Its name may take on an ominous tone, but the Dead Sea is anything but dead. Deriving its title from its inability to sustain most forms of marine life, it is a place of tranquil beauty, and perhaps a bit of mystery. Travelers have utilized its gentle waters as a natural spa for thousands of years…and still do today.
While it doesn’t figure as prominently in the biblical narrative like the Sea of Galilee, it did play a significant role in protecting the Israelites from advancing armies, acting as a natural barrier. Scripture records that the Ammonites and Moabites were believed to have crossed a shallow part of the Dead Sea to attack King Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 20).
Sandwiched between Jordan to the east and Israel to the west, the Dead Sea lies in the Jordan Rift Valley. Not only does it possess the title of being one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, its shoreline is also the lowest point of dry land on earth. At 1,300-feet below sea level, the lake does not drain; however, what little it gains in volume from the Jordan River, it quickly loses through evaporation. Pure minerals are left behind in the salt, which is harvested and refined for sale around the world for use in a variety of products, from table salt to cosmetics.
The Dead Sea’s famous hypersaline waters are undisputedly one of the world’s top tourist destinations. It’s not uncommon to see vacationers floating on the shallow, crystalline pools or lathering mineral-rich mud on their skin.
Both the salt and the mud have been precious commodities since the time of King David, known to have therapeutic effects on the body. Found to contain more than 20 known minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, and zinc, the Dead Sea salt’s unique composition is believed to relieve symptoms of a variety of common skin conditions, such eczema and psoriasis, as well as arthritis and related ailments.
Visitors to this area can also stay in any number of resorts that pepper the landscape to take advantage of their full spa services and spend time exploring the area for a bit of adventure. A great place to start is Masada, a ruggedly majestic natural fortress in the Judean Desert built by Herod the Great. Now an Israeli national park, visitors can hike to the top of the mesa and take in the breathless beauty of the Dead Sea and its surroundings. The site of the final stand between Jewish patriots and their Roman oppressors, Masada stands as a lasting monument to the courage and heroism of the Jewish people.
A short distance from the Dead Sea, Qumran National Park offers history buffs the opportunity to explore the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Visitors can take in a short film about the scrolls and then hike the ruins and view the caves nested in the mountains of the Judean desert.
Another popular spot for adventure-goers is the Ein Gedi Reserve, an oasis in the middle of the Judean Desert. The trails which proceed from Nahal David (David’s Stream), lead to refreshing waterfalls, a wide variety of desert plants and wildlife, and sprawling landscapes.
The Dead Sea is a must-see experience for visitors to Israel. No matter where you choose to spend your time, a trip to the Dead Sea is a guaranteed delight!