The major reason for a visit is that the lake’s high salinity makes the water so buoyant that it’s literally impossible to sink; Olympic swimmers and hopeless paddlers alike become bobbing corks. As you walk in (bring flip-flops: beaches tend to be gravelly), you’ll feel your feet being forced up from under you – you couldn’t touch the bottom if you tried, and if you lie back you’ll find the water supports you like a cradle. You ride too high in the water to swim: should you attempt a few strokes you’ll probably just splash ineffectually – and may also get water in your eyes, which is a very unpleasant experience. The salty water will also make you very aware of every cut and blemish: avoid shaving for 24 hours before a dip. Nonetheless, the sensation of floating unaided and silent on a flat, hot sea surrounded by hazy mountains is worth the discomfort.
Other diversions include covering yourself in the hot, sulphurous black mud that collects in pools on the beach; letting it dry in the sun before washing it off will leave you with tingling muscles and baby-soft skin.
Scorching heat (well over 40°C in summer) and exceptionally low humidity make dehydration a danger: while you’re out in the open you should be drinking twice or three times as much water as normal to compensate.
The Dead Sea is a popular spot for a weekend outing: roads, hotels and facilities can get crowded on Fridays and holidays. Bikinis and regular swimwear are fine at the private (paid) beaches, but elsewhere a T-shirt and long shorts are a minimum. One thing to bear in mind, if you’re planning a dip but want to avoid the big hotels, is that you should make sure you have access to a freshwater shower: Dead Sea brine is thick and oily, and leaves an uncomfortable layer of salt on your skin that you’ll want to wash off before dressing. Lastly, expect flies – lots of them.