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, partly due to evaporation as well as because countries are diverting its tributaries’ waters 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.
Looking from Masada, it’s easy to see that the Dead Sea is shrinking.
Swimming in the Dead Sea
Okay, so if I were to be totally accurate, 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!
5 things you need to know about swimming in the Dead Sea
- 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.
- Don’t wear your favorite swimsuit. 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. Dead Sea selfies make the best souvenirs.
3 tips for how to swim in the Dead Sea safely
- Keep your wet hands away from your face. Be very careful about that! 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 happen to swallow any water, seek medical attention immediately.
- 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 try to swim face down. This is essential! The Dead Sea has eight-and-a-half times the salinity of the ocean and It’s surprisingly hard to turn over. People have drowned in the Dead Sea, even without being fully submerged. I’ll confess I was a little concerned when it was so hard to turn over after I posed for this photo:
On a related note, our friend Sven posed for this shot and had a hard time staying on his side.
Want to see more pictures of the Dead Sea?
We have more shots of our nighttime dip with our tour group in our Dead Sea photo gallery.
Have you been to the Dead Sea? Did we miss anything? Please share your tips and memories in the comment section below.