Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Dead Sea in Winter

When one thinks of visiting the Dead Sea, visions of floating on the salty waters and covering oneself in mud come to mind. Located at the lowest place on earth, and bordered by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, the Dead Sea is a unique destination, with dramatic vistas and memorable tourist attractions.

But what is it like to visit the Dead Sea in winter, when storm clouds fill the sky with new shades of color, in sharp contrast with the salty green and white of the sea and the brown sands of the shore?

Last month, I visited the Dead Sea on a company trip the day before I was trapped at home without power during Jerusalem's snowstorm of the century. While the focus of the trip was encouraging interaction among the employees, I went outside our resort hotel and walked down to the shore, taking pictures of the empty beaches and the clouds covering the mountains of Jordan across the sea.

The Dead Sea is an endangered wonder. The sea has been rapidly shrinking in size and its level has been dropping due to diversion of Jordan River waters and the mineral extraction evaporation pools in the south. Just last month, the sea was in the news with the announcement of a World Bank-sponsored deal between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

The palm trees seem downtrodden in the winter weather

The plan calls for the building of a desalination plant at the Jordanian Red Sea port city of Aqaba. In addition to providing fresh water, the plan would see the building of a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea further north. Environmentalists warn that mixing briny sea water with the unusual composition of Dead Sea waters could lead to unforeseen consequences.

Deserted beach

The Dead Sea is a major tourist destination, for both Israel and Jordan. Visitors bathe in thermal pools fed by natural hot springs. People suffering from arthritis, acne, psoriasis, and other ailments find their symptoms relieved by bathing in the mineral-rich waters. Dead Sea skin products, with purported anti-aging properties, are sold all over the world.

My company stayed at an Isrotel resort hotel at the Ein Bokek resort area. The large hotels in Ein Bokek have a full suite of luxury facilities, including restaurants, swimming pools, night clubs, spas, and fancy accommodations. Some visitors camp out on the Dead Sea beaches, but not in the winter months. Further up the coast, the beach at Ein Gedi is desolate, due in part to the many sinkholes forming there, making it dangerous to walk around.

There are many Masada-like mountains along the shores of the Dead Sea

Anyone who visits the Dead Sea should also visit the nature reserve at Ein Gedi and Masada. In the winter months, the highway along the Dead Sea is frequently closed due to flash floods. The amount of water that flows from the desert is not nearly enough to replenish the evaporating, shrinking Dead Sea. In many places, the shoreline has retreated hundreds of meters. At some of the resorts, one must transported quite some distance to reach the water.

Despite the dark clouds overshadowing the Dead Sea on my visit last month, no rain fell and the roads remained open. Luckily I was able to make it home before the Jerusalem highway closed due to the snow. Memories of my winter visit to the Dead Sea quickly gave way to the practicalities of living without power for four days during the unexpected snowstorm.

Sunshine on a cloudy day

Related articles:

Will  Nudity Save the Dead Sea?

On the Road to Ein Gedi

Masada, the Legend and the Truth


  1. Beautiful pictures. Thank you Ellis!

  2. I knew it was bad but wasn't aware of the severity of the problem. The photos are stunning.

  3. Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing.
    A lot of my relatives lost power for a week last December, because of snowstorms. It was a really crazy winter, and it's weird to think of you having the same storms half a world away.

  4. I was blessed to visit this area in 1990 and have been longing to return. Thank you for sharing these photos and insights.

  5. Try not to shave anything for a day or so before dipping in the dead sea The water is very salty and you WILL feel the burn! The same goes for skin scrapes and cuts. While salt water can actually speed up healing, the burning sensation is not a treat.