On my last day in Jordan, there was one culturally and historically significant place left to visit: The Dead Sea. After an incredible week exploring this magical kingdom, I had opened my mind to an ancient world from the surreal beauty of the Wadi Rum to the Roman Ruins of Jerash and of course the icing on the cake, a day and a half exploring the ancient city of Petra. I was disappointed with our visit to the Red Sea, overwhelmed walking the hot, dusty streets of Amman and wishing I had more time to spend a night and hike in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. Yet taking a float in the Dead Sea was that last one thing on my traveler’s bucket list to do in Jordan and thankfully I’d get to experience it before I left.
The Dead Sea has been a place of refuge and mystique since Biblical times. Formed over 3 million years ago, the Dead Sea is the saltiest body of water in the world with a salinity of 34% (9.6 times saltier than the ocean) and its salty waters and nutrient-rich mud have been attracting humans to its shores for millennia. Due to its high levels of salt, no animals or plants can survive hence the name “Dead Sea” however tourists and industry alike flock to the Dead Sea to reap the health and financial benefits of its products. In fact, the global market for Dead Sea mud-based cosmetics hit 678 million US dollars in 2015 and is predicted to grow. Tourism to the Dead Sea is also significant with an explosion in tourism. I could hardly wait to be one of those tourists, covering myself in mud, basking in the sun like a turtle and then floating in the Dead Sea.
After a delightful morning exploring the Roman Ruins of Jerash, we set off for an hour and a half drive south to the Dead Sea. Many people chose to spend a night or two at one of the fancy resorts and spas located along the Dead Sea however since we were on a set seven-day tour of Jordan we would only have the afternoon. For me, that was all I needed as I’m not one who likes to lounge around however there were a few fellow travelers on our tour who opted to spend their last few days in Jordan there. Either way, the Dead Sea is only an hour’s drive from Amman so it is easy to do for a half a day or full-day trip from the capital.
As we left Jerash, we learned from our Jordan guide about the importance of the olive tree in Jordan culture and industry. The northern part of Jordan, where Jerash is located, is considered to be the breadbasket of this arid nation and is where 72% of the olive trees are grown in Jordan. You cannot find a breakfast table in Jordan without olive oil and Jordan is the 10th largest producer of olive oil in the world. It was surprising to see a greener landscape but it wasn’t long until the trees disappeared and the landscape returned to its dusty, sandy self.
Located in the Jordan Rift Valley, the Dead Sea sits at the lowest point on Earth at 422 meters (1,385 feet) below sea level. As you descend to the Dead Sea, your ears begin to pop similar to how you feel when descending in an airplane. It is a rather strange sensation but perhaps not as surreal as catching your first glimpse of the Dead Sea. It first appears almost as an apparition off in the distance of hazy, stirred up sand and it is hard to get a true idea of how big it is. The Dead Sea measures roughly 50 km (31 miles) long by and 15 km (9.3 miles) long and borders Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. The main tributary is the Jordan River and that has been part of the problem. The Dead Sea is rapidly shrinking at a rate of 3 feet (1 meter) annually and humans are to blame. Without swift intervention, the Dead Sea could almost disappear by 2050 some scientists warn.