The Essential Guide to the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is easily one of the most unusual bodies of water in the world. Its super-salinity makes swimming all but impossible, though trying, failing, and bobbing up and down is great fun. After a dip, slather yourself with the purifying local mud or treat yourself to some pampering at a spa in one of the many hotel resorts along the coast.

Highlights
Dead Sea Road Dead Sea Road Dead Sea, 18186, Jordan
The Dead Sea, it must be said, is shrinking. Every year, evaporation causes the giant lake to get ever saltier and the water level to get slightly lower, turning the coastline into a series of cliffs with precious little beach. The hotel resorts that line the lake’s northern coast have bought up most of the remaining sand, offering ticketed access to non-guests. Of these, the Holiday Inn Resort has one of the best beaches. Buy a ticket (around $35 on weekdays and $63 on weekends and holidays), then follow the steep path downhill to the sand and you’re free to indulge in the time-honored tradition of trying to swim in the saltiest water on the planet. Good luck—even the simplest doggy paddle will leave you bobbing up and down like a cork. On the beach, you’ll find pots of purifying Dead Sea mud to slather on your skin. You can wash it off in the sea, but if you’ve given yourself a face mask, stick to the available freshwater showers—the extreme saltiness of the Dead Sea is not something you want to get in your eyes.
Dead Sea Rd., Sweimeh 11180, Jordan
The Dead Sea has deservedly become known as something of a spa destination, with visitors helping themselves to goopy masks of the local, mineral-rich mud for decades. For something slightly more luxurious, book an appointment at Zara Spa in the Mövenpick Resort. Done up in raw stone, elaborate tiles, and polished plaster, the five-star facility evokes the Jordanian desert combined with a Moroccan riad. It also boasts one of the widest range of treatments in the entire Middle East, plus expertly trained therapists to ease you into a truly relaxed state of mind. The traditional hammam is a particular delight, but be sure to also indulge in popular treatments like the black mud body wrap or the hot-and-cold-stone massage. When you book a service, you’ll also have access to the spa’s top-notch facilities, which include hydro, flotation, and infinity pools as well as a juice bar and state-of-the-art fitness center.
Aghwar Janoobiyah District, Jordan
As its name implies, this museum on the Dead Sea’s southern peninsula sits a staggering 1,329 feet below sea level. There’s more to see than just the rather impressive altimeter in negative figures, however. Housed in a beautiful modern building that unfurls like a nautilus shell, the museum boasts well-presented archaeological remains and modern artifacts covering some 4,500 years of human habitation in the surrounding area. Standout pieces range from Bronze Age pottery to contemporary woven baskets made from discarded plastic bags.

After touring the museum, head uphill to Lot’s Cave, where the namesake prophet’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt after the couple fled Sodom and Gomorrah. A small Byzantine monastery marks the location.
Dead Sea 40, AlBalqa, Jordan
You don’t need to go swimming to enjoy the Dead Sea. At the appropriately named Dead Sea Panorama Complex, you can enjoy views all the way across the water to Israel. There’s also a small but decent restaurant offering traditional Jordanian cuisine, and a compact museum telling the story of the Dead Sea and the civilizations that have called it home. Have a look around, then grab a cold drink and enjoy the sublime vistas. If you can, stay for the spectacular sunsets over the coast—the twinkling lights you’ll see on the distant horizon belong to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories.
Hotels
Swaimeh, عمّان، Jordan
Why we love it: A grand resort with subtle style and top-notch amenities

The Highlights:
- Stylishly minimal guest rooms with balconies and deep-soaking tubs
- An infinity pool overlooking the Dead Sea
- Impeccable service from an expert staff

The Review:
There’s a tendency among high-end hotels in the Middle East to overwhelm guests with bling. The Kempinski Hotel Ishtar, the grandest of all the Dead Sea resorts, does things a little differently, impressing visitors with its architecture instead. The hotel’s Babylonian-style buildings loom large, but inside the decor is dialed back to the point of almost minimal. Walls disappear into expanses of glass, framing dramatic views over the sea, while shady balconies and sunken baths keep ostentatiousness at bay. There are plenty of pools, lagoons, and waterfalls of course, plus a private beach, a luxurious spa, and a handful of restaurants, but your first impression, as someone hands you a glass of cold hibiscus juice at check-in, is that this is a hotel that gets the details right.
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