Israel's four seas (the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee, The Dead Sea, and the Red Sea) offer an amazing variety of swimming experiences. The beaches of Israel look beautiful, but be careful about going in the water. Unusually strong riptides, whirlpools, and undertows along the Mediterranean coast can claim the strongest swimmer. Never swim in unguarded areas. Along much of the coast, especially north of Tel Aviv, the beaches seem sandy, but a few steps into the surf, and you're standing on a rocky shelf -- not a good place to be when waves come crashing down. Pollution is also a serious problem, as it is throughout the Mediterranean. Israel's beach standards are much higher than those of most Mediterranean countries, but on many days, garbage from other countries swirls along the coast. At Nahariya, Akko, and the Poleg Nature Reserve (8km/5 miles south of Netanya), which have no sewage-treatment plants, I would hesitate to put a toe, no less my head, in the water. Expect beaches to be lively; Israelis play compulsive paddleball on any stretch of beach they're on, regardless of sleeping sunbathers in the line of fire. And watch out for sea urchins and stinging coral in the Red Sea and the burning medusas (jellyfish) that attack the Mediterranean beaches in July.
- Gordon Beach (Tel Aviv): Perhaps the most accessible place to sample the Mediterranean, this free municipal beach has showers and a friendly mix of Israelis, new Russian immigrants, and tourists from luxury hotels. There are nearby places to take a break for a snack or meal, the sand is passably clean, and when the tide is clear, the beach is a pleasure.
- Aqueduct Beach (just north of Caesarea): An ancient Roman aqueduct gives this beach its name and travel-poster ambience. There are no showers or amenities except on summer weekends, when vendors sell drinks and snacks. Not good for swimming if the water is rough, but on calm days, as you float in the Mediterranean and gaze at the romantic ruins, you know it's not Blackpool or the Jersey Shore.
- Ein Gev Resort Village Beach (Sea of Galilee): The freshwater Sea of Galilee is warm and cleansing, spiritually as well as physically. You have to be a guest at the Ein Gev Resort Village to be allowed to use the beach here, but it's the prettiest one on the lake, with a date palm grove and thick lawns stretching down to the water, which is relatively free of foot-stubbing rocks. Just to the south of Ein Gev are several miles of eucalyptus-shaded beaches along the road (in summer there's a parking fee); they're rockier underwater, but very pleasant when not crowded with weekenders. Late afternoon often brings real breakers to the eastern shore of the lake; twilight here is soft and magical.
- Ein Gedi Beach (Dead Sea): Everyone should experience swimming in The Dead Sea, the amazing body of water at the lowest point on the face of the earth. Extremely high salt content makes you feel like a cork. and it's impossible to keep much of yourself underwater. The mineral-rich sea is believed to be therapeutic, but will sting any cuts on your skin, and if you stay in too long, you'll be pickled. Ein Gedi Beach offers freshwater showers as well as a cafe. Even in winter a desert dip may be possible.
- Coral Beach Nature Reserve (Eilat): The nature reserve has staked out a strip of beach alongside Eilat's best reefs. Here you can snorkel among dazzling fish and coral formations, and even take interesting scuba expeditions. Snorkeling gear is for rent, and there are showers and changing areas. Not good for ordinary swimming -- you must beware of burning coral and spiny sea urchins.
- Dolphin Reef Beach (Eilat): A good choice for everyday swimming in the Red Sea, Dolphin Reef is the most picturesque beach in Eilat, with thatched palapas and a resident dolphin population, free to come and go, leaping and frolicking not far from where people can swim.
- Hilton Dahab Resort Beach (Sinai Peninsula, Egypt): If you want to really beach out for a few days at a comfortable resort with a quiet, distant, end-of-the-earth ambience and views of the Arabia mountains facing you across the Red Sea, this is the place. The waters here offer good opportunities for swimming and snorkeling.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.