The Dead Sea (Hebrew: ים המלח, Hebrew transliteration:Yam HaMelach; Arabic: البحر الميت, Arabic transliteration: al-Bahir al-Mayyit) has its eastern coast in Jordan. It is the lowest point in the world at 394.6 m (1269 ft) below sea level.
The water in the Dead Sea is extremely salty, and has been estimated to be the second saltiest major body of water in the world. Its name is derived from the fact that the water is far too salinated for marine inhabitation.
The Dead Sea is naturally endorheic (no outlet streams) with the Jordan River being its only major source. The northern part of the Dead Sea receives scarcely 100 mm (4 inches) of rain a year; the southern section receives barely 50 mm (2 inches). Due to the man-made reduction of the Jordan River (the river waters are 70-90% used for human purposes) and the high evaporation rate of the Dead Sea, the sea is shrinking. All the shallow waters of the southern end of the sea have been drained and are now salt flats.
Although the Dead Sea would never entirely disappear (because evaporation slows down as surface area decreases and saltiness increases), measures are currently being proposed to siphon water from the Red Sea through a series of tunnels or canals in order to replenish the rapidly shrinking waters and provide water and electrical solutions to the surrounding countries.
- Due to the hypersalination of the water, one can float with ease in the Dead Sea; in fact, it's nearly impossible to sink! A popular fad by visitors is to have their picture taken while reading a newspaper and floating on the surface of the water.
- The mud along the shore of the Dead Sea contains many minerals and is believed to have medicinal and therapeutic benefits. It is not uncommon for visitors to cover their bodies with the dark mud.
- There are many salt deposits and crystals scattered along the shoreline. Many visitors walk the beach in search of large pieces as souvenirs.
- The water of the Dead Sea has a greasy feel to it.
- Tip if in a resort: Wash the salt off in the beach showers before you use your towel. Otherwise the towel will get salty and leave salt on your skin when you use it after your shower (the salt can cause an itch).
The climate at the Dead Sea varies depending on the season. Temperatures during the tourist season can become extremely warm, ranging from 30°C (86°F) in the spring to upwards of 40°C (104°F) in the summer. The area receives an average of 330 days of sunshine per year, with rainy days occurring only during winter (if at all). In general, the Dead Sea always is warmer than Amman, so also in Winter, when Amman is freezing, it allows for a swim.
Although the Dead Sea is very sunny the low altitude and extra atmosphere makes the sunlight weaker. It is therefore said that sunbathing here carries a lower risk of sunburn, but it is still advisable to take normal precautions using sunblock and adapt gradually. This quality of the Dead Sea sunlight is the real secret behind its mythological curing ability for several diseases, especially skin diseases. This is, in fact, natural photo therapy.
On the Jordanian side, the Dead Sea is possible as a day trip from both Amman and Aqaba. The road is a good dual carriage way. Tourist areas are accessible from the main road that runs along the eastern side of the body of water and connects to Jordan's Desert Highway running to Amman. Highways leading to the Dead Sea are clearly marked by brown tourist signs. It is an ambitious 3-hour drive from Aqaba in southern Jordan.
Taxi services for travel to the Dead Sea can be purchased for the day 20 JD if you hail a cab from downtown, downtown hotels charge 35 JD for the same service. Many of the local hotels and resorts have shuttles that travel from Amman to the Dead Sea for a fee.
There are a handful of bus lines that also run from Amman on a daily basis. Bus from Mujaharin bus station to Rame costs 1 JD. Taxi from Rame to Amman Tourist Beach 4 JD or less. Especially on good weather Fridays and Sundays, busses leave from Muhajarin bus station directly for Amman Tourist Beach, but if not they will at least drop you of along the road only a couple of kilometers before reaching the Sea. If you are used to hitchhiking it is then very easy to get a lift onwards.
