Skip the Dead Sea & Go Here Instead!
While my friends Nick, Kate, and I sat at dinner on our final night of our Birthright trip, we decided to book a rental car for the next day to go down to the Dead Sea. The three of us had extended by a couple of days and the Dead Sea was on our must-see list, so off we went. The next morning I awoke early in my hostel and walked around the area near the hotel where they were staying. I grabbed a coffee and then another coffee at Aroma, and some food, as well as some snacks because I can’t go on a road trip without snacks. I popped into this adorable little vegetarian cafe called בתה וגריגה (I literally don’t know the English translation) and picked up a hummus sandwich too.
I had the best reception in the car, so we used my Google Maps to navigate a way around the West Bank down to the main tourist area of the Dead Sea. We were going to be potentially meeting up with two of our other friends, as well, who were driving down with our medic from Birthright, as well as one of her other IDF friends. I was excited! This was going to be awesome because I’d be going to the Dead Sea! It would definitely be warm down there, right? That’s what I’d been told despite the semi-chilly temperatures currently in the rest of Israel.
I’d told my friends that I was happy to pay to whatever the car cost as long as they drove because I was (am) a shitty driver. It’s not that I can’t drive – it’s just that I’d rather not have to pay that close attention to my travels while I’m getting somewhere. I’m perfectly happy to pay for a train ticket to get to a city and blissfully be deposited onto a platform somewhere remote, not having to worry about finding a parking spot or returning a car or whatever.
So, they drove and we made good time once my iPhone decided to give us a route that took us around the West Bank. Once we got about 30 minutes out from our destination, we started to see the landscape around us turn into an extreme desert. Believe it or not, so much of Israel is green, green, green. But this super mountainous/desertlike Israel is what we’d been expecting the entire time.
The view of the Dead Sea from a lookout just at the top of the mountains before you drive down.
The roads also got super windy and there were lots of ‘dangerous curve ahead!’ signs, too. Super assuring. Slowly we made our way down the sides of mountains until we got to a sign that said, “You are now at the lowest point on earth.” A few miles later, we were turning onto a road lined with hotels, resorts, and beaches. We had made it to the Dead Sea.
We parked, popped into the store, and then found our friends and plopped down our bags and towels.
But it was still quite chilly out. Despite my friend E’s promises that it’d be warmer once we got there. Damn you, E. Kate braved the waters and floated and I stood submerged up to my calves for about 2 minutes until I decided it was too cold and peaced out and back to my towel.
We sat on the beach for a bit and then our medic mentioned that it might be warmer up at the Dead Sea Hot Springs and it would also be less touristy because there are no resorts up there. It was, however, in the West Bank.
I asked if it was safe to go there because if it was, why the hell hadn’t we just driven through it in the first place? Our medic and her friend assured us that yes, it was totally safe. And my friend, the aforementioned E, upon receiving my text said, “If they are saying it’s safe, then it’s safe. The IDF isn’t in the business of getting tourists killed.”
I was still a bit nervous because I didn’t even have my passport with me and what if there was a border crossing stop, but Nick and Kate were game, so I was like ‘let’s go!’ We popped “Dead Sea Hot Springs” into my phone and off we went. It was about 30 minutes north of the Dead Sea and it was an easy drive – a lot less dangerous – as far as curvy roads go – than our way down. I watched on my map as we crossed over the border into the West Bank and…
Nothing. There was no border check or anything. Not even a sadly lonely IDF soldier to say hi to. There was absolutely nothing.
Cool. The drive was really beautiful though and we saw lots of Palm Tree Farms (yes, those are a thing.)
We kept driving and eventually found an area at the top of a rocky hill off the side of the road where cars were parked and we stopped. We parked the car (or rather they did), got our stuff out, and looked over the barrier at the hill we had to descend to get to the hot springs where there were a smattering of people sitting in the hot springs that were sprinkled along the coast. The walk down the rock-covered hill was unnerving, despite the fact that I wearing freaking sneakers. But with the help of Nick, I made it down and we went over to a small hole in the ground that had no one else around it and plopped our stuff down again.
Our very own natural hot spring.
This was the antithesis of the Dead Sea tourist resort that we’d just been at. There was not a single amenity to be found. If you needed to pee, you went in one of the large tunnels we passed on our way down or you went in one of the springs. Hungry? Sorry, bro.
But this hot spring, although not hot, was much warmer than the part of the Dead Sea we’d visited first. Kate and I got in and put some mud on our arms and chilled out. Eventually Nick joined in too. While we floated, other people showed up and luckily did not take our unguarded stuff. We spent maybe 30 or 45 minutes there before deciding we’d probably smell badly enough on the way home and the we should start heading back. We did our best to towel the crusting salt off our bodies, redress, and then we had to get back up that damn hill. Luckily, it was way easier on the way up. (Weird?) We carefully back out of the mess of cars that surrounded ours and with the help of Google Maps, headed back to Tel Aviv.
Look, we float!
We unfortunately got stuck in Tel Aviv rush hour traffic on our way back (their traffic is by far the worst), so it took a while, but we made it. We showered at our respectful hotel rooms and then met up for dinner.
The day was awesome and I definitely recommend it to anyone who has some free time in Tel Aviv, but hopefully it’ll be warmer while you’re there and I’d highly recommend that you go to the Dead Sea Hot Springs instead of the Dead Sea tourist area. You can thank me later.