All you need to know about the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea, or Yam ha Melach in Hebrew is located only an hour’s drive out of Jerusalem. Placed between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is flanked by the stunning scenery of the Judean Desert and is a world-wide attraction thanks to the strong salt levels. This is due to the Dead Sea having the lowest elevation on earth at 423 meters below sea-level.
The astronomical levels of salt found here makes it impossible to dive beneath the surface, even swimming will prove to be a tough challenge. But with the Dead Sea’s turquoise skies and warm year-round temperatures it remains one of the most popular destinations in Israel. You won’t find just tourists here, with local Israelis consistently returning to soak up the beautiful environment and immerse themselves in the curative powers of the water. Mud packs and sulfur baths are common magnets for visitors who can enjoy relief from ailments like psoriasis and eczema.
What Makes the Dead Sea Unique?
Aside from the heaving saline levels and being at the lowest location in the world, there is more to the Dead Sea than meets the eye. Although you wouldn’t dive beneath the surface and the salt levels make it impossible for fish to survive, the sea remains full of life. Minerals are found in abundance, and can aid in healing our bodies. Don’t just take my word for it, Cleopatra and King Herod were known to visit and take advantage of the sea’s abilities.
Even with the advancement of modern medicine, doctors still recommend going to the Dead Sea for those searching for relief or cure from skin disorders, high blood pressure and even arthritis. Being situated in the desert also allows the Dead Sea to be a year-round destination. With such little rainfall, there is no low season. So come at any time, for relaxing body scrubs, exfoliation, scalp treatments and invigorating stone massages.
Dead Sea Geology
Due to the movements of tectonic plates, the earth between the Sedom Lagoon (Sedom Lagoon was linked to the Mediterranean via the Jezreel Valley) was forced upwards around 2 millions years ago. This led to the creation of a landlocked lake. With the surrounding environment being dry and arid, the lake evaporated over time. Over the years, the lake continued to recede until around 7000 years ago. What was left, is the Dead Sea we visit today.
Moving closer to modern times, water once flowed into the Dead Sea from the Jordan River. However, the flow was shifted from the Galilee so the Dead Sea has no consistent source of water. It relies on sulfur springs and storms that bring bouts of flash flooding. Due to the climate surrounding the Dead Sea, water is of course continuously evaporating, so even today the sea is still shrinking. As a result, sea crystals are left behind. A depth of up to 10cm of these crystals coat the seafloor every year. It is easy then to imagine why swimming here is nigh on impossible. The salt concentration is so compact, that you immediately float to the surface due to your body weighing less.
But despite the seemingly desolate location and astronomical salt levels, the Dead Sea is still able to play a role in a complicated environment. You may wonder how? The Dead Sea has numerous fresh water springs located along it’s shoreline. Here you will find many native species including mammals, plants and fish. Birds are found in abundance, with over 300 species that can be sighted around the sea. Common birds include, kestrels, honey buzzards and eagles, who stop by the Dead Sea as they migrate to Africa from Europe.
History of the Dead Sea
The Bible is linked to the Dead Sea on many occasions, and is named differently throughout. Examples include being called the Salt Sea, the Eastern Sea and the Stinking Sea. Although we know it as a destination, over the centuries the Dead Sea was looked upon more as territory boundary. Ein Gedi, the historical Masada fortress and Qumran are some of the essential settlements here during biblical times.
Experts in archaeology are believed to have found a link between the Dead Sea and the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah. These were two cities ended by God due to their sinful and infamous ways, as written in Genesis. Another famous story from the Bible, the one of ‘Lot’s wife’ is believed to have happened at the Dead Sea. Lot’s wife ignored God’s wishes that she not look back, and in return was transformed into a pillar of salt. Interestingly, tour guides have nicknamed the odd salt structures, resembling pillars, Lot’s Wife. These pillars can be found in the south-eastern end of the Dead Sea.
