Let the Dead Sea Lift Your Spirits

Take a trip to the Dead Sea—a natural spa in the middle of a desert—and hike through nature reserves filled with native flora and fauna, float in water at the lowest point on Earth, and cover yourself with medicinal mud.
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Israel's Dead Sea
Dead-On Beautiful: Beachgoers soak in the Israeli sun  (Israel Ministry of Tourism)

In a country dominated by inspiring pilgrimages, Israel's Dead Sea offers a different kind of odyssey. This desert oasis attracts over one million tourists each year with an allure that, while not precisely religious, is certainly spiritual and absolutely therapeutic.

The Dead Sea sits in the Syrian-African Rift Valley, a geographical fault that stretches south to East Africa, and occupies a remarkable landscape of rose-colored cliffs, pillars of salt billowing from the water, and the peaks of Jordan in the distance. At 1,373 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea lies at the lowest point on the entire planet, but the beaches here do not cater to tourists looking to frolic in Riviera-like fashion; the copious levels of saline make the water too dense for swimming. Instead, this density lets you float, naturally and effortlessly, while the water's 21 minerals—including sulphur, magnesium, calcium, bromine, and potassium—promote relaxation, nourish the skin, and stimulate circulation. These curative properties also reside in the mud lining the seashore, which is lathered over the skin for its cleansing and revitalizing benefits, much like an ancient, all-natural mud mask.

In many ways, the natural properties in and around the Dead Sea have created the world's first—and largest—all-natural spa, and a flurry of clinics have opened along the shore to help visitors benefit from the sea's curative elements. Treatments vary according to clinic physicians' advice for specific ailments, which include skin disease, lumbago, arthritis, and rheumatism, but all typically include soaking in the Dead Sea itself, or in pools of Dead Sea water, and applications of the Dead Sea's black mud or heated mud packs. The rare environmental conditions in the region—uniformly warm temperatures, low humidity, high barometric pressure, oxygen-rich air, and bromide-rich atmosphere—play an essential part in the therapy.

Most visitors arrive at the Dead Sea after an hour-long drive from Jerusalem, meandering down the steep roads of the Jordan Valley before spilling into the sea. Ein Feshka, the first beach to appear, instantly invites relief from the valley's oppressive heat. One of the area's best beaches for swimming, Ein Feshka's freshwater springs tumble down from the hills, creating gleaming pools that offer a refreshing place to swim after floating in the dense, salty water of the Dead Sea itself. During the 1950s and early '60s, these pools of clear water were used by King Hussein of Jordan as his private oasis. Another popular Dead Sea beach, Ein Gedi, is a bit further down the road and tends to be more crowded than Ein Feshka. Over two miles of shoreline form a lush, shaded nature reserve featuring freshwater springs, pools, and native wildlife including the deer-like ibex and the hyrax, which resembles a guinea pig. A maze of hiking trails weave through the reserve, from the one-and-a-half-hour Nahal Arugot to the difficult, five-hour Nahal David trail, featuring bird-watching and swimming in hidden waterfalls. But if you want to avoid hot midday temps and the crowds, get an early start.

Published: 21 Jun 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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