Dead Sea

Overview

Introduction

Straddling the border between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is the lowest spot on the Earth's surface. If you head there from Amman, don't nod off: The view as you descend from the hills toward the sea is quite striking. The mineral content of this 45-mi-/75-km-long and 6-mi-/10-km-wide saltwater lake tops out at 33%.

The Dead Sea should be seen (and stepped into) at least once in every person's life—it's impossible to sink—but some mild words of caution are in order: Don't shave shortly before swimming (the high salt content will leave you with an excruciatingly painful experience), and take some eyedrops along (getting even a tiny drop of the thick water in your eye is painful). Also try to make sure there are shower facilities or a freshwater stream in which to rinse off nearby—otherwise, the sea's minerals will leave an uncomfortable crust on your skin.

Near the northern end of the Dead Sea are several spa and beach resorts, including the lovely Movenpick Resort and the luxurious Kempinski Hotel Ishatar, which was inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Visitors who are not guests of the resort can generally take advantage of the health and beauty treatments at the spas if they purchase a day membership. For centuries, people have traveled to the Dead Sea to enjoy its beauty as well as its healing properties. Many people go there for relief from chronic ailments such as dermatological problems, asthma, arthritis, circulatory issues and hypertension. The composition of the Dead Sea contains contains high levels of magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium, making it rich in life-enhancing minerals.

A bit inland from the sea, in a beautiful oasis, are thermal springs (including a waterfall) at Hammamat Ma'in.

Also nearby is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which archaeologists believe to be the site where John the Baptist lived and preached, and where he baptized Jesus. The ruins of a Byzantine church were built on what early Christians identified as the spot where Jesus left his robes. Elsewhere, you can visit the Baptist's Spring, which may have been John's cave where he sheltered, and several other churches and baptism pools. Nearby is Jebal Mar Elias, a small hill referred to in the Bible as Hermon, where the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.

About midway along the sea's shore is the Mujib Reserve. This protected area encompassing a gorge, mountains and valleys boasts an impressive biodiversity of both plants and wildlife. It also has two marked hiking trails and a campsite. At the southern end of the sea, not far south of Wadi Mujib, is the site identified as Lot's Cave, where the biblical figure was said to have taken refuge after escaping from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. A Byzantine church built over the cave entrance has been excavated and is open to the public. A shell-shaped museum has been built 984 ft/300 m from the entrance to Lot's Cave. North of Lot's Cave are the sites of what are believed to be the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which show signs that they were indeed destroyed by fire.

Try to see the sunset at the Dead Sea at least once—it's worth it. The Dead Sea is 25 mi/40 km southwest of Amman.

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