Planning a trip to the Dead Sea in Jordan? We’ve curated the ultimate travel guide to the Dead Sea including fun facts, things to know before you visit, Dead Sea attractions, things to do in and around the Dead Sea region, which Dead Sea hotels to stay at and how to get there.
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One of the most extraordinary natural escapades we have had till date, taking a dip in the Dead Sea was an enriching and exciting experience. While we had heard tons of stories of people floating on the Dead Sea, experiencing it for ourselves was incredible. From admiring the unusual murky look of the water to gazing at breathtaking sunsets over one of the most pristine places on the planet, it was an episode that we will treasure always.
An unparalleled experience, this one definitely deserves to be high up on your travel bucket list owing to its unique appeal.
The Dead Sea – What is it?
A land bound hyper saline lake, the Dead Sea is so named as most known marine species cannot survive in this water body owing to its high salt content. In fact, the water of the Dead Sea is approximately ten times saltier than ocean water with one third of the total volume being salt. While it is true that such harsh conditions render impossible the survival of aquatic animals and plant species, research does suggest that there are certain types of microbes and other organisms which not only survive, but thrive in this extreme environment. Hence, paradoxically, in its true sense, this water body is neither ‘dead’ nor is it a ‘sea’.
Where is the Dead Sea?
Lying on the Jordan rift valley, the Dead Sea is bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. The Dead Sea depression marks the lowest point on earth and is over 430 meters below sea level making it the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. It is also one of the saltiest water bodies on the planet, though it is not the most salty one.
The Dead Sea can be visited from both, Jordan as well as Israel. Irrespective of where you choose to visit from, a visit to the Dead Sea leaves you marveling at nature’s bounties.
Importance of the Dead Sea
Though the Dead Sea attracts visitors from the world over for various reasons, not many people are aware of the importance of this salty water body and why it deserves to be visited before any other place on your bucket list.
Despite being ‘dead’, the Dead Sea is a very importance source of chemicals and elements of commercial and medical importance such as potash and bromine. In fact, close to twelve minerals are exclusive to the dead sea and this is evidenced by huge factories and power plants set up around the Dead Sea to extract these commercially important substances.
The mud from the ‘Dead Sea’ is very well known for its therapeutic healing properties and is a blend of essential minerals and elements that find uses in medical and chemical industries. This unique concoction attracts people from all over the globe who travel to the Dead Sea in the hope of finding a cure for arthritis, psoriasis and other skin and circulatory diseases. Interestingly enough, not only is the water and the underlying mud highly valued, the air around is treasured too! Due to the high barometric pressure in the area owing to its low altitude, the air around is 15% more oxygenated and harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun are pleasantly filtered. Such a treat to the lungs, skin and the entire body, eh? In more ways than one, contradictory to popular notion, the ‘dead sea’ actually seems to give and inspire ‘life’.
Floating on the Dead Sea – The experience
No matter what we are able to put into words, floating on the Dead Sea is not something that can be experienced vicariously. As you step foot into the water, you’ll be hit by a certain tingling sensation on your skin while your mind wonders whether you’ll actually float in there. As you keep walking in deeper you are amazed at how the water somehow pushes you upwards and almost naturally you enter a relaxing position as though you’re lounging in your couch. As you soak in the incredible buoyancy, your body is enveloped with something akin to baby oil as the water is dense and greasy. A water experience unlike all others, you’ll find yourself effortlessly floating away to glory, enjoying the sun set over Israel with Palestine lighting up in the distance.
Things to know before you visit the Dead Sea
Visit before the Dead Sea disappears
Hard to believe as it may be, the Dead Sea has been receding rapidly over the past years and research suggests that by the middle of this century the Dead Sea may be reduced to the size of a puddle. To put statistics on record, the surface area of the Dead Sea has shrunk around 30% over the last 20 years. While the Jordanian government has taken this seriously as projects such as the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance project have been planned towards the conservation and preservation of the Dead Sea, visiting the Dead Sea is definitely something you should do right away. So if floating on the Dead Sea is a bucket list experience for you, book your tickets right away and experience the buoyancy while it lasts.