JETT, the national Jordanian bus company, offers a daily shuttle from Amman (7th circle) to the Dead Sea and back. Single 7 JD. Stops seem to depend on demand; calls at least at Amman beach. Departure in the morning and return in the afternoon. Check the JETT website for up to date info.
From Aqaba a taxi can be hired for a full day. If booked through the reception of a nice hotel expect to pay about 100 JD. If you find a driver on your own, you can haggle and get the price down quite a bit (80 JD in January 2010 - possibly better deals can be agreed on). Make sure to arrange with the driver before you leave if you also want to stop by any other sites as part of your trip as the diver may not want to drive any farther than initially agreed.
There are Taxis available from Madaba for the regular price of 7-10 JD. But hitchhiking might be the better option. Either way, don't forget to make a short stopover at Mt. Nebo.
The hypersalinated water of the Dead Sea itself is its own attraction. There are several nearby attractions that are worth attention:
- 1 Mt. Nebo (Between the Dead Sea and Madaba). This historic site provides a panorama of the Holy Land, and to the north, a more limited one of the Jordan River valley. The excavated remains of a church and a monument commemorating the biblical story of Moses and the bronze serpent stand atop the mountain. Mt. Nebo is a 15-minute drive from the Dead Sea. Visitors can plan to spent less than half an hour at the site. 1 JD.
- 2 Baptism Site. This site (Bethany Beyond the Jordan) at the Jordan River, the location archaeologists are claiming is the baptism site of Jesus by John the Baptist, is a 10-minute drive from the Dead Sea resort area. Buses transport visitors down to the river basin, and guided tours include visits to a Jordan River overlook, the excavated remains of the Baptismal Site, John the Baptist Church, and down to the River bank. 12 JD.
- 3 Dead Sea Panoramaic Complex (Dead Sea Museum). This is a new complex of regional museum about the Dead Sea, panorama lookout, restaurant and conference hall on a steep cliff high above the Dead Sea near Hammamet Ma'in. It is accessible from both the Dead Sea and Madaba by car, however it is difficult to reach by public transport. The museum is run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, and has some fascinating information about the geology, ecology (animal and plant), archaeology, history and industry of the Dead Sea and surrounding area. It has also information about the environmental problem concerning the Dead Sea, such as decreasing of the Dead Sea water level and sinkhole in the Dead Sea coast. As the name suggests it has a magnificent view of the Dead Sea and the hills beyond it. Watching the sunset from here is a wonderful experience. 2 JD for the museum.
- 4 Mujib Reserve (About 40 km south of the beaches). Limited access in winter. The reserve of Wadi Mujib is the lowest nature reserve in the world, located in the mountainous landscape to the east of the Dead Sea, approximately 90km south of Amman. The 220 km² reserve was created in 1987 by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and is regionally and internationally important, particularly for the bird life that the reserve supports. The Mujib valley is being developed for adventure tourism, and a number of facilities have been established including a Visitors' Centre and a beach area on the Dead Sea. Experiencing Jordan’s Grand Canyon involves swimming, jumping, abseiling and floating. Its red walls are filled with running water that plunges through a 15 m waterfall.
- 5 Hammamat Ma'in. A remarkable series of natural hot springs and waterfalls, some of which have been channeled into pools and baths. A spa resort is located in the vicinity of the waterfalls.
- 6 Lot's cave. Located on the site of the remains of an old Byzantine monastery and church above the village of Al Safi. The cave is believed to the one Lot took refuge in with his two daughters when God according to the Bible destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. The site is officially closed for development work but a local guide can escort you up the 300 steps to the cave itself. If you are a small group you may be allowed to look inside the cave. From the site you can look out over the irrigated fields which have developed as the Dead Sea has retreated in recent years. To its feed there is also the Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth, which is free with the Jordan Pass. Free.
