People floating on their backs in the deep blue water, reading newspapers. That's the image of the Dead Sea we had in our minds, probably from some ancient brochure. We had to see for ourselves, of course.
We didn't quite know where to approach the Dead Sea. Our choice was limited to the southern end of the basin, since our car rental contract forbids us from going into Palestinian territory. The map showed only two localities—Ein Bokek and Ein Gedit. The latter looked interesting due to the adjacent natural reserve, but it was an extra 30km of driving on what was already quite a detour. We opted for Ein Bokek.
It's a weird place. Reminded me of Las Vegas—an unreal oasis of civilization built in the middle of nowhere. Someone thought it's a good idea to put a bunch of hotels on the shore of what isn't even Dead Sea proper but evaporation pans used by Israeli industry. I'm guessing the water here is even saltier than the northern parts. (To be fair, the area was inhabited back in the Roman times, but perhaps the climate back then was a bit more friendly.)
Getting here requires driving through the desert, starting around Arad and along a continuous, steep drop of almost a kilometer vertically, down to nearly 500m below sea level. Markers along the road inform of the current terrain level, appearing at every 100m of descent. It's an impressive landscape of nothing but hills of sand and rocks, with sparsely growing scrubs here and there, and the occasional herds of camels closer to Arad. Beautiful, and deadly, if one was to get stranded there.
It's scorching hot. Anywhere between 35 and 40C, rising the closer you get to the sea. Most of the beach-goers in Ein Bokek opted to stay our of direct sunglight, underneath large roof-like structures built for that purpose. Nights are quite cold, we were told, which isn't surprising in a desert, but we didn't stay long enough to check on our own.
The entrance to the beach sported a set of instructions, advising visitors to never dive in the water and by all means not to swallow it. If anyone does, they need to see a doctor immediately. How inviting.
Otherwise, Ein Bokek is a seaside resort like any other in the world. Surprisingly packed with people (where did all these people come from?) with nothing to do other than sit at the beach, stay in a hotel or roam the throngs of lousy shops and food stalls.
We didn't stay long. Dead Sea got checked off our list, we sat at the beach a bit, tried the water—yeah, it's fun to float in it, unless your skin happens to get irritated by it. Then we packed up and got on our way back to more a human-friendly environment.