The Dead Sea is one of the most unique places on earth. It’s also one of the most fascinating and mysterious! Here are a handful of tips and facts that you should be aware of before visiting the Dead Sea!
1. Step in and soak up centuries of history
Straddling the borders of Israel, Jordan and Palestine, people have come to the Dead Sea for thousands of years to enjoy the waters healing properties. It’s said that Cleopatra loved it here so much, she built the world’s first documented beauty spas along the waters edge. King Herod built fortresses and palaces overlooking the Dead Sea. In ancient times, the Romans strictly controlled the roads and trade routes around the Dead Sea. This was because salt was so precious that it was often used as a form of currency!
And in 1947, a young Bedouin boy discovered ancient Hebrew scrolls in the Qumran Caves nearby – now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls, scattered throughout several caves and other desert locations, contained fragments from nearly every book of the Old Testament. So when you step into the Dead Sea, remember that you’re stepping into thousands of years of history!
2. Don’t believe the hype – it IS possible to drown in the Dead Sea!
This tip is kind of a downer, sorry! But we need to get it out of the way. I’m sure you’ve heard that you can’t possibly drown in the Dead Sea because the high salt concentration causes you to float. As it so happens, you CAN drown here. I’m really glad I didn’t know this before we went, because I’m a terrible swimmer!
Yes, the amount of salt in the water makes the Dead Sea denser than normal water. This density also pushes your body up, making it more difficult to move around as easily. This is fine if you’re just floating on your back. But if you make the mistake of turning onto your stomach – especially if you’re a weak swimmer, like me – you’ll have a hard time keeping your face out of the water. With buoyancy comes the inability to right yourself to reach the bottom and stand up.
Plus, the density of the water also pushes on your body, forcing you to lie flat. This makes it difficult to roll over onto your back or even keep your head up – hence, the real risk of drowning. In fact, the Government of Israel declared the Dead Sea as the second most dangerous place to swim in Israel!
3. Don’t get the water in your eyes
When I was initially trying to figure out how to get myself to float in the water, I made the mistake of throwing myself backwards into its salty embrace. (The recommended procedure is to get into the water far enough to squat, then lie back gently). This was after our tour guide warned us NOT to get the water into our eyes. Well, my awkward splash sent Dead Sea water into my eyes, nose and mouth.
Stinging pain instantly followed. My eyes burned so badly I couldn’t even open them for several minutes. Tears poured down my cheeks in rivulets.
One of the fellows on our trip floated past me, pointed and laughed, “you got some in your eyes, didn’t you?”
And while we’re on the topic:
4. Don’t get the water in your mouth, either
Then, there’s the taste. It doesn’t just taste like really salty water. There’s all sorts of other minerals in there, including asphalt, bromide, sulphur, etc. It’s indescribable, and not in a good way. Trust me on this, it tastes really awful.
The salt water can also be dangerous if you swallow too much. So avoid this as much as possible. But if you do accidentally swallow some water, let a lifeguard know.
5. Don’t shave anything beforehand
Again, you’ve been warned. Before visiting the Dead Sea, don’t shave. Shaving makes your skin extra sensitive. This also goes for any other cuts or scrapes you might have. You may not even realize you have a paper cut or blister, but the Dead Sea knows – and it wants the world to know it too!
The salt water will aggravate any little sensitive spots you may have, and make you scream like a banshee. So do yourself a favour and suppress the urge to shave for at least 2-3 days in advance, and wrap up any cuts you may have.
6. Don’t get your camera or phone wet
The salt water will make short work of your camera or cellphone. It’s not like dropping it into the toilet or the kiddie pool either, where a bag of rice can salvage it. The salt and minerals will corrode the insides of your electronic equipment, rendering it useless. We, therefore didn’t take many photos close to the water to avoid this mishap.
You might have more luck if you have a proper waterproof camera or GoPro. But the salt water will still create a film over your lens if it gets splashed, which will ruin your photos.
Best advice is to take your photos before getting into the water, then put your phone or camera away someplace safe.
7. Do schmear yourself with mud
When visiting the Dead Sea, you’d be remiss if you don’t cover yourself head to toe in the local mud. It’s one of the best reasons to go there! The black mud from the Dead Sea is seriously incredible. It’s high in magnesium, sodium, potassium and calcium. Studies have shown that dead sea mud can improve a variety of skin ailments – from psoriasis and eczema to acne. Dead Sea mud masks have even been used to prevent hair loss.
Even so, scientists still aren’t quite sure why the minerals and salt concentration do what they do. But there are tour groups specifically dedicated to coming here for the waters’ therapeutic properties!
All I know is that after we covered ourselves in the mud, then rinsed it off, my skin was like silk for days afterward! It probably didn’t hurt that the high salt concentration acted like a natural exfoliant. Who needs an expensive spa treatment, anyway?
8. How can the Dead Sea be dying if it’s already dead?
The high salinity of the Dead Sea makes it inhospitable to plants and animals. This is great for people who fear sharks, jellyfish, and seaweed. Only a handful of microbes and bacteria can survive in the water.
But the water levels are also receding very quickly – approximately 3 feet per year! As the water evaporates, the salinity and density increases. However, the sea (in actuality, a lake) would not disappear completely, as the rate of evaporation will reach a point of equilibrium. The rate of loss is still very troubling, however.
There are several factors impacting the Dead Sea water levels. The River Jordan feeds the lake, which in turn is fed by the River Yarmouk, which flows through Syria. Over the years, several dams have been built on the River Yarmouk, reducing the flow of water to the Dead Sea significantly.
Another reason for this drop is the use of irrigation, and water policies that don’t restrict water consumption for agricultural use.
Large sinkholes along the western shore have also become a common problem due to the Dead Sea’s shrinkage. Underground salt deposits – left behind by the sea as it shrinks – collapse or dissolve when fresh water seeps in underneath.
The three countries that share the Dead Sea are currently working on an ambitious plan to save it. In 2013, Israel, Jordan and Palestine signed an agreement to lay a water pipeline between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. The water would be desalinated for use as fresh water, and the wastewater would be sent to the Dead Sea through this pipeline. The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2021.
For more information on visiting the Dead Sea, check out the Jordan Tourism Board website.