Amman Beach (7 Amman Tourist Beach) is a public resort with (mostly) clean facilities, including changing rooms, fresh water showers (at the beach and in the changing rooms), a pool and a restaurant. The cost to enter the public tourist beach is 20 JD (April 2016) (with swimming pools) and 10 JD for the Locals/Jordanian beach (it's 15 m to left of the tourist entrance; not recommended for women on Fridays). Lockers can be rented for another 1.5 JD, and towels for 1.5 JD. Watch out, you're not allowed to take in your own food! There are some beach parasols, basic sunbeds and chairs on the beach, but not nearly enough. The beach is badly maintained, with occasionally large gaps in the sand and a lot of garbage (April 2016). Many hotels sell day passes that include full use of hotel facilities as well as their Dead Sea beachfronts; at the Mövenpick Resort, day passes cost 20 JD per person for hotel guests, while others pay 40 JD on weekdays and 50 JD on weekend.
In off-season and if you are at least two, instead of spending 20/25 JD on the public beach, try one of the smaller hotels (Dead Sea Spa Hotel or O Beach Hotel) that might be happy to offer you a bargain price of around 50 JD, and stay here for one night.
Or, instead of paying the steep entrance fee, you might want to try a few couple of 100 m after the Amman Tourist Beach, walking down the hill. But bring waterproof sandals or flipflops, at least 1.5 l fresh water for showering afterwards, sunscreen and a towel. It says No Swimming after Dark beyond the Amman Tourist Beach, i.e. swimming during the day is allowed. But be aware that there is no lifeguard on duty and read the chapter on #Stay safe below.
Around 10 km south of Amman Tourist Beach is a favourite place of locals that is easily recognized by a couple of stands selling snacks and water near the road. The place is dirty and nobody takes care of it, but if you're on a shoestring, the Dead Sea there is just as good as everywhere. There is a small water fall coming from a hot spring that can serve as a shower afterwards to wash off the salt from your skin. Getting a lift from there back to Amman is easy and occasionally even buses pass by on which you can jump on for a small fee.
Besides lying on you back in the water or in one of the hotel's sun chairs, the following activities are available:
- 1 Zara Spa, Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, Sweimeh, Dead Sea Road (approx. 55 km south of Amman), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 08:30-20:30. There are several swimming pools, some of which feature different mineral concentrations, including a heated pool for winter. A wide private beach runs along the Dead Sea shore, and there are jacuzzis, tennis courts and a fitness centre. There are also four restaurants and several cafes and bars.
Visitors can purchase packets of the famous mud, as well as other cultural artifacts and handicrafts, from local gift shops.
Eat & drink
The restaurant options near the Dead Sea are sparse.
The Jordanian public beach contains an over-priced buffet-style restaurant and a small beach-side snack bar. It is recommended that visitors planning to visit the public beaches bring their own food and drinks. There are many resorts that can be found in Jordan to cater to tourists.
Also, there is the 1 Samara Mall, where shops and restaurant can be found.
Try the usual suspects of website to get a price quote and availability on local hotels. Having seen the price online, it might be possible to save another 5-10 JD by calling them and asking for the offline rate.
- Dead Sea Resthouse (supposedly part of the Amman Public Beach), ☎ . This is a 2-star hotel.
- 1 O Beach Dead Sea (5 km south of where most other hotels are), ☎ . Decent option. This is good start if you want to go further south, but there are no shops or restaurants except for the hotel's one around. You might have to bargain hard to achieve the quotes price – try by mentioning the Holiday Inn has specials for 60 JD on Booking.com. Otherwise try the Dead Sea Spa Hotel. From 50 JD.
- 2 The Dead Sea Spa, ☎ . A 4-star hotel with many amenities. The hotel is in the hotel zone, along side the Marriot and Kempinski. Minibus rental with a driver to get here from Amman (including visits to Baptism Site and Mt. Nebo on the way) costs 50 JD. There are a few swimming pools, including 2 children's pools and direct access to the Dead Sea, on the hotels own beach. From 55 JD.