Beware of cuts, bruises and fresh wounds
The age old adage, ‘pouring salt on one’s wound’ definitely has substance in it and you’ll find out exactly what it feels like if you jump into the dead sea with freshly shaved skin or open cuts and unhealed wounds. And did we mention it’s definitely not a pleasant feeling! Given the high quantity of brine in the water, your skin will burn on all susceptible areas. While you cannot prepare in advance for wounds, make sure you do not shave, wax, scratch yourself or use a razor at least 2 days prior to your Dead Sea visit in order to enjoy a pleasant experience.
Limit your Dead Sea exposure
While it may be tempting to keep floating in the water all day long, after all, you don’t get to do this often, your skin is going to be at war with you! As beneficial and as therapeutic as the water is, too much of anything is definitely harmful. Being comprised of permeable layers of tissue, there is a limit to the amount of salt our skin can take. We recommend a maximum of fifteen minutes of being in the water at one time including time taken in clicking all those mandatory selfies. Also, be kind to your skin and shower as soon as you’re out of the water. If you’re up for it, you could sneak in another fifteen minute float in the waters. Just relax and remember not to go overboard.
Keep your face out
You definitely do not want to sabotage your once in a lifetime experience by letting the salty water enter your eyes or mouth. To avoid any such unpleasant incidents, it is advisable to keep your head out of the water at all times. Some people also choose to wear water goggle to keep their eyes extra safe.
Wear appropriate clothes
Given the unique water quality, some people had to discard their lightly colored clothes and swimwear after they got permanently stained from the Dead Sea water. It’s best to wear dark colored apparel and something which is not brand new or your favorite to avoid disappointment. If possible, rinse your clothes as soon as you’re out of the water and wear water shoes as the rocks on the seabed can be sharp and uncomfortable. Your feet will be forever thankful.
Things to do in and around the Dead Sea
While we strongly recommend keeping a day exclusively to enjoy the Dead Sea, if you’re looking for things to do and places to visit in and around the area, here is our pick:
Float in the Dead Sea
While this one is super obvious, we do know people who have traveled all the way only to dip their hands or feet in the water! We cannot stress enough the uniqueness of actually jumping into the sea to be automatically pushed to the surface! It’s an experience like no other and another reason to marvel over nature’s creations. To do full justice, spend an entire day around the area and visit the Dead Sea at different times of the day. Watch the sun rise and set over the Dead Sea and take in the breathtaking beauty around you.
Revel in the benefits of the Dead Sea Mud
A visit to the Dead Sea is incomplete without applying its rewarding mud and reveling in its benefits. Usually easily available near the shore, the mud should be applied on your entire body at least thirty minutes prior to entering the water for it to be effective. The mud is very rich in essential minerals and is a rewarding and relaxing experience for your body. If you’re up for some indulgence, take this a step further and pamper yourself with unique Dead Sea mud body and face packs or spa sessions available at most well-known hotels and resorts around the area.
Drive around to admire the salt formations
Do make sure you drive around the length of the Dead Sea to appreciate sparkling white salt deposits and formations which can be seen at various places where the water has receded. A stunning pattern can be found in the rocks which have been sharply cut over passage of time by the undulating forces of nature.
Visit the Lowest Point on Earth Museum
While you may have been to tons of museums, this one is a must visit as you’ll never visit one at a lower elevation on earth than this! In fact, even if museums are not your cup of tea, this little museum is definitely going to fascinate you with local handicrafts and artifacts excavated from the Dead Sea region. The museum gives a profound insight to stories of diverse populations that have inhabited the region and the changing landscape of the Dead Sea over the years. Complete with a little shop in association with a local women’s cooperative, this museum will barely take half an hour to pack you up with riveting historical tales.
