Last Updated on 09/20/23 by quiltripping
You’ve probably seen the photos – the ones of a person effortlessly floating in an almost sitting position while reading a newspaper. This is often the typical marketing image associated with the Dead Sea. The reality is that swimming in the Dead Sea is so much more than that.
What is the Dead Sea
The Dead Seas is not really a sea, but a large lake on the border between Israel and Jordan in the Middle East. At 1400 feet below sea level, the shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest land elevation on the planet.
The Dead Sea formed millions of years ago when this valley was flooded by the salty water of the Mediterranean. Geologic changes land locked the body of water, leaving behind a salty lake. In this arid environment, the influx of the Jordan River was not enough to maintain the water levels, and over millennia, the lake water evaporated, concentrating the salts to their present level.
The mineral concentration, which is about 34%-35%, inhibits the ability of any living thing to survive in these waters. Despite its name though, the Dead Sea is not the saltiest lake on earth. While it is almost 10 times saltier than ocean water, there are a few bodies of water around the world that actually have higher salinity, including one in Antarctica.
Besides the typical components of salt (sodium and chloride ions), the Dead Sea also contains high concentrations of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and bromide ions. Another unusual feature are the globs of asphalt that seep up to the surface from its depths.
With this unique composition, the Dead Sea has been a resource for commerce since antiquity. The Nabateans (of Petra Fame) collected the asphalt that would float on the surface and sold it to the Egyptians who used it in their mummification process. The Romans also made use of these asphalt resources.
Today, the waters of the Dead Sea still provide an industrial source of potash and other chemicals for both Jordan and Israel. Bolstered by reports of the health benefits of the Dead Sea minerals, this unusual body of water has also become a popular tourism destination.
How to visit the Dead Sea
The reality is that you don’t really swim in the Dead Sea – the high mineral content makes a body way too buoyant. Because of the high concentration of salts, the water density is actually higher than the human body density, which means that you float.
One thing that is not usually mentioned is that this high mineral content makes the water feel slick, even a little oily.
Since the Dead Sea Straddles two countries, it is possible to visit from both Israel and Jordan. Both countries have public day use beaches and fancy resorts. Which one you visit depends on your budget and your itinerary.
The water will be the same regardless of which side you are on. However, the culture and the beach experience will be different. I’ve been to the Dead Sea in both countries and will share my experiences here.
My Dead Sea visit in Israel
My first visit to the Dead Sea was part of a day tour from Tel Aviv. The tour included a visit to the fortress of Masada followed by a stop for a quick swim at one of the public beaches on the Dead Sea.
Our tour guide stopped at Kalia Beach as we headed back toward Tel Aviv. I changed into my swimsuit in the women’s changing hut and headed downhill to the water. This seemed to be a popular stop for the tourist buses and the beach was rather crowded. The beach was also very rocky, not sandy at all.
Fortunately, I wore water shoes which really helped as I stepped on the stones and rocks that I couldn’t see in the murky water. I was very surprised at how slimy the water felt.
I floated for a bit and then slathered some of the mud on my arms and legs. The seabed under my feet was very soft and mushy, so there was plenty of mud for a mud bath.
Once the mud had dried, I rinsed at one of the outdoor showers and then headed back uphill to the changing hut which was just a big open room with a few benches against the walls. There was no concession to modesty, and because there weren’t enough benches for everyone in the room, it wasn’t easy to keep wet and dry things seperate.
I can say that I floated in the Dead Sea, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience. The beach, the changing area, and the other public spaces felt very dirty – and not just because of all the Dead Sea mud.
I knew there must be a more pleasant way to enjoy the Dead Sea and I hoped that one day I would have a chance to experience it.
Swimming in the Dead Sea in Jordan
Not long ago, I did have a second chance to swim in the Dead Sea, this time in a lot more style and comfort. On a recent 10 day tour of Jordan, my itinerary included two days at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa, one of the luxury resorts along the Dead Sea coast in Jordan.
The resort is conveniently located one hour from Jordan’s capital Amman or one hour from the Queen Alia International Airport. This makes it a convenient stop at the beginning or end of a Jordan itinerary.
From here it is also easy to visit the religious site of Bethany on the Jordan or do a more adventure based excursion canyoneering in Wadi Mujib. Each of these sites is about a 30 minute drive from the hotel and can be easily done as a half day trip
With its own private beach on the Dead Sea along with three large pools, this Hilton Resort offered plenty of onsite options for floating, swimming, and relaxing.
