A few kilometres west of Amman’s city limits, the rugged highlands of central and northern Jordan drop away dramatically into the Dead Sea Rift. This giant valley marks a geological dividing line as well as a political one, with the Arabian plate to the east shifting a few centimetres a year northwards, and the African plate to the west moving slowly southwards. Between the two is the River Jordan, defining Jordan’s western border as it flows into the large, salty inland lake of the Dead Sea, famed as the lowest point on Earth. Taking a dip here and relaxing on the Dead Sea beaches is an unmissable experience, not least because of the world-class luxury resort hotels ranged along the shore.
This whole area is within easy reach of the capital, and also stands within an hour or so’s drive of Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport: for many visitors the Dead Sea serves as a perfect first- or last-night stop in Jordan. There are also some fine day-trip possibilities, including up to Madaba, Mount Nebo and the Ma’in hot springs, or northwards to Salt and southwards to Karak.
Beaches aside, the area’s main historical draw is the Baptism Site of Jesus, located on the east bank of the River Jordan about 8km north of the Dead Sea shore. The combination of archeology, the extraordinary natural environment and the momentous associations of the place makes this one of the Middle East’s most important religious destinations. Continuing the biblical theme, in the barren hills overlooking the southeastern part of the Dead Sea is Lot’s Sanctuary, built over the cave where Abraham’s nephew sought refuge from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.