Most first-time travellers to Israel have a long list of must-see sites that they think they must take in to feel that they have done the country justice. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, for example, usually figure prominently on people's lists and understandably so. Each of them has its own unique feel, flavour history and culture.
Another one of the must-see sites is the Dead Sea, which consistently remains one of Israel's top tourist destinations. It is definitely true that its proximity to Masada, the famous mountaintop fortress besieged by the Romans in 73CE, as well as the ancient site of Ein Gedi that draw visitors to it, but the Dead Sea - or Yam Ha'Melach as it is called in Hebrew - is a wonder in its own right.
The lowest point on the surface of the earth at -430.5m and with a water salinity of approximately 34 per cent, the Dead Sea has a truly mystical quality about it. Technically it's only a lake, as its single source of water flows from the Jordan River, but its salinity levels make the term 'sea' a more realistic one.
Due to the high salt content, a feature of its landlocked nature and extremely high levels of evaporation, the waters are known to have healing properties, and it has been used for these for more than 2,000 years, particularly for skin diseases and joint disorders; it was also said to be a favourite place of Cleopatra.
The density of that water enables people to float on the surface and one can simply lie back, read a book, a newspaper or enjoy the magnificent scenery - as red mountains rise up on either side. There is tranquility of being in the water, a peacefulness that encourages quiet contemplation. As well as the water's restorative properties, it is also possible to enjoy mud treatments, which are smoothed on the skin, allowed to dry and then washed off with salty water leaving a healthy-feeling glow.
There is much to delight and surprise at the Dead Sea, including the sight of endless rows of date palms. These have been a feature of this area for at least 2,000 years. The dryness of the air and the brackishness of the water ensures that these Medjoul dates burst with flavour and vitality.
Although a trip to the Dead Sea really is a must, visitors can enrich their time by also trying to get to know the local geography and how the surrounding area has played a role as a place of refuge and contemplation for millennia.
Whether one spends a couple of hours atop Masada or hiking along the charming desert oasis that is the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, you will be enchanted and begin to understand why this place has proved so alluring over the centuries, and continues to hold a magical quality that draws people back time and again.
Year-round, the weather in the area is either warm as it is in winter, or hot as it is every day of the summer. Winter temperatures rarely fall below 20 degrees Celsius, while summer highs are what one would expect in the desert. However, with low humidity, good air quality and the fact that you are so low down, it's possible to tan much more safely here, which also enhances this restorative experience.
- Source: Ministry of Tourism, Israel
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