Neither completely dead and most certainly not a sea, the Dead Sea is a bit of a misnomer. A large salt water lake straddling the border between Jordan and Israel, the vast expanse that is the Dead Sea, surrounded by windswept mountains from both sides, is a highlight of any trip to Israel or Jordan. As we were traveling through Jordan, we visited the Dead Sea from the Eastern side of the lake. While everyone comes to the Dead Sea to float and slap mud on their faces, what people pay in order to commence in these activities varies greatly. Our article will focus on the free access point that we found, saving you big bucks.
Why is the Dead Sea so Salty?
The Dead Sea is technically a salt water Lake. With the Jordan River as its only tributary and with nowhere for the water to flow out of, the water evaporates at an accelerated rate, leaving higher salt concentrations… like really high. The Dead Sea has a salinity level of 34%. To put that in perspective, the world’s Oceans average a salinity of only 3.4%, making the Dead Sea 10 times saltier than the ocean. The salts and minerals enter the lake through the river and rain water that passes over rocks, slowly breaking down the chemical components that eventually end up in the Dead Sea.
In addition to being one of the saltiest lakes in the world, the Dead Sea also sits along the lowest point on earth. Lying at 430 meters (1,410 feet) below sea level, the Dead Sea is much hotter than the surrounding area, especially if coming from Amman or other areas of Jordan that are above sea level. The additional atmosphere block enough of the sun’s UV rays to actually make it healthy to leave your skin exposed to it.
Dead Sea Options that Cost Money
Finding access points along the Dead sea are hard to come by. Much of the coastline is lined with steep cliffs, making it impossible or dangerous to get down to the water itself. In addition to finding an access point, having a fresh water source for rinsing off after bathing (you need it) is even scarcer. As a result, most tourists either use one of the private beaches towards the north end of the lake, or spend the day in one of the luxury spas that are also clustered up in the same area. Beach entry will cost anywhere between 20-30 Dinars ($28-$42), while spas start at around 30 Dinars for basic day use. All of these locations will have a maintained beach area in addition to fresh water showers. Don’t expect the beaches outside of the resort limits to be clean and well maintained.
Dead Sea for Free
The good news is that with a little research and planning, you can have yourself bobbing up and down in the Dead see for free. To get here, you will either have to rent your own car, hitchhike, or grab a taxi. Claire and I choose to rent a car for about $30 a day as we planned on visiting many other sites in addition to the Dead Sea (look out for our post describing great road trip itineraries for Jordan soon). Visiting the Dead Sea along with other nearby sites proved to be a cheap and unforgettable day.
Locating the Free Access Point
The free access point we found is located roughly 20 km (12 miles) South of the Northern edge of the Dead Sea. The area is located around the Zara hot springs, which is the source of the freshwater you will need after your swim in the lake. The best way to find the exact location is to first download the app maps.me. After downloading the app, download the map for Jordan and then search ‘Dead Sea Access – Free’. Click on the location the pops up and then save the location to your map. As you approach the site you will see cars lining both sides of the road as it is a popular spot with the locals (especially on Fridays and Saturdays). Simply park along the side of the road and head down the hill where you will find a small path leading down to the sea itself. BE CAREFUL, as the area is not maintained well and the rocks can be slippery. Use caution and don’t go anywhere that you feel unsafe (don’t worry, it’s not as scary as I’ve made it sound).
The Dead Sea Experience
Claire and I had to opportunity to enjoy the Dead Sea twice during our trip as two of our road trip itineraries brought us within reasonable driving distance to the access point. After parking our car, we made our way down the rocky slope past the waterfall and out to the shoreline. The shoreline here is natural, meaning it is full of pointy rocks and boulders, which forced us to tread carefully. Gazing out over the gleaming water towards the mountains of Israel and Palestine on the western shore, we got undressed and gingerly tip toed our way into the Dead Sea. The bottom of the Dead Sea is covered in salt crystals, making it hard on the feet, so getting in and out is a little bit of a challenge. Looking down you can see the white crystal formations blanketing the rocky bottom underneath the surface.
The deeper we treaded into the water, the more difficult it became to keep our balance. Before becoming too unsteady, we sat down into the water and carefully pushed our feet out in front of us. The feeling we experienced after was unreal. Before you known it, most of your body is popping out of the water while most of your effort is focused on keeping your balance on top of the water. After a few minutes of uneasy floating, laughing, and blaring out our uncontained excitement, the float became an effortless and relaxing experience. And when I say effortless, I truly do mean effortless. There were times I felt I could have fallen asleep on top of the water after finding a particularly comfortable position.
Other than floating around, the other activity that both tourists and locals partake in is lathering themselves in the mineral rich mud found along much of the Dead Sea’s shoreline. After having enough of the sea itself, we looked around for a nearby vein of mud. We scrapped the mud with our hands and covered ourselves from head to toe. After a whole lot of smiles and a selfie or too, we relaxed among the rocky shore as we waited for the mud to dry. As the mud dried, it became tight on our skin, making it hard to move and make any facial expressions. Once dry, we made our way back into the sea to wash it off. The mud and sea leave your skin feeling hydrated and refreshed (and hopefully pretty!).