- 3 Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, Sweimeh, Dead Sea Road (approx. 55km south of Amman), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00 hrs. Peaceful resort set on the northern shores of the Dead Sea. Despite the antique look of the village, all 346 rooms are luxuriously furnished in warm and natural colours. The latest Beach Rooms and Beach Suites have modern furnishings and large terraces. Self-controlled air-conditioning, satellite TV, direct-dial phone, coffee and tea-making facilities, hairdryer, and a safe are standard fittings in every room. Including a heated pool for winter. A wide private beach runs along the Dead Sea shore, and there are jacuzzis, tennis courts and a fitness centre. There are also four restaurants and several cafes and bars. From 99 JD.
- 5 Holiday Inn Dead Sea. 5-star resort opened in 2009. From 60 JD in off-season.
Always wear waterproof sandals – the salt is very jagged and can easily cut your feet.
When going into the sea somewhere were not watched by a life guard, always go with someone else, in case something happens.
If you get salty water into your eyes, do not wipe it out using your hands. Just wait for your tear fluid to flush it out.
Beware: several people drown every year in the Dead Sea because they do not obey the rule: Only float on your back. Accidents happen when someone tries to swim normally (stomach first) in the water - the legs will float better than usual and it will be hard to keep the head above the water. This applies to weaker swimmers, and specifically to attempts to swim breaststroke. Added a little panic and it can be life threatening. Breaststroke is also made difficult by the fact that the legs are raised too high in the water to provide normal forward motion when kicking. A strong swimmer can easily swim freestyle; if you plan to try this, goggles are essential and should be tightly fitted. Although safe for a strong swimmer, and an unusual sensation because of the buoyancy of the water, it is not an undertaking most people are likely to sustain for long.
Moreover, the salt in the water stings cuts and causes great pain if it comes in contact with the eyes. Even with the eyes protected by goggles, water will get into the nose and sting, and onto the lips and inevitably into the mouth. It tastes disgusting. Short of actual drowning, inhalation of the water can cause specific, sometimes life threatening medical problems not seen with other bodies of water, because of the water's very high electrolyte content so be sure of your swimming abilities and confidence in the water before deciding to swim on your front.
When the weather is stormy, even the Dead Sea can develop some hefty waves. It is not safe to go in then, considering all the previous warning. Also, you will not have much fun experiencing the floating.
During winter and spring there is a danger of floods on rainy days. The Dead Sea basin receives rainwater from relatively far-off areas like the Jerusalem Mountains. This means that sometimes during a sunny day a flood will suddenly and unexpectedly occur. Therefore, be careful when hiking to distant narrow places during these seasons and stay tuned to the weather news. The weather forecast always gives warnings if there is a possibility of flooding. Always do as national reserves staff order - they know the terrain very well. In 2007, several Israelis who had been "snappling" (rappelling) were killed by a flood because they did not obey national reserve staff orders.
Pretty much all destinations from here can by reached by taxi. But it is better to hail one along the street instead of letting your hotel organise the taxi, because the latter option will include a steep additional charge kept by the hotel. However, you can ask your hotel to get a benchmark for the potential price – take half (or even less) of that as a starting point for negotiations with any taxi driver.
Otherwise there are regular (mini) buses going south, combining this with hitch-hiking parts of the distance, one can reach Kerak or Dana Nature Reserve easily within a day. Petra might be a little far, especially if you want to stop for any sight in between.
- Madaba — The nearby town of known as the 'City of Mosaics' is famous for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, especially a large Byzantine-era mosaic map of Palestine and the Nile delta at St. George Church.
- Kerak — site of a once-mighty Crusader castle.
- Dana Nature Reserve — stay in a local village within the Nature Reserve, and enjoy unforgettable hiking in an offshoot of the Great Rift.
- Petra — The most famous side in Jordan.
- Wadi Rum — a stunning desert valley in southern Jordan, lies about an hour south of Petra.