Forming what has been called the world’s biggest open-air spa, the amazing DEAD SEA (al-Bahr al-Mayit in Arabic) is a major highlight of a visit to the Middle East. Swimming in it is a memorable experience, quite unlike anything else on the planet.

The lake occupies the Great Rift Valley, a geological cleft which can be traced from Turkey all the way into East Africa. Its shoreline – at 400m below sea level – marks the lowest point on Earth, and, as such, is stiflingly hot for much of the year.

The Dead Sea got its name in antiquity due to its uniquely salty water, which kills off virtually all marine life: seawater is about three or four percent salt, but Dead Sea water is over thirty percent. It is fed mainly by the River Jordan, flowing south from Galilee, but due to the geological upheavals it has no outflow; instead, water evaporates off the surface at the rate of millions of litres a day, leading to continuous precipitation of salt onto the beach and a thick atmospheric haze overhead which dampens sound down to almost nothing – there’s little to hear but lapping water anyway. The haze also filters out harmful UVB sunrays, handily allowing tanning but not burning.

Many people come for therapeutic tourism: Dead Sea water (and mud) have medically proven benefits, putting severe skin diseases and joint problems into long-term remission. Beneficial calcium, magnesium, bromine, sulphur and bitumen are found in extremely high concentrations, and, in addition, the air is unusually highly oxygenated. Dead Sea skin-care products are a popular souvenir. All the big hotels have medical centres, which are often booked solid for months ahead.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Jordan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

12 of the most beautiful places in the Middle East

12 of the most beautiful places in the Middle East

The Middle East is a paradox. Located at the cultural crossroads between east and west, the region nowadays tends to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, b…

16 Nov 2016 • Gavin Thomas insert_drive_file Article
Middle Eastern majesty: 17 beautiful pictures of Jordan

Middle Eastern majesty: 17 beautiful pictures of Jordan

We chose Jordan as one of the top destinations to visit in 2016, and after looking at these stunning photographs from Picfair's best photographers, you'll und…

31 Oct 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
Twenty places to make you feel insignificant

Twenty places to make you feel insignificant

French novelist Gustave Flaubert once said: “Travelling makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”. With this in mind, here a…

27 Aug 2014 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month