The Dead Sea is a place that everyone’s heard of, but primarily as a place just to float in the salty water. However, just like in Jordan, the Israeli side of the Dead Sea has a lot more to offer.
At a glance, the Dead Sea is the kind of place we generally try and avoid: sun-loungers by the hundred, loads of tourist resorts and crowds. However, it’s a special place and you can definitely avoid the crowds if you want to, we’ve visited several times and always loved it.
The Dead Sea in Israel as well as giving you that quintessential floating experience is the launching point for Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and Masada Fortress, two places that should be on every Israel itinerary.
Where to go for the Dead Sea in Israel
The border between the Palestinian Territories and Israel has meant that the Dead Sea in Israel is a lot further south than in Jordan. It is quite a sight from Google Earth where you can see a small channel from the Dead Sea in the north that fills this southern section.
The main areas to base yourself in are Ein Bokek, Ein Gedi or Neve Zohar. Ein Bokek has more infrastructure (essentially a restaurant, coffee shop, McDonalds and a mall), better hotels and more options all round. Whilst Ein Gedi is an incredible place, it isn’t great for accommodation and food. Both towns are about 30 minutes apart, so you won’t be stranded no matter which you choose.
The lowest cost option is definitely Neve Zohar but after staying there we wouldn’t recommend it. The accommodation is only a little less than nearby Ein Bokek and you get a whole lot less for your money. The Dead Sea is a place we’d say treat yourself and stay somewhere a bit nicer. We stayed in all three areas and will give you the full low down later in this post.
Best things to do in The Dead Sea - Ein Bokek
If you’re staying at one of the four or five star hotels you will almost certainly have a private beach and these will be a lot quieter than the public beach. However unlike in Jordan the public beach is free and has great facilities so you really can’t complain!
Float at Ein Bokek
You can’t visit the Dead Sea and not do the obvious! Floating is the reason people have come here for decades and it is still a very surreal experience (even on our second visit!).
The great thing about the Israeli side is that it is perfectly suited for taking a dip. Unlike the Jordanian side, it has walkways and rails to help anyone wanting to go in without the fear of cutting up your feet on the salt crust under the surface.
We recommend Ein Bokek as this section is not only really accessible, but it is also very beautiful. The water here is a stunning blue that looks almost unreal. The views here are spectacular and there are plenty of spots to relax at after taking a dip. There are also lots of amazing salt formations which make for some lovely pictures.
At the time we visited, the Ein Gedi public beach was closed due to sinkholes.
Lather up with Dead Sea Minerals
It’s widely known that the minerals in Dead Sea mud have lots of great properties for your skin and where better to try them out than at their source? We stayed at the Crowne Plaza in Ein Bokek and they didn’t offer free mud but sold it in small packets. We heard all the hotels are the same, though we can’t know for sure.
You can get free mud at Ein Gedi but currently due to the sink holes issues this could be trickier but check with your hotel.
Once you have the mud, lather it on, let it bake in the sun for 15 minutes and then wash it off in the sea. Our skin felt silky soft afterwards!
Read next: Driving in Israel - should you hire a car?
Find the Dead Sea Tree
The Dead Sea Tree is an Israeli icon and an instargam sensation, even though it is just a solitary tree which lives on a little salt island in the middle of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea gets its name because it is so inhospitable to life - the level of salt kills everything that even tries. So seeing this tree in the middle of it was something we knew we had to check out.
There wasn’t much information on where it was, we just knew it was in Israel. Challenge accepted.
After having a look around on Google Maps we found this stunning little island was out in front of the public beach and looked pretty close by. What we found was that it is deceptively far and not so easy to swim to in the salty sea (which can feel like wading through treacle).
If you fancy checking this place out, read our blog all about the Dead Sea Tree and how to find it.
Best things to do in The Dead Sea - Ein Gedi & Masada
Ein Gedi and Masada are the wilder side of the Dead Sea. Ein Gedi is home to a stunning oasis that is split into two wadis (canyons) - Arugot & David. This place is full of adventure and easily one of our favourite experiences in Israel.
Masada is the home to the famous clifftop fortress, that offers some of the best views in Israel. Both places shouldn’t be missed. If you want to read a comprehensive guide to this area, check out our article all about Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.
Wadi Arugot is arguably our favourite experience in Israel and is definitely our top spot in the Dead Sea. This stunning canyon has waterfalls, incredible natural swimming holes and views that are out of this world. It is truly breathtaking and one of the best hikes in Israel.
You have a choice of two main trails to reach our favourite swimming spot - on top of the cliff or through the river. Adventure lovers should head straight for the river and start hiking! It’s a very easy walk, the water is not very deep and there is no strong current like at Wadi Mujib in Jordan so unless there has been any flash flooding it will be a fabulous walk for kids too.
The hike will take you to a couple of pretty waterfalls, but the highlight is the upper pools, a place the majority of people overlook as it seems like it is a long hike beyond the end of the first trail at Hidden Falls. It isn’t, for an extra 20 minutes hiking, you’ll find paradise. Time it right and you might even have these paradise emerald pools to yourself!
We could have stayed here all day, it was that beautiful.
The Ein Gedi Spring
On the other side of Ein Gedi is Wadi David, a beautiful spot but unfortunately it does get very crowded. The reason it is so popular is that Wadi David has several waterfalls that require next to no hiking. However the spaces around the falls are small and when the buses arrive you’ll find queues and barely an inch of space. You must go early to even have a chance at peace in this area.
