The salt lake of the Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on Earth, and the deepest and saltiest lake in the world. With salinity almost ten times that of the ocean, its main basin lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River.
Its name translates as Sea of Salt, and references the harsh saline environment in which plants and animals cannot flourish. It was one of the world’s first health resorts, frequented by Herod the Great, and the health and healing properties of the Dead Sea still draw people to the area.
The salt lake is part of the border between Israel and Jordan, part of the Judean and Negev deserts. It’s a popular place for people wanting a few days’ to relax and locals as well as tourists visit to take advantage of the medical properties of the waters. As well as swimming (or rather floating) in the salty lake, people cover themselves in the mineral-rich mud that lines the shores.
The ancient fortress of Masada has a history as steep as the ascent to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is traditionally visited early in the morning, when visitors to the fortress ruins watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan in the distance. Fortunately, a cable car has been built, so there is an easier way to visit the ruins. Masada was the scene of the final stand by rebels against Rome during the days of the Great Revolt. The desperate fight was lost and ended in the mass suicide of the rebels and their families, some 960 people.
North, in the famous Kibbutz, is the Ein Gedi National Park, with its cool water hiking trails and hidden oasis, waiting to be discovered by visitors. Once isolated, a road was paved from Jerusalem to Jericho via the shore of the Dead Sea, and the Kibbutz is now far easier to reach for those wishing to sample Ein Gedi spring water at source, or visit the only populated botanical garden in the world.
The shores of the Dead Sea offer a number of public beaches, and some of the hotels offer private beaches. Some beaches will charge an entry fee.
Accommodation here is varied and suited to most budgets. Ein Bokek is the main area for hotels, and there are several large resort-style hotels from which to choose, as well as boutique and smaller options, for a less touristy experience. Camping is also an option, with several sites offering anything from simple no-frills communal tents to colourful Bedouin-style pitches, and most things in between.
Masada and the Dead Sea are two of the most visited places in Israel, and their continued attraction to tourists is evidence that there is still a great deal of life in this region after all.