Dead Sea, Jordan: What is it really like?

Dead Sea, Jordan: What is it really like?

We’ve all see the TV footage. A presenter floats, feet pointing skyward, on a vivid blue sea. Cold drink in hand, barren hills in the background, they deliver a perfectly composed piece to camera while the buoyancy of the Dead Sea holds them steady on the surface of the water. It seems exotic and exciting, but what is swimming in the Dead Sea really like?

It’s possible to visit the Dead Sea from two countries. Israel has half the coastline and many places to bathe, but my Dead Sea experience took place on the exotic slopes of the opposite shore, in the kingdom of Jordan.

The approach to the Dead Sea from Amman takes you through bare, rocky mountains before you start your descent to sea level – and beyond. A signpost marks the point where you cross the dividing line and enter the bowels of the earth. Every metre you descend from this spot is a vivid reminder of how far below sea level the Dead Sea really is.

swimming in the dead sea 1

There are multitudes of plush resorts strung out along the shoreline, but we headed for one of the public spots, Amman Beach. Here, anyone who can pay the entrance fee can access swimming pools, changing rooms, showers, and steps down to the beach itself. The first thing that’s noticeable is the dark golden sand and blue sea; the second is the ring of white along the shoreline. Salt crystals cling to the wet sand, unlike anything I had ever seen before, and a vivid reminder of why this place is special.

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The Dead Sea at Amman Beach, Jordan. The steps down to the shore show just how much the sea level has dropped

We were warned before our visit that we shouldn’t swim in the sea if we had any cuts on our bodies, and shaving that morning was not advised. Of course, we all ignored the instructions, but we soon found out why we had been warned. Obvious though it sounds, the Dead Sea is REALLY salty. Although I thought I was fine, I soon found every single scratch as the salt stung my skin. If you have serious cuts, you will really know about it.

The buoyancy of the sea is not a myth. It’s a strange feeling, like swimming in water which is thicker than usual, a little bit more treacly than you were expecting. Swimming requires more effort as the water holds you back, and floating, while easy, is an odd sensation as the buoyancy holds you further out of the water than you are used to. We floated on our backs, ankles crossed and hands behind our heads as though we were lounging on a sofa; but we also floated vertically, arms stretched out in a T position like avenging angels, and felt ourselves lift out of the water almost to our waists. It was one of the strangest feelings I can ever remember.

swimming in the dead sea 4

One of our group decided to taste the water, and quickly spluttered and spat it out with a look of horror on her face. Taking a tiny drop on my finger and licking it off, my reaction was not much more restrained – it tasted almost like pure salt. The taste burned on my tongue for quite some time, and made me much more cautious about splashing anyone or getting water anywhere near my eyes.

We spent quite some time playing around in the water and enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Finally, we dragged ourselves back up the beach for a shower and a dip in the clean water of the swimming pool, before heading off for a shower and a change. Afterwards, heading south along the main road, we stopped at one of the many shops selling products made from the Dead Sea salt and mud and bought souvenirs to take home. It was an experience that completely lived up to my imagination.

swimming in the dead sea

Floating in the Dead Sea is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!


The Dead Sea’s level is rapidly falling – the sea has already divided into two, and you can clearly see the old shoreline compared to the new. It would be a tragedy if it were to shrink further, but need for water further up the Jordan valley is limiting the supply of water feeding the sea. Let’s hope that this destruction stops before it’s too late, as this is still a magical location, and definitely worthy of a place on any bucket list.


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The shoreline shows just how salty the sea is


Want more on beautiful Jordan? Check out In the footsteps of Lawrence: Jordan’s desert castles!


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Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!

Jordan desert tours: Qasr Azraq & the Jordan desert castles

Jordan desert tours: Qasr Azraq & the Jordan desert castles

As often happens when you’re me, I found myself in the Jordanian capital, Amman, one Sunday in September with nothing to do. I have a tendency to do this; I book group tours which start on, let’s say, a Monday, and rather than waste a weekend at home when I could be seeing the world, I head to my destination a day early. Anyway, I had a day to kill, and plans to explore Amman with a group the following day, so I looked for alternatives. The Jordan desert castles were not something I knew anything about, but they are close to the capital and different from what was planned for the rest of the trip, so I signed myself up for a private day tour.

I love to take private tours when I can afford it. Obviously I’m conscious of safety when I go off on my own, especially as a female (TripAdvisor reviews are my best friend!), but I have had some wonderful solo trips, and they are a great way to find out a little about daily life in the country through chatting to your guide. And today is no different; with only each other to talk to as we headed out of the city, my driver Ibrahim and I get to discussing family life in Jordan, his plans to move abroad, and the pitfalls and challenges for everyday Jordanians living in this country sandwiched between some of the most volatile nations in the Middle East.

Jordan desert castles: Spend a day exploring one of the lesser-known of Jordan's treasures: the magnificent desert castles east of the capital, Amman. | Jordan desert tours | Qasr al Kharanah | Qasr Amra | Qasr al Amra | Qasr Azraq | Qasr al Azraq | Day trips from Amman Jordan | Lawrence of Arabia | Jordan's eastern desert

Qasr Al-Kharranah

Ibrahim misses the old days, when a popular getaway was to head up to Damascus for a weekend of partying in the Syrian capital. Of course, those days are long gone: travel to Syria is banned, far too dangerous anyway, and many of his old haunts are probably no longer standing. He discusses with me at length the problems facing the Jordanian tourist industry these days. Given its neighbours, it is no wonder that tourists are wary of visiting, but Jordan is the Switzerland of the Middle East. Staying out of the conflict all around it (it has borders with Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel/Palestine), its only real involvement in the politics is to receive the refugees desperately fleeing the war zone that lies above its northern border. In the meantime, tourist revenue has plummeted and it is getting increasingly hard to make a living in the local tourist industry which is so important to the Jordanian economy. It’s no wonder that Ibrahim wants to leave.

