A Little Depth…An Epically Muddy Day at the Dead Sea

Arriving at the Dead Sea in Jordan earlier this month, I wasn’t prepared for the starkness of the landscape. My mind’s previously conjured up images of the Dead Sea were of two varieties:

  • an exotic, remote, and barren desert landscape with an inhospitable lake of water stretching out for miles.
  • a smiling and slightly accented vendor in any one of America’s super-sized malls rubbing dark brown Dead Sea mud onto the back of my hand, extolling it’s many virtues.
Salt formations and the blue waters of the Dead Sea from Jordan

Salt formations line the rocks and cliffs around the Dead Sea

Neither version prepped me for the actuality of the Dead Sea – the region’s bare landscape was the very element lending beauty. And as far are remote is concerned…not so much – it’s a mere 45 minute drive from Amman, Jordan’s capital, and surrounded by a handful of significant religious biblical and Islamic pilgrimage sites.

So if you are as clueless as I was going into this region, let’s see what a traveler can get up to with a day or two to spare on Jordan’s side of the Dead Sea! (warning: classically cheesy Dead Sea shots ahead :)

Dead Sea Mud and Salty, Mineral-y Goodness!

The Dead Sea is known for its mud …which seems like a strange claim to fame until you consider just what actually makes Dead Sea mud different from what you can dig up in your backyard.

The Dead Sea from Jordan

Clay pots filled with mineral-rich Dead Sea mud line the shores in touristy areas

Your random bit of history for the day: The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on earth’s surface – meaning the shores of Dead Sea sit at a mere 1,388 ft below sea level. That’s where all of the rest of the Dead Sea’s wonders really stem from – the sea’s waters maintain nearly 34% salinity; the River Jordan dead-ends into Dead Sea and the river water evaporates and leaves behind vast beds of salt and minerals. Then consider the UVB rays – the barometric pressure and high oxygen levels on the sea’s shores dilute the sun’s harmful rays more than any other place on earth…and for those fair-skinned among us that means we don’t burn nearly as quickly!

Now put all of that information into a blender and this is what you get:

The Dead Sea from Jordan

The Shodi Show (Shannon and Jodi?!) coated in Dead Sea mud and baking in the late afternoon sun

Travelers come from all over the world to slather themselves in the dark brown Dead Sea mud, bake the mud into their skin in the warm, dry sunlight, and then soak it off in the mineral-rich salt waters.

I couldn’t really opt out of this experience, right?!

After reading up on the Dead Sea I gave myself a challenge – try to sink. Try to force my body below the surface of the water.

I couldn’t!

Sunset and clay pots of mud the Dead Sea from Jordan

Dead Sea visitors lather on the mud before entering the water

The high salt content means I was forced to instead content myself with a gentle bob on the water’s surface while the setting sun lowered itself behind the mountains near Israel, turning the glossy surface of the water into a near perfect mirror of the sky’s riot of saffron and rose tinted clouds.

A riot of colors as the sun sets over the Dead Sea from Jordan

A riot of colors as the sun sets over the Dead Sea from Jordan

What Can I do Around the Dead Sea?

The sun was still rising high in the sky the morning we ventured a short 15 minute ride from the Dead Sea to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist baptized Christ. This site is a fairly recent archeological discovery and is still in excavation as the archeologists dig up more historical ruins.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan - the view of Isreal's side of the river

From Jordan and looking at Isreal's side of the Jordan River at Bethany Beyond the Jordan

One of the neatest parts of the experience is standing on the banks of the Jordan River and looking out at the pilgrims standing just across the river in Israel, a mere four or five arm lengths away. Jordan and Israel share this pilgrimage site and we were close enough to sit in the shade in Jordan and watch as the pilgrims in Israel blessed themselves with the river’s water.

Greek Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, near The Dead Sea

St John the Baptist's Church at Bethany Beyond the Jordan

From there it’s a fairly short drive to Madaba and the top of Mount Nebo – another religious site and also a spot providing panoramic views of the Holy Land. From the lookout spot a map points out the surrounding region: the Dead Sea, Israel, Jericho, and Jerusalem (on a clear day).

The Dead Sea and the Holy Land from Mount Nebo in Jordan

Where Moses looked over the Promised Land from Mount Nebo: Jericho, Jerusalem, and the Jordan River Valley

Several of the world’s major religions played out their beginnings on the land visible from Mount Nebo – both biblical-based religions and Islam trace roots to this area and I geeked out on spending my morning hours learning the history and biblical stories that make this region globally significant; I’m not a pilgrim by any means, but history is history!

