JORDAN: Why I’d Prefer to Forget Visiting the Dead Sea, Jordan

Floating in the Dead Sea Jordan at Sunset

Floating in the Dead Sea at Sunset

Why I’d Prefer to Forget

Visiting the Dead Sea, Jordan


I’m lying on my side as if lounging on my bed, floating effortlessly in Jordan’s Dead Sea with a gorgeous sunset over Israel in the background.


I’m posing gamely for Mary’s camera, but my smile doesn’t come easily. We’ve been warned not to stay in the water– which is among the saltiest on the planet– for more than 15 minutes. But after about 15 seconds my skin is SCREAMING for me to get out. I urge Mary to hurry, my flesh feeling as if a million different nerve endings are on fire. The intensity of the burn only seems to increase with each passing moment.


Less than five minutes later I’m sprinting (awkwardly, given the fact that I feel like I’m floating in space) towards the shore and into the shower, frantically rubbing the mineral-rich Dead Sea water from my body. I’ve never in my entire life been so happy to see a swimming pool nearby.


Dead Sea Overlook with Israel in the distance

Dead Sea Overlook with Israel in the distance


Billed by the Jordan Tourism Board as “the world’s most amazing place,” the Dead Sea is one of those incredibly unique natural wonders that inevitably seem to wind up on every world traveler’s bucket list.


Located in Jordan’s picturesque Rift Valley, nearly 1,400 feet below sea level, this hypersaline lake has attracted travelers from throughout the Mediterranean for thousands of years. The area served as a sanctuary in which King David could hide from Saul, and became one of the world’s first health resorts for Judean King Herod.


The Greeks referred to the Dead Sea as Lake Asphaltites due to the steady stream of pebbles and blocks of the black stuff that rise from seeps deep beneath its surface. Aristotle marveled over these immensely salty waters, and the ancient Egyptians used the asphalt for embalming during their mummification process.


Dead Sea Jordan - Salt Ridge

Dead Sea, Jordan – Salt Ridge


In modern times, the Dead Sea area has become a major tourist attraction renowned for its seemingly magical healing properties. The dry climate, low allergen content in the atmosphere, reduced UV levels due to distance from the sun, and high mineral content in the water have all been found to be beneficial in various ways.


People with psoriasis are given climatotherapy, sunbathing for long periods without the usual skin cancer dangers. People with osteoarthritis have less pain in their joints after receiving Dead Sea mud therapy. People with rhinosinusitis get better relief from Dead Sea saline nasal irrigation than typical saline sprays. People with cystic fibrosis seem to breathe easier thanks to the area’s higher atmospheric pressure.


And, of course, the Dead Sea is known around the world for its use in therapeutic bath and beauty products, from facial cleansers and bath salts to masks and moisturizers.


Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea

Photo by Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea



By the time we got to the Dead Sea, we were desperately in need of a little rest, relaxation and relief ourselves.


Our previous 3 days in Jordan had included a grueling14-kilometer hike in the midday heat through the Dana Biosphere Reserve, being chased by an angry camel, climbing mountains to see the Treasury and Monastery in Petra in one day, and spending a sleepless night in the Wadi Rum desert.


So when we arrived at the luxurious Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea, we were utterly exhausted, emotionally spent, and eagerly anticipating a rejuvenating 5-star experience.


Dead Sea Jordan Mud Treatment

Dead Sea Mud Treatment



Our arrival at the Kempinski Hotel certainly seemed promising. Our hosts were gracious and accommodating, practically rolling out the red carpet to welcome us. The lobby was so posh, we were self-conscious of the fact that we might reek of sand, sweat and camel. Our room was spacious, well appointed, and delightfully cool from air-conditioning (a welcome, if not so eco-friendly, development after days in the desert).


