Sandwiched between the turquoise waters of the southern Dead Sea and a dramatic tan bluff, Ein Bokek’s strip of luxury hotels is the region’s main tourist zone. Ein Bokek has the area’s nicest free beaches, and is the Dead Sea’s main center for treating ailments such as psoriasis, arthritis and respiratory conditions with naturally occurring minerals and compounds.
The three most commonly heard languages here are Hebrew, Arabic and Russian – the area is hugely popular both with Israelis (Jews and Arabs) and Russians (immigrants and tourists).
Unlike beaches further north, Ein Bokek fronts evaporation pools (kept full by Dead Sea Works pumps) rather than the open sea, which is why its lake shore is not receding. There are no left-luggage facilities at Ein Bokek.
A 3km-long pedestrian promenade and occasional buses (5.80NIS) link Ein Bokek’s two hotel zones, Ein Bokek (the main, northern one) and Neve Hamei Zohar.
Ein Bokek Beach
This broad, clean beach, in the middle of Ein Bokek’s main (northern) hotel zone, is gloriously sandy. It has lifeguards, shade shelters, beach showers, changing rooms and bathrooms (closed at night).
Camping is permitted – this is a much more comfortable option than Ein Gedi Beach. Wheelchair accessible.
As of 2014, the entirety of the Ein Bokek beachfront, including areas that once belonged to specific hotels, is open to the public, with access along a lovely, shaded promenade. Facilities such as beach chairs are still reserved for paying guests.
This is one of just three wadis on the Dead Sea’s western shore that are fed year-round by spring water (the other two are at Ein Gedi). The narrow gorges, lush vegetation and waterholes make for an easy and refreshing hour-long hike. Access is through a tunnel under Rte 90, between the David and Leonardo Inn Hotels – or you can park at the trail head.
Almost every Ein Bokek hotel boasts a spa with swimming pools, saunas, spa baths, a long menu of treatments and an army of predominantly Russian therapists. Most places charge non-guests 100NIS to 260NIS to use their facilities for the day, including beach chairs but not including special treatments. Some deals include lunch.
Warning swimming in the Dead Sea
Staying safe while bobbing and paddling requires a bit more caution than at the sea shore.
- Do not under any circumstances dunk your head! If water gets in your eyes, it will sting horribly and temporarily blind you. Do not thrash around – calmly get out of the water and ask someone to help you rinse your eyes under a tap or shower.
- A Swallowing just a few gulps of sea water – or inhaling it – is extremely dangerous and can even be fatal. Seek immediate medical attention (from lifeguards) if this happens.
- Drink lots of potable water – not only will the heat dry you out, but the water of the Dead Sea is so saturated with minerals that it will suck out your body’s fluids like a thousand leeches. Remember what happened in high school physics class when you learned about osmosis by putting a slice of potato in saltwater?
- The Dead Sea can be so relaxing that some people don’t notice when westerly winds gently blow them out towards the middle of the lake (towards Jordan). Broadsheet readers are in special danger – a newspaper makes an excellent sail!
- The waters of the Dead Sea contain 20 times as much bromine, 15 times more magnesium and 10 times as much iodine as the ocean. Bromine, a component of many sedatives, relaxes the nerves; magnesium counteracts skin allergies and clears the bronchial passages; and iodine has a beneficial effect on certain
glandular functions – or so it’s claimed.
- If this were not enough, the Dead Sea’s extremely dense air – the area has the world’s highest barometric pressure – has 10% more oxygen than sea-level air. Other healthful properties, especially for people with breathing problems, include high temperatures, low rainfall, low humidity and pollen-free air.
- The Dead Sea Medical Research Centre (www.deadsea-health.org), affiliated with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, conducts scientific analyses of the sea’s health benefits.
This is a day tour, but I visited Ein Bokek with my wife and I was forced to stay there 3 days. So, here are your options:
Unless you camp on the beach (free), there’s no budget or even mid-range accommodation in Ein Bokek’s two hotel zones. But if you’re up for a splurge there are loads of options – the area’s dozen hotels offer crisply air-conditioned facilities (a life-saver during the summer), gorgeous swimming pools, state-of-the-art spas and buffet bonanzas. Some offer direct beach access. All the hotels, except two of the four places branded as Leonardo (www.fattal.co.il) and Herod’s, are in Ein
Bokek’s lively northern zone.
Many hotels charge high-season prices from April to mid-June and from September to mid-November. Significant discounts are often available on the web, especially in the off-season.
About 1.5m south of Ein Bokek’s southern hotel zone, the charmless row houses of beachless Neve Zohar (Newe Zohar) shelter some of the Dead Sea’s cheapest B&Bs – we’re talking 350NIS to 500NIS per room. For phone numbers, see www.deadsea.co.il (click ‘Zimmers’ under ‘Accommodation’).
(972-08-668 8124; www.holitel.co.il; with half-pension from 690NIS)
One of Ein Bokek’s least expensive options, this modest, low-rise complex, built in 1979, was renovated in 2014. Has 160 rooms, direct beach access, a freshwater pool, a pool with Dead Sea water and a sauna.
(972-8-668-8222; www.hodhotel.co.il; incl half-pension US$280-340)
Right on the waterfront, this 213-room hotel is known for its high-quality service. The swimming pool overlooks the sea, while downstairs the glass-enclosed spa offers sulphur pools and saunas. Offers free use of bicycles and free international phone calls.
(972-8-659-1919; www.h-i.co.il; US$250-$450)
Highlights include a doughnut-shaped freshwater swimming pool, a kiddie pool, a pool with Dead Sea water, a luxurious spa and lots of activities for adults and kids. Some of the 304 spacious rooms can sleep two adults and two children. Has two floors just for couples.
Eating and Drinking
Most of Ein Bokek’s restaurants are inside hotels and cannot be described as inexpensive. Budget options in the northern zone include cafes that serve sandwiches and, in the Petra Shopping Centre, a McDonald’s (open daily from 11am to 9pm or 10pm). Both Sky Blue Mall and Petra Shopping Center have mini-markets with a small selection of proper food. Ein Bokek doesn’t have much nightlife.
(972-57-650-6502; mains 35-119NIS; noon-midnight daily)
Completely unconnected with anything Indian, this non-aircon restaurant – in a Bedouin tent outfitted with rugs, pillows and low couches – serves Middle Eastern grilled meats, nargilehs (water pipes; 35NIS) and East Jerusalem baklava (25NIS).
A belly dancer gyrates on Friday from 10pm. Situated on the grounds of the Leonardo Inn Hotel, at the end facing Isrotel Ganim.
The Sky Blue Mall (Kanyonit Ein HaT’chelet) in the northern zone is the best place in Israel to buy Dead Sea beauty products. Shops also sell beach supplies, including flip-flops.