The Dead Sea lies at the lowest point of dry land on earth, more than 1,300 feet below sea level. Completely landlocked, it is actually a saltwater lake.Tourists are drawn from all over the world to bathe in this unique body of water, which is bordered by Israel on the west and Jordan on the east.

"Swimming" in the Dead Sea

In actuality, it is nearly impossible to swim in the Dead Sea. Because of the high salt content of the water, people who bathe in the Dead Sea can actually float on the surface of the water. Several photos taken from the Dead Sea show bathers casually reading newspapers or books while relaxing on the water with no visible means of support.

The unique salt and chemical content of the waters of the Dead Sea make it toxic upon contact to fish and nearly all marine life. The only living beings that reside in the dead sea are bacteria and an especially hardy species of algae. Contact with the water of the Dead Sea is not toxic to human skin, however, the water may cause stinging in open cuts or wounds, according to Frommer's.

Therapeutic Properties

The high salt and rich mineral content of the Dead Sea waters is what makes it possible for bathers to float on its surface without effort. This unique chemical composition also gives the waters of the Dead Sea special therapeutic value to bathers. According to the Department for Jewish Zionist Education, Cleopatra and Herod the Great visited the Dead Sea for its curative powers. Mud from the Dead Sea has been beneficial in treating psoriasis and rheumatic disorders. Among the minerals found in the waters and mud of the Dead Sea are bromide, magnesium and potash as well as mineral salt.

Visiting the Dead Sea

Spring and fall are ideal times to visit Israel and its beaches, including the Dead Sea, as the weather hovers between 60 to 80 degrees during this time. Israel also enforces strict standards for its beaches. However, travelers to the Israel side of the Dead Sea should plan their trips around Passover in the spring and the High Holy Days in the fall, when accommodations are scarce and at peak rates.

Further complicating the issue, the Dead Sea is located in one of the most politically contested regions of the world. Much of its shoreline is contained within the West Bank area, claimed by Israel since the 1967 War. Travelers who plan to visit other countries in the region must plan their itinerary carefully. Border patrol officers in Israel scrutinize the passports of Muslim or Arab visitors, as well as those of other travelers whose passports show extensive travel to Muslim or Arab countries. A stamp from Israel on a passport will often result in denial of entry into many other countries in the region, although Jordan does allow entry by travelers who have visited Israel. However, Jordan does not issue entry visas at the Israel/Jordan border crossing at King Hussein Bridge, although they are available at other border crossings, according to Lonely Planet.