We stripped off our dirty clothes the instant we walked in, breathing a huge sigh of relief as we entered our lair of luxury. Hot showers and several glasses of cold water went a long way towards curing what ailed us, and a brief nap made me feel somewhat human again. It was nearly sunset by the time we finally headed out, past incredible infinity pools and lushly landscaped grounds, towards the Dead Sea.


The beach was surprisingly uncrowded as we found an attendant to apply the famous Dead Sea mud to our skin. The handsome young Jordanian clearly relished his job of smoothing the thick goop onto the ladies, gently massaging it into Mary’s skin as she grinned like the Cheshire Cat. If only my Dead Sea experience had been limited to documenting her enjoyment, it would’ve been a very different day.


As I sat down for the application of these mythically powerful minerals, I felt a little like a Native American warrior getting ready for battle. But the more mud he spread on my body, the more I began to feel like a casualty of war.


Covered in Dead Sea Jordan Mud

Covered from head to toe in Dead Sea mud



It began with an intense, radiating warmth, like a sunburn whose heat has no way to dissipate. Then there came an itch, like little ants crawling across your body, which have not yet begun to bite. By the time Mary and I posed for the requisite covered-in-mud photo, it had begun to sting, and I quickly moved down to the water hoping to soothe the pain.


Needless to say, the water didn’t help matters any. It was quite literally like salt on an open wound. So I rinsed off the mud as fast as I could, cursing its exfoliating properties every second. The heat faded a bit, and I tried to enjoy myself. I experimented with different floating positions… I checked out the thick coating of salt on the rocks that lined the beach… I experimented with more floating positions.


By that time, not only was I incredibly uncomfortable, I was also bored.


View of the Dead Sea Jordan

View of the Dead Sea, Jordan


Honestly, we had a lot more fun lounging around the pool, soaking in the sunset, and checking out the remarkably risqué (for the Middle East) clothing choices of the women at the dinner buffet than we did immersing ourselves in the Dead Sea. Even Mary, who had none of the skin irritation issues I had, came away from the experience feeling more than a little underwhelmed.


In the end, the Dead Sea seems more like something you do just to say that you’ve done it– an item to cross off your “Natural Wonders of the World” list. Despite its history and purported health benefits, the Dead Sea was arguably our least favorite tourism attraction in Jordan.  -Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted



If you liked reading about Visiting the Dead Sea Jordan, then you may also like:

Jordan- Ancient Ruins of Jerash
Jordan- Dana Biosphere & Wadi Mujib
Jordan- Nature Reserves: Ajloun, Dibeen, Azraq
Jordan- Our Culture of Fear
Jordan- Petra: The Secret Trail
Jordan- Wadi Rum Camel Trekking

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  1. Loved reading about your experience. Dead Sea was on my “bucket list,” glad you took care of it for me!

    • Hi! Just wanted to suggest that the reason for the burning and the itch comes from the absorption of magnesium into the skin. I believe that it’s even worse the more magnesium-deficient you are, so you might want to start taking it orally and soaking in Epsom salts. Most Americans are deficient in magnesium. Just an idea, don’t know if there might be other factors involved.

  2. Hmm, I was surprised by your review of the Dead Sea but appreciate your honest opinion. I can’t say I have had a burning (no pun intended, well maybe a little one) desire to see it, but Petra remains on my must see list.

  3. Yeah, you just float there for a while and go home. It’s fine, but would you rather float or be able to dunk your head underwater and feel refreshed? Besides, salty water sort of leaves a residue all over you that’s sticky and weird. It’s a neat experience, but it’s more of a “yeah I did it” thing rather than a “yes it was moving” kind of thing.

  4. Wow, what a reaction. That doesn’t sound like fun at all. I have always wanted to visit Jordan and yes, this is one of the “to do” items. Since we have kids, it will likely still stay on the list. We like mud baths, but as it dries it does feel a bit strange. Love your photos.

  5. I think I’d go anyway – looks lovely! Even with my sensitive skin, I think it’d be a shame to make it over there and not float for a few minutes.

