least.
The ruins weren’t all that impressive, though some parts were pretty well preserved, considering they’re just a bit over 2000 years old. The view however was impressive, with the desert mountains on one side and the Dead Sea on the other. It looks a bit like the surface of the Moon, doesn’t it?
Ein Gedi oasis
After our visit to Masada, we headed to our next destination: Ein Gedi – an oasis and nature reserve in the desert. And a favourite tourist attraction, as we were soon to find out. Hordes of American, Brazilian and Chinese tourists, with their selfie sticks and iPads, where jostling each other in desperate attempts to get a selfie with one of the springs of the oasis.
Apart from several springs and natural pools, the park hosts many species of plants, birds and animals, such as the Nubian Ibex and the rock hyrax (sooo cute, by the way!). I was lucky enough to see both of them, though I didn’t manage to take a picture of the goats as I had to flee from a group of Americans coming my way.
The reserve is pretty big, spreading over 14 square kilometres, so in the hour and a half I spent here I only managed to see very little of it. There are apparently nine different hiking trails ( I only managed to do about a third of one of them), so I should imagine the rest of the park is just as beautiful and definitely worth visiting if you have the time.
Floating in the Dead Sea
As we left Ein Gedi and headed for the final stop of our tour, our driver stopped at one of the viewpoints and told us a bit about the problems the Dead Sea is facing. Unfortunately, the sea is drying out – if you look at the pictures below you can see how the water level gradually decreased. There are multiple factors that contribute to this, such as the lack of precipitations in the area as well as the exploitation for the salt and cosmetic industries.
Another interesting thing I learned is that there are lots of sinkholes along the shore of the sea, some massive, swallowing entire buildings or road sections. It was a bit sad to know that such a beautiful place might disappear entirely in about 20 years, but on the bright side at least I was lucky enough to get to see it.
The beach that is open to the public is a lot smaller and nowhere near as pretty as the ones I saw from the viewpoint, but then again it didn’t have any sinkholes in it so I guess that’ll have to do. On the beach there were signs everywhere telling you that you shouldn’t stay more than 20 minutes in the water and that you need to shower immediately after getting out. There were also signs explaining how to float, which I found a bit funny.
The feeling itself is so weird, it’s nothing like in the other seas, you literally feel weightless. The water is 10 times saltier than any other sea and trust me, you do not want to stay in it more than 20 minutes. I lasted for about 15 minutes before parts of my body started burning slightly, so I decided to get out. I couldn’t resist a face mask with the Dead Sea mud and let me tell you, my face was as soft as a baby’s bum when I left there.
Walking in and out of the beach area you will pass through the Ahava shop, a cosmetic company that manufactures skin care products made of the Dead Sea mud and mineral-compounds. A quick stop in the shop and you can take your soft as a baby’s bum face home with you (your knees might get soft as well seeing their prices, but that’s a different story).
The Dead Sea really is a unique place and I’m so happy I got to see it and experience it. I highly recommend this trip, it’s something everyone should do in their lifetime!