Home / Community / Lifestyle featuresRSS Feed
Dead Sea and Red Sea are great getaways in Israel
August 31st, 2012
Israel has shores on four seas. Two of these seas, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, offer attractive getaways with consistently warm weather as well as many special activities and attractions in exotic locales.
In fact, just visiting these two historic and biblical seas are special trips in themselves.
Small salt islands poke out of the waters of the Dead Sea. Photo courtesy of Jill Daly, Israel Ministry of Tourism-Midwest Region.
You may not actually feel heady when you descend to the body of water that’s the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea, but your lungs will be filling up with an oxygen content that’s ten percent higher than at sea level, and the bromine mist over the area will have a soothing affect on your nervous system.
That’s why people have been flocking to this area for curative purposes for centuries, and why the mud from its shores are being used by spas all over the world for treatments.
There are no lifeguards on the Dead Sea beaches because no one can drown here. Even the heaviest person will easily float, and many people have their pictures taken floating on its waters while reading newspapers.
Sharks and other predatory sea creatures aren’t a problem here either, as the Dead Sea is aptly named. Because of its extremely heavy salt content, it’s completely devoid of life.
If your skin is very sensitive you may feel a sharp burning sensation on it. Test its waters carefully before fully immersing yourself. Even to someone who doesn’t have a sensitive skin the feeling may be a little uncomfortable at first, but the rewards are well worth the minor discomfort.
You can lather your entire body with Dead Sea mud, (barrels of free mud are on the beach) which rejuvenates your skin, making it feel very soft. People seem to clown around once they’re covered from head to toes with the mud, posing for pictures of them taken by friends or family.
You can go to the Dead Sea area for a day trip — it’s about an hour from Jerusalem — or you can stay in one of the several luxury spa hotels that have sprung up in the area.
Most of these luxury spa hotels have indoor pools filled with Dead Sea water so that guests don’t even have to leave the hotel to experience the waters. They also have full service spa facilities where, along with massages and other treatments, full-body Dead Sea mud wraps are available.
One of the largest and most luxurious of these hotels has an enormous lobby with a marble floor. Its dining room even has a small stream running through it with a walking bridge over it.
Both hotels and stores in the area sell products made from Dead Sea minerals and mud, including shampoo, soap, and body lotion. One of the major manufacturers of these products, Ahava, exports them all over the world.
The climate around the Dead Sea is arid, but near the hotels palm trees proliferate Nights are pleasant and cool. The area around the hotels is almost an oasis in the surrounding desert, and you can get a gloriously sharp view of the stars.
Near the Dead Sea are interesting spots to visit. At the startlingly green and lush oasis of Ein Gedi, you can swim under natural waterfalls.
At Masada, the historic plateau on a desert hill, you can view the archeological remains of buildings where 960 Jews withstood the siege of the Roman army for a full year. The outlines of the Roman camp can still be seen at the bottom of the hill.
A couple of levels below the summit are the remains of King Herod’s luxury villa with its intricate mosaics. You can climb an ancient winding footpath to the very top or take the cable car.
Also not to be missed in the Dead Sea area is an excursion to a Bedouin encampment, where you can sample the delicious traditional Bedouin tea or coffee, and enjoy a Bedouin meal, communal platter and all.
You can really experience Bedouin hospitality by staying overnight in a Bedouin tent, where you can “rough it” on mattresses and sleeping bags on the desert floor. The bathroom and shower facilities aren’t quite as traditional, as they are as modern as at any hotel.
Bathtub warm and delightful to laze in, the Red Sea is known among diving aficionados as having some of the best coral reefs in the world and clear waters which offers fantastic visibility. Because of these attributes the Red Sea has become a very popular diving/snorkeling spot.
An underwater observatory on the coral reef at Eilat on the Red Sea. Photo courtesy of Jill Daly, Israel Ministry of Tourism-Midwest Region.