Dead Sea Scrolls Found in the Qumran Caves
In 1949 an incredible discovery was made in nearby Qumran. A shepherd boy who had lost a member of his flock, went on in search and walked into a local cave. Here he found what is now called the Dead Sea Scrolls in side jars. At around 2000 years old, these scrolls date back to 3 BC. Made up of animal skin, forged copper and papyrus, the scrolls have given us an astonishing look into the Essenes community. The Essenes left Jerusalem for the remote region of Qumran so they could continue their unique way of living.
To see the Dead Sea Scrolls with your own eyes, you must head to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. They remain a highlight of guests experiences here and are specifically located in a beautiful building called The Shrine of the Book, an extraordinary design itself. Enter through a white dome, that represents the lid of the jars found by the young shepherd and make your way to the historic scrolls. For any lover of history, it is strongly recommended that you tour the museum with a private guide.
Activities and Sights around the Dead Sea
A single day excursion to the Dead Sea will be one of the main highlights for anyone traveling to Israel. However don’t expect the amazing salt water to be the only memorable part of your day. Visitors love that there are numerous places to enjoy in the area around the sea itself. If you aren’t up for floating in the Dead Sea, or covering yourself in dark mud, you can embark on a casual stroll on the promenade with lovely views into Jordan. Along the promenade are a variety of beaches featuring cafes and kiosks along with showers and sun lounges to hire for the day. In some spots you can even walk into the local hotels and take advantage of their spa treatments.
If you are searching for more adventure, who could pass up a jeep safari? This four-hour escapade will lead you further inland, up and down tough terrain and help you see more of the beautiful Judean Desert. Many of these safaris will pass Qumran, the original location of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Murbaat Caves. Along the way, take the opportunity to enjoy some Bedouin hospitality which includes hot but refreshing tea inside a spacious tent.
To take things up a level, give yourself a rush of adrenalin by rappelling off the cliffs found in Wadi Qumran. Better yet, you can even skydive off the edge of the ancient Masada Fortress. For outdoor adventures that aren’t too crazy, there a many fantastic hikes to complete. Some of the more popular ones include David’s Waterfall, Dodim’s Cave, Metsuke Dragon and the Ein Gedi hot springs. Difficulty on trail ranges from easy to difficult, however with 10 moderate hikes, the majority will be able to complete many of the hikes on offer. In a hot and dry environment, taking breaks is recommended. Keep an eye out for picnic areas and even catch glimpses of mountain goats on the hillside.
If you don’t feel like doing the hard work yourself, there are other ways to explore, such as joining a Masada and Dead Sea organized tour. Other options include combining the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi with a visit to the Masada at sunrise. For added culture, balance your time in the Dead Sea with a visit to Jerusalem. If you can’t get enough of the regions amazing nature and history, why not get a private guide to show you Ein Gedi and Qumran? An expert guide will have intimate knowledge of where to spot eagles, rock badgers and ibex. For those who just want to take their time and chill, then the Dead Sea Relaxation Tour is the way to go. It is sure to rejuvenate your entire body!
The Dead Sea also happens to be close by to the Jordan River and Jericho. So there are opportunities to visit this historic town and the old baptismal site of Qasr al Yahud. The site remains popular with pilgrims to this day who dip themselves in the water as it is where Jesus was baptized by John. As you sit here looking out towards Jordan you can sense the wilderness all around. Did you know, originally Christian pilgrims took many days to travel here as their trip from Jerusalem was does on the backs of camels.
To put it simply, the Dead Sea and it’s incredible surrounding environment offers something for all travelers. Even more so if you hire the help of a private guide or join an organized tour. With all the planning done for you, all you have to do is sit back and soak it up. It really is a perfect place for first-time visitors and continues to attract returnees. This is due not only to the sea itself but because of the stunning Masada Fortress, complex and fascinating ecosystems and the regions unparalleled history. Simply put on a large hat, a pair of walking shoes, lather on the sunscreen and fill up a bottle of water. From there you can begin, and we promise your adventures will be unforgettable.