Of course, the big draw to being at this resort was the Dead Sea. Elevators took me down from the resort level to the beach level. Here I found a nice, large, clean, sandy, beach area with lots of sun loungers and umbrellas.
The approach into the water was still a little rocky, but it was easy enough to just walk in and lay down on top of the water to float. The sensation of sitting in the water without sinking still felt a little weird though.
There was also no need to dig up mud here either. An attendant continuously filled up a big stone vat with fresh Dead Sea mud. After spreading it on and letting it dry, you could either rinse in the Dead Sea or at one of the many outdoor fresh water showers nearby.
I really liked the fact that the beach was not very crowded. And watching the sunset over the Dead Sea from the beach was especially beautiful.
The Hilton Dead Sea Resort experience
The best thing about staying at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort was that it offered so much more to do other than swimming in the Dead Sea.
The Hilton had a variety of rooms and suites for all budgets and needs. I had a double bed deluxe room with a terrace view. The room was huge – more than enough room for two people, and certainly more than spacious enough for just me.
The bathroom was also very large with a separate tub and shower. I liked the shuttered “window” that opened over the bathtub into the sleeping area. It allowed natural light into the bathroom which I appreciated.
After swimming in the Dead Sea, it was nice to have a choice of three freshwater pools to play in. I especially liked the infinity pool with its views to the west across the Dead Sea toward the setting sun.
I also took advantage of the spa at the hotel where I got a Dead Sea salt wrap. After a gentle massage, the technician applied a potion with Dead Sea salts and mud and then wrapped me up like a burrito. After marinating for 20 minutes, I rinsed off with fresh water and felt my baby soft skin. (If only it would last). This was certainly a unique experience that I could only have had here.
The dining experiences at the Hilton were also very good. I tried breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Spectrum buffet restaurant and was impressed with the diverse selection of dishes provided at each meal. There were all the traditional Jordanian food options along with many western choices.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Italian themed Bacchus Trattoria. After a week of (very good) Jordanian food, it was a treat to eat something different. One evening I also had an early dinner of hamburger and fries in the library from their snacks menu which also hit the spot.
My last meal of this trip was at the Hilton’s 1312 Middle Eastern restaurant and its menu of modern Lebanese dishes. With the focus on fresh, local ingredients, I knew I would miss all the tasty and healthy Mediterranean dishes that I had enjoyed in Jordan.
This hotel is just one of several upscale properties in this part of Jordan’s Dead Sea coast. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the luxury hotels in this area. I certainly enjoyed my stay at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and definitely enjoyed swimming in the Dead Sea here much more.
Travel tips for how to swim in the Dead Sea
- For the best experience, go to one of the nicer resorts that have private beaches on the Dead Sea.
- Some of the resorts allow you to pay for a day pass to use their beach. Call the resort to confirm.
- Because of the high salt content, any cuts or skin abrasions will sting. Avoid shaving for a day or two prior to swimming in the Dead Sea.
- Don’t get any of the Dead Sea water in your eyes.
- Don’t swallow any of the Dead Sea water.
- My resort staff recommended not staying in the Dead Sea for longer than 15 minutes at a time.
- You may not want to wear your best swim suit here – the mud will stain it and it will be hard to get really clean, at least not until you have access to s a good washing machine.
- I recommend wearing some sort of water shoes – the shore was rocky.
- Take a fresh water shower as soon as you get out of the salt water to rinse your body and your swimsuit.
- If you want to slather yourself with Dead Sea mud, leave it on to dry for about 10 minutes and then rinse it off.
- If you are staying at a resort, do try a Dead Sea spa treatment using some of the Dead Sea products from the region.
- If you want photos of yourself floating in the Dead Sea, I suggest getting a good water proof case for your phone – just in case. Or better yet, have a friend take photos of you from the beach. The Dead Sea salts and mud will not do your phone any good if they come in contact with the electronics.
Give swimming in the Dead Sea, or rather, floating, a try if you are visiting the area. It’s an experience that can’t be done anywhere else, especially if you can do it at a nice resort.
Please note that my visit to Jordan and the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa was hosted by the Jordanian Tourism Board. All content and opinions are mine.
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