    I did splurge on a mud wrap in Igalú, Montenegro, in which they took the healing mud of the Bay of Kotor and wrapped me up in plastic wrap and a towel and left me in a sauna for 10 minutes. I felt like an enchilada but couldn’t move my arms to get to the call button! I think if I go to a spa again, I’ll stick with a facial!!

  6. This sounds amazing! I would love to try the dead sea experience…I’ve done a “floating salt pool” in a spa here in NYC, and found it the coolest thing ever how you can just float…although it burns like crazy if you get the water in your eyes:-)

  7. I have sensitive skin so I’m guessing this would be my experience as well. I don’t know why, but I’ve never really had the intense desire to visit the Dead Sea. It sounds like I’m not missing much. 🙂

    • The salt and minerals of the Dead Sea are the most natural and non-synthetic ingredients. They are beneficial and heal all type of skin problems.

      I lived in Jordan, Dead Sea for several years . I had never burned or get any allergic reaction. It was best experience in my life, and i hope to be back there soon again. Dead sea is the most unique place in the world, and those who never been there , are missing allot.

      • My sentiments exactly. I will be going to the Manitou Springs here in Canada as its the closest to me. I shall one day visit the Dead Sea.

  8. I’ve heard you can scuba dive in the dead sea, but the two things that come to mind are: WAY too much weight to get submerged, and BORING. I mean, nothing lives in the Dead Sea but tourists on their photo ops, right? I’d like to see it and feel the buoyancy, but I’m not sure I’d be devastated if this is one of those things I never get around to doing. Your post helps me believe this.

    • Nobody scuba dive in Dead Sea, is not possible and are not allowed. People around the world visit this place for medicinal purposes and historical education.

  9. Well, I think it’s great that you shared your experience. I get tired of reading glowing reviews of every single step of a trip. Part of life (and travel) is experiencing the good and the bad. For me, it makes me appreciate highlights from a favorite trip even more.

  10. Sounds like your trip was a little similar to the Jordan trip Janice took with her mother! They also stayed at the Kempinski Ishtar and slathered on Dead Sea mud (now, that’s quite the experience, right?).

  11. I enjoyed reading it! Seems like it was a very different experience – dead sea healing properties, the itching, the hiking, the weary feet, the relaxation – that was one big travel experience!

  12. The Dead Sea is definitely on my list- (though from Israel)– so fascinating to read about your experience and that even for your wife- it was underwhelming. I suppose any bucket list destination has that potential–after being something you look forward to for so long, there is always a risk of not being able to live up to the image we make in our minds.

  13. I’ve heard from others as well that it isn’t very exciting, and it’s unfortunate it made your skin burn! I would still like to go to see it, but it’s always good to not have high expectations. Hope the rest of your time in Jordan was great!

  14. Pingback: the lazy travelers | no travel required: #traveltuesday

  15. My kids fell in love with that photo of the mud spa, and now they keep asking me when we’re going to Jordan 😉 Darn you, Bret 😉

  16. Ouch! That sounds painful! One time, I shaved my legs and without thinking thought doing a salt rub afterwards would be a good idea. It was not! I couldn’t even believe how bad it hurt. Knowing that and knowing how much it hurt you going into the Dead Sea, it seriously makes me re-think wanting to get in that water.

  17. I’ve been in salt water baths before and found them very relaxing but I can see how it wouldn’t be so comfortable if you have any cuts, blisters, or maybe windburn? Looks so beautiful though! And great pic of you guys covered in mud. Good job, nice even coverage 🙂

  18. We did the Dead Sea but from Israel’s side. My mom has Psoriasis really badly so it was a big reason for us going to there. I don’t remember at all if it helped 🙂 It was like 17 years ago.

    But I do remember we didn’t do the mud masking, I would have so loved it, but not sure why we didn’t do it. But we did stock up on the beauty products.

    And honestly, I think they are still sitting in my parents bathroom 🙂

  19. Those photos are gorgeous, I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. Jordan including the dead sea has been on my list for a long time and I will keep it on the list, I only hope I will not have such skin reaction because of the salt.

