The famous Dead Sea is actually a salt lake that is bordered by Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. At 1,388 feet below sea level and 1,237 feet deep, this small sea is the lowest point of elevation on the earth’s surface, and the deepest lake of its kind. With a 33 percent salt content, it is roughly nine times saltier than your average ocean. The high salt content prevents any growth of life in its waters, hence its name. The surrounding areas, however, are anything but dead, and the mineral-rich area produces vegetables of the finest quality.
The banks of the Dead Sea have been a center for healing for several centuries, starting with King Herod the Great in the first century BC. The salt and mineral-rich mud is known for its therapeutic properties and the high atmospheric pressure aids those with respiratory disorders. The area surrounding the Dead Sea also receives less ultraviolet radiation and has an atmosphere containing relatively fewer allergens and contaminants. All these traits combined make the Dead Sea a haven for those with certain types of illnesses and provides a relaxing spa-like retreat for all who bathe in its salty waters.
In ancient times, the Dead Sea supplied minerals used for a variety of duties, including the embalming of Egyptian mummies and for potash in fertilizers. Today, salt is harvested from the sea for use in cosmetics and sachets. Both Israeli and Jordanian chemical companies have plants where bromine, potash, sodium chloride and other minerals from the water are extracted. It is not unusual to find Dead Sea beauty products sold all over Jordan and Israel. You can buy masks, scrubs, creams and other mineral-rich goods made from this unusual body of water.
The Bible tells of people living in caves around the Dead Sea, the best known of whom are the Essenes of Qumran. Their extensive library of more than 900 texts, the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, was discovered in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls have long been topics of much religious debate, but what is certain is that they provide a glimpse into the religious ideology of the time. At 1,289 feet below sea level, Highway 90 is the world’s lowest road and also runs through areas along the Israeli and West Bank shores.
In recent years, the Dead Sea has been rapidly shrinking, as countries divert water from its tributary, the River Jordan. In 2009, Jordan established the Jordan National Red Sea Development Project to attempt to resolve this problem.
The plan was to take seawater from the Red Sea, desalinate it, distribute the fresh water to cities in Jordan and then return the brine discharge to the Dead Sea. It has yet to be seen if this plan will save the Dead Sea. So far, however, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your time in and around these healing waters.
Over thousands of years, the salt for which the Dead Sea is so famous has slowly gathered into deposits in and around the lake. Not only are these formations stunning, they can also be incredibly therapeutic. The Dead Sea area, in fact, is an important center for health research. Bask in the waters of the Dead Sea and feel your skin softening, your muscles relaxing and your aches and pains steadily easing. Take some salt home to mix into your own bath to feel these wonderful effects year round.
Do be careful of diving into the water. You will not float! The water is so salty that if it gets into your mouth and eyes it can be quite painful. Be sure to take a bottle of fresh drinking water with you to avoid any uncomfortable instances. Also, the salt deposits on the rocks are sharp so look carefully below before you sit on a rock. Shaving your legs, armpits or face the day you will bathe in the Dead Sea is also not recommended as it could increase your risk for irritation from the strong salt content in the water. Many bathers prefer to wear rubber-soled water shoes and goggles to avoid any scratches or uncomfortable stinging around the eyes.
Tip: Do not try and swim or float on your stomach.
Watching the sun fade away into the Dead Sea is a unique experience. The sun sets in the direction of Israel and once the darkness hits, the sparkling lights of Jerusalem come alive. Arrive at least 20 minutes in advance to catch this natural spectacle.
Dead Sea Mineral Mud
This mud is not your standard roadside muck, but more like soft dark gray clay. Filled with more than 35 diverse minerals and found along the shore, Dead Sea mud has been used to control the symptoms of various diseases and skin conditions for centuries.
Coat yourself in a thin layer of Dead Sea mud and bask in the sun for about an hour or until it dries and becomes hard to the touch. Your beauty treatment is now almost complete — rinse off your mud mask in the Dead Sea with special precaution for your eyes, nose and mouth to find how soft your skin will feel.
You will discover first-hand that though the Dead Sea is void of biological life, it can still give you glowing skin and a healthy boost.
Because the Dead Sea is roughly nine times saltier than the ocean, it is incredibly buoyant. Swimmers find themselves unable to dive more than two feet because the water simply pushes them back to the surface. Float with ease on your back and peruse a newspaper or your favorite paperback. Have someone take your picture with your book choice for the iconic photographic keepsake of your Dead Sea experience.
Where to Stay
Stay at the Mövenpick Dead Sea Resort
Tucked away on the northern beaches of the Dead Sea, the Mövenpick Dead Sea Resort is a unique, five-star resort that can turn a simple trip into a complete and authentic experience. The resort is set in a traditional village atmosphere, surrounded by verdant gardens with a spectacular view of the Dead Sea.
