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Life-enhancing waters and mud are the main attractions at Dead Sea resorts. Lying an astonishing 400 meters (1,312 feet) below sea level, the Dead Sea has a unique, healing environment, one that has been documented since biblical times. It attracts vacationers as well as persons seeking relief from rheumatism and skin problems, and taking a cure here today is a combination of age-old natural elements and high-tech therapy.

The drive from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea takes less than an hour and passes through 2,000 years of civilization. Arid desert suddenly gives way to a silver-colored sea as the road turns toward a flowering oasis at Ein Gedi, the massive fortress of Masada, and the Ein Bokek hotel area. Set against the bleached hills of the Judean Desert, the region is a vast nature reserve, where wildlife like the Nubian ibex can be spotted among ruins of ancient cultures.

Strung along the shore, the modest kibbutz and glamorous high-rise hotels all boast in-house spas. Standard facilities include two pools, one with Dead Sea water, the other with thermo-mineral sulfur water. Treatments range from mud wraps and massage to facials and hydrotherapy tubs Staffed by skilled professionals, some Dead Sea spas specialize in medical treatments for which the seaside microclimate, mineral-laden water, and muc have achieved recognition, although not universal acceptance. But for vacationers, there are state-of-the-art oases at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Golden Tulip Resort, Crowne Plaza, and other members of the Dead Sea Hotel Association.

Along with water sports, these destinations offer freshwater swimming pools and a variety of restaurants, from kosher to Oriental, steak house to Italian.

Exploring the region starts at Masada, a mountain-top fortress that King Herod transformed in 35 в.с. as his winter palace. Hikers brave the heat and dust to follow a serpentine Roman path to the summit, but a quick cable car ride allows you to enjoy panoramic views of the sea and desert. The ruins tell a story of heroism by Jews who defied the might of the Roman empire.

Plan a day trip, or stay a week; packages are offered at all the resorts. Hiking trails at Kibbutz Ein Gedi take you past bird sanctuaries, waterfalls, springs, caves, canyons, and an early Bronze Age temple. A thriving health resort where modest accommodations come with access to hot springs and mud treatments, this hillside kibbutz also operates a day spa on the shore road. Here you can purchase cosmetics and bath products made with Dead Sea minerals, water, and mud.

At the top-rated Hyatt Regency Dead Sea in bustling Ein Bokek, the Mineralia Spa rests on a hill commanding views of the Judean Mountains. Palm trees and lush gardens shelter the glass-walled Roman pool, providing a respite from the sun. There are six mud therapy rooms and seventeen private rooms for skin care, massage, and beauty treatments. Aerobics and group exercise are scheduled in a well-equipped fitness center where workouts come with a view of the water. A private medical clinic provides dermatology care and postsurgery recovery, plus natural health and complementary medicine programs.

Awesome as the Dead Sea looks, there is a calming effect in the pristine air. Sunlight’s harmful rays are filtered by this oxygen-heavy, salt-laden atmosphere. Floating effortlessly in the warm, mineral-rich saltwater is better than a water bed, and it gives your skin a tingling, healthy glow.