Oddities of The Odyssey: Finding The Dead Sea Tree

I don’t know if the name gives it away, but The Dead Sea typically isn’t known for its abundance of life. I think that might be why it’s extra surprising to see a tree sprouting out of the ocean that is supposedly devoid of any living organisms.

To this day, our Instagram photos at the Dead Sea Tree have been some of the most engaged content; it has the most saves out of any photo of my profile, and I’m guessing it isn’t because I’ve included a photo of my pasty, shirtless body. I’ve had numerous people reach out over the years asking to explain how we got there, and I always responded the same way: “I’m going to write a blog about it, just wait!”

When we came across the Dead Sea tree during our stay in Israel in 2019, there were one or two articles about the tree, but no mentions online explaining how to get there. Three years on, there are probably tons of guides showing you the way, but I’d nevertheless like to share our experience in the hopes that you’ll be inspired to visit it yourself!

Now this is going to sounds ridiculous, but when travelling for an extended periods of times, you start to find even the most interesting places a little benign. When you see amazing sites every day, they begin to blend into one: this decadent church in Malta may as well be the same decadent church in Paris, this amazing hike in Norway bleeds into another amazing hike in Greece. It’s a tough thing to come to terms with, but when you’re on the road for 9 months, it’s hard to become excited about ticking another thing off the ol’ bucket list.

Had we taken a trip to Israel and Israel alone, seeing the Dead Sea would be a dream come true. However, after spending the last 4 months exploring beaches across Asia and the Mediterranean, driving hours into the desert to visit a beach you couldn’t really swim in for longer than 10 minutes seemed less than thrilling.

When the ‘tourist trap fatigue’ (as I like to call it) sat in after the first few months, Jemma and I came up with a fun little challenge to keep things exciting. Each spot we went to, we would do a bit of research to find ‘off the beaten track’ spots to visit and photograph. Sometimes we’d find a hidden rooftop with fantastic views of the city, sometimes we’d find an abandoned building in the countryside, and in Israel, we discovered the Dead Sea Tree.

After coming across the phenomena on Instagram, we instantly became hooked with finding this mysterious timber growing from a mound of salt in the middle of the ocean. We knew the spot was somewhere in Ein Bokek, a stretch of beach comprised of hotels and resorts off the Dead Sea. We had tried to book accommodation nearby, but on such short notice, only the highest of high end hotels were available (read: well out of our price range!). The closest we could stay was a cute little AirBNB in Meitar, about a one hours drive from the Dead Sea for $60 a night.

STORY TIME: Before I continue, I want to just add that I cannot speak more highly of this little space. The couple had converted their downstairs ‘artist studio’ (a spot where the retired husband would spend his days whittling away at a sculpture, or painting abstract artwork) into a granny flat. It was incredible cosy, and the couple were especially wonderful. During our little stopover, the Gaza Strip launched a missile attack at Israel during our stay (it was a huge story, all over Facebook back home), and when we went upstairs in the morning, the couple shrugged it off. “You go to bed one night, with your milk and story books, and you wake up the next morning with a missile pointed at your head! Isn’t life so funny!”, the man would say. I miss the couple; I reached out to them during lockdown and can happily report that they are still hosting on AirBNB!

So, Just Where The Heck Is The Dead Sea Tree?

The island and the tree can be pretty tough to find. Even after three years, there’s still no location on Google Maps. The best spot we found was to search for the potentially inappropriately named “Segregated Beach” on Google Maps. Once you’re there, look to the right of the jetty, and in the distance, you’ll find the spot! (PS: Don’t make the mistake I did and try to shave a few minutes off the swim time by diving into the water from the jetty. You’ll risk a few scratches from the rocks and end up rubbing salt on the wound… literally.)

Now, the tree might not feel like it’s that far away, but once you’re in the water, it will feel like a lifetime to reach. Most online sources will only recommend spending about 10 minutes in the Dead Sea, and you’ll quickly discover why: prolonged immersion in the water will cause dehydration, will make your skin incredibly soft, and your body will start to sting in places you didn’t know it could (read between the lines on this one guys, I’m not going to spell it out). Unfortunately, as it took about 25 minutes for us to reach the island, the next few days were not a comfortable experience.

Look at me trying not to cry as every orifice on my body is screaming in pain.

Due to the density of the water, it’s hard to swim too fast. You want to avoid dipping your face in the water (if the rest of your body starts to sting, imagine what your eyes will feel like if you get that salt water in there), so we tried to swim on our back most of the time. We saw one guy bring a floaty ring, and I’m starting to think he may be a genius. We saw a few people begin the trek, and give up half way, so (to quote my soccer coach) “YOU’VE GOT TO WANT IT!”

Once you reach the island, you probably have to compete with a few other people to get the perfect snapshot, if that’s what you’re into, whilst avoiding walking around on the razor sharp salt island. I’d personally recommend bringing a pair of flip flops to protect your feet, because if you cut any part of your body, you do NOT want to jump back into that water. There were only two other couples with us on the island during our trip out there: we tried to do the trip closer to sunset, so we could watch the glow over the Dead Sea, so maybe that helped us get a little privacy.

All in all, the trip out to the island was worth a few days of discomfort (although I will point out that it will take your hair days to recover if you’re not careful.) We made sure to bring a water proof bag to store our cameras and phones, but it was a bit of a nerve wracking experience. Even when we got out of the water onto the salt island, everything our hands touched was immediately coated with a layer of salt. We had to bring a few spare towels to dry out hands in order to use the camera, and I wasn’t game enough to fly my drone (but that’s more of a reflection of my piss poor piloting skills than it was of the conditions.)

“Quick Jem, pretend you read something funny on your phone!”

From Be’er Sheva, one of Israel’s major cities, Ein Bokek is actually one of the closest spots on the lake to reach, so if you only intend on dropping into the Dead Sea for the day like we did, you’ll probably be in the right area to spot the tree anyway. Supposedly, Ein Bokek is also the closest thing to a real beach that you can access the Dead Sea from, as it has sandy shores that make it very accessible (most other spots are covered in sharp, salty crystals.)

So chuck some towels in the rental car and make sure you slip, slop, slap! (slip on some reef shoes, slop on some moisturiser, and slap yourself in the face to distract from the inevitable stinging butthole… there you go, I said it. The Dead Sea is literally a pain in the ass.)

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