The Dead Sea leaves your skin feeling greasy and will cause any minor cuts or scrapes to sting so rinsing yourself immediately is highly recommended. So when it was time to leave, Claire and I made our way halfway up the hill in order to find the waterfall where we could rinse off. Running directly from a hot spring, this as close to the Dead Sea spa experience for free. The warm water pounding over your shoulders is relaxing and refreshing as you wash off the slimy and slippery coat of salt that covers your body. Once we were rinsed and dried off, we took one last look at the Dead Sea as the sun began to set before clambering our way up the rest of the hill and back to our car.
Dead Sea Tips
These tips will help ensure you have a smooth and enjoyable time at the Dead Sea.
Bring a BIG bottle of Fresh Water
The Dead Sea area is hot all year round, meaning staying hydrated is important. Having a bottle of water to flush out your eyes in case they come in contact with the water is crucial too as the spring is too far away to use in case of an emergency. Claire accidentally flipped over (well… I actually accidentally caused this) and ended up with her whole face underwater which caused here eyes, ears, and nose to burn like hell. Luckily, we had a bottle of water to flush out all of the salt so that we could continue to enjoy our time at the sea.
Don’t be Too Adventurous at First
Floating in the Dead Sea is a weird and unnatural feeling. Before trying to flip over onto your front or ‘swimming around’ take some time to get used to floating in the sea and learn how your body responds to it. Once you feel comfortable you can try flipping around BUT ONLY IF YOU ARE A STRONG SWIMMER. People have drowned in the Dead Sea because they have flipped over to their front and were unable to pick their head out of the water or return to their back.
Bring Flip Flops
As the whole coastline is rocky, flip flops are important for protecting your feet. You can also wear them into the water if you can’t handle the water crystals on the lake bottom.
Don’t Bring Nice Clothes
Even after rinsing off, you will get the grimy salt everywhere, including your clothing. It is hard to remove so it is best to wear clothes you don’t mind soiling.
Bring a Jar to Collect Mud
A fan of facial masks? Rather than pay for the mud in a shop, why not collect your own? Claire collected a mason jar worth of the stuff and has been carrying it and using it on our travels ever since.
Avoid Splashing Around or Moving too Quickly
Avoid splashing as even the smallest drop of water from the Dead Sea getting into your eyes is going to burn A LOT. While it is likely you will get some in your eye if you stay in long enough, it’s best to avoid as much damage as possible. Keep your movements to a minimum, as any abrupt movements will put you at risk of losing your balance.
Do Not Shave Before Going into the Dead Sea
Even the slightest of nicks will cause you a lot of unwanted pain so you should not save for several days before you plan to visit the Dead Sea. Watch out for any cuts and scrapes on your body as these can make you visit rather unpleasant.
A Word For the Ladies
Solo female travelers may feel a bit uneasy coming here alone, especially on the weekend. Jordan is still a very conservative country, and most local women dress head to toe, even when getting into the water. Any exposed skin, and especially a bikini will most likely attract a lot of unwanted attention. Our first experience at the Dead Sea was on a busy Saturday and Claire didn’t feel so comfortable. As she waited for me to go get something from the car, people walking and driving buy kept cat calling her because she was wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt. This stopped once people realized she was with me but even down below when we went for a swim, an endless crowd of boys kept pestering us as they were very curious to see a woman in a bikini. Claire ended up putting on her shirt in the water and we moved further down the shoreline, close to a local family and the boys tended to leave us alone from that point on.
Our second day (during the week) we encountered no such problems making the overall experience much more enjoyable. The shoreline was quiet, with only a handful of people collecting mud or bobbing along in the sea. Just understand that if you come alone, or arrive on a busy weekend day, you will most likely be pestered, especially if alone, if you wear anything less than pants and a long sleeve shirt (Even then, local boys may still be very curious about you given you are unaccompanied). Showing skin is not illegal in Jordan, but showing it is definitely seen as promiscuity.
We are always trying to abide to local customs and norms as much as we can while traveling since we always want to portray a sense of respect and understanding wherever we go. We believe this is one of the most important duties of a traveler. This was one of those situations where we found out the hard way but adapted to the situation quickly.
The Dead Sea: An Unforgettable Experience
You will never forget the feeling of floating in the Dead Sea for the first time. There is nowhere else in the world quite like it and for that, it is something you will remember for a lifetime. Spending a few hours here floating around and playing in the mud while surrounded by mountains and a view of two countries will be one of the many highlights of your adventure in Jordan. For more information on the itineraries we made for our road trip which included the Dead Sea, be sure to check out our post about it when it is published later this week.