Amid a whirlwind tour of archaeological sites, awesome desert scenery and Christian religious shrines, visitors to Jordan should take at least a day to unwind at a resort along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.
At 1,312 feet below sea level, the super-salty body of water (actually a lake) is the low point of any tour in this Middle Eastern kingdom. The Dead Sea, in fact, is the lowest spot on earth.
Even if you’re not a beach person, you have to go down to the water’s edge and go through two tourist rituals. (The shoreline itself is stony, but the resorts have trucked in tons of sand to form a beachfront that’s easy on your feet.)
First of all, it’s de rigueur to have your picture taken, perhaps reading a magazine or holding a cocktail, as you float effortlessly on your back in the buoyant, mineral-rich water. It’s virtually impossible to sink. While soaking up the healthy minerals, oxygen-rich air and gently defused rays of sun, just make sure you don’t get any water in your eyes—it will be sheer agony. The Dead Sea is nine times saltier than normal seawater. (Because of the high mineral content, nothing can live in this water—that’s why they call it dead.)
Besides floating, a therapeutic mud bath is the other must-do. From pots of oily black mud gathered from the sea floor, dig in and start slathering mud all over your wet body, including your face. Just avoid the mouth and eyes. The lifeguard will be glad to help you apply the mud.
They tell you this messy ritual is rejuvenating, but you actually appear to be aging because your mud-caked skin soon becomes elephant-like. It feels tight and itchy. Wait 15 minutes for the mud to dry a bit, then walk into the water and wash it all off—but not before you have your traveling companion or lifeguard take a picture. Afterwards your skin will feel smooth, tingly and refreshed.
A sign at the Jordan Valley Dead Sea Resort & Spa offers the following guidelines for bathers:
1. It is recommended not to dive or jump into the Dead Sea.
2. It is recommended to shower immediately after floating in the Dead Sea.
3. Swimming is recommended only within 15 meters of the shoreline.
4. To enter the sea, we recommend you enter backwards, allowing your natural buoyancy to keep you stable and upright.
5. Avoid contact with eyes. Should you get water in your eyes, flush immediately with fresh water.
6. If you swallow any sea water, immediately drink plenty of fresh water.
7. Do not go into the sea with minor cuts or wounds, or after shaving.
8. Do not leave salt or mud on your body for prolonged periods as it can cause skin irritation.
The sign says the Dead Sea is a 30 percent saline solution and that it “contains more than 35 elements and minerals that are beneficial for eczema, arthritis and rheumatism.” Among those elements are chlorine, calcium, potassium, magnesium, bromine, sulphur and iodine.
Dead Sea resorts offer a variety of spa treatments and therapies using products derived from the sea. The therapeutic benefits of the Dead Sea and climatic conditions have proven to offer excellent natural treatments for a range of chronic ailments, from such dermatological problems as psoriasis to respiratory conditions like asthma. Due to the high barometric pressure, the dry, allergen-free air (rich in minerals from the constantly evaporating water) is about eight per cent richer in oxygen than at sea level. Dead Sea therapies are so highly regarded by some European countries that long stays in the area are available courtesy of their health insurance plans.
Souvenir shops across the country sell bath salts, soap, skin toners, hand creams, facial mud masks and other products produced by Dead Sea laboratories. They make affordable, easy-to-carry gifts to bring home.
Along with the Marriott, opulent Dead Sea resorts include the Moevenpick, Kempinski and Holiday Inn. Lushly landscaped with palms, flowering vines, waterfalls and fountains, all have expansive courtyards, freshwater swimming pools and a wide choice of restaurants. The Moevenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, with its Arabic motifs, artwork, antiques and desert castle-style architecture, is particularly stunning. Guest rooms are housed in a rustic, two-story village complex built with local stone. All 358 units have a balcony or terrace with views of the gardens, sea or mountains. At night, westward views across the sea showcase the lighted hills of Jerusalem.
Just across the Dead Sea Highway from all this luxury, you’ll see Bedouins in traditional dress herding goats or sheep across the stony soil, just as they have centuries. Camels and donkeys are hitched near their tents. Along the road, the locals peddle horse and camel rides to tourists.
The Dead Sea is conveniently situated an hour from Amman, the capital of Jordan, and near many places mentioned in the Bible. Sites of spiritual significance include Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus. (The Jordan River, along with other rivers, flows into the Dead Sea.) In the Book of Genesis, God refers to the Jordan River Valley around the sea as the “Garden of the Lord,” and it is believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden.
The infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were the subjects of Old Testament stories, including that of Lot, whose wife turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying God’s will. From the Dead Sea Highway, tour guides point out a dried pillar of salt said to be the remains of Lot’s wife.
For more information on the Dead Sea, contact the Jordan Tourism Board, 877-733-5673; www.visitjordan.com.