What to see at the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley: All you need to know

The Dead Sea is one of the major tourist attractions in Jordan. And the Jordan Valley holds great symbolism for the country, as it actually gives it its name. That’s why our tours often dedicate several days to this area, as it is home to some of the most interesting places for travelers. In this section, you can find more information about what to see at the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley, as well as other tips on things to do if you’re spending a few days here.

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Where is the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley located, and what is the climate like?

The Dead Sea and Jordan Valley are two closely related places. In fact, the latter ends at the former, which, despite its name, is not a sea but rather an endorheic lake. They form a significant part of Jordan’s western border, marking the boundary with Israel and the Palestinian Territories (West Bank).

The Jordan Valley actually extends through the northern part of the country as well, but we group it together in the same section with the Dead Sea because its main point of interest is very close by: Bethany Beyond the Jordan, just before the Jordan River empties into this large body of water.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, is one of the most unique spaces in the world, and this is due to two reasons:

Its negative altitude: it is located in a great depression, and some of its points are more than 400 meters below sea level, making it the lowest point on Earth. This is because of its tectonic origin. The extremely high salinity of its waters, one of the highest in the world. This is because the massive evaporation of water is not compensated by the annual inflow of fresh water from the Jordan River, resulting in consistently high salinity. Indeed, the climate at the Dead Sea is extreme, with temperatures reaching (and often surpassing) 40°C in the summer months. Combined with the humidity, it can be suffocating during this period. Therefore, May to October is considered a less popular time for visitors. If you decide to come during this time, you should be mentally prepared and well-equipped, especially to combat heatstroke (although the ultraviolet radiation is lower than at sea level due to atmospheric pressure) and humidity (though to a lesser extent than in a “normal” sea at sea level).

Sectors of the Dead Sea

In the Jordanian part of the Dead Sea, three sectors can be distinguished, as its size is considerable (about 100 km from its northern to southern ends):

  • Northern sector: This is the most touristy area, where practically all the spas and resorts are located. The reference locality is Swemeh.
  • Central sector, sparsely urbanized, where some of the most interesting natural sites can be found, such as waterfalls, the Dead Sea Museum, or the Wadi Al Mujib Biosphere Reserve.
  • Southern sector: around the Lisan Peninsula, where the Dead Sea becomes a large evaporation basin, but there are points of interest in the surrounding areas, such as the Museum of the Lowest Point on Earth or the Cave of Lot.

A bit of history

The Dead Sea is a body of water that, due to its location and uniqueness, has played a prominent role in the history of the Middle East. Significant events related to the formation of the three main monotheistic religions have taken place on both the Israeli-Palestinian and Jordanian shores.

For example, it is believed that on the southern shores near the Lisan Peninsula, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located, which were destroyed by God with fire and brimstone due to their grave sins, around the 3rd millennium BC, although there is no conclusive evidence of this. After the destruction, Lot, the nephew of Abraham, is said to have sought refuge in what is now known as the Cave of Lot.

Centuries before the birth of Christ, this area was already well-known to the Nabateans (a people with their capital in Petra), who used the natural asphalt that originated here to export it to Ancient Egypt, where it was used in the mummification process.

The ancient Greeks were also aware of this unique body of water, which they called the Sea of Salt, the Pestilential Sea, and finally gave it the name Dead Sea, as they observed that the high salinity made the existence of aquatic life virtually impossible.

During the turn of the era, this area also played an important role, as John the Baptist or St. John the Baptist performed his baptisms not far from here, several kilometers north of the Dead Sea, especially the baptism of Jesus Christ, in the waters of the Jordan River. This place is known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. In addition, John the Baptist also died in the area, specifically in Machaerus, a fortress-palace now in ruins, in the village of Mukawir.

During Byzantine times, it was also home to Orthodox Christians, especially monks who lived in austere monasteries located on both shores of the Dead Sea. Centuries later, the area remained practically uninhabited, and it was not until the 19th century that it was explored, especially to determine if its salt-rich waters could be exploited, which happened in the 20th century: the evaporative basins located in the south are used for the production of potash and fertilizers, which Jordan exports.

In the 20th century, there were also advancements in archaeological discoveries, and most importantly, the Dead Sea opened up to tourism, with the construction of spas and resorts in its northern sector. However, there is ongoing debate about its future, as climate change and agricultural exploitation in the surrounding areas may be affecting the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, which have seen a significant reduction in their flow and capacity in recent decades.

mar muerto en jordania Dead Sea and Jordan Valley

What to see at the Dead Sea

There is no doubt that the vast majority of tourists who come to the Dead Sea are attracted by its spas: as we told you on this other page, there are numerous spas and resorts with private beaches where you can enjoy a day of thermal wellness. However, if you are going to spend several days here and want to escape at some point to see other things, you will find several interesting places to see at the Dead Sea and its surroundings.

