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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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