The area has been important in biblical history. The ancient port of Eilat on the Red Sea existed at least as long ago as the time of King Solomon. Today, Eilat is a swinging modern town and it’s hard to imagine what it was like in biblical times.
Eilat is at the southern tip of Israel. Geographically distanced from the rest of the country, it has own distinctive character. It’s almost like a separate country.
Eilat is a peaceful oasis with the consistently warmest weather in Israel, with winter daytime temperatures of high sixties to seventies, and nighttimes in the fifties.
Though it borders on two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, and Saudi Arabia can be glimpsed across the sea, it’s very tranquil, and the only problems you may have are taking care you don’t stay too long under Eilat’s powerful sun without protection, and deciding where to eat for lunch.
The views from anywhere in Eilat are magnificent. In the daytime, purple-hued hills ring the sea. In the nighttime, lights twinkle from a multitude of levels in Eilat and in Aqaba, the Jordanian city across the sea.
Most hotel rooms have balconies, and it’s a wonderfully peaceful feeling to sit on your balcony and drink in the marvelous scenes before you, at any time of the day.
The Red Sea’s underwater coral and colorful sea life can be experienced in a variety of ways. For the adventurous, scuba and snorkeling gear can be rented at a number of places.
For those who want to view the Red Sea’s charms, but don’t want to get wet, visit the underwater observatory, fifteen feet under the sea with a 360-degree view of the surrounding sea area; or take a ride on a glass-bottom boat; or become a passenger in the tourist submarine that takes you 90 feet underwater where you will get the same feel for being beneath the surface as a deep sea diver.
If you’re adventurous and want to do something different try SNUBA, an inventive combination of scuba and snorkeling where the tanks stay on the boat, as opposed to being on the divers back.
Because of the Red Sea’s extremely warm waters, other water sports abound as well, including jet boats, windsurfing, and para sailing.
Residents and visitors alike take advantage of Eilat’s mild temperatures. Outdoor cafes proliferate, and since the general population is young, dance clubs and outdoor beach bars proliferate as well.
In South Beach, in a more isolated part of the Red Sea, at Dolphin Reef, you can try your hand at swimming with dolphins, or just watch them frolicking in the water. It’s sometimes hit or miss if you can persuade one of the dolphins to swim with you, or to come close. Piers jutting out into the sea offer more accessibility to these bright human like mammals.
On South Beach there's also a Biblical Theme Park set in a palace theme with several levels, and an observatory that offers shows.
You can spend a tranquil day here as there’s a beach and shady areas, as well as a spa with relaxing pools.
Eilat has several luxurious spas near the sea, where you can even have your treatments outdoors under the sun. In fact, most of the spa facilities are located outdoors, a sign of how seldom inclement weather mars the near-perfect climate.
From Eilat, you can take an organized tour into the desert and to various sites like King Solomon’s Mines, or the Timna Nature Reserve.
Hotels in both areas offer huge Israeli, often 30-course, breakfasts as part of the hotel rates.
You can stroll about and visit not only the various shops, but also the several stalls that sell goods cheaper than elsewhere. Eilat is also a duty free city and tourists don't have to pay Value Added Taxes, which can be steep.
Eilat can be reached by land or via Israel’s inland airline, Arkia, flying into Israel’s second-largest airport, Ovda. Ovda can also be reached by direct flight from many countries in Europe. The Dead Sea area can be reached by car, tours, and public buses from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
You can also combine a trip to the Dead Sea along with one to the Red Sea. You can take buses from the Dead Sea to Eilat, or make the two part of a driving trip. As a matter of fact, the Jerusalem-Eilat bus line travels via the Dead Sea area.
Arlene Becker Zarmi is a freelance writer whose work has been published in more than 40 publications nationwide. She was also the producer and host of a travel TV show for Viacom, and is a Jewish genre and portrait artist. She lives with her husband, Rabbi Avi Zarmi, in Shorewood.