Travel to the Dead SeaDead Sea - The Not-So Dead Sea
While the Dead Sea earns its name because no life can be sustained in its waters, it has quite the opposite effect on visitors. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and benefits from some pretty wicked mineral-rich healing soil and waters. It is the ultimate spa where you will effortlessly float in the water and partake in the hysterical ritual of covering yourself in mud from head to toe. The Dead Sea is a destination for those looking to completely relax in an exotic, stunning landscape; it’s also a destination for those who have difficulty justifying a beach vacation. Here, you can explore the historical environs where Jesus was baptized then spend a guiltless day by the infinity pool with a view of Israel in the background. The Dead Sea is also the perfect relaxing end to a trip throughout Jordan, which is sure to be action-packed.
The Kempinski Hotel Ishtar is the place to stay in the Dead Sea with its massive compound of over 340 rooms, 7 restaurants and the largest spa in all of the Middle East. The Kempinski does not feel like a hotel, but rather a city by the sea with its winding roads and stone walls throughout the property. The best rooms are those in the Ishtar portion of the hotel, which are steps from the Dead Sea. If you want to join royalty, the Kempinski has private villas where the real hitters stay.
The hotel is worthwhile to dedicate a day, soaking in the stunning views, swimming in one of the four main swimming pools and experiencing one of the top spas in the world. Anantara Spa itself is the size of a boutique hotel, spanning three floors with six private pools, 23 treatment rooms, hammam, full steam, sauna and meditation facilities. You name it here, you got it. Your fellow guests will be the international jet set, both working and just jet set.
The dinner options in the Dead Sea are self-contained within the compounds of the Kempinski, the Marriot (which was formally the nicest hotel in the area before it was unseated from its throne by the Kempinski) and the Movenpick. The Kempinski has the best dinner dining, either at their poolside restaurant, Ashur —which becomes the party place for the jet set in the evening — or the Codes, which is the fine dining restaurant in the main building. The Akkad Poolside Grill should be avoided unless you’re into mediocrity. If you’re lucky, an Eastern European crew will be on premise providing their own special-ordered fireworks for all to enjoy, an occasion that is quite commonplace in this exclusive resort.
For our second day, it’s choose your own adventure in the Dead Sea. There is many a party crew that never steps foot outside the compounds. For those seeking a bit of culture, your circuit will consist of the Baptismal Site of Jesus, Mont Nebo, where Moses is believed to have died and been buried and Madaba, to view ancient mosaics. As in most of Jordan, hire a driver to seamlessly navigate both the roads and the checkpoints. All of these sites are pretty low-key; there’s not a whole lot to their physical presence, but they mean a great deal to many of the people who make the pilgrimage. It is also fascinating just to drive through the desert viewing the nomadic homes in the distance where people live as they did in the ancient times, with no power and in hand-sewn tents, herding some sort of animal or another. It’s as if time has stood still.
To continue your cultural experience, head to Madaba for lunch at Haret J’douna, to indulge in what is possibly be the best Arabic food in all of Jordan. Virtually every traditional dish here is a can’t miss from the fattoush, hummus and baba ganoush to the cheese rakakat and chicken kebab. As for the setting, it feels as authentic as the name it translates into: Grandfather’s Courtyard. It’s the must-stop before you have your driver drop you off at the Church of St. George around the corner, which has a historically significant mosaic map of the Holy Land, for which Madaba is known. Once again, although you may not be blown away by the simple physical structure, you’ll appreciate how cool its historic significance is and that the mosaics have survived thousands of years.
After your full day of culture, head to Il Terrazzo at the Marriot compound, which is not at all a typical Marriot restaurant. The scene will be many wealthy Jordanians and other Middle Easterners, as well as some familiar faces from the Kempinski looking for variety in dining options. Here, you will dine al fresco on a surprisingly good Italian feast of brick oven pizzas, pastas and excellent salads.
Afterwards, head to Kish back at the Kempinski, which is their Miami-style bar and lounge and although Miami in feel, is undoubtedly somewhere more exotic. Whether you are in the Dead Sea to wrap up your Petra adventure or here exclusively for The Dead Sea, this is one of those lifetime experiences of the very lucky, well-traveled crew.