  20. I can feel your pain, just reading about it. But beauty and health always has a price, no 🙂 ? It’s not for everybody I guess. I personally think I might like the experience.

  21. We did this on the Israel side (or rather, I did it and Michael watched), although I only went in for a quick float and rubbed a little mud on myself. That was really enough for my “been there/done that” experience.

  22. Well that’s interesting. I’ve always wanted to float in the Dead Sea – and this review hasn’t deterred me – but I never considered the possible skin irritation. I have incredibly sensitive skin and break into hives every time I get in the Atlantic Ocean. Now I’ll try to be prepared when the day actually comes.

  23. I am so with you here. I didn’t even get in the water… for a few reasons. The idea of floating on the surface with everyone’s dead skin cells kinda put me off, and on the day I was there the place was teeming with people. Everyone was bumping into each other, elbowing each other to get to the water. I sat on the side and read a book. Was lovely.

  24. So interesting to read about first-hand experience with the Dead Sea! The rocks covered by salt in combination with jade water are gorgeous! I just remembered those famous images of people floating on water happily reading newspapers, but I guess no one really goes through the whole paper in that water:) Must be rather nasty thing to accidentally get in the water with a cut or any even slightest wound..

  25. Bret,

    So sad to hear you had a miserable experience bathing in the Dead Sea =( Like someone else said, it’s possible you had an allergic reaction and/or you simply have very sensitive skin. It is said that if you shave a few days before bathing in the Dead Sea, it will also feel like salt water on an open wound!

    I had an itchy experience but only after spending waaaaaay more than 15 minutes in the water :p in the aftermath though, my skin felt like it has never felt before: SO silky smooth, beautiful, youthful. It was amazing. I wish I had the Dead Sea in my backyard so I could bathe in it every day (but, wouldn’t be able to shave… Anything. Haha =P)

    -Maria Alexandra

  26. I too had a bad skin reaction when I visited the Dead Sea. I couldn’t believe it! I have never suffered from sensitive skin and am sure I could put anything on my skin with no issues at all!
    Not long after entering the water, some of it splashed onto my face and a minute later it was burning intensely! When I got out my face was bright red!
    I then had a look round the shop of Dead Sea cosmetics (still not put off the stuff!) and a sales woman approached me trying to sell me a face cream containing dead sea minerals! She used the line “this is very good for bad skin, I can see you suffer from acne!!”
    Of course I told her that my skin is normally fine and it was the Dead sea that had done this! She didn’t believe though and continued to try and sell me everything she could!
    Still spent a fortune in the shop!

  27. I went to the Dead Sea in February 2014 and had an awesome time! Even though I have sensitive skin, I was fortunate enough not to have had that reaction and neither did anybody on my tour— but that just goes to show that everybody’s body is different. Sounds like Bret took one for the team that day!

    Going to the Dead Sea was one of the highlights on my trip to Israel and for me, it did not disappoint. Maybe that’s because we were behind schedule and we only spent an hour/90 min at the beach or maybe I was still on a high from this being my first trip out of the US. I’m definitely not a beach person at all (I typically find them boring, I can count how many times I been to the beach in the last 15 years on my left hand, and yes, I haven’t mustered up the courage to learn how to swim), but feeling safe in the water and actually floating with no effort were enough of a thrill for me to make me want to go back—and I do want to go back. Plus my skin felt like butter afterwards!

    Once again, different strokes for different folks. There are plenty of things that others have loved that I thought were just “meh” and vice versa. If you’re old enough to shell out money for a trip to the Dead Sea, then you’re old enough to have a sense of what types of activities are your “thing” or not. If the idea of the Dead Sea experience is tickling your fancy, then go. Not so much? Then skip it. But the only way to know for sure is if you go. Even if you are left unsatisfied, an underwhelming experience still trumps no experience at all!