After arriving at the Dead Sea in Jordan earlier this month, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer starkness of the landscape. My previously conjured images of the Dead Sea were of two varieties:
- an exotic, remote, and barren desert landscape with an inhospitable lake of water stretching 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 its many virtues.
Neither version prepared me for the actuality of the Dead Sea—the region’s bare landscape was the very element lending beauty. And remote? Not hardly. 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. We easily added an overnight here between our exploring the myths and history of Petra and a sunrise camel ride in Wadi Rum.
If you’re 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 ;)
Things to Do Near the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is well positioned in Jordan to see a number of incredible sites of religious and historic significance. The Dead Sea forms part of the border with Israel, and this area is one of the key Cradles of Civilization on the planet, giving birth to an enormous amount of the human races’ shared history. In addition to actually floating and frolicking in the Dead Sea, you can visit most of the nearby sites in a single day if you have your own car, or spread it among two days if you’re using public transport.
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—the shores of the Dead Sea sit 1,388 feet (423 meters) below sea level. This level makes it possible for a number of other Dead Sea wonders—the sea’s waters maintain nearly 34% salinity and the River Jordan dead-ends into Dead Sea, with river water evaporating and leaving 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 . . . for the fair-skinned (me!), that means we don’t burn as quickly when sunning on the shores of the Dead Sea!
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 thick, clay-like Dead Sea mud, bake the mud into their skin in the warm 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 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.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan
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—archeologists are actively digging up more historical ruins nearby.
One of the neatest parts of the experience is standing on the banks of the Jordan River and peering 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 Jordanian shade and watch pilgrims in Israel bless themselves with the river’s water.
Madaba, Mount Nebo
From Bethany Beyond the Jordan, 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 offers pinpoints of major historic sites in 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. This is a highly recommended thing to do when you’re near the Dead Sea. I geeked out on spending my morning hours learning the history and biblical stories that make this region globally significant. I’m not a religious pilgrim by any means, but history is fascinating and I believe all knowledge is worth having!
Travel Planning: Visiting Jordan’s Dead Sea
Where to Stay
Although many day trip to the region, it’s worthy of a night or two to really soak it all in. 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 and they comped my stay to try it out. It was plush, offering private beaches and many amenities to enjoy the sea). Budget travelers, however, fear not! Local resorts offer day passes to use the amenities, or, about two kilometers from the resort area is the Amman Touristic Beach—it’s 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, so you can stay anywhere nearby and still access the beauty and history.
Top places to stay for your budget:
- Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea: For those on a cushy budget, this is one of the nicest resorts in the area and has top-notch amenities and gorgeous access to the Dead Sea. I also think that Kempinski hotels have some of the tastiest breakfast buffets in the world!
- Mövenpick Resort and Spa: This is where I stayed and works on a mid-range budget. Everything was sparkling clean and so lovely and this is a good option for those looking for a day-pass, too.
- Ramada Resort: This is the most affordable of the resorts in the area that still offers private access to the Dead Sea, and it’s definitely lovely and worth visiting for those who need a bit of a more budget place, but still want nice amenities.
Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip to Jordan—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I used World Nomads for this trip (and since 2008!) and highly recommend it!
Best Time to Visit the Dead Sea
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. Weekends are quite hectic in the public areas especially! And given the low sun’s rays are filtered by the time they reach you on the shoreline, you can even go out in full midday sun and splash around a bit (though, of course, still use sunscreen!).
How to Get to the Dead Sea
Located a 45 minute drive from Amman, this is certainly day-tripable from Amman and you can opt for a taxi that will cost between 20-35 JD (booking through your hotel will cost on the upper end, the lower end is if you find and negotiate one yourself), or a JETT tourist service bus leaves from 7th Circle bus station directly to the beach (7 JD). The public bus leaving from Mujaharin will only save you a couple JD all told because you will have to cab from where it drops you to the beach, so it’s best to take the tourist one. Jordan is small, so consider renting a car to better explore!
How to Find Salt-Rocky Shoreline
The main resorts and public beaches do not have the iconic views of the salty shoreline—rather, you’ll need a car to find the best spots. Note that the Dead Sea shore is receding rapidly, so the best spots to view the salt rocks and salt-crystal buildup can change year-to-year, but the general area of shoreline offering these views is roughly the same. It lies south of the resort beaches, toward and near Wadi al-Mujib National Park.
A Little Adrift readers have done some heavy legwork in 2019 and found some great spots that have the best views right now.
- For views of the white, chunky salt rock crystals, Instagrammer ShesGotWings777 sent me a pindrop and noted that you can access a gorgeous area near these Google Map coordinates (31°26’55.4″N 35°33’56.7″E). Her photos are much like mine, with the thick rocks covered in salt.
- Another reader, Maria, visited and found a place nearby with beautiful variegated shoreline and put together a great guide to the Dead Sea with advice on finding shores with salt and mineral deposits.
In many cases, the area will not look like it has the great views from the main road, but you can park the car and find a trail leading to the shoreline, which is where you’ll find the pretty panoramas. These recommendations may include scrambling down and over rocks—conduct your own research and use good judgement; A Little Adrift does not accept any responsibility for any potential consequences arising from the use of this information.
It costs 20 JD to enter the Amman Public Beach, or consider a day pass to one of the nearby resorts—you’ll pay double to triple the cost range depending on if it’s a weekday or weekend, but it can be much less hectic. The Public Beach is really a public resort though, so it’s nice and you shouldn’t hesitate to visit it. There are other less well-maintained beaches walkable from the Public Beach if you are really on a shoestring budget. Costs for visiting the most common things to do include: Mount Nebo (1 JD) and Bethany Beyond the Jordan (12 JD). If you’ve rented a car, then you can visit the salty shorelines for free!
Getting Around Jordan
Jordan on the whole is fairly easy to navigate by public transport, although many travelers rent a private car and explore that way since there are a few key sights you really need a car or a day tour to visit. Use the Lonely Planet Jordan to find the most updated transport options around the country as it’s your best bet at understanding how to navigate between places, as well as knowing which neat smaller sights you can visit along the way if you’re road tripping. I explored a huge swath of the country, including wandering markets in Amman, learning from Bedouin in Wadi Rum, sipping tea with locals, and taking epic jumping shots at every major historic site. :)
Jordan has significantly different vibes than other places in the region and you can absolutely travel here safely. At the Dead Sea, the main concern is that you’re off the public beaches by dark. This is good advice for most anywhere in the world, but particularly true here if you’re not at a resort beach.
I worked with the Jordan Tourism Board on this trip—the experiences, photos, and stories are my own. :)