Take a thermal bath at the Ma’in Hot Springs
Located approximately fifteen kilometers away from the Dead Sea, the uphill drive to Ma’in is stunning to say the least. Unparalleled vistas and soothing tranquility lead you to a spectacular site punctuated with a series of waterfalls and thermal mineral springs. The cascading hot water is sourced from the top of a basaltic mountain and contains essential minerals and elements with healing properties. Just like the Dead Sea, Hammamat Ma’in is often visited for medical tourism to find relief from skin and circulatory diseases and common muscular pains. The water temperature here ranges between 40 and 65 degrees Celsius and one can experience a natural sauna in a steamy cave above the thermal pool. Do carry your swimwear and if you want to indulge further, spend a night at the luxurious Ma’in Hot Springs Resort & Spa.
Wadi Mujib Nature reserve
A unique biosphere reserve located on the Dead Sea highway, Wadi Mujib is a reserve created by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Complete with the Wadi Mujib River and the Mujib dam, this reserve is characterized by sparse vegetation and is noteworthy for its magnificent biodiversity. A visit to the Wadi Mujib visitors center is fascinating and a must to learn more about the area and the species of birds and animal endemic to the reserve. If you have an extra day at hand we strongly recommend heading for a great water adventure by trekking the Siq Trail which can be organized at the visitors center. It is approximately a 2-3 hour self-guided trek and costs 20 JOD (USD 28) per person. Life jackets are provided and water shoes can also be rented for an additional fee of 5 JOD (USD 7). The trek involves wading through chest high water in some areas and you’ll essentially need to wear comfortable clothes, water shoes and be hands free to enjoy it to the fullest. However, even if you do not fancy the trek or are short on time, do make a quick visit to the visitors center and appreciate the panoramic views of the gorges at the Wadi Mujib viewpoint.
River Jordan and Bethany Beyond the Jordan – The Baptism site
A place of great historical and religious importance, Bethany Beyond the Jordan is the biblical site where Jesus was baptized by Saint John the Baptist. It is located on the banks of River Jordan approximately ten kilometers to the north of the Dead Sea. You can also find a few beautiful churches in the area along with remains of old Roman and Byzantine churches, chapels and caves.
Where to stay
While there are hotel options to suit most budgets, we strongly recommend splurging a little and staying at a hotel with a private access to the Dead Sea. To save costs, you may also choose to opt for a day access offered by most 4 and 5 star resorts in the area. Reason being, water from the Dead Sea is oily, salty and strikingly different in quality from the usual sea water. You’ll most probably feel the urge to take a quick shower as soon as you’re done floating in the Dead Sea. However, the public beaches lack these facilities and also tend to get over crowded. For a pleasant experience, we recommend choosing a hotel or resort based on its proximity to the Dead Sea. We chose to spend a night at Holiday Inn, Dead Sea since it was the most affordable in the entire lot of luxury properties having a private access to the Sea. We loved our little staycation and would definitely return whenever we’re in Jordan. If you’re willing to splurge a little extra, the best property in the area is the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea which is also very well known for its indulgent spa experiences.
How many days do you need?
While floating on the Dead Sea will barely need 15 minutes, we recommend you stay in and around the Dead Sea area for a minimum of two nights to enjoy all attractions around the area. If you don’t have enough time at hand, you can certainly stop-by the Dead Sea for an hour or two and quickly get a feel of this nature’s wonder. However, if you’d like to explore Jordan, stay back for two days for a wholesome experience. Make your stay at the Dead Sea very relaxing if you’re visiting immediately before or after visiting Petra. Petra definitely needs a lot of energy and will make your muscles sore.
Overall, the best way to get around Jordan is by car. Rent a car, get on to the Kings Highway (highway 35) which runs almost through the length of the entire country and you’ll be forever thankful to witness prolific stunning panoramas and rugged landscapes no matter where you’re headed to. Be prepared to keep an extra hour or two in your schedule as you’re very likely to keep stopping on the way to capture the breathtaking beauty all around you.
While there are buses, taxis and guided private tours that can take you to the Dead Sea, we definitely recommend driving down to this natural wonder. An hour’s drive away from the capital city, Amman, the drive time to the Dead Sea is just about right to get there feeling energized with uplifted spirits.
While driving, do turn down your car windows and feel your ears go numb with the constant lowering of air pressure as you approach the lowest point on Earth.
Have you been to the Dead Sea? How was your experience? Is floating in the Dead Sea on your bucket list?
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