Pedaling the lowest place on Earth

The Tour de Dead Sea will draw attention to the sea’s plight – and may help it get chosen as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

bikers 521 (photo credit: Shai Giterman)
bikers 521
(photo credit: Shai Giterman)
As any marketing executive will tell you, there are at least 1,000 ways to draw public attention to a product, although some are more effective than others. Of course, it can help to have a one-of-a-kind item to push out there, and the Dead Sea certainly qualifies.
Much has been made of the fact that the salty pond is the lowest point on Earth; but, as we all know, the sea is shrinking at an alarming rate.
Several years of under-average winter precipitation having left Lake Kinneret underfed – which also means little or no water directed down south – added to continuing exploitation of the salt and other minerals in the Dead Sea have exacerbated the problem of the diminishing volume of water in those briny waters.
For the past five years, efforts to draw attention to the Dead Sea’s plight have been augmented by the annual Tour de Dead Sea bicycle ride, sponsored by the Megilot–Dead Sea Regional Council, which brings road and off-road cyclists to the area from all over the country. This year’s cycling event takes place on March 5, and includes some exciting innovations.
For a start, next week’s ride forms part of a campaign to get the Dead Sea chosen as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Success in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition, the results of which are due to be announced on November 11, would provide a massive boost for the region and help to preserve and rehabilitate the sea.
“There are 28 sites in the competition,” explains Ahuva Zaken, director of the domestic marketing division at the Ministry of Tourism. “There are 14 in the top section and 14 in the lower section. At the moment, the Dead Sea is in 11th place in the top half, so we’re hopeful.”
Anyone in the world can vote for any site which, in the Asia section, includes the likes of Mount Fuji in Japan, The Chocolate Hills in the Philippines and Sundarbans Forest in West Bengal, India. All you have to do is go to the Seven Natural Wonders (SNW) web site ( and vote.
The declared SNW mission is a threefold affair: to protect and promote the discovery, exploration and enjoyment of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World; to expand the recognition of other wonders of nature by continent, region, country and other unique classifications; and to foster a passion for these natural wonders that inspires a mind-set and practice of conservation.
What it all boils down to is that, if the Dead Sea clinches the desired SNW slot, it could help push international tourism levels up and, possibly, attract investment which could be used to redress the damage inflicted on the local ecosystems over the years.
Zaken says the ministry has become wise to the added publicity value offered by holding events such as the Tour de Dead Sea.
“Cycling is becoming increasingly popular in this country, and it is also apolitical, like music and other areas of sport. The ride can help promote cooperation on tourism with the Jordanians.
“That is a salient point. Last year, several riders from Jordan took part, which was pleasing.”
THIS YEAR’S ride, according to Uriel Aharonov, a keen off-road cyclist and engineer with the Megilot–Dead Sea Regional Council who helped initiate the Dead Sea’s candidacy for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World competition, will for the first time include a number of cyclists from the Palestinian Authority.
“There will be some cyclists from Bethlehem, Jordan, Australia and the United States on the ride.
I am very happy that the event is reaching out to other parts of the region, and to cyclists from further afield,” says Aharonov.
“We have always wanted to cooperate with the Palestinians and the Jordanians. There is nothing political about cycling.”
It is worth pointing out, however, that the first Tour de Dead Sea, in January 2006, actually circumnavigated the whole of the sea, including the Jordanian side. Unfortunately, since the Second Lebanon War, the Jordanians have been reluctant to be seen cooperating with Israel on any level, including cycling.
“We would love to have the ride back in Jordan,” says Aharonov. “Hopefully, that will happen again in the not too distant future.”
Off-road participants this year will be able to enjoy a rare treat, with a new course for the family section of the event.“For the first time, the IDF is allowing cycling along the security fence, from Kalya along the Salt Route to the old salt works,” explains Aharonov. “Then the cyclists will go through the security fence along the demilitarized zone toward Beit Arava, Abdullah Bridge and to the Qasr el-Yahud baptism site and back along a secondary road to Kalya.”
MEANWHILE, THE road bikers will head south toward Metzukei Dragot, with the first bunch of riders being allowed to attempt the challenging steep climb up to the top before gliding back down to the level of the Dead Sea and returning northwards, into the northerly winds, back to Kalya. The course is about 65 km.
“This year, for the first time, the road will be completely closed to cars, so it will be 100-percent safe for the cyclists,” says Aharonov. “The road cyclists will set off at 7 a.m. and must be back by 10 a.m. After that, the road will reopen to traffic.”
Aharonov says he hopes there will be 1,000 riders in all the ride sections this year. Judging by past events, he has good reason to be optimistic.
“Last year, we had only around 500 because we only had road cyclists; but the year before, we had almost 900,” Aharonov also says he and other people at the regional council have been working hard to get the Dead Sea in the running for the SNW title.
“It has been something of a thankless task from the PR and marketing point of view. We have been trying to increase awareness of voting for the Dead Sea on the website, and we need a lot more. We are preparing for success in the competition, planning infrastructures, adding accommodation and devising a master plan.
“I hope the cycling event adds to the media exposure we need, so people all over the world, not just in Israel, can appreciate the unique beauty of this region.”
Meanwhile, Zaken says the ministry is doing its utmost to support the Megilot–Dead Sea Regional Council’s efforts and make the most of the PR benefits offered by the cycling event.
“Many people all over the world know very little about Israel except for the bad stuff they see on CNN. The ministry invests NIS 500,000 a year in promoting domestic tourism at the Dead Sea, but it is also very important to invest in raising the region’s positive profile on the global stage.”
Voting for the Dead Sea in the New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign can be done via the Tourism Ministry’s website ( or, the campaign’s website ( or by sending a “Dead Sea” cell phone text message to 2244.