One of the highlights of our trip to Israel was the chance to swim in the Dead Sea … or, as they say in Hebrew, Yam HaMelakh, the Salt Sea.
I wouldn't call it a sea, actually, I'd call it a Very, Very Large Lake. It's shrinking every year, not only due to evaporation but also because the waters from its tributaries are now being diverted in order to supply water for irrigation and drinking. It's now small enough that we probably could swim across to Jordan if we wanted to. Or at least, we joked about it.
If I were to be totally honest, we didn't actually swim in the Dead Sea at all. That's stretching it. More like we floated.
Our Dead Sea swim
We arrived at our hotel after dark and quickly changed into our suits so we could see what all the fuss was about. The hotel was literally across the street from the water, so we had no problem finding our way in the dark. The beach looked like most others, except that there was a wooden ramp going into the water, with a railing alongside.
Turns out that ramp was useful, because there are a lot of rough salt crystals on the bottom, and who wants to encounter a sharp one and cut their feet in saltwater? Can you say, ouch?
Even in an early March evening the air was pleasant, but the water was a little chilly, and the temperature changed with every step. We joined the others in our tour group and had a fun time floating around. We even did our impressions of “synchronized swimming” there. And look at the amazing color of the water at night!
Here are 7 tips if you want to Dead Sea dip:
- Enjoy the experience. The water is therapeutic – did you know that European insurances pay for people to travel there for their health? You can slather dead sea mud on yourself, or just soak in the water. Either way, after you’ve rinsed off your skin will feel like silk.
- Don’t worry about getting a sunburn. You’re 400 meters below sea level, and it’s harder for the sun’s rays to get to you.
- Just pick up your feet, lean back a little, and next thing you know, you’ll be floating! Think about swimming on your back and you’ll get the idea.
- Be very careful not to put your wet hands anywhere near your face. The last thing you want to do is get any water in your eyes or mouth. The Dead Sea is full of mineral salts, not sea salt, and it doesn’t taste the same as sea water. If you do swallow any water, seek medical attention.
- Don’t shave for at least two days beforehand, because it will burn like crazy. I know firsthand, because the Columbia hiking pants I’d been wearing all day – you know, the kind that tie around the ankles? – had (unknown to me) rubbed my legs just the tiniest bit. I tried to ignore it but it was pretty painful. Three weeks later and I’m still waiting for my skin to heal.
- Don’t wear your favorite bathing suit, wear an old one, because the high mineral content may discolor the garment. As a precaution, once you’re out and showered, rinse anything that came in contact with the water.
- Bring your camera and ask someone to take some photos. They make the best souvenirs. Don’t try to swim face down though, because it’s hard to turn over … and it's actually possible to drown in the Dead Sea even though, with eight and a half times the salinity of the ocean, it’s impossible to stay submerged.