For a slightly quieter but equally lovely spot, head uphill to the famous Ein Gedi Spring. On the top of the hill you’ll find beautiful views of the Dead Sea, but surprisingly a patch of greenery appears among the incredibly dry and arid landscape. Almost out of nowhere there is a small crystal clear spring, we sat for ages on our visit just listening to the bird song and the trickling water, a memorable experience.
The track up to the spring is narrow, steep and a little slippery, so take care when coming down, handrails are in place for the trickier bits. The biggest problem we found was that the school groups can create bottlenecks, making for long waits on the exposed track. We hiked up completely alone but got caught by crowds on the way down so arrive at opening time for a tranquil visit.
For an unforgettable experience, don’t just head to Masada in the middle of the day, but hike the Snake Path for sunrise. This steep and winding hiking trail is one you do for the reward at the end (after all, it’s pretty dark in the early morning).
Once you’ve hiked to the top you’ll have the best view in the area for sunrise as you can see it rise from behind the mountains in neighbouring Jordan.
On this hilltop fort, the scene is still and serene. You can take in the scale of the Dead Sea and vast desert. You will also be blown away by the fort itself, built in 30 BC. It is a real feat of engineering and we still can’t understand how they built it, let alone how the Romans later captured it!
If you prefer not to hike then you can take the cable car to the top but it doesn’t run in time for sunrise.
If you haven’t had enough adventure yet, head an hour south to Wadi Baraq. It is highly unlikely you’ll see many, if any, people here, we had this whole canyon all to ourselves!
Tucked deep into the desert, Wadi Baraq is the kind of place that you wouldn’t expect to find. After seeing nothing but the most arid of landscapes, you’ll soon see a deep canyon with a series of waterholes. After rain these fill with water, making for an even more epic adventure (do not enter here when it is raining or even threatening to rain as flash floods can be deadly).
The trail isn’t very long, but it is pretty steep and requires some scrambling. After parking your car, you’ll hike for 10-20 minutes before the trail shoots uphill immediately. It isn’t long before the track drops downwards and into the canyon. From here you’ll work your way down multiple waterholes before heading back to where you started.
There are steps, ladders and even ropes to help you along, it is one of the harder canyons in Israel that we hiked so take a look at our video before you venture there if you aren’t sure if it is your kind of thing.
Things to know about the Dead Sea before you arrive
There are a few things to take into consideration before visiting the Dead Sea that may help to improve your trip overall.
We visited during Shabbat and found that a lot of places in the Dead Sea were strict in observing this weekly event. Whilst it was inconvenient (millennial coffee addicts like me struggle without my daily cappuccino), it isn’t the end of the world. The main thing that changes is the type of food served and the variety is limited. Even the Crowne Plaza only serves salad for lunch and dinner at this time.
Most places prepare food the day before, so you’ll see a lot of cold food as cooking is “work”. If this sounds like something you want to avoid, then make sure you visit between Sunday and Thursday.
Not many food options
The Dead Sea is pretty limited on food options, especially for breakfast. The only option outside of the hotels is an Aroma coffee shop (which has very average food), a McDonalds and the Taj Mahal restaurant (which is good for dinner).
You may want to consider booking a room with breakfast included or bring your own. There aren’t many dinner options either and they are all pretty pricey.
You will have to pay for parking unless you find our free car park!
Parking outside your own hotel in Ein Bokek is pretty tricky with parking meters everywhere. This is why staying in Ein Bokek can make things a bit easier than commuting in.
However, there is the usual patch of dirt which is free! Simply head towards the Taj Mahal restaurant and park alongside everyone else. This place is free and has no limit on how long you can leave your car there for. You can find the location below.
Where to stay in The Dead Sea
The key thing when booking any hotel in the Dead Sea is to ensure that you are booking the correct country! Tripadvisor especially loves to recommend options in Jordan when you search Ein Bokek, so make sure you don’t accidentally book the wrong Crowne Plaza Dead Sea, otherwise you’ll find yourself having to make a trip to another country.
Ein Bokek - This is where the majority of hotels with private beaches are based and is also beside the public beach. Although extremely limited it also has the most dining options.
Ein Gedi - Around 30 minutes away from Ein Bokek you’ll find Ein Gedi. Currently due to sinkholes in the area you can’t visit the Dead Sea from here but it is worth looking at if you don’t want to stay in a resort area. The nature reserve here is wonderful. There are a couple of dining choices at the hotel or Kibbutz but no other options. Food was generally poor.
Neve Zohar - This is a small village around five minutes drive from Ein Bokek. Good if you don’t mind not having access to a private beach. There are no dining options whatsoever but you can drive over to Ein Bokek. Accommodation is extremely rustic and to be honest we considered it to be up there with the worst value accommodation we had in Israel. For this reason we wouldn’t recommend it unless you really want to save a few shekels.
We stayed in all three areas and only liked our accommodation in Ein Bokek - and not just because it was 5 star, over the last two years we have mainly stayed in small guesthouses around the world but we just can’t recommend the choices in Ein Gedi or Neve Zohar.
The Crowne Plaza
Head and shoulders above the rest, the Crowne Plaza is the place to go when visiting the Dead Sea. The rooms here are plush, comfortable and come with stunning views of the sea itself. There is a beach literally in front of the hotel, so you won’t have to walk far to float. Ask for a renovated room.
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Are you planning a trip to the Dead Sea? What are your favourite things to do in Israel? Let us know in the comments below!