Due to the uniqueness of this area, Jordan has taken advantage and built two thematic museums:

  • Dead Sea Museum: part of the complex called Dead Sea Panoramic Complex, which is also very popular for the panoramic views it offers from its terrace and for the restaurant located here, one of the few in the area. The museum is of great interest to geology enthusiasts, as it explains the formation and composition of this place.
  • Lowest Point on Earth Museum: this is a modern building and its collection provides a historical overview of all the civilizations that have lived or passed through here, from ceramics dating back 4,500 years to the most recent Bedouin tribes.

Travelers interested in religion and history will be drawn to the archaeological site of Machaerus or Maqueronte, near the small village of Mukawir, about 10 km from the shore of the Dead Sea, in the central sector. These are the ruins of Herod the Great’s fortress, a 1st century BC fortress where significant events took place, including the imprisonment and subsequent beheading of John the Baptist, instigated by Salome. The fortress was also a palace, situated on top of a mountain with a view of the entire Dead Sea, and today only some sections of walls and columns remain, but the suggestion of remembering that episode will be very evocative for visitors.

Further south of the Lisan Peninsula, near the evaporative basins (used to extract phosphates from water and export them as fertilizers), you will find the Cave of Lot. Specifically, in the hills of Ghor as-Safi: to get here, you have to complete a significant uphill hike, starting near the Lowest Point on Earth Museum.

In this cave, at the end of the 20th century, a cave was discovered and during archaeological excavations, ceramics from the Bronze Age were recovered. But the important thing is that it is believed that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived here, finding refuge in his escape after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This speculation is based on the discovery of an inscription that would mention Lot. In addition, there are remains of a small Byzantine church and mosaics that would date from the same period (between the 5th and 7th centuries).

Another related attraction, though located further north, is the salt statue of Lot’s wife: according to the Bible, she was transformed into a pillar of salt for looking back when escaping from Sodom with her family, despite being explicitly warned by two angels. This salt statue has been identified with a rock formation north of the Lisan Peninsula, at the height of Wadi Al Mujib.

In addition to all of the above, we remind you that another must-see place at the Dead Sea and its surroundings is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the place where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. We provide you with all the information on this page. It is the most interesting place in the Jordan Valley, as upstream, further north, the river is quite deteriorated today.

bano mar muerto jordania Dead Sea and Jordan Valley

What to do in the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley

In addition to the previously mentioned attractions to see at the Dead Sea, you can also spend your time engaging in other interesting activities. From an ecological perspective, you can visit the Wadi Al Mujib Biosphere Reserve. Here, there are hiking trails that pass through its most representative areas, including various water canyons where you can even take a refreshing dip. This protected area boasts a surprising variety of plants, such as orchids, and an interesting diversity of animals, including migratory birds and mammals such as the striped hyena and Afghan fox.

The sport that can be practiced at the Dead Sea is, just like its climate and environment, extreme. The Jordan Trail passes through here, which crosses Jordan from north to south: this section is 78 km long, divided into four stages. However, the ultimate challenge is the Dead Sea Ultra Marathon, not to be confused with the ‘regular’ marathon held on the Israeli side of the sea. It usually takes place in May, with the finish line at Amman Beach.

A much simpler and refreshing activity is taking a dip at the La Cueva Aqua Park, located on the outskirts of Swemeh, which is one of the best leisure options for families visiting the Dead Sea.

And for those seeking a thermal and more relaxing bath, you can check out our page on spas and beaches at the Dead Sea.

How to get to the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley

The Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea is connected from north to south by the Jordan Valley Highway, also known as the Dead Sea Highway, which originates in the capital, Amman, and extends southward to Aqaba. A branch road also leads to Wadi Musa (Petra). In addition, some roads overcome the significant elevation difference with the Highlands to connect this highway with the King’s Highway, the main north-south axis of the country. These smaller roads follow the course of wadis (dry riverbeds) and traveling along them is an experience in itself, connecting the Dead Sea with other interesting cities like Madaba or Karak.

From the north, the gateway is Sweimeh. In reality, it is a small locality that does not have a bus station. The JETT bus company does not include it in its network of major bus routes and only reaches here through specific tour packages.

Therefore, with limited public transportation options, consisting of only a few taxis and minibuses, the best option to reach the Dead Sea is by private vehicle. Here is a rough list of distances and travel durations to the Dead Sea, taking Sweimeh as a reference due to its concentration of spas and resorts:

  • Amman: 50 km, 45 minutes
  • Jerash: 90 km, 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Madaba: 30 km, 40 minutes
  • Karak: 90 km, 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Petra: 250 km, 3 hours
  • Wadi Rum: 300 km, 3 hours and 30 minutes
  • Aqaba: 275 km, 3 hours and 15 minutes

Other useful information

The Dead Sea lacks large cities in its immediate surroundings, so the service network is limited. This includes gas stations, which are really scarce here, so if you’re going to be driving a rental car, we recommend filling up the tank before arriving, just in case.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that this is a border area, in some cases a ‘hard’ border, which may involve visible presence of police and security forces conducting routine or extraordinary checks. Therefore, it’s recommended to always carry your passport and documentation with you.

To obtain information about the Dead Sea on-site, you can request it at your hotel or from our staff, in case you are taking the tour with us, as there are no tourist offices or interpretation centers in the area, apart from the two museums mentioned above.

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