While many sites in this region have profound historical connections, few possess the depth and breadth of religious, cultural, and geological history that characterize the area surrounding the Dead Sea. Whether it be desert hikes through ancient ruins, museum visits to learn about the area’s unique flora and fauna, or pampering oneself with healing salt scrubs and exfoliating mud baths at seaside resorts, there is something for everyone to enjoy while visiting the lowest place in the world.
The Dead Sea region lies in the northernmost reaches of the Great Rift Valley, which originates in eastern Africa and is known by anthropologists as the cradle of human origins; and sites around the Sea contain remnants of human inhabitation that predate many of the world’s oldest civilizations. Known across time for its rich deposits of salt and other minerals, this body of water and its bordering mountains have served as rich centers of resources for thousands of years. In ancient times, the prolific presence of bitumen in the region spurred the outgrowth of international trade as local peoples began selling much of the tar collected from the water’s surface as a building material, a lamp fuel, or an embalming agent. Likewise, the enormous salt deposits became integral in the development of food preservation and also grew in popularity as a trade good. Today, a wide variety of commodities continue to flow from the region in the forms of fertilizers, skincare products, and salt-based products for human consumption.
The eastern shore of the Dead Sea has long been a destination for tourists and locals alike; and as the burgeoning adventure travel industry continues to grow in the region, people from across the world are exploring the variety of sites along this stretch of the sea.
Beaches and resorts dot the eastern shoreline, providing plenty of places for relaxation and bathing; among the most popular of these is Amman Beach (entrance 16 JD). Because of the unique geological nature of the region, hot springs also dot the sea’s perimeter. The most visited of these springs is Hammamat Ma’in, where one can find thermal baths fed by waterfalls descending from Wadi Zarqa Ma’in.
Reflecting the rich history of the region’s inhabitants, the eastern shore is teaming with other exciting sites to explore after having one’s fill of salt scrubs and mud baths. Several sites related to Abrahamic lore can be found close by. Those wishing to visit the ruins of what some archaeologists believe to be the remains of biblical Sodom can do so at Tel el-Hammam. Of similar interest is Lot’s cave; here it is believed that Abraham’s nephew Lot hid with his family after fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cave is located just up the hill from an ancient Byzantine church.
Travelers should consider setting aside time to visit the newly renovated Dead Sea Panoramic Complex, the Dead Sea Museum, and the Mujib Nature Reserve.
Across the water, travelers will find a similar range of attractions to pique their attention. An extensive array of historical sites includes Qumran, made famous in the twentieth century by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. South of Qumran lies the cave at Nahal Darga (Wadi Murabba’at) where rebels hid during the Bar Kochba revolt, leaving behind them significant historical documents.
Nature-seekers will enjoy a visit to Ein Gedi nature reserve where flora and fauna abound during most seasons. After exploring the reserve, visitors can walk out the park entrance and down the road to the Ein Gedi public swimming beach and, a little further on, the Ein Gedi spa.
The southernmost portions of the Sea offer even more opportunities for both exploration and relaxation. Prepare to spend the better part of a morning exploring the remains of Masada, a Roman Fortress with a captivating history. Start early and climb to the top (25NIS) or take the cable car from the visitors’ center (67NIS). Also of note nearby is Mt. Sodom and the humanoid salt pillar named after Lot’s wife. Finish an exciting day of desert wanderings with a rejuvenating treatment at one of the many spas in Ein Bokek.