Heading east out of Amman, we make a pit stop at a convenience store. I haven’t had any breakfast, and Ibrahim is heeding my desperate plea for coffee, but also urging me to try a local snack, vegetables in a sausage-like wrap of rice and vine leaves. I wish I could remember the name of it, but not only does he fetch it for me, he also insists on paying – one of my first encounters with Jordanian hospitality! And it was delicious.

Fed and caffeinated, we continue out of the city on the motorway heading east. Our first stop is the desert castle of Qasr Al-Kharanah. Much of Jordan’s architectural heritage is ancient Roman or Palestinian, and much of its culture in the southern areas of the country is Bedouin, but the Jordan desert castles are proudly Arab. Mostly caravanserais, stopping-places for the camel caravans wending their way across the desert, they are imposing structures rising starkly out of the desert. Qasr Al-Kharanah was built in the 8th century AD, and is a large, square structure, a more stereotypical castle than I expected to find in a country like Jordan. I am shown around by a local guide, who leads me through the labyrinth of rooms right onto the flat roof with a commanding view across the desert. His English is almost as limited as my Arabic, but he is an enthusiastic companion as I explore. We are the only people there, myself the only visitor, and it makes for an atmospheric and relaxing visit, where it is very easy to fill the rooms in my mind with bustling merchants, lounging on cushions and discussing business with the colleagues they encounter as they cross the sands. The absence of other tourists is not normal; it is a product of the instability of the region, and the problem is becoming a bit of a theme already. It will continue all my way around the country.

From Qasr Al-Kharanah, we next make our way to Qasr Amra. A totally different style of castle, this one boasts a Roman-style underfloor heating system and incredibly well-preserved murals covering most of the walls and ceilings. They are exceptional for an Arab building because the frescos are of people, many of them scantily clad women. My new guide explains that this was because the castle was a private home; the murals pre-date the days when human images were banned, but while most others were destroyed in a fit of religious zealousness, these were saved because the buildings were not public spaces. The frescos are colourful, plentiful, and must have made quite an impression to visitors of the time.

Jordan desert castles: Spend a day exploring one of the lesser-known of Jordan's treasures: the magnificent desert castles east of the capital, Amman. | Jordan desert tours | Qasr al Kharanah | Qasr Amra | Qasr al Amra | Qasr Azraq | Qasr al Azraq | Day trips from Amman Jordan | Lawrence of Arabia | Jordan's eastern desert

Decisions decisions… on the way from Amra to Asraq

From Qasr Amra we headed to our third and final destination, Qasr Asraq. Midway there, a road sign has me whipping out my camera. To the right, “Sa’udia”, to the left “Iraq”. Ibrahim obligingly slows on the empty road so I can get a good shot. “Where shall we go, Iraq or Saudi Arabia?” Our destination is to the left, so we plump for a trip to Iraq today, joking between ourselves about skipping the final castle and plumping for an Iraqi day trip instead. The adventurer in me is kind of disappointed that we’re only joking. We are just over 200km or so from the Iraqi border here, possibly the closest I will ever get. We’re also 60km from Saudi.

Jordan desert castles: Spend a day exploring one of the lesser-known of Jordan's treasures: the magnificent desert castles east of the capital, Amman. | Jordan desert tours | Qasr al Kharanah | Qasr Amra | Qasr al Amra | Qasr Azraq | Qasr al Azraq | Day trips from Amman Jordan | Lawrence of Arabia | Jordan's eastern desert

Qasr Azraq

Putting adventure aside, we arrive instead at Qasr Asraq. Ever heard of Lawrence of Arabia? Well, Qasr Azraq was one of his temporary homes in the region. I visit the room he occupied, in one tower of what is now a ruined citadel; across the wide courtyard I enter another room containing slabs of Roman carvings which have been found in the local area. But the same theme crops up again: there is pretty much nobody else here. It has been a magical day exploring these desert outposts on my own, but it’s not a good sign for Jordan.

Heading back towards Amman, now following signs for the Syrian border, it has been a sobering day in many respects. But the desert castles of Jordan are magnificent. Jordan has many treasures, from the Roman to the Nabatean, but I was very glad I made the trip eastwards on that Sunday morning.


Thinking of checking out some Jordan desert tours for yourself? Pin this post for later!

Jordan desert castles: Spend a day exploring one of the lesser-known of Jordan's treasures: the magnificent desert castles east of the capital, Amman. | Jordan desert tours | Qasr al Kharanah | Qasr Amra | Qasr al Amra | Qasr Azraq | Qasr al Azraq | Day trips from Amman Jordan | Lawrence of Arabia | Jordan's eastern desertJordan desert castles: Spend a day exploring one of the lesser-known of Jordan's treasures: the magnificent desert castles east of the capital, Amman. | Jordan desert tours | Qasr al Kharanah | Qasr Amra | Qasr al Amra | Qasr Azraq | Qasr al Azraq | Day trips from Amman Jordan | Lawrence of Arabia | Jordan's eastern desert

Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!