Quick Tips: Visiting Jordan’s Dead Sea

Where: A 45 minute drive from Amman. There are many gorgeous five-star high-end resorts and spas in the area perfect for a weekend of relaxation (the Mövenpick is a gorgeous option). But budget travelers fear not! About two kilometers from the resort is the Amman Touristic Beach – decked out with pools, Dead Sea mud and dressing rooms. The religious sites mentioned are all within a 20 minute drive of the Dead Sea.
When: The Dead Sea is ideal really most of the year, though Jordan’s best weather in general (and tourist high season) is during late fall and late spring.
How: Day-tripable from Amman – you can opt for a taxi between 20-35 JD or the public bus leaving from 7th Circle bus station. Jordan is small, so consider renting a car to better explore!
How much: 15 JD to enter the Amman Public Beach, or consider a day pass to one of the nearby resorts for about triple that price. Mount Nebo: 1 JD and Bethany: 12 JD

I traveled through Jordan as a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board, my trip was fully sponsored, but all of the experiences, photos, inspiration and opinions are solely my own! If you’re reading it here, then it’s my truth.

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21 Responses to A Little Depth…An Epically Muddy Day at the Dead Sea

  1. Kirsten Alana May 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

     Truly beautiful sunset image. The very first image is really beautiful as well. The salt structures are just amazing.

    • Anonymous May 24, 2011 at 10:22 am #

      We actually had to really look around hard to find a spot where we could
      climb down to see the salt structures, and when we got down there it was
      amazing to see them up close! :-)

  2. Anthony May 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

     The photos of the salt crystals look amazing. I always find it amusing trying to sink in a highly salted water. I used to do it in Greece as well. No where near as saline as the dead sea though. 

    • Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

      Did you manage to sink at least a bit in Greece then?! It was futile feat in
      Jordan…the salt crystals were one of the neatest parts…I have some
      closeups of them I may post later, but I thought I was just a dork for
      liking them so much! ;-)

  3. soultravelers3 May 22, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    You too even look cute covered in mud! So happy that we got to meet you two at the Dead Sea the day you left Jordan and the day we arrived. We were very happy that we started our 10 day tour of Jordan and ended it at the Movenpick at the Dead Sea. .We even added Dead Sea mud to our very limited RTW carry on luggage when we headed to Europe for the summer when we left. LOL

    • Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

      Thanks Jeanne! Our breakfast was oh-too-brief but we were grateful our paths
      crossed! :) Bookending your Jordan trip with the Dead Sea sounds like an
      amazing part of the trip – it’s so relaxing and I can *completely*
      understand packing the mud…secret confession, Jodi and I both have some as
      well! :) Enjoy Europe this summer!

  4. Audrey Scott May 22, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Looks like you and Jodi had your share of fun! I’m usually not one for chilling at a spa for days, but the Dead Sea was one area where I could definitely see myself doing that. The combination of the extra oxygen below sea level and the lovely feeling after the mud and sea really is quite wonderful – felt a bit like superwoman :) 

    • Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 9:49 am #

      We had a blast! I agree about the spa days, but somehow coating myself in
      mud and floating on the Dead Sea was oddly pleasing :) And please tell me
      you have a shot doing the superwoman pose coated in mud?!

  5. Erica Kuschel May 22, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    I’m in love the picture with you with mug on your face! Super cute! 

    • Anonymous May 22, 2011 at 5:09 am #

      Thanks Erica! One of my favs from the trip too :)

  6. Anonymous May 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

     Looks like such a great day! Awesome photos–the Dead Sea is even higher on my must-see list now! 

    • Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

       It’s really a lot of fun – and relaxing too. The area is decked out with spas and opportunities to really pamper yourself if you can splurge when you go :)

  7. James Schipper May 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

     This is so high up on my list of places to experience already, and you may have just bumped it higher.

    • Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

       It deserves to be pretty high up there! Just wait until you see Petra and Wadi Rum….it was so spectacular it hurts to even think about it. :)

  8. Sarah May 19, 2011 at 11:34 am #

     Ah! I’m headed to Jordan in late October and your experience obviously makes me that much more pumped to also try to sink! I suppose I’ll be perfectly content floating along in the Dead Sea though…

    • Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

       It’s definitely not a hardship to have to sit on top of the water – I really recommend spending sunset on the water – it was stunning! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help plan your travels! :)

  9. Robert McKay May 19, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I love the picture with the salt and mineral deposits. I didn’t realize that happened. I think I would skip the mud though. I’ve always HATED being dirty, even as a small child.

    • Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

       Thanks for stopping in Robert! There are huge beds of the salt deposits – really wherever the uber salty water hits rocks instead of sand…by far one of the prettiest features of the Dead Sea is where the white salt rocks meet the turquoise water!

  10. James Clark May 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

     You know I have never seen a picture of the dead sea coast with the salt formations like that. And ohh what fun the mud looks like as well :) 

    • Anonymous May 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      The mud was good fun! You should add this to your bucket list James, when are you heading to the Middle East again?   ;-)