With a total of 346 guestrooms, visitors can choose from 10 different categories of rooms in the main building, the beachfront and the village, each offering a different stunning view. Most rooms also include a terrace or balcony. Smoking and non-smoking rooms are also available, as well as connecting rooms and rooms for the physically disabled. The décor in each room is modern yet welcoming, with warm colors reflecting the soothing atmosphere. Every room features a satellite television, hairdryer, air conditioning, coffee and tea equipment, a safe, a free mini bar and a direct-dial phone.
The resort has a wide variety of dining options, with nine different restaurants and bars to choose from. Swing by Luigi’s for an authentic Italian dinner or enjoy a grilled surf and turf at The Grill. Create your own meal at Chopsticks or sample one of the Juice Bar’s refreshing concoctions.
Take your relaxation to the next level and visit the resort’s lavish Zara Spa, considered one of the country’s finest. Dive into one of their many pools, each featuring a different saline concentration, or try their indoor Dead Sea flotation pool with water pumped in directly from the Dead Sea. Indulge yourself on one of their amazing treatments and forget that word “stress” even exists. The doting staff is ready to indulge you, and all guests of the Zara Spa are treated to beverages, coffee and tea for the duration of their time at the spa.
Top quality Dead Sea beauty products are sold here, and although they can get pricey, they are the real deal — that is, you can be sure that the ingredients came from the area not far from the Mövenpick Hotel. Be sure to catch the breath-taking orange sunset sitting poolside at the Zara’s exclusive infinity pool, which is only available to Zara Spa guests.
The resort also offers a children’s pool, a heated winter pool, tennis courts, beach volleyball, a playground, a beach lounge infinity pool, children’s activity center and a fitness room. At least two nights are needed to fully experience the Dead Sea and this is simply a trip you will not forget. Let the Mövenpick wine, dine and relax you as you soak up the sun in your body mud mask.
Note from David
The Dead Sea simply cannot compare to your typical day at the beach. Just take a little dip into the sea and you will see why. The high salt content makes the water extremely buoyant and extremely painful when it comes into contact with your eyes, mouth or nose, so be careful! But more importantly, enjoy the feeling of being lighter than air and effortlessly floating in its calm waters.
The Mövenpick Dead Sea Resort is a first class institution, located near the sea and the beach. The spa offers a wonderful way to relax and could compete with the therapeutic powers of the sea itself. After just one trip, I felt better than I had in a long time. The hotel has the feel of a Middle-Eastern village, full of vegetation but with all the creature comforts.
Unfortunately, the Dead Sea area is not a budget-friendly destination. The religious, historical and therapeutic significance of the area makes it a sought-after destination for Europeans and Middle-Eastern travelers. The hotels around the Dead Sea are opulent and pricy. But if you want to splurge on an unforgettable experience while in Jordan, there is no better choice than the Dead Sea. It is truly like no other place on earth.
Additional Travel Information:
Getting around: A taxi from Aqaba can be hired to transport you to the Dead Sea, which will run you approximately 100 JD. The main road leading to and from the Dead Sea is the Dead Sea Highway, which provides stunning scenery.
In general, Jordan’s streets are busy and clogged, so you may find it stressful to try to drive yourself around. It is best to stick to taxis or car hires if you are not used to driving in the Middle East. White taxis have fixed routes and are shared between passengers. Yellow taxis are private. Although the majority of taxis are fitted with meters, agree on a price before taking off, especially at night. Women should not sit in the front seat of a taxi. Tipping is not obligatory, but is always appreciated.
Visa: A two-week tourist visa can be purchased upon arrival at the airport. A single-entry visa costs 20 JDs ($30). A visa can be extended at any police station.
Shopping: The Mövenpick Dead Sea Resort and a host of other Dead Sea hotels have Dead Sea beauty products for sale. Face creams, eye serums, exfoliating scrubs and mineral-rich soaps are sold throughout the area. Shopping malls and boutiques are scarce.
Tips for shopping: While shopping in markets, negotiating prices is expected but do not expect more than a 30 percent reduction of the original price. If you see a shop owner praying, wait until he is done before asking him any questions. As a general rule, the wealthier you look, the more you will pay for any given item; so you may want to leave the fancy watch in the hotel safe. Keep a close eye on your belongings. You do not want to attract pickpockets. The best advice: enjoy yourself!
Hours of operation: Many businesses including banks and government offices are closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Other businesses also closed Thursday afternoons. Typical store hours are 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and again from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Most museums are closed on Tuesdays. Early closing times are common throughout the month of Ramadan.
Jordanian Dinar, symbol “JD.”
Currency converter: XE
Best time to go: September through May
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